The company founder Ernest Morton Barker was born on Adelphi Street in 1880. His father was John Barker who worked in Sheffield as a table knife cutter, having followed in his own father's footsteps. Ernest Morton Barker had other occupational ideas. At the age of 14 Ernest served a six year cabinet makers apprenticeship.
Following his apprenticeship, five years would pass before, in 1905, he set up a partnership with William Owen, trading as cabinet makers from the Crookes area of Sheffield.
He traded independently as a cabinet maker from premises on Bradfield Road before finally moving to 1 Burnaby Street (Hillsborough) in 1915 and setting up home and shop as ‘Barkers’ selling draperies. This dramatic change in profession could be explained by the outbreak of World War I. At this point Ernest and his wife Maud had a young family to support and times were tough for everyone. His daughter Alice Barker was just eight years old and his son Ernest William was six years old. Starting a small family business at such times probably involved all four members of the family helping in some way or another.
In 1921 Ernest took number 66 Fitzwilliam Street, where Barkers changed focus to trading furniture. A second store followed on Hillsborough Road and the Fitzwilliam Street store was extended. Initially furniture was delivered in a hand cart. It's hard to imagine now having to pull a hand cart with furniture on up Stannington Road, which is exactly what did happen. Barkers offered their own credit facilities in these days, as did many stores. Customers would have a little book and come into the store every week to pay something off. When their payments were starting to run low they would normally add something else onto the book. Paying 'on the tick' was popular for many years before finance companies became heavily established and took over the crediting of customer orders.
In the 1930's Ernest William Barker and his sister Alice Barker, took a more active role in the company and Ernest had a son (young Ernest Stuart Barker, known by his middle name of Stuart). Further stores were opened on Attercliffe Road, Firth Park Road (now Stubbin Lane), Ecclesall Road, The Moor and Infirmary Road. The company now had a modern van to do all the deliveries. All this progress came to an end on the foreboding Sunday of 3rd September 1939, when Britain declared war on Germany.