Our History

mr_banks_2John Banks and Son
J. Banks was started by John Banks in 1836. His son, also named John, joined to make J.B. Banks and Son Cockermouth, becoming a limited company on 5 January 1933. The deeds of the shop bear the signature of William Wordsworth’s father, land agent for Lord Lowther.

(Portrait of John Banks Circa 1860)

Cockermouth Station, the Penny Stamp and the Gun Licence.
John Banks was not only a successful businessman but also a local personality. When the railway was coming to Cockermouth it was initially suggested that there be two stations. He argued that a central one would be better and cheaper and recommended cutting through the main street, creating Station Street and Station Hill. He also influenced national affairs suggesting to W.E. Gladstone, at that time the MP for Oxford, that receipts should be stamped with a penny stamp (1d). He also proposed that there should be control on the ownership of guns: this eventually resulted in the introduction of the gun licence.

Wilfred and Daisy Jackson
In 1902 the business employed Wilfred Jackson, who was 16 years old. He would cycle daily from Tallentire (five miles each way) and often acted as the delivery boy, carrying all manner of items for the neighbours on his bicycle. In 1923 Wilfred married Daisy Emerson, who had a confectionery business in the town. By then he was also a partner in J.B. Banks & Son. Their son Jack (christened Wilfred) was born in 1926. Wilfred worked full time until major surgery at the age of 72. He resumed work on a part time basis until his death at the age of 78.

JB Banks & SonJack and Dorothy Jackson, and Peter Chandler
Jack joined J. B. Banks & Son Ltd at the age of 16 and, except for joining the Royal Marines in 1944 for three years, worked in the business until his death at the age of 81. In 1957 he married Dorothy Eckford, his best man being Peter Chandler. The following year Peter joined him in the shop, working for many years until prevented by ill health. Jack and Dorothy had three children, Kay, Alan and Vanessa.

Founding of the Cockermouth Mountain Rescue Team
Jack Jackson, like John Banks, was a man of many parts. He was a founder member of Cockermouth Mountain Rescue Team and was their President. He became a magistrate in 1969 only retiring in 1996 when he reached the age of 70. In his spare time he collected all kinds of local memorabilia, particularly antique locks and keys. By the late 1960s Jack bought out the remaining “sleeping partner.”

Photo c/o Dayve Ward

Expert Locksmith Ken Day
Ken Day joined the business as a young lad in 1963. He was interviewed for the position by Wilfred. While Ken was no doubt grateful for the job, his face must have dropped when Wilfred told him he could start that Friday, for he had organised a camping trip for himself and some friends for the weekend. Without a hint of a smile Wilfred told Ken he could cycle to work each day and return to Buttermere each evening! It was Jack who had to tell Ken that his father had been joking and he could start work the following Tuesday – Ken can’t have taken it too badly for he is still with J.B. Banks & Son Ltd 50 years later.

Vanessa, Chris, Carole & Sarah
Vanessa Graham, Jack’s youngest daughter, officially joined the payroll in 1985. As a young girl she would get pocket money cleaning the all the brass scales and weights and polishing the mahogany counters, a job which took all morning. She worked in both in the shop and managed the letting of the property, roles that her daughter now manages. Carole Carr joined in 1984. In 2014, Sarah King, Vanessa’s daughter, started work in the family firm, becoming the forth generation to do so. In September 2018, Vanessa passed away but the business still continues with Sarah and her dad, Chris, who has now taken a more active role in J.B Banks.

Expansion and Property Lettings
The firm also owns the properties behind and above the business, these are both residential & commercial. Over the years the shop and the courtyard have been altered with sympathetic additions and subtractions. The window shutters are no longer used and some display cabinets have been removed. In 1969 the shop was extended backwards into a store. Previously stock had been kept upstairs, reached by a domestic staircase (the rooms were originally bedrooms). It always seemed that the heaviest things were kept in the highest rooms.

Three lorries have crashed into the shop on separate occasions between 1950 and 1970. All have lost control while going uphill on Castlegate, the narrow hill out of Cockermouth, where by stopping on the ascent they’ve slid backwards into the shop front.

Cockermouth MuseumThe shop also suffered on 13th August 1966 when the Bitter Beck, which flows beside the Bitter End pub, broke its banks and flowed down Market Place. The shop shutter took the full force of the water which bounced off and continued down the Main Street leaving a tide line 2 ½ feet high. On that occasion only a small amount of damp silt was deposited in the shop which was saved from serious damage by the shutters and oak doors. The beck has since been culverted to prevent any further problems from that avenue.

Unfortunately, in the afternoon of Thursday 19th November 2009, Cockermouth suffered another, more devastating flood. The force and depth of the water flooded the shop to a depth of 4 ½ feet (there are markers in the shop and on the shutters outside showing the depth). Counters were upturned, stock was ruined and silt left everywhere. Everyone worked hard to salvage, clean and repair everything that could be saved, and in less than a fortnight later we were trading again from the back of the premises. Within a week, all the counters were out, ruined stock removed and the floor was up. After eight weeks the floor was replaced, stained and aged, the counters put back, repaired, cleaned and polished and we were trading our normal hours.

It has taken some time for the shop to be returned to its former glory but now visitors ask us if we suffered any flood damage! Due to months of repairs, cleaning, painting and polishing it is difficult to tell what disaster befell us as the original features look just the same. The drawers behind the counter have all been
individually emptied of water and stock, cleaned, sanitized, polished and for the most part refilled.

Again in 2015, the shop was flooded, however, due to the towns flood defences, damage was minor and trading continued without a break.