Serving Cockermouth –
one historic step at a time
Welcome Back Fund - funded by ERDF
You may have never seen a shop quite like JB Banks – but once you’ve been in, you’ll wonder how you ever managed without it.
It’s not uncommon to hear a ‘wow’ from first time visitors to JB Banks & Son hardware shop in Cockermouth.In fact, it’s not unusual to hear the same exclamation from those who’ve been there more than once.
Walk through the doors of this shop and museum in Cockermouth’s Market Place and the sight of this historic and traditional shop stops you in your tracks. It’s crammed with thousands of items, some of which you’ll recognise, some of which you won’t and some which you may never see again.
The décor is amazing. The original wooden cabinets which date back to Georgian times would have been ripped out following the floods of 2009 if the business’s insurance company had had its way. The shop was under several feet of water after the Rivers Derwent and Cocker burst their banks but thankfully the family owners refused, carefully removing and drying out every drawer, preserving a piece of history.
“Some of the drawers probably still have silt in,” laughs Sarah King, who is the fourth generation of her family to run the business, “but there is only one that doesn’t work.
“My mum got the industrial dehumidifiers in. There was no way she was chucking out the counter and the shelves.”
The shelves are packed with products – and it’s the vintage ranges which are the best sellers, particularly the old tools.
“Often the quality is better and they are a better price,” adds Sarah. “We get them from all over the place – auctions, people clearing out because they’re downsizing, or antique fairs. We send some to a charity called Tools for Self Reliance which refurbishes them and ships them to Africa.
“It’s not just the tools. We sell more vintage watering cans than new!”
The smell of the shop evokes memories too. There’s the oil used to lubricate the old tools, the traditional bars of soap, the aroma of wood and metal, and the familiar scent of a greenhouse. “It smells just like my grandad’s shed” is a regular comment.
Take a wander around the shelves and you’ll find everything from cleaning equipment to fireside necessities, gardening essentials and kitchen kit. Need a watering can rose? No problem. Fancy a handmade walking stick or the bits to make your own? They sell those too. Door wedges and door knockers, brushes and batteries,laundry starch and light pulls, dibbers and dobbers, saws and screwdrivers, bells and bird feeders – the list is endless.
Locals are some of the most loyal customers, but others come from miles around to shop. Opening the museum in what used to be the old storage space and office at the rear of the building has attracted even more visitors, even giving the shop the top listing on Tripadvisor for things to do in Cockermouth. It’s also packed with pieces of history –like the rare Atco car.
Sarah’s late mum, Vanessa, and her brother and sister used to drive on the local airfields. There’s a Tudor lock from Cockermouth Old Hall, now demolished. There are tools which date back to the business’s earliest days, still laid out as though the workforce have just left to go home.
“There’s stuff in here that even we don’t know what it is!” says Sarah.
It’s also the customer service which sets JB Banks apart from the big hardware names. You can buy one nail or screw or 100 of them – there are no plastic packs forcing you to bulk buy what you don’t need. They will source the quirkiest items for you too – recent requests have included ‘can you get me a vintage milk churn?’ They also hold a wishlist of questions from customers asking the team to give them a call if an unusual item comes back in stock.
“We tailor-make their experience,” says Sarah. “It’s a more traditional way of working. You get to know their names and what they like.
“We keep a pen and paper handy so people can draw what they need if they don’t know the name of it. Others come in and say ‘ooh, I could do with this!’ and go home with things they need.”
And it’s not just the products on display which have a long history with JB Banks – the staff do too. Sarah’s great grandfather worked for Mr Banks Junior, once upon a time, and her dad, Chris Graham, still owns the business and sources most of the stock. Then there are their trusty colleagues Debbie Bilton, who’s responsible for the quirky window displays and brass and copper restoration, and Ken Day, who has worked in the shop for 50 years and has been a friend to five generations of Sarah’s family.
And they are all proud to be part of the fabric of Cockermouth.
Sarah says: “It’s a great place to be. It’s really friendly, there is loads of diversity of businesses, and we all help each other out. It’s a very special town.”
JB Banks & Son is taking part in a new Shop Local Allerdale campaign, organised by Allerdale Borough Council and funded by funded by HM Government’s Welcome Back Fund funded by ERDF, the European Regional Development Fund.
JB Banks & Son Ltd
13 – 14 Market Place