The Quarterly Village Publication produced by Barrow upon Soar Community Association



When I arrived to talk to John
Brooker about the end of an era of horticulture for him and his family in Barrow, he was supervising the dismantling of what remained of the greenhouses at the family’s nurseries on Cotes Road. John commented that he did feel sad to see all of it go but also realised that the time had come for him and his wife, Margaret, to welcome their retirement.They will enjoy having the time to relax but will also, I am sure, reflect on some of the happy times they have had working for the family business. 

John was keen to emphasise that what he had to say about the family firm should concentrate on the work that his mother and father spent building it up to a flourishing nursery, producing, at its peak, 60,000 plants a year, including geraniums, fuchsias, begonias, pansies, 7,500 bedding plants plus planting 30,000 chrysanthemums and over a ton of daffodil bulbs for cut flowers and 5,000 pot plants each Christmas. I feel exhausted just typing out these details but what an amazing achievement for a small family business! Jack Brooker came to Leicestershire, from Kent, in 1922. He and his wife Dorothy moved to Barrow with their young son John in June 1950.They came to live at the Old King Bill on the corner of Church Street.This piece of information, John tells me, solves a question posed in a previous Barrow Voice when Jenny Hamilton asked who lived there after 1949.

Mr Brooker, senior had always been keen to start his own business and saw this as the ideal opportunity to begin in a small way. He built two10 foot greenhouses, at the back of the Old King Bill and started to grow bedding plants for selling locally.

At this time he was employed by Ind Coope and Allsopp to clear the gardens at the Lodge Hotel in South Street.The gardens here were a total wilderness as during the last war servicemen had been billeted there and looking after the gardens was not a priority. Jack also did gardening work around the village and bar work at the Lodge. One of the bar regulars was Harry Perkins the local builder.Harry owned the land, on South Street, next door to the Lodge and Jack saw the potential for this piece of land as a site for his expanding horticultural business. In 1953, a deal was struck between the two business men and in exchange for the planting of privet hedges on Babington Road,The Retreat and Ellis Close, that Mr Perkins had recently finished building, he agreed to Jack renting this plot of land. 

This gave Jack the opportunity to build more and larger greenhouses where he grew bedding plants, tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers, pot plants and flowers for cutting. Harry Perkins built two houses on the front of the South Street site. Jack, Dorothy and John moved to one of these in 1955.Also, at this time Jack worked at Drivers factory, on Sileby Road, from midnight to 6am where he cleaned the hosiery machines. He would come home at 6 in the morning, go to bed for a few hours and then get up to work in the greenhouses. All of this hard work paid off when Jack was able to buy his rented land in 1958.

Dorothy was also very much involved with the business. She had spent some time at Mr Powells’ flower shop, in Loughborough, working and learning floristry skills.This enabled Brookers to provide splendid bouquets and flowers for weddings and funerals.There was a time when they provided the flowers for the majority of village weddings and they were supplying sprays and wreaths for four local funeral directors.

When John married, in 1970, his wife Margaret joined the business, having been trained in floristry skills by Dorothy. In 1981 the families moved to the Cotes Road site mainly because of the lack of parking space in South Street. Many were sceptical about this move and commented that customers would not want the long walk up to Cotes Road to buy their tomatoes. However, Jack, Dorothy, John and Margaret were keen to concentrate their efforts and future development of the business on plants and flowers.This is the time when they were producing plants and flowers by the tens of thousands. Some years they were selling up to 2000 hanging baskets alone and not just to the locals. Brookers’ hanging baskets have gone as far afield as Derbyshire, Oxford, Carlisle and London in the UK and have even made it across the English Channel to friends of a customer in France.

Dorothy and Margaret had to give up the floristry side of the business in 1990 but both of them were still actively involved in other ways. Sadly, Dorothy died in 1998 and Jack became ill three months ago and is in hospital. However, John and Margaret have continued to wind things up at the Cotes Road site.

I asked John about the best and the worst bits of his lifetime working with his family and the plants. He was quick to tell me that the worst was the worry of going to bed on a night when the wind was howling, listening for the sound of shattering glass. Similarly, on frosty nights when he needed to be sure that the boilers were working. If they broke down he would have to get standby heaters working to save the plants from the cold.

The best thing he says has been the people that have worked with them. Many of them have been customers, who have subsequently become friends and have
then helped out, usually for therapeutic reasons. In fact Dr Shirreffs used to comment that Brookers was better than any convalescent home as it was a place for people to meet together while they did some ‘pricking out’ of the seedlings and to talk with friends. John and Margaret will continue to live in their bungalow on Cotes Road and are looking forward to their retirement.They will have the time to pursue their hobbies and I am sure they will reflect, as I mentioned earlier, on many of the people that have worked with them at both South Street and Cotes Road and the happy times they have had with them.

Ginny Willcocks

J Brooker and Son 1953-2005
The Brooker family would like to take this opportunity
to thank all their customers of the past 52 years

Hall Orchard welcomes new head

Jane McKay, the new head teacher at Hall Orchard School, has been teaching for 20 years and before coming to Barrow was Head Teacher at Keyworth Primary & Nursery School for four years.The total number of pupils at Barrow is approximately 70% more than at Keyworth, so quite a challenge in the ‘getting to know you stakes’. Hall Orchard gets the thumbs up from Jane, who thinks that it is a lovely school and the staff have been very supportive of their new Head.

Jane’s vision for the future is to keep all the positives within the school, and also to strive for even higher standards and attainments, so that each one of the children reaches his or her potential, The children must always come first.

Speaking to Jane she comes over as a very bubbly, happy person, one that cares a great deal for the children in her care. I’m sure this will be reflected throughout the school, so welcome to Hall Orchard, Jane. May your Headship be a long, happy and rewarding one.

Val Gillings