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Corney & Barrow Heritage

The first incarnation of Corney & Barrow Wine Merchants was in 1780 with the opening of Edward Bland Corney’s shop in London’s Old Broad Street. Despite the limited selection of Port, Sherry and Bordeaux the business flourished and in 1838 Edward’s son Thomas introduced his cousin Robert Barrow to the business. The Corney & Barrow name was born.

In 1912 John Barrow, Robert's son, formed a Private Limited Liability Company with William Stevens as Managing Director and so the important ‘Stevens Dynasty’ was founded. Corney & Barrow has held a Royal Warrant since that date. Charles Stevens was MD throughout World War II, during which Corney & Barrow survived despite the loss of both family and wine. The latter included fine vintage Port and Cognac, destroyed when the main bonded cellar was firebombed. Most of the company’s historical records were also lost.

The Stevens family bought out the last Barrow in the 1920s, owning and running the company until 1961 when the family, led by William's grandson Keith (then Chairman) sold Corney & Barrow to United Wine Traders (forerunner of International Distillers and Vintners and now Diageo.) United Wine Traders’ main objective was to own Corney & Barrow’s Scotch whisky stocks for their expanding brand of Scotch whiskys.

In 1969, Keith Stevens re-bought the company which once again became Corney & Barrow Independent Wine Merchants. This was done with the help of various City institutions and his friends, the families of which remain the current shareholders.

Keith remained Chairman until 1981 (he spent 46 years at Corney & Barrow) and during this time, Corney & Barrow bought several other City Wine Merchants, the largest being W. Coates & Co. in 1959. The company had been founded in 1820 and was the owner of two wine bars, one in Old Broad Street and the other in London Wall.

The purchase of W. Coates established the basis of today’s wine bars. W. Coates had run wine bars in the City since the second half of the 19th Century. These wine bars were deemed to have untapped potential and in the late 1970s, with increasing wine merchanting competition, it was decided to diversify into restaurants/wine bars. A top class restaurant, with minor wine bar facilities, was opened at 118 Moorgate, in Corney & Barrow’s name.

The restaurant was an immediate resounding success – the City was booming at the time – but it was the wine bars concept that proved most resilient in fluctuating economic climates. In 1985 Corney & Barrow Wine Bars Ltd was formed. Corney & Barrow Wine Bars was eventually sold to Drake and Morgan in 2016.

The 1980s and '90s saw the successful development of Corney & Barrow’s Scottish Operation and the purchase of Whighams of Ayr, Scotland’s oldest wine merchant. The Corney & Barrow shop in Ayr continues to run out of Whighams’ original cellars. New premises were also opened in Notting Hill Gate, Edinburgh and Newmarket.

Corney & Barrow became the first traditional wine merchant to establish a wine broking operation, matching buyers’ and sellers’ requirements. Corney & Barrow (Broker Services) Ltd was granted the Queen’s Award for Export in 1998 and 1999; a unique achievement for an importing wine company. HRH The Prince of Wales visited Corney & Barrow personally to present the Award.

In 2003, having outgrown a beautiful old rectory on Helmet Row (City of London) where the company had remained for 25 years, Corney & Barrow Wine Merchants moved to our current offices, an 1805 Grade II listed Custom’s House near St. Katharine Docks close to Tower Bridge in the City of London. The building forms part of the oldest dock offices in the world.

Corney & Barrow Team in 1923
1923 poster celebrating William Stevens' 50th
anniversary at Corney & Barrow
Dinner at Corney & Barrow's cellar in 1923

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