Marine supply shop, Arthur Beale, is to close its doors after hundreds of years’ trading on London’s Shaftesbury Avenue, though it will continue to trade online.
The blue sign above the shop’s store says “established 400 years,” and it’s demise is another blow to the unique special character of London in general and the parish of St Giles in particular. The Arthur Beale shop name has been in place since 1903 and is a beloved London landmark.
Business owner, Alisdair Flint, who took over the business in 2014 and remains a director, blames letting agents and local councils for the shop’s demise, saying in a blog: “Neal Street, just around the corner from Arthur Beales, is described as ‘one of the most eclectic streets for shopping in London, yet when I took a stroll down the street just before Christmas there were 16 empty shops.”
Starting out as a traditional ship’s chandler’s business, the shop continued to thrive as street names around it came and went, trading under a variety of names, including John Buckingham, Hemp & Flax Dresser. A trade card from 1791 said that the business: “Makes and sells ropes, lines, twines and packthread”.
Antarctic explorer, Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton, purchased from Arthur Beale the Alpine Club rope named after the world’s first mountaineering society, founded in 1857. The shop also supplied rope to Tenzing Norgay and Eric Shipton for their 1935 Everest expedition and even Buckingham Palace enlisted its help in fixing up a flagpole.
Already popular with sailors and Bear Grylls types, Beales also became a fashion fixture with the Breton wool jerseys so beloved of trendy art students and fashion journalists. Its Beerenberg oiled wool pullovers are the current hot clothing trend for those in the know who have cooler climes to weather.
Lamenting the shop’s closure in The Telegraph, Christopher Howse writes: “What we are losing with the sinking of Beale’s is part of the mosaic of specialist shops that gave character to London. Its closure is like a broken tooth in the face of the city. For me it was the same with the loss of Jenkins, the watch mender in Rochester Row, with its black-gloss shutters. Before that it was Smith’s in Charing Cross Road, which sold snuff and cigars”.
Howse also notes the loss of 200 year old family business, Portwine’s butcher, at Seven Dials, in Covent Garden, along with all the other butcher’s in Soho and a paper bag shop in Spitalfields, gone after trading in the area since 1870.