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At Arthur Beale

January 29, 2019
by the gentle author

Did you ever wonder why there is a ship’s chandler at the top of Neal St where it meets Shaftesbury Avenue in Covent Garden. It is a question that Alasdair Flint proprietor of Arthur Beale gets asked all the time. ‘We were here first, before the West End,’ he explains with discreet pride, ‘and the West End wrapped itself around us.’

At a closer look, you will discover the phrase ‘Established over 400 years’ on the exterior in navy blue signwriting upon an elegant aquamarine ground, as confirmed by a listing in Grace’s Guide c. 1500. Naturally, there have been a few changes of proprietor over the years, from John Buckingham who left the engraved copper plate for his trade card behind in 1791, to his successors Beale & Clove (late Buckingham) taken over by Arthur Beale in 1903, and in turn purchased by Alasdair Flint of Flints Theatrical Chandlers in 2014.

‘Everyone advised me against it,’ Alasdair confessed with the helpless look of one infatuated, ‘The accountant said, ‘Don’t do it’ – but I just couldn’t bear to see it go…’ Then he pulled out an old accounts book and laid it on the table in his second floor office above the shop and showed me the signature of Ernest Shackleton upon an order for Alpine Club Rope, as used by Polar explorers and those heroic early mountaineers attempting the ascent of Everest. In that instant, I too was persuaded. Learning that Arthur Beale once installed the flag pole on Buckingham Palace and started the London Boat Show was just the icing on the cake. Prudently, Alasdair’s first act upon acquiring the business was to acquire a stock of good quality three-and-a-half metre ash barge poles to fend off any property developers who might have their eye on his premises.

For centuries – as the street name changed from St Giles to Broad St to Shaftesbury Avenue – the business was flax dressing, supplying sacks and mattresses, and twine and ropes for every use – including to the theatres that line Shaftesbury Avenue today. It was only in the sixties that the fashion for yachting offered Arthur Beale the opportunity to specialise in nautical hardware.

The patina of ages still prevails here, from the ancient hidden yard at the rear to the stone-flagged basement below, from the staircase encased in nineteenth century lino above, to the boxes of War Emergency brass screws secreted in the attic. Alasdair Flint cherishes it all and so do his customers. ‘We haven’t got to the bottom of the history yet,’ he admitted to me with visible delight.

Arthur Beale’s predecessor John Buckingham’s trade card from 1791

Nineteenth century headed paper (click to enlarge)

Alasdair Flint’s office

Account book with Shackleton’s signature on his order for four sixty-foot lengths of Alpine Club Rope

Drawers full of printing blocks from Arthur Beale and John Buckingham’s use over past centuries

Arthur Beale barometer and display case of Buckingham rope samples

Nineteenth century lino on the stairs

War emergency brass screws still in stock

More Breton shirts and Wellingtons than you ever saw

Rope store in the basement

Work bench with machines for twisting wire rope

Behind the counter

Jason Nolan, Shop Manager

James Dennis, Sales Assistant

Jason & James run the shop

Receipts on the spike

Arthur Beale, 194 Shaftesbury Avenue, WC2 8JP

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6 Responses leave one →
  1. Caroline Bottomley permalink
    January 29, 2019

    I was in there just the other day!
    I shall pop back for some deck shoes, they looked pretty smart

  2. Julia harrison permalink
    January 29, 2019

    What an incredible history and how wonderful that it is still going. We need one of those ash poles at Daunt Books to fend off greedy landlords.

  3. Jill Wilson permalink
    January 29, 2019

    I’ve always been intrigued by this store and I am so pleased that it has been saved from the rampaging developers. I was at college in Charing Cross Road and in those days there were lots of useful suppliers in the area (my favourite was Russell and Chapple who specialised in theatrical canvas and had a very particular smell!), most of which have been replaced by trendy expensive clothes shops.

    I was also interested to read that Alasdair Flint has taken it over as Flints have recently lost their own warehouse and now run their business from a small outlet in Rotherhithe – a great loss for those of us who loved wandering round their old shop, looking at all the specialist paint brushes, paints and glazes, glues, theatrical fixtures and fittings, tubs of glitter etc. It is never quite the same buying from a catalogue…

    Ah well – long may Arthur Beale continue as a proper shop!

  4. January 29, 2019

    What a wonderful shop. Too bad I’m a little too far to pay a visit asap. By the way, the 19th century lino was much more elegant than the 1950’s lino.

  5. January 29, 2019

    OMG that barometer…I’d give my eye-teeth for that. I love how you ferret out these places. Anything nautical is dear to my heart.

  6. Steve Hanscomb permalink
    January 29, 2019

    It’s great to read this! I had no idea they have been going for so long, what a history! I’ve used Beale when buying varnish for the canoe paddles I carved, also floating safety ropes for my canoe. Always polite and knowledgable, it’s a pleasure to use the shop. I was in there the other day buying parts for my tool box, they knew exactly where the bits were I needed.
    Last Friday there was the deeply depressing news that Fuller Smith and Turner were selling off their brewery after 170 years. The last of London’s family owned big brewers and truly the end of an era. It’s a little ray of sunshine reading this. Long may they continue.

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