Skip to content

The Departure Of Arthur Beale

May 19, 2021
by the gentle author

PLEASE NOTE: My HOW TO WRITE A BLOG THAT PEOPLE WILL WANT TO READ course sold out immediately, so in response to popular demand I am holding another in November on the weekend of 20th & 21st. Click here for more details

.

Established as rope chandlers for over four hundred years at the same location in St Giles, Arthur Beale is now being forced out by excessive rents. You have until June 24th to pay a last visit.

.

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. 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. Prophetically, 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 linoleum 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 linoleum 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

You may also like to read about

London Oldest Ironmongers

Spitalfields Oldest Family Business

22 Responses leave one →
  1. May 19, 2021

    Quite apart from from the fascinating history of the business, it’s sad news to be losing such a well stocked chandlers, so conveniently located and helpfully staffed. Thirty years ago I bought a brass latch for a punt locker from Arthur Beale, and two weeks ago I called by on the off chance that they might have a replacement. All it took was a quick riffle through the drawers and they produced exactly what I was looking for.

  2. Penny Gardner permalink
    May 19, 2021

    This is a sad time in all our cities.
    We are osing our lives.
    I lived in King Edward Mansions across the Circus and my room rent was £5.00 per week in 1970.

    There were local grocers and Beales was an upmarket shop,next to Leo Cooper’sthat I passed on the way to college.
    Had four part time jobs in the area to fund this. I dreamed of sailing boats and the sea whenever I passed.

    Couldn’t we go back to real life , away from the chains of hard money and must have nothings.

  3. May 19, 2021

    This is beyond depressing. It seems that soon, every bit of quirky, family owned London will be gone. Is there really no way to rein in the criminally high rents demanded by these crooked landlords? Disgusted and heartbroken.

  4. Jill Wilson permalink
    May 19, 2021

    This is really sad – it was one of the last ‘real’ shops left in the Covent Garden area where there used to be so many specialist shops supplying the theatre industry, and in Arthur Beale’s case the sailing community too.

    I hope the business survives as an online venture, but it won’t be the same as actually visiting the shop (and smiling the ropes!)

    The same thing has happened to my favourite suppliers Flints Theatrical chandlers who no longer have their lovely warehouse in Southwark where one could be sorely tempted to buy all sorts of paint brushes, paints, and glitter as well as the more practical hardware. And while they have an excellent and very informative catalogue it is not the same as actually interacting with the merchandise.

  5. Lucy permalink
    May 19, 2021

    The West End used to be a place for specialist shops like this, like Denmark Street the music street, art materials, the forgotten corners of Foyles, the fabric shops of Berwick St, and so many more. Nobody will need to go to the West End again, now that it has been hollowed out with only hotels and offices left. It’s breathtaking.

  6. Gregory Tingey permalink
    May 19, 2021

    Very sad
    Even complete non-sailors, like myself have found Beale’s useful for various oddities in the past, that could not be got anywhere else ….

  7. David Gooding permalink
    May 19, 2021

    It’s sad to see yet another traditional business exiting it’s London premises.

    High rent and rates in London have encouraged many such companies to relocate to more modern and cost efficient locations in the surrounding counties.

    I note that Arthur Beale have an excellent website and hope that this will enable them to prosper in the future.

  8. Annie S permalink
    May 19, 2021

    I had already heard this very sad news, what an institution, anyone who has been in that Covent Garden area of London would know the shop.
    I do hope a new home can be found, at least for all the history held in there.

  9. May 19, 2021

    We wish Alasdair every success in finding a new home for this wonderful emporium.
    Over the years we have bought the humble cork float keyrings for many friends and we still have the thick ropes made for our stairwell very similar to the one seen hanging folorn in your photo.
    We have never owned a boat, but the inspiration from this collection is seductive even for landlubbers! ps. We do live by the sea.

  10. May 19, 2021

    Great feature and photos! Walked past there a couple of days ago and added Arthur Beale to my blog, although queues meant I couldn’t get inside. Although of course London changes all the time, it’s so very sad to see many iconic shops and buildings rapidly disappearing in London

  11. Rosemary Antrobus permalink
    May 19, 2021

    Working with Jules Baker’s Cumberland Giants , I was a regular customer buying non toxic smoke flares, so that dressed as a Beano type clown second I chased Terrible Ted and Mighty Mick around the ring with a dramatic trail of orange smoke. They were inflatable Giants battling a comedy wrestling match, entertaining Miner’s Galas, community events and carnivals up and down the country in the 1980s. Branching out with a creative jewellery stall at Camden Lock I made accessories from their fancy ropes. Curious artists and creatives are always fascinated by hardware shops, specialist craft and trade shops. Where do we go in this day and age for inspiration.?

  12. Georgina Briody permalink
    May 19, 2021

    This is just so sad. I have known this shop all my life. All down to greed from landlords and developers.

  13. Cherub permalink
    May 19, 2021

    I’m starting to despair at all the historic businesses that are going from high rents and the dreadful pandemic situation we’re still all enduring. Where do we now go for the niche products many of them sell and the personal service they offer to find just the very thing for your needs.

    In the past few days I’ve read of a family run vegetarian / vegan restaurant in Edinburgh that had been going since the early 60s no longer being viable – third generation family running it and a loss of 35 loyal staff members. It was a wee bit of a landmark.

    Many small places in my Swiss City have decided not to reopen as well, sadly places I loved going to. Hoping to visit my home town in Scotland in the autumn, but I don’t know what expect as half of the High Street has now gone 🙁

  14. Cherub permalink
    May 19, 2021

    Can I also just add I hope the 19th c lino on the stairs is from Nairn of Kirkcaldy in Scotland. We’re known as the town that floored the world!

  15. David Green permalink
    May 19, 2021

    Shocking that a city like London does not have an Office of Intangible Cultural Heritage with the legislative authority to stop these avaricious bloody landlords from robbing people of their living and the country of its’ culture and history. Disgusting. I happened onto Arthur Beale’s entirely by chance last time I visited London, and being somewhat nautically obsessed, was awed with the place. Shame.

  16. May 19, 2021

    Greetings from Boston,

    GA, what an interesting enterprise – so “ship shape” that it looks like a museum. So sad to lose another real business – same on this side of the pond.

    Great photos…

  17. Richard permalink
    May 19, 2021

    One of the last survivors. I guess it’s only a loss to the current generation. Does anyone remember Withers of Wardour St, the violin shop.

  18. Lizebeth permalink
    May 19, 2021

    This shop, sadly, joins the ranks of Stanford’s, the Dover Bookshop (does anyone remember them in Seven Dials?) and too many others forced out by greedy landlords. I live in the area and our only Supermarket, a Tesco Metro, last heard was paying in excess of £10,000 monthly rent. Why has the legislature not addressed this problem? There are only a few large landholders in this part of London and they all have more money than they require, without forcing their tenants to depart. As others have said, soon there will be nothing left in the West
    End but Hotels and Chain Coffee Shops — and will even these survive Covid?

  19. Sonia Murray permalink
    May 19, 2021

    The loss of so many small specialty shops is tragic. After 400 years! The landlord is probably facing high taxation, planned from on high to force sale to build yet another office tower or boutique hotel. My seafaring ancestors who sailed from the Pool in the 1770’s may have purchased supplies at this ship chandlers. I do hope Beale’s account books will be given to the National Archives and made available to researchers, not just thrown away.

  20. Sue permalink
    May 19, 2021

    What will happen to all these lovely items, and the old fixtures, the actual building, the historical items and fittings? It’s a beautiful place, with a beautiful history! The photos give such a wonderful feel. I agree with those who have posted that “real life” is disappearing. Everything is so sterile, robotic, sans personality or individuality, dull! Where’s the texture, the heart, the throbbing pulse of innovation and dynamism and purity of purpose and practicality? The London I knew in the 1970’s oh! I suppose every generation feels this way as the years past, all they knew changing/being replaced….

    I spend more time in my thoughts of the past than I do of this present day, there is so little that seems to really engage the heart and mind with its charm. I’m thankful to escape into this blog and the images, stories, and whimsy/history that is shared!

  21. Jo Rogers permalink
    May 19, 2021

    Surely there is some well-off yacht owner with some spare funds who could take on the rent for this brilliant company? Beales is every bit as deserving as many of the Charities which entrepreneurs subsidise! The loss of this business in this location is tragic.

  22. JamesBuchanan permalink
    May 20, 2021

    A couple of years ago I was on my cousins boat on the way to South Dock. Approaching Gravesend with the tide turning we decided sit out the tide but we hadn’t booked a mooring in advance. Alastair happened to be on the next mooring, and recognising a loyal customer persuaded the Harbour Master to allow us to use the spare mooring! We were then invited on board Alastair’s beautifully varnished 26ft yacht for supper. The internet has kept us going throughout this pandemic but, “the times are a changing”.

Leave a Reply

Note: Comments may be edited. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS