West End Arthur Beale Yacht Shop has closed and here’s why it matters


Around the same time last year, we conducted an interview with the owners of London’s oldest businesses, reflecting on how they had survived some of the most difficult times in the city’s history, only to be faced with a global pandemic. We spoke to cheese makers and umbrella vendors about how their stores had weathered the floods, two world wars and global financial crashes.

One of those companies was Arthur Beale, a West End nautical chandler who has been around in London in various forms for so long that no one knows exactly how old he is (he is believed to be around 520 years old). At the time, Arthur Beale owner Alasdair Flint told us, “90% of our sales are through the store, so the current crisis is having a devastating effect. But the store was already pretty old when the Great Plague hit London. Some of the victims were buried in the church opposite. It went through that one and we plan to go through that too.

Unfortunately, Arthur Beale did not survive the last confinement. Tuesday, a Twitter thread by Londoner Dan Barker alerted us to the news that this eccentric sailing shop, which has existed in the capital for over half a millennium, will not be reopening. In the thread, Barker followed the news with extracts from archival research into the history of Arthur Beale, including a map from the British Museum from 1791 showing the old shop mouthful named ‘John Buckingham, Hemp & Flax Dresser, Two-dealer & Rope-maker ‘. He also tweeted that the company provided the ropes used at the start. Everest expeditions by Tenzing Norgay and Eric Shipton.

Barker explains to me over the phone that he’s not connected with Arthur Beale, he’s just a fan of the company who is sad to see her go, “I go to the store quite regularly and love what they do, ”he says. “I’ve worked for a lot of retailers, so I’m interested in retail in general. I think the story of what they’re doing is great, super interesting. There are very few of these places left in the world.

So how did a yacht supplier end up in the middle of the London theater? Barker says one theory is that the company’s original location around St Giles / Covent Garden was once surrounded by fields of flax, the flax which may have been used to make their rope. It’s details like this that make Arthur Beale’s shutdown seem like such a loss. It’s not just a quirky store, it was, until this month, a tangible link to pre-industrial London. Having this odd old business sitting on a road next to a real estate agent was a small sign of the city’s willingness to preserve its history. Plus, her elaborate display cases will be truly missed, which has convinced many tourists that they would look great in a striped sweater.

Arthur Beale confirmed the news of the closure yesterday on his official website Instagram account, indicating that ‘The impact of Covid-19 means the company can no longer guarantee the payment of rents demanded by a central London store, so we have no choice but to move to new pasture. Arthur Beale’s team explained that they will have a clearance sale at the store until June 24 and will continue to operate online at www.arthurbeale.co.uk. They signed with: “There is still life in the old ship!”

In the less depressing West End news, these London theaters reopen on May 17th …

… And four – yes four – new record stores open in London.

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