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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