High latitudes Vertue sailor Alasdair Flint and business partner Gerry Jeatt have given up their summer sailing in order to breathe new life into the centuries-old Shaftsbury Avenue yacht chandlers Arthur Beale.
(If you don’t know London, Shaftsbury Avenue is at the heart of London’s theatreland. See the location here. )
In 2011 Alasdair sailed his Vertue, Sumara, together with Tim Loftus sailing his yacht Thembi, to Jan Mayen Island, a fascinating volcanic outpost of Norway, and climbed the volcano Beerenberg. Read about that trip here.
For that trip they won the Bill Tilman medal, a Royal Cruising Club honour in memory of mountaineer and Arctic explorer Bill Tilman.
Here’s what Alasdair has to say about his new adventure:
My summer sailing has been curtailed after a friend and I decided I to try to salvage an historic nautical relic which was about to hit the rocks.
Mind you, this was no feat of daring-do in the surf - our nautical relic was Arthur Beale, a 400 year old ships chandlers in Shaftesbury Avenue, London and the rocks were the nasty liquidators. I had got wind that this national maritime monument was not doing too well and so I wrote to them to see if there was anything we could do to help.
As it happened the letter arrived at a critical moment and the manager said that we would need to act fast! Neither myself or my partner in crime Gerry Jeatt had any intention of acquiring an ancient chandlers’ shop, especially as we were both busy on other projects, but if we did nothing then the wonderful shop would have definitely closed within weeks - and another Starbucks Coffee Shop would have been added to the map.
Against all advice we decided to plough in our savings and see what we could do to save the company.
We paid off all the suppliers, the tax and VAT and started to restock. Soon it was time to find out what exactly we had acquired! The stock was quite amazing, chests full of galvanised rowlock sockets, bronze pulley castings, ancient flags, patented Arthur Beale blocks and even holy stones. Old hand written ledgers showed sales to Arctic Expeditions and Everest Climbs. All fascinating stuff.
The history of the company isn’t very clear but we are endeavouring to piece things together. Our understanding is that the company started trading as John Buckingham Ropemakers on the banks of the River Fleet about four hundred years ago. They moved to the current premises about 125 years ago. Rope is the core activity of the company and Arthur Beale used to make a rope called “Alpine
Club Rope” which was the preferred rope of climbers worldwide. We still have the original test certificates and telegrams demanding that the rope be sent on the next steamer to Greenland.
Arthur Beale also supplied ice axes, climbing slings, and rucksacks.
In the 1930s the company was booming. Their catalogue shows a huge range of yacht stoves and they even had a department providing flags and decorations for civic ceremonies. They also supplied many theatres and film companies. We have found half guinea gift tokens and the old printing blocks for all their advertisements.
In recent times sales had declined. Arthur Beale had no website and no advertising. They wouldn’t post out goods or take payment over the phone, and even closed at lunchtime on Saturday.
We needed to make urgent changes to enable the company to survive.
So what can you expect from Arthur Beale’s in the future? I own a varnished wooden yacht and have a penchant for sailing into the Arctic. So you can perhaps imagine the kind of things we will be stocking – good quality varnishes and paints, tough practical kit that will also look right on classic craft, heavy weather clothing, interesting books and unusual tools and equipment. The old drawers full of intriguing fixtures and fittings will remain but there will also be attractive display boards so you can actually see what is in the drawers!
We won’t make much money selling caulking cotton, copper tacks and tarred marline on Shaftesbury Avenue but we will sell these things nevertheless.
Gerry is an IT expert and we already have a smart new website
www.arthurbeale.co.uk and we will be introducing on-line sales in the near future. We are going to have regular evening talks with our first one being – Learn to Splice at 1845 on 10th July. Other scheduled dates are Varnishing tips and demonstrations 4th September and Sailing to Arctic Jan Mayen and climbing Beerenberg on the 9th October. See the website for details.
Outside the shop you will now find the Thames Shipping Forecast and high water times for London Bridge. Inside we are busy renovating upstairs to make way for all the new stock. The shop is now open until 2000 on Thursday Friday and Saturday.
We have a long way to go before all the work will be finished but every week more stock arrives and by the autumn we reckon we will have a shop to be proud of. We would love to see you there!
Alasdair Flint maintains his own weblog Sumara of Weymouth.