Yesterday was my last day with Arthur Beale!

Painting of the old shop by Claudia Myatt – who else!

1st April 2022

Yes, I am moving on. It is now an unbelievable eight years since that slightly scary “Whoops-a-daisy, we’ve bought a Chandlers!” moment. I have certainly enjoyed the challenge of resurrecting the old ship, but it is now time for me to to allow the new owners to make their mark while I move onto other projects.

The lovely old shop in Shaftesbury Avenue

The truth is I never really planned to buy the old shop in the first place. I simply contacted the owner to see if he would like to hold some stock of theatrical hardware from Flints Theatrical Chandlers. With the shop being slap-bang-wallop in the middle of Theatre Land it seemed like a great idea. It was only when I went to meet the Manager, Mr Coleman, that I discovered that the shop was imminently going to close down. The shelves were bare. The debt collectors were knocking on the door.

A bit of a prod from a well known artist, and a natter with my colleague Gerry persuaded us to team up and dive in head-first with the slightly vague hope that we could turn the much loved, but slightly gribble ridden, ship around.

I re-mortgaged my house and cancelled my planned sailing trip through Russia and got stuck in. We paid off the debts, repaid the previous Director the money had loaned to Arthur Beale to keep it afloat, and re-stocked the shop.

We spent our weekends clearing out the debris, decorating the shop and making up bright new display boards. Gerry put his efforts into getting a website up and running and sorting out decent IT systems. It was amazing to find that they didn’t even have an email address, and that was in 2014!

After a few months of Gerry’s wizardry we were even able to sell our wonderful stock on the world wide interbubble.

We made up display boards, hung up some flags and generally brightened up the place.
Later we installed a decent lighting system

We installed new lighting and kept the shop door open, so the place looked less intimidating. We opened up the upstairs sales room and we even stayed open in the evenings and weekends. We built a little show stand and attended loads of boat shows. The word was getting out there!

Our little stand at the St Katharine Docks Classic Boat Show
Setting up the Arthur Beale Stand at the London Boat Show – building this epic kept me frantically busy over the festive Christmas period but we reckon it was the best stand at the show!
Our annual Nordic themed stand at the busy Scandi Market in Rotherhithe

We held lots of talks talks and film shows and built up a large community of like-minded people.

One of our sold out talks

We built whacky window displays which soon became a London tourist attraction.

Work in progress on the “Penguin” themed Christmas Shop Window Display
Building the window display. All the work was done by ourselves
Classic Boat described this as the best shop window display in London!
The technical displays made a refreshing eye rest from the other shops in the West End.

Update February 2023 – I saw the Arthur Beale Life Buoy was up for sale on a Nautical Antiques Stand. It seems a shame to see it up for sale as
I always considered it part of the shop’s history.

Every day we put up a sign in Shaftesbury Avenue showing the Shipping Forecast and Tide Times.

Our display board with the tide times and shipping forecast everyday!

We found old printing blocks and resurrected the old typeface and the original boat logo designed by Arthur Beale himself.

Mirror image of a couple of the old printing blocks that we used to recreate the logo
The gently tweaked logo
The round version was used on our sleeve badges and flask tops and the boat logo featured on our tumblers. All the artwork was original,
I love the seagull flying after the yacht!
The brand new Arthur Beale Logo introduced by the new owners.
What do you think?

We introduced a range of Arthur Beale products which proudly displayed the original old logos. The Beerenberg and Erebus pullovers were made in Britain with undyed oiled wool and are now sold throughout the world. They were thoroughly sea tested and altered before being put on sale. Each pullover was supplied with a length of yarn so that darns could be easily made but I am not sure if that is still the case. The original Beerenberg pullover had the pale blue logo designed by Arthur Beale himself and the Erebus displayed a small Red Ensign logo which worked well against the dark brown wool.

They are no longer available with the original logos so, if you like the old logo, hang on to your original ones!

Whenever possible we would test all the products on my Vertue – Sumara. Here is one of our canvas smocks being trialled. It has the original round Arthur Beale logo and a small red ensign on the pocket.

We added canvas smocks to the range, supplying them with a spare patch of material for repairs. The idea was that the clothing would last. We introduced strong double dipped enamelware plus zipper, tote and ditty bags and specialist tools.

Our range of tough practical enamelware. The bowl was based on Nansen’s bowls from the Fram. We realized the inside of enamel mugs often got stained with tea,
so we decided to colour the inside enamel “tea colour”!
We added jute tote bags for our shoppers to carry away their goodies
Our super popular ditty bags made in tough canvas
These aluminium bronze spanners were perfect for use on board.
They wouldn’t deflect the compass or corrode.
My new design “Riggers Tool Bag” with a soft leather base, loads of pockets and a tape loop

I recently designed a Riggers Tool Bag which is soon to be released. It will now be released with the new owners “For Every Adventure” rebranding, rather than the old-fashioned Arthur Beale logo.

I soon found myself working seven days a week on the various projects, and had no time to spare for work on my main job at Flints! I wasn’t taking a wage from Arthur Beale, so I decided to sell my shares in my old company to give me some funds so I could concentrate on working at the shop. My original plan to sell theatre hardware alongside the yachting gear wasn’t going to happen so Arthur Beale focussed on supplying high quality marine equipment and rigging with a slant towards classic wooden yachts and expedition sailing.
We took on some interesting projects including supplying a massive mast and rigging for Louis Vuitton. We then took it on a world tour!

Hoisting the topsail in the old New York Stock Exchange!
We put the mast up in Seoul, Shanghai, Tokyo, Paris and New York!

We re-rigged some beautiful little boats.

But it wasn’t all boats. We replaced the rope handrailing at the Tower of London and the wire balustrades at the Kensington Roof Gardens. We put swings into restaurants. We supplied the Students at the London College of Fashion and various famous fashion houses. They enjoyed visiting the shop and feeling “the hand” of our huge choice of ropes.

We printed real paper catalogues packed with information. It was our intention to ultimately come up the the Boating Bible for classic wooden yachts a bit like Flints Catalogue is the Bible for backstage theatre.

The company was expanding fast and doing really well, but it really needed some investment to safeguard its future. In 2020 we decided to have an investment campaign. It was a massive effort from everyone to organise. There was huge interest but sadly, just one day before the official launch, we were advised that it potentially fell foul of the law, and we were forced to withdraw it. I think it would have been a huge success if we hadn’t been advised to pull the campaign. This rather took the wind out of my sails.

Then came more problems. As is common with most retail businesses, we make most of our money in November and December which is exactly when Camden Council decided to do some major paving works right outside our shop! While they were at it, the gas main burst, closing Shaftesbury Avenue for the day. To add to the misery, while that was being repaired they burst the water main and flooded our basement. This decimated our walk-in trade and meant we were low on funds for the start of the following year.
I was running short on energy and at one point even contemplated selling my beloved yacht as I had so little time to sail it. I had also now worked for over five years taking no pay from the company.

And then in 2020 there was Covid. During the lockdowns we continued trading online but, with the shop closed, the turnover fell off a cliff. Luckily, and credit where credit is due, the Government came up with a loan scheme that would help us survive. We decided that our future depended on us becoming generally more efficient and increasing our online sales. We decided to invest in an all-singing-all dancing integrated operating system. While the shop was closed, we were busier than ever photographing and loading all our products onto the new website.

We took thousands of photographs to clearly explain each product

Thousands of products were photographed and uploaded following our carefully thought through stock-tree. Where relevant, each product had their data and specification sheets uploaded. In July 2020 we were ready for a soft launch. The system was working beautifully.

The following spring I received a call from Hugh Taylor to say that he and his colleague James Keef were interested in investing in the company. Arthur Beale did still need an investment boost and the thought of resurrecting another investment campaign just did not appeal to me. Hugh had a marketing background and James was a finance expert so I felt the three of us could make a good team.

I handed over my controlling interest in return for Hugh and James to invest in the company.

They studied the figures with their financial expertise and saw that my Beerenberg oiled wool pullovers were providing a substantial chunk of the company turnover. They were keen to add more clothing and build up the “gifting” side of the company. They also wanted to reduce the range of general chandlery items. The figures showed that they needed to stop selling low margin and tricky products such as tools, paints and varnish. They commissioned a company to come up with a new branding style including a new logo sleeve badge.

They were also determined to go 100% online and close the London shop, although they did open a shop in Portsmouth a few months later.

I soon found myself having very little to do with the running of the company.

They were dramatically increasing the turnover predominantly by the extensive use of Google Adverts. I was rather lacking these online marketing and financial analytics skills. My skill set lies in expedition yachting in classic wooden boats rather than data analysis. The smell of tarred marline, the glistening of bronze, the feel of leather and canvas and the sky reflected in varnish are my passions.

I was more a fan of slow organic growth rather than using Google Adverts.

Arthur Beale has great possibilities under its new ownership. However selling fashion clothing and nautical gifts online are not really my thing. It was the Aladdin’s Cave atmosphere of the old shop that originally attracted me there in 1980’s to equip my first boat.

It was time to move on.

Luckily in May 2021, just before the shop was finally closed, David Fletcher came to capture the remaining atmosphere using his considerable skills in photogrammetry. You can enjoy exploring the old shop on his website or clicking the links below. I hope you enjoy exploring this special old shop.

The shop and basement partly cleared before moving out
The lovely old office
The store room, partly cleared of stock
The attic

So what will I do now?

I’m currently doing several very specialist rigging projects but I’m mainly concentrating on organising my planned expedition this summer (2022) to Scoresby Sund in my little 26ft varnished yacht.

Now that should be quite an adventure!

2 responses to “Yesterday was my last day with Arthur Beale!”

  1. Well done Alastair! I did not know I was buying boat supplies from you over the years, but that leaves a good feeling! And now that I am thinking about it, it is even possible that we met at a classic boat event at St. Catherine’s Docks, some years ago.
    There I also met James Kelman and his Croix des Gardes, an amazing yacht for which I crewed a few times.
    I was passionate about AB, which was an obliged destination for my London visits. I was sad when they announced the shop closure, things will no longer be the same…

    1. Hi Matteo,

      We could well have met at the St Kats Classic Boat Show and yes I certainly remember James’ lovely yacht. It used to be moored off Clamp Cottage downstream of Pin Mill. It was a shame the shop closed. I have lots of fond memories from it. Well done with your recent qualifying passage and record breaking spinnaker run!

      Best regards,


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