Tom Chamberlin

The sad death of Britain’s character shops

  • From Spectator Life

So farewell then Arthur Beale, you were the last of the great chandler shops. You and I had little in common…

This is how I imagine E.J. Thribb poem starting, and Private Eye’s Poetry Corner would do well to eulogise the passing of one of London’s most eccentric shops. It is to the credit of all Englishmen that a shop like Arthur Beale was able to survive into 2021. The audaciousness of running a chandlers on prime real estate in a notoriously expensive city, when the outboard motor was invented in 1870, does hint as to how we managed to beat the Germans twice. It is to our national shame that its Shaftesbury Avenue doors will be closing for good, a victim of the Coronavirus, and the unscrupulousness of landlords, who seem to know the price of everything but the value of nothing.

Savile Row has less than 50 per cent capacity, with replacements in the empty shops all seeming to refer to themselves rather insecurely as ‘pop ups’.

Alas, Arthur Beale is not alone. Similar institutions have fallen victim to Covid, and without the support required to keep up the only retail spaces with real character left, more are sure to follow. Cordwainers Fosters & Son is one. A 200-year-old presence on Jermyn Street and peer reviewed by Tony Gaziano of Gaziano & Girling, as the best ready-to-wear shoes on the market, is shutting down too. Staggeringly, Savile Row has less than 50 per cent capacity, with replacements in the empty shops all seeming to refer to themselves rather insecurely as ‘pop ups’.

What doesn’t bear thinking about is who might be next, or how these eccentric endangered species might disappear altogether. The best examples you can find are in the arcades off Piccadilly, most notably The Armory of St.

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