“Mad Sailor Shop” Closes After 500 Years

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The Mad Sailor Shop is closing after nearly 500 years. Photo: Hugo Taylor

One of London’s oldest shops is closing its doors after almost five centuries. The iconic Arthur Beale, often known as the Mad Sailor Shop, was opened by rope-maker John Buckingham in the 16th Century. It has sold nautical equipment and outdoor gear ever since. Next month, it moves permanently online.

Photo: SWA

The shop has been at the centre of exploration for generations. In the mid-19th century, it became the sole purveyor of rope for the world’s first mountaineering organization, the Alpine Club. It supplied the ice axes for Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Antarctic voyages. In 1935, Eric Shipton bought the ropes for his Everest expedition there.

The 1921 Everest expedition paid Arthur Beale £13.10 for their ice axes.

Another victim of the pandemic

“We were left in a very precarious financial state as a result of the pandemic,” a spokesperson told Boating Business about the closure of the physical shop on Shaftesbury Avenue.

Arthur Beale was the sole provider of rope for the Alpine Club.

No one is sure exactly how long the shop has been open. The British Museum has a card from 1791 stating that the original name of the shop was John Buckingham, Hemp & Flax Dresser, Two-dealer & Rope-maker. But other records show that John Buckingham’s company began in the 1500s.

A letter from Eric Shipton to Arthur Beale.

Arthur Beale joined the shop in 1890 when he was 15 years old. After years of working there, it was renamed after him. It became Beale and Clove. When Beale died in 1932, his son took over and the name changed again. It has remained Arthur Beale ever since.

Co-owner Hugh Taylor spoke about the shop’s closure to BBC News; “The number of people coming through the shop door and the cost of maintaining it just wasn’t working. [People] might not even have bought much over the years, but they’ve enjoyed walking past these magnificent windows.”

Below, an audiovisual presentation on the history of the shop.

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About the Author

Rebecca McPhee

Rebecca is a freelance writer and science teacher based in the UK.

She is a keen traveler and has been lucky enough to backpack her way around Africa, South America, and Asia. With a background in marine biology, she is interested in everything to do with the oceans and aims to dive and open-water swim in as many seas as possible.

Her areas of expertise include open water sports, marine wildlife and adventure travel.

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Lenore Jones
Lenore Jones
29 days ago

Hey, the caption below the first letter doesn’t match what’s in the letter.

I wish I had had a chance to walk through this shop! I hope they will do okay asap online business.

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