THE story of Beales began when Bournemouth was a Victorian boomtown – and it has been bound up with the wider history of the resort ever since.

The current bid to take over Beale PLC and turn it into a private company once more has highlighted the business’s central role in the life of the town.

Andrew Perloff, who is looking to take over the company, acknowledged that history when he told the Daily Echo recently: “I’m very sentimental about long-living business. I believe we should do what we can to keep them. They have a goodwill element that you can’t really value.”

See pictures of Beales through the years in a gallery here

Beales was founded in 1881 by John Elmes Beale, born in Weymouth in 1849.

Beale’s father was a sea captain who was lost at sea when the boy was young, and his mother arranged for John to be apprenticed to a draper in the town.

After other jobs in Dorset and Manchester, John worked for the draper’s John Russell in St Mary’s Street, Weymouth, where he became shop manager. After eight years, he asked for a junior partnership and was rebuffed – prompting him to set up in business on his own.

Having agreed not to compete with John Russell in Weymouth, JE Beale looked at towns including Dorchester, Shaftesbury, Poole, Swanage and Southampton. But he decided on Bournemouth, which was expanding rapidly. Its population had trebled in three years and one of its most noted residents, Sir Merton Russell Cotes, was campaigning to improve its rail service.

Beale rented space in St Peter’s Terrace, a new building put up on the site of two large houses. John Russell would not release him until after Christmas, so Beale had to open his shop without being there to manage it.

In the run-up to the store opening, he would work for Russell until midnight on Saturday, then catch the mail train from Weymouth to Bournemouth West. He would work all day in his shop on Sunday – initially as his own carpenter and shop fitter, later in marking and setting out stock – and then take the newspaper train back to Weymouth in the early hours of Monday morning.

His shop, called Fancy Fair, opened in November, with his wife Sarah in charge, although Beale himself managed a few days off from his Weymouth job to start the business.

Trading was difficult at first, but the opening of the Bournemouth West railway station in 1874 had fuelled a growth in excursion trips to the resort. Come spring 1882, Fancy Fair was stocked with buckets, spades and model boats, with prices starting at a penny.

In 1884, the shop produced the first of its special resort souvenirs, including an album of views of the town.

Bournemouth Echo:

A baby elephant at Beales in 1973

JE Beale knew how to add a touch of theatre to the shopping experience. In 1885 he came up with the idea of having a live Father Christmas parading in the shop and showrooms. It was possibly the first instance of this being done in England.

Beale was also becoming an influential figure in town. A member of Richmond Hill Congregational Church, he became a deacon in 1896 and treasurer the next year. He became a magistrate in 1900 and then joined the town council, starting a three-year tenure as mayor in 1900.

The business was growing, undergoing a name change from Fancy Fair and Oriental House to JE Beale’s as the building expanded.

A shopwalker in tailcoat and striped trousers would welcome customers, recognising the well-known ones and conducting them from their carriages to the appropriate counter.

In 1912, Father Christmas arrived by air, waving to the crowds from an open cockpit before being flown back to a field in Pokesdown to return to the shop by road.

The following year, the shop introduced the Easter farm, which was to become a popular seasonal fixture.

The expanded Victorian building acquired a glamorous art deco frontage in the 1930s.

But the original Beales building was destroyed on May 23, 1943, when Bournemouth suffered its worst bombing of the war.

The lunchtime Luftwaffe raid claimed more than 70 lives, mainly at the Central Hotel in Richmond Hill and the Metropole Hotel at the Lansdowne. Beales took a direct hit, rupturing a gas line which started a blaze that razed the store.

The store was rebuilt in the 1950s by local construction company Drewitt and thrived in the post-war years.

JE Beale had been succeeded as chairman by his son Bennett. A third generation then joined the company in Bennett’s son, Frank Beale.

Frank joined the business after studying at Oxford and the London School of Economics and working at Macy’s in the US.

He told the Echo in 2000: “One day a member of the staff had dealt with a customer and JE Beale asked how he had got on. He said he had not made a sale, to which Mr Beale replied ‘But did you make a friend?’ “That is how Beales built up its name.”

Frank followed previous generations onto Bournemouth council – and when he finally stood down in 1987, it was the first time there had been no Beale on the authority.

The company expanded in the 1960s, opening a Bealesons store in Poole’s new Arndale Centre in 1969 and buying shops elsewhere.

Those who could not run to furnishing their home or buying their clothes at Beales would still enjoy the books or music department, or have tea and cakes in its restaurant.

In November 1966, a fire broke out at the Bournemouth branch two days after Guy Fawkes Night, as two assistants were packing away unsold fireworks. Firefighters used ladders to rescue 30 people, including children.

Beales continued to thrive and in 1995, Beale PLC floated on the Stock Exchange and bought more stores – but challenging times were ahead.

The company had to deal with a major drop in profits in Bournemouth and Poole with the opening of Castlepoint in 2003, as well as the rise of internet shopping and ever more aggressive competition.

But while the future may be challenging, there is no doubting that for generations of Bournemouth residents, Beales was not so much a shop as an institution.

Amalgamated in 1967

IT had a shorter lifespan than Beales itself, but sister store Bealesons was also a favourite destination of shoppers.

Bealesons was originally the draper’s shop of Mr Okey, a good friend of JE Beale’s at Richmond Hill Congregational Church.

Beale took it over around 1920 and turned it into Bealesons. The two were run by separate companies which amalgamated in 1967.

Bealesons attracted plenty of headlines in its heyday, not least from the parade of celebrities who visited.

Lionel Blair took part in a fashion show, Anita Harris showcased home entertainment products, and the likes of Harry Corbett and Sooty, David Attenborough, Harvey Smith and Pam Ayres signed their new books.

But in January 1982, with Britain in recession, the company announced the loss-making store would be closed.

It had been competing with Beales for a dwindling number of customers and a bad tourist season had contributed to its worst ever trading year.

Director Nigel Beale said: “People who were not familiar with the town were confused by two stores with virtually the same name.

“They thought they were carbon copies although this has never been the case.”

The store closed that June. “Recession-torn Britain has suffered a sad blow here,” said the Echo. The Bealesons name was also used for the company’s store in Poole’s Arndale Centre, which was later rebranded as a Beales.