THE 139-year story of Beales came to end last Thursday when all its shops shut their doors for good.

Its remaining staff were made redundant two days later, after staying on to empty the premises.

For the entire 20th century, Bournemouth without Beales would have been unthinkable. As these photographs from Beales’ own archive show, the store was at the heart of life in the town.

Beales was founded by John Elmes Beale, who had started his retail career as apprentice to a draper in Weymouth. He became shop manager of John Russell in St Mary Street, Weymouth, but went into business on his own after being denied a junior partnership.

Having agreed not to compete with John Russell in Weymouth, he settled upon the rapidly growing town of Bournemouth. The shop was originally called Fancy Fair and Oriental House.

Beale added a touch of showmanship to retail, bringing Father Christmas to a department store for what may have been the first time in the country. Father Christmas arrived by plane in 1912 and the following year, Beales introduced the live Easter farms which would be a tradition for generations.

John Elmes Beale himself became a church deacon, a magistrate and a town councillor, becoming mayor for three years from 1900. The Beale family would be represented on the council until Beale’s grandson Frank stood down in 1987.

Around 1920, Beale took over the draper’s shop of his friend Mr Okey in Commercial Road. It became Bealesons, which thrived for 62 years before falling victim to the recession of the early 1980s.

Beales itself became more imposing with an art deco frontage built in the early 1930s. But on May 23, 1943, during Bournemouth’s worst bombing of the Second World War, Beales took a direct hit. Though the Victorian basement and underground vault survive, the rest of the store dates from the 1950s, when construction company Drewitt rebuilt it.

The company thrived and grew in the post-war years, opening a Bealesons in Poole’s new Arndale Centre in 1969 and acquiring stores across the country which traded under their own local names. Beales was floated on the Stock Exchange in 1995 and remained a publicly listed company for 20 years.

The 21st century would bring competition from out-of-town shopping and the rise of online retail, with the business finally going into administration in January this year. But the store’s own photographs and papers, which will be donated to Dorset History Centre, record its hugely successful heyday.