THE long history of Beales came to an end a year ago, when the Bournemouth store shut its doors for the last time.

These pictures – a selection of six of the most incredible or dramatic – show the shop at the heart of the town’s retail life.

Despite having been bombed, rebuilt and renovated numerous times, Bournemouth without Beales was unimaginable throughout its 139-year existence.

Beales was founded by John Elmes Beale, a man who began his retail career as an apprentice draper in Weymouth.

He became the store manager of John Russell on St Mary Street in Weymouth, but after being stripped of his junior partner status, started his own business.

After agreeing not to compete with his old employer, he settled in the rapidly growing town of Bournemouth.

Bournemouth Echo: Beales in 1900

When the shop opened in 1881, it was originally named JE Beale Fancy Fair and Oriental House.

Beale liked to add sparkle and showbiz charm to the retail industry, and was responsible for the very first Father Christmas appearance in a UK department store.

Bournemouth Echo: A baby elephant arriving at Beales in Bournemouth 1973

Santa Claus arrived by plane in 1912, and the following year, Beales introduced the live Easter Farm, a tradition that survived for decades.

John Elmes Beale himself became a deacon of the church, magistrate and town councillor, and served as mayor for three years from 1900.

Bournemouth Echo: Children and adults were rescued from Beales after a fire broke out in November 1966

From that date until Beale's grandson, Frank, stood down in 1987, the family were represented on the council.

In around 1920, Beale took over his friend Mr Okey's curtain shop on Commercial Road. It became Bealesons, and it prospered for 62 years before experiencing the economic downturn of the early 1980s.

Bournemouth Echo: Beales after it was rebuilt in 1951. Photo from the Beales archive

Beales itself became a magnificent building looking building when, in the early 1930s, an Art Deco style facade was constructed.

But on May 23, 1943, Beales took a direct hit when Bournemouth endured their most devastating bombing strike of the Second World War.

Although the Victorian basement and underground vault survived, construction company Drewitt rebuilt the rest of the store in the 1950s.

Bournemouth Echo: Beales after it was bombed on 23rd May, 1943

Beales prospered after the war and opened Bealesons in Poole's new Arndale Center in 1969 and acquired stores nationwide that traded under their own local names.

Beales was listed on the Stock Exchange in 1995 and maintained its public listing status for more than 20 years.

The company faced the same problems as most high street retailers of the 21st century – competition from the rise of out-of-city shopping and online retail.

In 2004, Beales announced that Bournemouth's profits had fallen sharply, citing Castlepoint as the reason for the decline.

Bournemouth Echo: Beales in 1981

The unexpected decision to purchase 19 stores from the Anglia Regional Cooperative in 2011 was hailed as ensuring the future of the chain, but at the same time it had to take on heavy debts.

In 2013, Beale PLC revealed a loss of almost £6m and took the decision to refinance its debts.

Unprofitable stores were closed and the turnaround began to show results.

But the company went into administration in January 2020.

The Bournemouth store was shut on March 19, 2020, bringing an end to 139 years of retail presence in the town.