Beales first to welcome Father Christmas
Today’s confirmation that Beales department store in Bournemouth has gone into administration is sad news.
The flagship shop on the original site and its many branches remain open but the future is uncertain.
Beales in Bournemouth is one of Britain’s oldest department stores having opened in 1881.
In 1885, with the shop’s upper floor devoted to German toys, John Beale introduced Father Christmas who had never appeared in a British shop before.
Since 1870 he had, as Santa, been found in New York at Macy’s.
Bournemouth’s Father Christmas, in a costume made by Mr Beale’s wife Annie, was always bare headed but had lots of white hair as well as a huge beard.
His arrival by carriage in an annual street procession and a balcony appearance was a major event which could be compared to a Papal visit by the crowd and excitement the occasion generated.
John Beale did visit America but he and his sons probably took many elements of the welcome for St Nicholas staged in Nancy as a template.
Certainly we know St Nicholas in Britain as the red Father Christmas mainly due to Beales presenting a standard for other shops to follow including Harrods and Selfridges.