Santa comes to Beales

Looking Back Eastbourne Father Christmas SUS-140311-115109001
Looking Back Eastbourne Father Christmas SUS-140311-115109001

I was interested to see the item on the Classic Cinema by Brian Robinson in Looking Back (October 24) as he correctly points out the cinema was never on the site of the Co-operative store, being in a different road altogether.

I recall going there on school trips in the 1960s to see the films of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and Macbeth both of which we were studying.

I am sure some will remember how in the 1950s cups of tea were served during the matinée intervals and passed along the rows of seats to members of the audience.

The history of the Co-operative department store building in Looking Back of October 3 did not mention that this store was formerly Beales, an elegant major departmental store of Eastbourne.

The store was built in the 1930s on the corner of what was then Victoria Place and Trinity Trees, in the distinctive Art Deco style, opening as Beales before becoming the Co-operative store in the late 1940s.

Other readers will recall this and can perhaps add more details. I do remember my grandparents describing Beales as a lovely store.

My mother wrote the following in her memories, “I vividly remember as a child that Beales was renown for its wonderful toy department. Every year two or three weeks before Christmas, there was much excitement when Father Christmas would arrive at Eastbourne Railway Station.

“There was a big procession with him travelling in an elaborately decorated carriage; one year drawn by white reindeer. These were of course white horses that had antlers attached to the bridles on their heads to resemble reindeer. The pavements of Terminus Road were packed with crowds and excited children often held up on shoulders to see this festive spectacle and have Father Christmas wave at them.

“The parade, always led by one of Eastbourne’s bands, escorted Father Christmas to Beales a wonderful department store on the corner of Terminus Place and Trinity Trees which after the war became the Co-op.

“Each year Father Christmas would sit in the store amid a different themed Christmas tableaux. One year there was a scene of the North Pole with an ice cave and sparkling icicles and the next year there was a toy workshop with busy elves. One I thought was rather strange as he was sat on top of a giant model of a Christmas cake.

“He was kept busy until Christmas Eve as for 6d children could visit him, tell him their secret Christmas wishes and receive a small gift. He would firstly ask your name as he had two large books he consulted supposedly with names of all the children who had been good throughout the year in one and another of all those who had been naughty. We were always worried our names might be in the naughty book and if so he wouldn’t visit us on Christmas Eve but of course he always found every child’s name in the good book”.

I do not personally remember anything other than the Co-op on the site but I am sure there must still be many people in the area who do remember Beales and perhaps the excitement of the arrival of Father Christmas each year at the store.

In my childhood, every December, Father Christmas would be in his grotto in the large toy department downstairs in Bobby & Co, what is now Debenhams. Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a visit to see him and there was always a photographer there to capture the moment.

At the same time in the early 1950s, special Christmas teas were held upstairs in the elegant restaurant with waitresses wearing smart dresses and white aprons and caps. An enormous wonderfully decorated Christmas tree stood in the centre beneath and reaching up into the beautiful glass domed roof with its elaborate plaster frieze surrounding.

My grandfather told me my great grandfather William Fielder had made this plasterwork and also that on the front of the building above the main entrance. The dome is still there, now in the ladies clothing department but sadly blocked in some years ago. Today I can never walk though Debenhams without looking up at where the dome was and recalling what to a small child was the magical sight of that Christmas tree.

Rosalind Hodge, info@parisharchives.co.uk