ASK many people in Liverpool where the Queen Arcade is and they will probably look at you blank.
But while the little alley, which cuts a right angle behind the junction of Dale Street and Castle Street, may not be known to all, some of the customers of the small tailor’s shop along it are known the world over.
Craft Tailoring, possibly the only tailoring firm left in Liverpool that actually hand makes its suits (most will take measurements and send the dimensions off to a factory to be made up), has, in its owner Walter Smith, a national award-winning suit-maker, who dressed the city’s great and good from the 1960s onwards.
It was in the summer of 1962 that one of his regular clients, NEMS music store owner Brian Epstein dropped in to see him.
But this time, he was not looking for new attire for himself.
“He came to see me and said ‘I’m bringing you four lads, musicians, and I’m going to manage them’,” remembers Walter. “I asked ‘Who are they?’ and he said ‘They’re called the Beatles’.
“I asked the girls in the work room, ‘Do you know these Beatles?’ and they said ‘Oh yes, they play at the Cavern’. I said, ‘They’ll never get anywhere with a stupid name like that’.”
After some haggling over the price, with Mr Epstein finding the 28 guinea per suit price tag a little steep – “It’s a bit much, they’re only starting out” – a deal was struck at 25 per outfit.
The suits would be the ones they would wear for their first TV appearance, on a Granada TV show.
Mr Smith remembers to this day all the details of the design.
“It was a blue silk and wool mix. It didn’t have the rounded neck line, it had little lapels, dropped shoulders, a slightly short box jacket, and very tight trousers.
We had to have them measured up and ready in a fortnight.
“They came in the following Wednesday for the fitting, and they were very lively. I remember their language was very choice. I had to say to them, ‘Would you mind moderating your language, this is a tailors’ shop’.
“I remember they were wearing these very narrow trousers, and winkle picker boots, and because they had been playing in the Cavern all night and sweating, I had to ask them to leave their boots outside. They smelled something awful.”
A fortnight later, the Beatles performed on TV, and took their first steps towards stardom. But in that intervening period, one of those Mr Snith made a suit for, Pete Best, was dismissed from the band, and replaced by Ringo Starr.
Presumably Ringo donned the suit intended for the sacked drummer that he had measured up.
While Mr Smith, who learnt his trade as a 16-year-old and has been in the business for more than 60 years, has had some eminent customers over the years, the Beatles remain, understandably, his most famous clients. And since he made those suits for the Fab Four, the tailoring craft has declined considerably in the city.
“Back then, North John Street was full of tailors, it was the Savile Row of the North. But today, men just don’t dress any more. When we were young men, we would tell the tailor exactly what we wanted, that was the way it was done. But today, the main thing a young man cares about is his car.
“But our clientele is mainly people who want something a bit special, of quality, and individual.