FOR MORE than 30 years the giant figure of Arthur Frayling dominated the European fur trade from the Hudson's Bay Company's warehouse and auction room in Garlick Hill, London.
The London fur trade, a few warehouses clustered round St James's, Garlickhythe, had been there a very long time - well before its Livery Company, the Skinners, was chartered in 1327. In modern times it had become the international market for fur skins, Britain's second largest entrepot trade, although hardly any fur was produced here and relatively little consumed. This was a remarkable situation and one to which Frayling made a formidable contribution. He had joined the Hudson's Bay Company as a boy, returned to it after six years' war service, and became head of its London fur sales department in 1949.
The Hudson's Bay Company had by this time become one of the greatest in Canada but it was still British-owned and controlled from London. It was in order to find Canadian fur (principally beaver, for gentlemen's hats) and sell the product in London, that the company had been chartered by Charles II in 1670. Selling fur was still its only activity outside North America but its auction sales had attracted buyers from many parts of the world.
It was Arthur Frayling's self-imposed mission to maintain and expand London's position as the international fur centre despite all the temptations the producers had to sell in their own countries. With no experience in the arts of negotiation, and with hardly any direction from above (the company had not a single full-time director), he had to persuade foreign governments and co-operative associations to consign their fur crops each year to London and then, by reliable sorting, cataloguing, and market forecasting, to induce buyers to venture far from home to bid for them. Often this involved 100,000 miles of travel in a year but somehow he gained and held the confidence of both seller and buyer.
In 1972 Frayling's services to export were recognised by a richly deserved OBE and in the same year the HBC fur sales department joined with its principal competitor to become Hudson's Bay and Annings Ltd, of which he became chairman. He retired theoretically in 1978 but kept his office in the City, transferring his huge energies to the International Fur Trade Federation. The gradual desertion of the district by the much-attenuated fur trade saddened him, but he never lost the good humour and camaraderie which had brought him such popularity for so long.
The son of a regimental bandmaster, Frayling celebrated last summer the 53rd anniversary of his marriage to Barbara Imhof, a great name in the musical world. He was immensely proud of the differing paths their two sons had taken, Nicholas, a Canon and Rector of Liverpool, and Christopher, a Professor at the Royal College of Art and Trustee of the Victoria and Albert Museum.
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