‘Mr Bourne's dilemma’. Consumer culture, property speculation and department store demise: the rise and fall of Bourne and Hollingsworth on London's Oxford Street

Sonia Ashmore, Bronwen Edwards, David Gilbert

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper explores the twentieth-century rise and fall of the traditional department store Bourne and Hollingsworth in London's Oxford Street as a means of re-examining the historical geographies of metropolitan consumption cultures. The research moves away from a preoccupation with urban retail's novelty and spectacle towards a consideration of the more conventional and conservative kinds of consumption that have been a vital part of the retail ecology of many major cities in the twentieth century. The paper analyses the intersections of different dimensions of the history of metropolitan consumption: with a culturalist focus on consumer identity and urban microgrographies; but also an examination of this as a family-owned, paternalistic business, and as a material space, both as a building designed and refurbished by its owners, management, architects and shopfitters, and as a particular site within the routes and flows of the West End. The final approach to Bourne and Hollingsworth as urban property, as a distinctive form of capital asset in the city, allows a new understanding of the vulnerability of this kind of retailing by the later twentieth century. The study shows that an emphasis on the significance of cultures of consumption provides at best a partial explanation for changes in the landscapes of consumption: it is argued that cities are the sites of complex intersections between cultural practices and other kinds of geography, in this case those of asset values and opportunities for property speculation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)434-446
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Historical Geography
Issue number4
Early online date4 Aug 2012
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2012

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