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4 janvier 2022

Shopping, mode et sociabilité

Shopping, mode et sociabilité 09 MaiMai 2022 17:00 - 19:00


Hannah Greig (University of York) and Amanda Vickery (Queen Mary, University of London) : The Rise of the West End:  London, the Season and Metropolitan Shopping

The history of consumerism has been driven by the desires of the middling. Aristocratic tastes shine in a different discipline – the history of decorative art. This lecture bridges these two fields, charting the explosion of London’s West End and examining its commercial geography. It looks at the season, locations and timetable of elite shopping and recovers aristocratic consumers’ long-term relationships (often across multiple generations) with particular purveyors and businesses. The development of the West End as a centre for luxury trades has been accepted as an unproblematic part of eighteenth-century urbanisation. To contemporaries, however, the West End was a brand new town, celebrated by many as the acme of Georgian modernity. Its origins lay in patrician politics not bourgeois spending, created in direct response to the emergence of a new political timetable after 1689. For the first time, political families made London their seasonal home, clustered in a small segment of the capital. Purveyors of fashionable goods targeted elite traffic between visits, court and parliament. Gun shops, wine merchants and hatters opened next to the clubs and townhouses of leading ministers. Shopping on the way to parliament and to court became routine – the streets, squares and parks of St James’s a fashion runway. The reopening of parliament demanded the return of the courtiers, peers and their wives to the West End, whose arrival and exhibitionism launched the new fashion season.

The history of London commerce often refers to the ‘drift’ westwards as trades moved from the city and the area around Covent Garden and the Strand and set up shop on Piccadilly, Oxford Street, Bond Street and Pall Mall. But shopkeepers were not rudderless ships floating on a tide, their movement west represented a strategic decision to establish themselves exactly where the elite congregated for the political season. The possibility of aristocratic clients dropping into the shop on their perambulations around St James’s and Westminster – and the fact that the quality expected to the visited at home – increased the viability of a West End base. Proximity to fashion leaders spared tradesmen the long trek from the City, enabled them to make a series of home visits in a day and kept their stock close at hand. Historians are apt to stress the lure of the season, fashionable entertainment and shopping on consumers, especially female consumers, but this analysis puts the cart before the horse. Rather than being drawn to London by the glitter of shops, entertainment and fashion, the peerage and parliamentary classes came for parliament – and the new culture was built around them. The London of the political classes was tiny, centred on a few streets, but its scope was vast. The material provinces of the British Atlantic world (the English regions, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, the North American colonies and the West Indies) all looked to London’s West End as their metropolis of taste.

Hannah Greig is a Reader in eighteenth-century history at the University of York. Her book The Beau Monde: Fashionable Society in Georgian London (OUP, 2013) examined the emergence and power of eighteenth-century London’s fashionable world. She is currently working on a new Leverhulme-funded project on the material culture of the royal court (which includes a study of royal warrant holders in London) and a collaborative project with Amanda Vickery on the rise of the West End. Vickery and Greig’s first work from this collaboration is an article ‘The Political Day in Georgian London’ published in Past and Present in 2021.

Amanda Vickery is a prize-winning historian, writer and broadcaster.  She is Professor of Early Modern History at Queen Mary, University of London.  Her books include Behind Closed Doors: At Home in Georgian England (Yale, 2010), Women, Privilege and Power: British Politics 1750 to the Present (Stanford, 2001), Gender, Taste and Material Culture in Britain and North America (Yale, 2006) & The Gentleman’s Daughter:  Women’s Lives in Georgian England (Yale, 1998) which won the Wolfson, the Whitfield and the Longman-History Today Prize. She holds an honorary doctorate from the University of Uppsala.  She has held visiting professorships in Munich, at Stanford, and at the California Institute of Technology and the Huntington Library.

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