The Rise of the West End: London, the Season and Metropolitan Shopping

Talk by Professor Amanda Vickery, Queen Mary, University of London, and SCAS, Uppsala, Sweden

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 talk bridges these two fields, charting the explosion of the West End.  It is a study of the metropole. This project grows out of a collaborative study by Professor Amanda Vickery and Dr. Hannah Greig ‘The Political Day in London C .1697–1834’, Past and Present, Volume 252, Issue 1 (August 2021), pp. 101–137. 

Fashion’s capital was created by a culture of patrician politics rather than bourgeois spending, a 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 & hatters opened next to the clubs & townhouses of leading ministers.  Shopping en route became routine - the streets, squares and parks of St James’ a fashion runway.   Elite shopping had its own season, geography and timetable.  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 London of the political classes was tiny, 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 as their metropolis of taste.  

Amanda Vickery is a prize-winning historian, writer and broadcaster.  She is Professor of Early Modern History at Queen Mary, University of London and a Fellow of the British Academy.  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.

Amanda Vickery reviews for the TLS, LRB and the Guardian, and writes and presents history and arts documentary for BBC Radio 4 and BBC2.  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. In 2019, she delivered the Wiles Lectures at Queen’s Belfast on ‘What did women want?  Women’s Hopes from the New Look to the 3-Day Week’.  This talk is part of a collaborative study with Dr. Hannah Greig on ‘The Rise of the West End’.  The first publication from the research project is ‘The Political Day in London C .1697–1834’, Past and Present, Volume 252, Issue 1 (August 2021), pp. 101–137. In 2023-4, Amanda is a research fellow at the Swedish Collegium for Advanced Studies, Uppsala, Sweden.


Sign up for the event

Deadline for registering is 12 April.