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Buckingham, Ashley James (1898–1962)

by Beverley Kingston

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Ashley James Buckingham (1898-1962), by unknown photographer, 1942

Ashley James Buckingham (1898-1962), by unknown photographer, 1942

City of Sydney Archives, NSCA CRS 54/28

Ashley James Buckingham (1898-1962), retailer, was born on 11 April 1898 at Petersham, Sydney, third of four sons and seventh child of William Buckingham, a draper from England, and his Scottish-born wife Hannah Jane, née Gellatly. William had opened his drapery in 1878; after several moves he re-established it in Riley Street by 1895 and occupied the corner of Riley and Oxford streets by 1904. A leading Baptist layman, in 1905 he addressed the Baptist World Congress in London on 'Ethics in Business' which—for him—meant honesty and self-control, and required the three Gs—'Grit, Go and Gumption'; he also advocated profit-sharing with employees.

Educated at The King's School, Parramatta, in 1915 Ashley joined his father's business. He enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 11 November 1918, the last day of World War I. At St James's Anglican Church, Sydney, on 18 June 1925 he married Doreen Blanche Watson.

In 1928, when his brother William (1893-1967) succeeded their father as chairman of Buckingham's Ltd (registered as a public company on 16 September 1920), three of the brothers were active in the firm. Buckingham's had been one of the earliest retailers in Sydney to introduce an easy credit system which encouraged spending among the respectable working classes of nearby suburbs who were relatively unaccustomed to shopping for anything but necessities. Its policy became a model for other retailers. 'Mr Ashley', as he was known to employees, took responsibility for Buckingham's Ashleys stores (the first was opened in the Imperial Arcade in 1936, followed by others at Wollongong and Katoomba). Next year he launched Curzons in Pitt Street (another was later established in Brisbane), smart but inexpensive fashion stores where working girls learned about style from salesgirls who were prettier and more fashionably dressed versions of themselves.

Of the brothers in the business, Ashley was the most gregarious and publicly active. Representing Gipps Ward on Sydney Municipal Council in 1941-44, he chaired its improvements and town-planning committee. He favoured city development to maximize access and attraction to retail facilities. A council-member of the Retail Traders' Association of New South Wales from 1940, Buckingham was vice-president (from 1947) and president (1948-51); he also presided over the Australian Council of Retailers in 1950-51. He admired American modernity and visited the United States in 1946. On his return, he argued that Australia was ready for an expansion of consumerism—if government lifted restrictions on the import of American capital. He lobbied Federal and State governments to end rationing and price controls that had been imposed during World War II.

Among his other business interests, he was director of Bussell Bros Ltd from 1946, chairman of its successor, Grocery and General Merchants Ltd, and a director of Nile Textiles Ltd. Joint managing director of Buckingham's by 1948, Ashley expanded the business after taking over as managing director in 1955. In 1957-58 he amalgamated the Ashleys' and Buckingham's chains, and financed new stores by selling the firm's Queensland interests. A member of the American National, New South Wales, Australian Jockey and Australian Golf clubs, Buckingham preferred to live in flats, although he later acquired a holiday home at Newport which allowed him to go fishing as well as to play golf. He was only 5 ft 3½ ins (161 cm) tall, with grey eyes and brown hair; in published photographs late in life he appears to resemble a Pontiac potato. Survived by his daughter and son, Ashley died of cerebral thrombosis on 10 January 1962 at his Potts Point home and was cremated; his estate was sworn for probate at £50,599. The family sold Buckingham's in 1967.

Select Bibliography

  • Retail Traders' Association of New South Wales, Journal, Jan 1962
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 26 Nov 1926, 14 Oct 1941, 6 Mar 1944, 16 Dec 1948, 20 Jan 1950, 11, 13 Jan 1962.

Citation details

Beverley Kingston, 'Buckingham, Ashley James (1898–1962)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/buckingham-ashley-james-9613/text16949, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 22 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

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