ALONG with Bobbie’s and Beales, Brights of Bournemouth was one of the jewels in this town’s shopping crown.

Now, with the sad news that despite the takeover by Mike Ashley of Sports Direct, the House of Fraser store in Old Christchurch Road still looks set to close, we take a look back at its elegant past.

It started humbly, as many of the grandest emporia did, in 1871. Frederick Bright opened a store selling needlework and Berlin wool at No.9 The Arcade and later expanded into the next-door premises at number eight.

By 1894, FJ Bright and Son occupied four shops in The Arcade, later opening a newly-built stationers and a fancy goods store, with its own restaurant, in an adjacent building .

Brights’ expansion continued apace, including a gent’s outfitters, drapers, costumiers and photographers, and in 1905 the building was enlarged to the south with an addition of five floors fronting onto Gervis Place.

Back on Old Christchurch Road, the architect embraced the mania for all things Egypt that was sweeping the world, and set Egyptian motifs on the building which was clad in glam cream tiles from Carter & Co in Poole. No wonder it remains Grade II listed, even today.

In-store everything was just as elegant. Shoppers were treated to fashion parades of the new season’s must-have looks and one year the ambitious show even included the stunning 1935 Auburn car which had starred in a move with Marlene Dietrich and was lent by Beaulieu Motor Museum.

In 1960 the store was purchased by the JJ Allen group which itself was snapped by House of Fraser in 1969. The store was hived into its Dingles division, comprising shops in the west country. Then, in 2007, the store was re-named again, as House of Fraser.

Throughout its history the store attracted celebrity visits – in June 1984 the ostrich-riding comedian Bernie Clifton dropped in. World’s strongest man Geoff Capes paid a visit in 1986, and September 1988 Ali Fayed, brother of the store’s new owner, Mohammed, arrived. Less than ten years later his nephew, Dodi, would die in the Parish car crash which killed Princes Diana.

Like the town’s other stores, Dingles remained a focal point of Bournemouth’s retail scene, holding demonstrations – the Kanebo beauty machine seemed to fascinate all who saw it – and politely refusing to comment when wags noticed that its lingerie department employed a Miss Legg and a Miss Titman…

There was less to smile about in 1988 when a bomb was found in the store. “This is a viable device,” warned Det Insp Mike Maidman. “It is no joke. It looks as it could certainly have started a fire.”

In 1994 older staff were thrilled when building works revealed some of the store’s original mosaic floor tiles. “I was quite shocked, I didn’t think anything was left of the store apart from the old alleyways at the back,” said the carpet department’s assistant manager, Tony Marks.