London Life

FORTNUM & MASON STORE – A STORY OF THEN & NOW

08/12/2017

Fortnum & Mason has long been a favourite store for my mum and I especially at Christmastime.  It has become a bit of a tradition to visit this delightful epicurean store these last ten years or so where we take a yearly trip to London during mid to late November to do a bit of Christmas shopping.  By that time, the Christmas lights have been turned on and London is glowing and twinkling, and the air is thick with festiveness.  Since my mum is getting older now, she is in her late seventy’s, we have dismissed all other shopping in favour of indulging in all that Fortnum and Mason has to offer and there is no better time like Christmas to visit this store, in fact, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a visit and mum and I will continue to enjoy this special experience for as long as we can.

Fortnum’s at Christmas is magical, a new post on this coming soon.

Fortnum & Mason celebrated its tercentenary in 2007, I remember well how the store commemorated this milestone. I think that’s when mum and I first started visiting, my daughter had also started full time school by then, so we were able to venture out for more than three hours! As mentioned, the store was established in 1707 by Hugh Mason who operated from a tiny store in St James Market and from a spare room in his house.  The Fortnum family (William Fortnum was a prominent builder) arrived in London with a view to reinvigorate London after the Great Fire. He was also a Footman in Queen Anne’s household! It’s in Mr Mason’s spare room where Fortnum first met Hugh Mason.

William Fortnum, above.

Hugh Mason, above.

Queen Anne insisted on having new candles every evening which meant a lot of left over wax, a complete waste, that’s when Fortnum saw this opportunity and decided to exploit it to this end. His idea was to sell Queen Anne’s half used wax candles for profit. Fortnum convinced his landlord Hugh Mason to join the venture and so a grocery shop in St James’s Market was opened in 1707. This paved the way for the beginnings of this iconic store, that’s how it all began all those years ago. In 1738, the idea of selling food first came about. The new store decided to capitalise on creating food that was easily transportable for long distance journeys because many travellers headed west to London. Trying out many ideas, Mr Fortnum and his staff developed an ingenious idea of wrapping a hard-boiled egg in sausagemeat and then coating in breadcrumbs and frying.  yes, our very own Scotch Egg was born, it was both filling and very portable and so began their venture into food. In 1794, the store even began operating as a post office where they provided letterboxes that were collected six times a day, that lasted until 1839.

Fortnum’s created the first ever Scotch Egg.

During the Napoleonic Wars, the store supplied dried fruit, spices and preserves to British officers during the Victorian era, it was frequently called upon to provide food for prestigious Court functions. They even bought the entire stock of a new product made by H J Heinz called baked beans and so Fortnum & Mason became the first store in Britain to stock baked beans. The store was even referenced by the great author Charles Dickens “Look where I will, I see Fortnum & Mason. All the hampers fly wide open and the green downs burst into blossom of lobster salad”

Some old photo’s of Fortnum & Mason.

Fortnum’s even sent the suffragettes hampers even though they had broken their windows and in 1914, hampers kept the British Expeditionary Forces going. They even provisioned the first British Everest Expedition, in 1922, they couldn’t start without their 60 tins of quail in foie gras and four dozen bottles of champagne.

A vintage Fortnum & Mason brochure showcasing their Christams Hampers.

In 1964, the famous Fortnum’s clock was installed to the front of the store, did you know that it’s bells are from the same foundry as Big Ben? They ring every 15 minutes, and did you also know, for the first time ever, they sold a record “DoTheyKnowIt’sChristmas” on behalf of the Band Aid Appeal. It made the national news because it’s the staff that requested the store sell this record. In 1999, Fortnum and Mason went global by launching their website, Fortnum’s was now accessible to everyone. In 2013 for the first time since 1707, Fortnum’s opened another store at St Pancras International Station serving the country’s travellers just as they had done over 300 years before so now, you can pick up your much-needed tea and biscuits on your way home, what could be better! 2014 saw the addition of another store at Heathrow’s Terminal 5.

In 2016, The Fortnum&MasonCookbook was launched, a collaboration with the acclaimed food writer and son of HRH The Duchess of Cornwall’s son, Tom Parker Bowles.  You can buy a signed copy from the store, I’m thrilled to say I have a personal message inside my copy because I bought mine at the Henley Literary Festival last year where Tom was promoting the book. If you love cooking, I urge you to buy this book, it has an array of traditional and much-loved recipes plus ones that are used by the store in their restaurants, it’s a cookbook to cherish and makes a lovely addition to your coffee table books.

It’s an extraordinary story which I find both endearing and captivating. History has long been a subject that has both intrigued and fascinated me and researching the history of this store has been wonderful.  If you’re interested, Fortnum’s do guided tours which alas are now all fully booked.  Unfortunately, I realised this too late to book one in November, it would have been beneficial to hear the story first hand from the store, I do hope they will begin again in the New Year because it’s something I want to attend. I think it costs around £25 and you get to have a nice cup of Fortnum’s tea at the end of the tour.

Ownership of the store was passed down the generations but was acquired by Canadian businessman W Garfield Weston in 1951. He formed the company Garfield Weston Foundation which is a grant-giving charity. It own’s 79.2% of the British holding company Whittington Investments who now own Fortnum & Mason, the other 20.8% of Whittington is owned by members of the Weston family so Fortnum’s is still very much in the ownership of the Weston family and largely run by his granddaughters and Managing Director Ewan Venters. Director Ewan Venters was recently on the radio show LBC talking about the continued success of the store and why every year, it sets new records, long may it continue.

MODERN DAY FORTNUM & MASON

Fortnum and Mason is one of the only food stores to stock the French delicacy foie gras. I make no apologies when I say that my husband and I very much adore foie gras.  In November 2010, the animal rights group Peta launched a campaign against the store selling foie gras citing cruelty in the production process. Peta regularly holds demonstrations involving celebrities and other activists outside the store. A few of the celebrities supporting their campaign was the late Sir Roger Moore, Tamara Eccelstone, Twiggy and Morrissey. I was in the store on that November day and I was stopped and asked if I would support Peta in their campaign, I refused.  I don’t like double standards and I am not about to lie to anyone about my love of foie gras as I regularly eat it when I’m Paris.  I also don’t want to get too deep into how it’s produced and whether it’s cruel or not as I’ll be writing a separate post on this delicacy, I  will endeavour to describe how foie gras was made by geese naturally many years ago when they overate in readiness for migration and therefore produced a fatty liver. I care a great deal about animal welfare and I support various campaigns such as Respect for Animals who protect animals being used for their fur, they successfully stopped fur farming in the UK which I’m thrilled about.

                    

Fortnum’s range of Foie Gras.

Fortnum & Mason is famed for it’s vast selection of tea and its luxury hampers which the store first distributed to Victorian High Society for events such as Ascot and the Henley Royal Regatta. Henley has a special place in my heart as it’s where my husband has a business. These glorious hampers contained items such as Stilton cheese, champagne, quails’ eggs, smoked salmon and remain just a popular today.  My mum always orders about 3 or 4 hampers per Christmas for presents and I’ve had the pleasure of receiving these hampers quite a few times from my mum. I’m always so excited to open the hamper discover what goodies are inside, it usually arrives about 4 days before Christmas. Let’s not forget to mention the emblematic wicker basket with the                F & M logo printed on the front and leather straps. It’s such a handy basket which you can fill with almost anything, when my children were small, I put all their toys in there, now they hold my treasured food magazines.

Just some of the stunning Hamper’s on offer at Fortnum & Mason.

The range of Fortnum’s hampers are vast ranging in price from £60 right up to an eyewatering £6,000.  Hampers can be personalised to include your choice of groceries and wines, mum always used to include a Vacherin Mont d’or cheese, smoked salmon and a whole spiced ham.  The hampers can be savoury based or sweet or a mixture of two and usually includes wine in some way or another be it a bottle of champagne, port or white or red wine depending of the type of hamper.  Hampers can also be primarily tea or wine based, the range is huge, I just love looking at them in the store and reading all about the delicious items inside. Fortnums is of course a store not just famous for selling luxury groceries and food items.

Some of the Champagne gift boxes at Fortnums, these boxes in the famous signature duck egg blue are to be cherished.

On the second floor, you’ll find a large perfumery counter with all sorts of perfume in gorgeous ornate glass bottles as well as standard perfume and other beauty products. The first floor is home to homewares, china and tableware, cookbooks and the famous  Parlour Restaurant famous for it’s wide range of delicious ice cream creations, a firm favourite of ours. It’s a casual dining experience, a place to have a light lunch, a morning pastry and coffee and of course ice cream, not just any ice cream, you get to create your own sundae with a variety of flavours, textures, toppings and sauces and a range of knickerbocker glories, it’s frosty heaven!

The Beauty section on the second floor above and below, the Parlour Restaurant on the first floor.

Light lunches at the Parlour and below just some of the dreamy candles, scent diffusers on offer on the first floor.

Just some of the luxury goods on offer on first floor, fine crystal glasses, picnic baskets and stunning china, so chintz but so in!

 Fortnum’s do some of the most decadent chocolate’s I’ve ever tasted.  My daughter and I love their Violet & Rose creams which are divine, they’re delicately scented with heavenly rose and violet, it’s springtime in your mouth, it’s our guilty pleasure, we have one every few days, no one in the family knows shhh…

The ground floor is primarily where store cupboard essentials and staples can be found such as condiments, unusual and delicious honey’s, jams and preserves, nuts, biscuits, a counter selling French macaron’s, cupcakes and chocolates, sweets and fruit jellies, the widest range of tea and coffee.  If you’re a coffee connoisseur, you can choose from an array of coffee beans which are specially ground and packaged for you. It’s also where the Gallery restaurant is located, formerly the Terrace.  To the ground floor, you can visit the former Fountain restaurant now renamed 45 Jermyn Street because it overlooks Jermyn Street plus it’s where all the fresh consumables can be found such as my favourite foie gras, salmon, charcuterie, cheese, vegetables and fruit, the most comprehensive selection of wines and spirits and the aptly named Wine Bar, a little gem of a place serving a vast range of wines and delicious food.

Fortnum & Mason specialises in the most luxurious artisan foods and famous for it’s tea and coffee.

The third floor is dedicated to the discerning Gentleman. There are beautifully made hats which my husband would love as he’s very much a hat person wearing all sorts of weird and wonderful styles since he became follicly challenged! there’s sure to be one to suit all tastes. There are elegant ties made from the finest materials, accessories from walking sticks to traditional umbrellas, cufflinks to elegant pens from the iconic German company Mont Blanc. The range is huge and I’m sure men of all ages would love to just casually wander around and then nip downstairs to the Wine Bar for a whiskey or two, well that’s what I’d assume since I know that’s what my husband would do. Also on the third floor and for the first time in 50 years sees the return of Fortnum and Mason’s Master Barber. As well as a wet shave and a haircut, bespoke beard styling and hot towel head massages are just some of the services they offer. Visitors to the Barber can expect a first-class service, who says that men don’t deserve a bit of pampering too. Can you believe that there is also a fully-stocked and complimentary drinks cabinet just in case a craving for an Old Fashioned a la MadMen hits while you’re being prepped and preened! Just to add, Mad Men is my favourite TV show which my husband introduced me to, now we have an Old Fashioned or two at home, it’s become our cocktail of choice when out and who else can make smoking a cigarette cool other than my crush, Don Draper!!

The Gallery Restaurant, ground floor.

Dedicated to the discerning Gentleman, third floor.

Fortnum and Mason is renowned for its tea and of course that Great British Ritual that is Afternoon Tea. Formerly served in what was the St James Restaurant, it is now taken in the new Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon which was opened by the Queen, the Duchess of Cornwall and the Duchess of Cambridge in 2012 when the Queen celebrated her Diamond Jubilee. It’s an elegant and refined space, light and welcoming, not at all stuffy. It’s somewhere to come and relax and indulge in the finest sandwiches and delicate pastries in what is quintessential British Afternoon Tea, I am so excited to be having Tea here in February.

The only photo I could take of the Diamond Jubilee Salon, Afternoon Tea is served here, more on this when I have Afternoon Tea here in February.

What else is on sale in Fortnums? decadent sweets – marzipan, jelly sweets and cakes!

So there you have it, the story of one of the finest stores in London which is probably more known for it’s artisan and sophisticated luxury food and hampers but there is so much more than that on offer. You can quite happily spend a day at FortnumandMason, service is second to none and they aim to please in every way possible.  It’s why every year, they just get more and more popular and profits soar, in this economy, that’s rare not so at Fortnum’s and I really believe one of the reasons is because everything is sourced locally and in the UK. It’s why Fortnum and Mason is known the world over and holiday makers come here in their droves, it’s on your doorstep so make Fortnum’s your next destination for shopping and much, much more.

Fortnum & Mason

181 Piccadilly

London W1A 1ER

customer.services@fortnumandmason.co.uk

020 7734 8040

Most photographs are my own, opinions and views are always  my own.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2 Comments

  • Reply louiseloveslondon 13/12/2018 at 12:00 am

    I am a huuuuge fan of F&M and I did not know the story behind the store! Thank you for this incredibly informative post with a lot of beautiful photos! Psst.. I am in love with foie gras as well… got to love everything French 😀
    Louise x

    • Reply Helen London meets Paris 13/12/2018 at 7:40 am

      Ha ha Louise, I don’t mind who knows that hubby & I love Foie Gras 🙂 we both adore it!! thank you for your kind words, F&M will always be my favourite store to get me in the Xmas mood. xx

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