Now a Piccadilly institution, Fortnum and Mason’s origins (which we dealt with in 2011 in a London’s oldest post but couldn’t resist looking at again) famously go back the early 17th century when Hugh Mason rented out a spare room to William Fortnum, a Footman in the household of Queen Anne.

fortnum-masonThe entrepreneurial Fortnum decided to supplement his income by selling Queen Anne’s half-used candle wax (new candles were required every night) for a small profit. It was he who convinced his landlord, who also had a small shop in St James’s Market, to join with him in a joint venture – the first Fortnum & Mason – in Duke Street in 1707.

Initially founded as a grocery store, Fortnum & Mason, which moved to its current site at 181 Piccadilly in 1756, become known for its high quality and rare goods – in particular tea – and during the 18th and 19th centuries supplied the gentry who were in London for the ‘season’. Departments inside the store have included a rather bizarre ‘Expeditions Department’ which apparently supplied King Tut’s finder Howard Carter and a 1922 expedition to Mount Everest.

It has held numerous Royal Warrants since the mid 1800s with the first granted in 1863 when the firm was appointed as grocers to the then Prince of Wales.

A supplier of British officers during the Napoleonic Wars, Fortnums was also active during the Crimean War when Queen Victoria had shipments of “concentrated beef tea” sent to Florence Nightingale for use in her hospitals there.

Other claims to fame include the creation of the first Scotch egg in 1738 as a food for travellers and that in 1886, it became the first store in Britain to stock tins of Heinz baked beans. It also operated a post office between 1794 and 1839 when the General Post Office was founded.

The iconic clock which hangs on the facade of the building was commissioned in 1964 by Canadian businessman Garfield Weston who bought the business in 1951. Every hour models of Mr Fortnum and Mr Mason come forth and bow to each other. Other features on the building itself include four colonies of bees which have lived on the roof since 2008 in uniquely-designed hives.

The store, now famous for its luxury food hampers, underwent a £24 million restoration in the lead-up to its 300th anniversary in 2007. As well as the flagship store, it also now operates stores in St Pancras (2013) and Heathrow Airport (2015) as well as, since last year, in Dubai (it did open a store on Madison Avenue in New York in the 1930s but the business was short-lived thanks to the Depression). Fortnum & Mason products can also be found in a growing number of department stores around the world.

The Piccadilly store houses a number of eateries including The Parlour, The Gallery and The Wine Bar as well as, since it was opened by Queen Elizabeth II herself in 2012, the Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon – already famous for its afternoon teas.

See www.fortnumandmason.com.

PICTURE: Gryffindor/Wikimedia/CC BY-SA 4.0

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Dick-Whittington-at-FM
“Turn again, Dick Whittington!” This year’s Christmas window display at Piccadilly’s Fortnum & Mason tell the story of thrice Lord Mayor of London (and popular panto figure), Dick Whittington. The windows were unveiled by the current Lord Mayor of London, Roger Gifford (his wife Clare has just written a new version of the story) and the cast from Hackney Empire’s Dick Whittington. For more on the story of Dick Whittington, see our earlier post here. For more on Fortnum & Mason see our earlier post here. PICTURE: Courtesy of Fortnum & Mason.

A 304-year-old institution, Fortnum & Mason on Piccadilly is generally believed (depending, of course, on definition) to be London’s oldest department store.

Founded in 1707, it owes its establishment to the meeting of shopkeeper Hugh Mason and William Fortnum, a footman in the house of Queen Anne, who was his lodger. The story goes that their joint venture began when Fortnum began retrieving the half-used candles discarded by the royal family (they insisted on fresh candles each night) and they started selling them on to ladies at the Royal Court.

Initially founded as a grocery store, Fortnum & Mason, which moved to its current site on Piccadilly in 1756 (see picture to right), become known for its high quality and rare goods – in particular tea.

It has held numerous Royal Warrants since the mid 1800s with the first granted in 1863 when the firm was appointed as grocers to the then Prince of Wales.

A supplier of British officers during the Napoleonic Wars, it was also active during the Crimean War when Queen Victoria had shipments of “concentrated beef tea” sent to Florence Nightingale for use in her hospitals there.

Among its other claims to fame are that the first Scotch egg was created there in 1738 and that in 1886, it became the first store in Britain to stock tins of Heinz baked beans.

The massive clock which hangs on the facade of the building was commissioned in 1964 by Canadian businessman Garfield Weston who bought the business in 1951. Every hour models of Mr Fortnum and Mr Mason come forth and bow to each other.

The store, now famous for its luxury food hampers, underwent a £24 million restoration in the lead-up to its 300th anniversary in 2007. As well as the flagship store, there are now branches – “stores within stores” – in Japan. The firm also reportedly plans to open Fortnum & Mason stand-alone shops in locations like China, the Middle East and India (its last overseas stand alone store was opened on Madison Avenue in New York in the 1930s but the business was short-lived thanks to the Depression).

As well as its array of goods for sale, the Piccadilly store now houses a number of eateries including St James’s Restaurant, The Parlour, The Fountain, The Gallery and the 1707 Wine Bar.

See www.fortnumandmason.com.

One of the principal thoroughfare’s of London’s West End – and lending its name to that most famous of intersections, Piccadilly Circus, the name Piccadilly derives from the stiff ruffs known as ‘piccadils’ which were widely worn by the fashionable during the 17th century.

The street was known as Portugal Street until the 17th century. While there are several different stories explaining the name, the most widely accepted story is that the name’s origins go back to a tailor by the name of Robert Baker.

He’d made a fortune from making and selling piccadils and used that money to purchase a large tract of land in the area, then largely countryside, and 1611-12 built a mansion there which became known, probably derisively, as Piccadilly Hall in reference to his trade.

When the area came to be developing in the years after the Restoration of Charles II in 1660, the name stuck.

Famous sights along Piccadilly include grocer Fortnum & Mason, founded in 1707 by one of Queen Anne’s footmen (pictured above), the Royal Academy of the Arts, the Ritz Hotel, which opened in 1906 and indicated a new level in luxurious hotels, the Wren-designed St James’ Church, and the entry to the 19th century Burlington Arcade.