7 Secrets Of Fortnum & Mason

Fortnum & Mason won our Store Wars, when we pitted London department stores against each other, so we decided to take a closer look at the historic Piccadilly shop. 

Food and drink is the store’s main focus, although homeware, beauty and fashion have found their way in in recent years.

The clock

Ever looked up on the front of the building and seen the clock? Weighing in at more than four tonnes, the clock comes to life every hour on the hour, when co-founders of the store William Fortnum and Hugh Mason take the time to bow to each other.

Candles

Food may be the store’s main focus now, but candles were where it started. A certain William Fortnum was a footman in the royal household of Queen Anne, a household which had a penchant for candles. The family insisted on having fresh candles every night, regardless of how much was left of the previous night’s candles, which meant a lot of half-used wax. Fortnum sold this wax on, making himself a profit and honing his business acumen which would come in pretty handy later on.  

Baked beans

Fortnum & Mason may be associated with the more prestigious foodstuffs, but back in 1886 it was the first shop in the UK to stock tins of baked beans. Other tinned foods had been available in the shop for a while, but baked beans were a new idea.

It bought the entire stock (five cases) of a new product, Heinz Baked Beans, from a salesman visiting from the USA, and sold the lot. Think of that next time you chow down on a full English.

The Scotch egg

Fortnum & Mason claims to have invented the Scotch egg, as a travellers’ snack, in 1738. The location of the store meant that it was on the route for lots of travellers heading west, so the staff created a travel-friendly snack of a hard boiled egg in sausage meat, coated in breadcrumbs.

The post office before the Post Office

The General Post Office was founded in 1839, before which sending letters was a bit of a free-for-all. Ever the enterprisers, Mr Fortnum and Mr Mason seized on this opportunity by providing letterboxes which were emptied six times a day. Soldiers and sailors received a discount.

A bee in your bonnet 

Since 2008, the Piccadilly rooftop has been home to four beehives, each six feet tall. A dedicated bee master is in charge of coaxing the bees to produce their annual crop of honey, harvested in September and sold in jars in store. Apparently the flavours of the honey «hint at the bees’ journeys through London’s nearby parks and gardens, including Buckingham Palace, Clarence House and Green Park».

For those who like their honey slightly grittier, more Fortnum’s hives were installed on a Hoxton rooftop in 2014.

There’s even a mug dedicated to the beehives, or why not splash out on an olive wood and sterling silver honey drizzler.

The Primark link

Fortnum & Mason and Primark seem about as far away from each other as you can get, but they are both owned by the same parent company.

Wittington Investments also owned Heal’s furniture until 2007.

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Free Things to Do in London: See the Big Events

Another of the best free things to do in London is see the big events. From annual parades to daily ceremonies, there are a lot to take in.

51. Changing the Guard

Witnessing the Changing the Guard ceremony at Buckingham Palace is one of the most classic London experiences.

It’s free to see the redcoats parading in formation, and it’s hard to beat the pomp and pageantry of it all.

51 Free Things to Do in London

So there you have it. 51 free things to do in London. I hope they keep you as busy as they’ve kept me.

Free Things to Do in London: Watch the World Go By

As much as I love walking around, sometimes it’s worth slowing down and stopping to observe the city. Watching the world go by is a fun free thing to do in London, and there are some great places for it.

48. Regent’s Canal

Watching the canal boats go by from the steps outside Granary Square in King’s Cross is the ideal way to spend a sunny afternoon.

49. Piccadilly Circus

Watching the people go by and the lights flash on the big screens in Piccadilly Circus is another good way to absorb the London scene.

50. South Bank

Watching the world go by on the South Bank is a great way to soak up the city. From the performers to the London Eye, the riverboats to the festivals, there’s always something exciting going on here.

Free Things to Do in London: Explore London Neighborhoods

I love exploring London neighborhoods, and one of my top picks for free things to do in London is getting lost in a different one every day.

42. Hampstead

Hampstead has always been my favorite part of London, and this leafy village is the perfect place to spend an afternoon meandering. The atmosphere here is hard to beat.

43. Richmond

Richmond is a great area to explore, too. Its riverside location makes it the ideal spot for a waterfront walk on a sunny day. The aforementioned Richmond Park is perfect for picnics, too.

44. Greenwich

Greenwich is full of maritime history and free museums and parks, so it’s an ideal place to explore if you want a mix of pretty streets, great views, and London history.

45. Dulwich

South London is underrated, and Dulwich village is worth a special trip. This area is full of beautiful houses, parks, and picture galleries. Neighboring East Dulwich has great window shopping on Lordship Lane, too.

46. Notting Hill

Notting Hill needs no introduction. This is one of the most famous London neighborhoods, and for good reason. Its colorful houses, vibrant market, and beautiful side streets make it worth visiting over and over.

47. Covent Garden

Covent Garden is a great place to explore for its shops, cafes, courtyards, and entertainment. It’s at the heart of many of London’s cultural attractions, and colorful spaces like Neal’s Yard delight.

Free Things to Do in London: Street Entertainment

London’s street performers entertain locals and visitors from all over the world. From dancers and singers to actors and mimes, they put on shows for kids of all ages.

But it’s not just humans that entertain in London. There are floral displays all over the city that catch the eye and provide a pleasant distraction. Seeing them is one of the best free things to do in London.

39. Trafalgar Square

Trafalgar Square is a great place to see street performers in London. Not only does it have regular acts and chalk artists, but there are also free parades, events, and festivals in the square all the time.

40. Covent Garden

Covent Garden is famous for its entertainment, and the area in and around the covered piazza is always full of performers. Whether it’s Covent Garden Christmas carols or comedy, there’s something to see here year-round.

41. Belgravia

The floral facades in London’s Belgravia offer some of the most beautiful entertainment in the city. Elizabeth Street alone could keep my camera busy for hours.

Free Things to Do in London: Markets

Whether you love food or flowers, there’s a London market for you. Wandering through the markets and taking in the sights and scents is one of the most appealing free things to do in London.

29. Borough Market

Borough Market is the most famous market in London, not least for its wealth of culinary treats and treasures. If you love food, it’s the perfect place to go.

30. Broadway Market

Out in east London, Broadway Market is full of stalls selling fresh produce, prepared foods, and all kinds of other goods. It’s fun to pick something up and have a picnic in neighboring London Fields.

31. Columbia Road Flower Market

The Columbia Road Flower Market is one of the prettiest markets in London. This beauty has blooms galore and lots of shops to explore. It’s one of the best free things to do in London on a Sunday.

32. Portobello Market

Over in west London, Notting Hill‘s Portobello Market is famous for its antiques. It’s a great place to wander and pick up vintage treasures.

33. Old Spitalfields Market

Old Spitalfields Market is one of London’s great covered markets. Its stalls offer everything from handmade clothing to food and coffee.

34. Brick Lane Markets

Just down the road, the Brick Lane markets liven up Spitafields on Sundays as they take over the street with food, clothing, and artisan goods.

35. Exmouth Market

Exmouth Market sometimes has a street market and sometimes just has great shops and restaurants to explore. It’s worth a visit any day.

36. Camden Markets

The funky markets in Camden operate in a warren of tunnels and courtyards along the canals in north London. Camden Market is great for picking up unique finds.

37. Maltby Street Market

Maltby Street Market is just the place to indulge your inner foodie or go vintage furniture shopping. This market has great fresh food and hip shops under the railway arches.

38. Duke of York Square Market

The Duke of York Square Market is the perfect place to spend a Saturday morning in Chelsea. It’s next to the Saatchi Gallery, a contemporary art gallery that also offers free entry.

Free Things to Do in London: Views of London

Some of the best views in London are free, and it’s worth seeking them out. From skyscrapers to parks, they’re great places to soak up the city skyline.

24. Sky Garden

The Sky Garden in the City of London has one of the most popular free views of London. Its terrace and cafe attract visitors from all over the world to see the views over the Thames.

25. The Garden at 120

Just down the street, The Garden at 120 on 120 Fenchurch Street also offers views of the city free of charge. It’s a good place to get a different perspective.

26. Primrose Hill

As far as parks go, Primrose Hill has great views over London from close enough that you can pick out the main attractions easily. It’s also a beautiful spot in its own right.

27. Parliament Hill

Up higher, Parliament Hill in Hampstead Heath has panoramic views of the city skyline. It’s a great place to go if you want a broad overview of London.

28. Greenwich Park

Greenwich Park might just have the prettiest view of London. The hill offers stunning views of Maritime Greenwich below and the skyscrapers in Canary Wharf across the Thames.

Free Things to Do in London: Street Art

London’s street art scene has gone from strength to strength over the years. There’s no better place to see it than hip east London. I’ve even written a free street art tour you can take.

22. Street Art in Shoreditch

Shoreditch is one of the best places to see street art in London. The areas around Shoreditch High Street and Redchurch Street are some of my favorites, but you can’t go wrong in this area.

23. Street Art in Spitalfields

Spitalfields might even have better street art than Shoreditch. Hanbury Street alone has some of the best in the city. It changes all the time, so it’s worth going back to the area around Brick Lane again and again.

Free Things to Do in London: Walks

I love to walk, and London is the perfect place for it. With so many big attractions and beautiful side streets, exploring on foot is one of the most rewarding free things to do in London.

15. Walk Along the Thames

Walking along the Thames is a great way to get a feel for the city and see some of the most important landmarks.

From the Houses of Parliament to the London Eye and Tower Bridge, there’s no shortage of sights to take in on a stroll along the river.

My favorite stretch of the Thames Path is the one from Hammersmith to Chiswick. I’ve also published a free self-guided Thames walk in London if you want a longer route.

16. Walk Along Regent’s Canal

London also has beautiful canals. It’s worth taking a canal walkthrough Maida Vale, Little Venice, Camden, and King’s Cross to take in the colorful boats and views along the way.

You even get a free glimpse of the animals at the zoo as you go, so it’s another great free thing to do in London.

17. Walk down the King’s Road

Walking down the King’s Road from Sloane Square to Parson’s Green is another great way to spend a morning or afternoon. There’s great window shopping en route, and the colorful side streets are fun to explore.

18. Walk across Millennium Bridge

It’s a short one, but strolling across the Millennium Bridge from Tate Modern to St Paul’s Cathedral is another great walk. It has ideal vantage points of both buildings as you go, not to mention fantastic river views.

19. Meander through the Mews

I love a good London mews street, and the city center has no shortage. One of my top free things to do in London is to wander through the mews in Kensington, South Kensington, Notting Hill, and other London neighborhoods.

20. Walk in Search of Blue Plaques

London also has plenty of blue plaques on buildings where famous people once lived. Walking around areas like Bloomsbury and Hampstead to spot blue plaques is a fun way to spend an afternoon.

21. Walk Everywhere

In fact, walking everywhere in London is a great way to spend time. I’ve written a lot of free self-guided London walking toursthat will take you all over the city on foot.

Free Things to Do in London: The Museums

Another of my favorite free things to do in London is visiting the museums. It’s amazing how many of them cost nothing to enter, and how impressive their collections are.

Few other cities have so much on display for free, and that’s always been something I appreciate about London.

9. British Museum

The British Museum houses antiquities from all over the world, and it’s inspiring to see everything from the Rosetta Stone to the Parthenon Sculptures in one place. It’s one of the most famous museums in the city, and it’s worth a special trip.

10. The National Gallery

The National Gallery is full of paintings and other works of fine art from around the world. From the Renaissance to the Impressionists, this museum is packed with world-class art.

11. Tate Modern

Tate Modern is known for its cutting-edge contemporary art and rotating exhibitions, and it also offers some of the best free views of London from its upper floors and viewing terrace.

12. Tate Britain

Tate Britain is a great museum for learning about British art through the ages. From historic paintings to modern sculpture, visiting this museum is one of the best free things to do in London for art.

13. Natural History Museum

The Natural History Museum is beautiful outside and in. The building itself is stunning, and inside there’s everything from dinosaur bones to exquisite gemstones. The secret garden is great as well.

14. The V&A

The V&A is a design lover’s heaven, and has impressive collections of fashion, furniture, art, and more. Its historic cafe is worth a special trip, too.