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.
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.
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.
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.