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Imagine my surprise, not long ago, to discover I wanted to write a glowing article for my travel series “Best of London” about a department store! (Just when did I fall and hit my head, anyways)? But no, there were no mishaps involved. If anything, our discovery was what I would term a “happy accident” as we wandered down Piccadilly Street, the atmosphere vibrant on this uncommonly sunny London day. We paused to focus on the historic grandness all around us – and what should our eyes alight upon but this gorgeously decorated building.
Fortnum & Mason, a venerated and historic London landmark, was proclaiming its affection for the then upcoming Royal Jubilee with a tribute focusing on a grand theme called “The Queen’s Beasts”. Talk about wow factor! Not only were these colourful creatures perching precariously along the front of the four story building; Fortnum’s window display designer, Paul Symes, chose to highlight the wildly beautiful and historic collection of animals in the large shop windows along Piccadilly Street.
As we stepped inside, we could see the theme continued, from ornate cookie tins and jars of marmalade, to bottles of Champagne, bone china teapots, aprons and tea towels. Their fantastical and colorful designs were instantly appealing & delightful.
A brief history helps to understand the British fascination for this iconic department store. The Great Fire of London had swept through London in 1666, and many families had come from Oxford as “high class builders” to help rebuild the St. James and Mayfair Districts as an elite district. Enter William Fortnum, whose family had made the journey to rebuild. William was fortunate to not only land a position as a footman in Queen Anne’s household , but to chance upon a Mr. Hugh Mason who just happened to be looking for a tenant to rent the spare room of his small home and neighbourhood store in St. Jame’s Market. It turned out that the Royal Family had a rather wasteful insistence on having new candles every night. We must give William credit as being one of the very first recyclers! Access to an unlimited supply of wax at no cost meant quite a profit for this enterprising young man. Combine this with Mr. Mason’s shop business, and one could say the spark of possibilities was lit for the two young businessmen. Their recipe for success continued as the 1700′s brought about a plethora of new trading routes.
International trading exploded with Fortnum & Mason front and centre, sourcing & selling unique & delicious goods that could be bought nowhere else in the world. Indian spices, honey, fresh & dried fruits, exotic nuts, olives, preserves, coffee’s and tea, and innovative tools such as nutcrackers and jar openers all made an appearance at Fortnum & Mason. A historic encounter was had with one “Mr. Heinz” who travelled to London to introduce his invention, “tinned baked beans” having heard about Fortnum and Mason’s special “knives for opening tins”. Fortnum & Mason bought all five cases, recognizing the potential of marketing this nutritious staple to the masses of the UK, and England has never been without tinned beans since.
The 1800's and 1900's each brought about new challenges for the world, and Fortnum & Mason were up to the task of comforting, inspiring, and providing new products to the ever-changing needs and desires of the up-scale consumers who flocked to their store.
Amongst many of the delights of Fortnum & Mason, their selection of Marzipan treats is stunning, as is their enormous display of mouth-watering chocolates and other gorgeously displayed sweets. The extreme popularity of Marzipan is evident by the incredible assortment of choices, from beautifully designed fruits to detailed animals & yes, even insects; you’ll find a Marzipan to suit your taste here! But don’t worry if Marzipan isn’t your first choice – did I mention the fudge??
To find out how this amazing company has paved a golden pathway to success that continues even as the 21st Century unfolds, please come to visit my "Best of London" blog, which contains a Slideshow of some of the most amazing contents of their gorgeous store in London by clicking the link below.
PS - Ever heard of "Fortnum's Bees?" If you like honey, you must come to read the rest of this article! If London is on your travel agenda, don’t miss a eye-popping visit to this very unique, historic and luxurious “department store”.