The History of Fortnum & Mason

Fortnum & Mason is one of the oldest and most respected retailers in the city of London and can trace its origins back to 1707.  Before this in 1705 it was Mr Hugh Mason that ran a small based in St James’s Market, having an unoccupied spare room in his home which he let to Mr William Fortnum, son of respected high class builders and footman in the royal household of Queen Anne.  The royal household were very particular about having fresh candles lit each evening, and seeing an opportunity it was William that brought the half used candles home with him which he then sold on at a profit.  So began the enterprising partnership of Mr Fortnum and Mr Mason.

Photo by Martin Belam
Photo by Martin Belam

Trade Blossoms

An explosion in trade in the middle of the 18th Century saw a new middle class with disposable income.  With new trade routes opening up and a boom in imports London became something of a retail capital and the place to buy just about everything discovered in the new world, and right in the heart of the city with all of these new products and people with money to spend were Fortnum & Mason.  The Fortnum family had strong links with the East India Trading Company and so our enterprising gentlemen were amongst the first to receive new and exciting products from overseas, which saw their store blossoming and becoming quite the place to be.

The 1800’s

The 1800’s saw a lot of changes taking place.  Soldiers at the battle of Waterloo were fed with rations provided by Fortnum & Mason, sent by well wishing relatives.  Filled with dried fruits, honey and preserves they were often pilfered before reaching their intended destination, such was the reputation of their contents.

It was the Great Exhibition in 1851 that saw Fortnum & Mason come to the fore as they were the first retailer to provide ‘readymade’ foods, items like poultry and game in aspic, foods that required no cooking or preparation, just eating, like the now infamous ‘Scottish Egg’.  It was their hampers that gained them serious recognition, with even Charles Dickens extolling the virtues of a hamper from Fortnum & Mason’s.  In 1886 the store held a meeting with a young Mr Heinz and so Britain got its first taste of what has become a store cupboard staple, the baked bean.

The 20th Century

Ladies clothing, kitchen wares and other new departments sprung up over the next 100 years.  F & M’s became the only store with a special department catering for Expeditions, items for the officer’s mess and enough exotic food to cater for the dietary requirements of all visiting royal dignitaries.  The now iconic clock that adorns the storefront was installed in 1964, a landmark moment for the store.  With a record store opening in 1984 they began selling the Band Aid charity single.  F & M’s joined the internet revolution in 1999 when it launched its online store.

The Future

Just as it has in the past Fortnum & Mason’s continues to expand and offers a unique shopping experience to everyone that walks through its doors.

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