If you wander around London and in particular Mayfair, St James's Street and Piccadilly (or indeed many other parts of the UK), you might notice a particular shop displaying a small, or occasionally large coat of arms with a bit of blurb saying 'By Appointment to Her Majesty The Queen'. It basically means that they supply goods or services to the Royal Family. This one belongs to H. R Higgins, specialist supplier of fine coffee and tea.
It's not just The Queen though, it could be for HRH The Duke of Edinburgh, or HRH The Prince of Wales ... AKA 'The Big Three'.
About 800 individuals or companies hold prestigious Royal Warrants and it could be an individual practicing traditional crafts or a massive computer company. Either way, it is supposed to signify a mark of quality and they can apply for Royal Warrant status after they've been supplying any one of 'The Big Three' with whatever it is they supply, for five years. However, if you're a fan of 'After Eight' mints (like me), or Jacob's Cream Crackers (can't say I'm a massive fan), then you might have noticed that the Royal Warrant has been subtly omitted from their product packaging in recent years. It seems that some companies just aren't feeling the prestige as much as they once did.
That aside, you can pretty much guarantee that many of the companies and shops that are proud owners of a Royal Warrants have been around for donkeys and in some cases continued to serve the Royal Family for centuries. H. R Higgins (above) on that note are pretty new to the game, only receiving there's in 1979 I think.
The earliest record of a Royal Charter dates back to 1155 and was granted by Henry II to the Weavers' Company. Also, perusing lists of Royal Tradesmen over the years, shines an intriguing light on how things have changed. Henry VIII for instance employed a guy called Thomas Hewytt to 'Serve the court with Swanes and Cranes', whilst Charles II, in 1684 couldn't possibly survive without his Sword Cutter, Operator for the Teeth and very importantly, his Goffe-Club Maker. The whole operation was formalised by Queen Victoria in 1840 and Royal Warrants are now granted and overseen by what is now called the Royal Warrant Holders Association. Here are some of my favourite holders of Royal Warrants (in no particular order):
Lock & Co - Hatters
Lock & Co have been making hats since 1676, which makes them the oldest hat shop in the world. They have provided hats for Sir Winston Churchill, Charlie Chaplin, the Duke of Wellington and Admiral Lord Nelson. In fact, you can see drawings they still have inside the shop of Nelson's hat measurements. They also are responsible for bringing about the once ubiquitous 'bowler hat' although, they'd call it the Coke (I might tell you why another time). To give you an idea of the kudos they have in the world of hat making, they once received a postcard from overseas, addressed simply to 'the best hatters in the world, London.' Enough said.
Berry Bros & Rudd - Wine & Spirit Merchants
Although they sell alcohol, confusingly, Berry Bros & Rudd have a picture of a coffee grinder on the sign outside their 315 year old shop. The reason being that when they started off at the end of the 17th century, they sold coffee to the reasonably newish coffee houses that had been popping up. They have some huge coffee scales, and the likes of Lord Byron and William Pitt have sat on them to be weighed. They still have all the leather bound volumes of various people's weights inside the rickety shop and until recently boasted the largest wine cellars in London; a whopping 8,000 square feet over two floors. They began their Royal connection back during the reign of King George III.
Floris - Perfumers
I really like Floris on Jermyn Street. I very much doubt that when people meet me, they think, 'this guy likes to buy luxury fragrances' but I've always found the staff in Floris to be incredibly friendly and helpful, despite my obvious lack of interest in smelly water. Founded in 1730 by Juan Famenias Floris, as a perfumers, comb maker and purveyor of shaving products, they received their first Royal Warrant from George IV in 1820 as his Smooth Pointed Comb Maker. Aside from an amazing array of fragrances, they have a tiny little pseudo museum in the back room, which among other things includes a letter from Florence Nightingale to Mr Floris thanking him for his 'beautiful sweet-smelling nosegays'.
Paxton & Whitfield - Cheesemonger
Despite the name, which could almost be bywords for 'quality' and 'cheese', the seed of the business was actually sown by a bloke called Stephen Cullum who had a cheese stall in Aldwych Market back in 1742. His son Sam, moved the business to west London where many of his wealthy customers were based and took on two new partners, Henry Paxton and Charles Whitfield who somehow in 1797 managed to join their two names to become what is still today Paxton & Whitfield. They received their first Royal Warrant from Queen Victoria in 1850 and have had mixed blessings over the years, as the popularity of cheese has waxed and waned, not mention rationing in the 1940's when they were forced to become a regular grocery shop. I'm very pleased to say they seem to be doing pretty well at the moment, with shops also in Stratford Upon Avon, Bath and the Cotswolds.
Hatchards - Booksellers
Hatchards, started by John Hatchard in 1797 has the distinction of being London's oldest bookshop. Based on Piccadilly, just next to Fortnum and Mason and opposite the Royal Academy of Arts, it's famous for the myriad of authors and politicians that have done book signings there and is crammed with books over five floors. They also hold Royal Warrants for all of 'The Big Three' and if you're a bit worried that Waterstones just a hop and a skip down the road might be stealing their business, then in fact, Waterstones bought Hatchards, but kept the much older and more prestigious name. It does mean though that if someone buys you Waterstones vouchers, you can use them in Hatchards too. Bonus.
And last but not least ...
John Anderson Hire Ltd - Portable Toilet Hire
Pretty much every Sunday I visit Columbia Road Flower Market on my east end walk. Every Sunday, there is a guy asleep in a land rover, behind which he has towed (for the use of visitors to the market) a portable toilet. Emblazoned on the doors of his vehicle is the Royal Warrant (which you can see above). Every time I use the toilet, which I do every Sunday, the emptying of my bladder feels that little bit more special, knowing that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II might have used the very same one ... albeit probably not the gents. So thank you very much John Anderson Hire Ltd for the wonderful service.
On Sunday, I had just started the walk with Sarah, Tim and Sue and also Christina and Dave (who came on one of my first ever Saturday morning walks just over a year ago) when we were approached by four others searching for another guided walk, a company who describe themselves as the 'first and best' in London. Well, all I can say is that their loss is my gain, because Dennis and Ann from Canada, Gretchen from Los Angeles and John from Kent joined us and I really enjoyed the walk around the east end.
Here they all are in Hoxton Square. The building behind them is currently occupied by bluu, (one of the many bars in the area) on the site of the home of James Parkinson (1755 - 1824), who aside from a career in medicine was variously a geologist, paleontologist and political activist. He wrote an essay on what he referred to as the 'shaking palsy' and is now more commonly known as 'Parkinson's Disease'. It was his tumultuous political career and activism that lead him to being arrested and questioned about a plot to assassinate King George III (often referred to as 'the mad King'), know as the 'pop gun' plot as it seems the plan had been to use a pop gun to fire a poison dart at the King, thus ending his reign.
Gretchen was keen to see the site of 'The Theatre', so called because, in 1576 it was the first purpose built playhouse in London. The troop who occupied it were called the 'Lord Chamberlain's Men' of which a certain William Shakespeare became an integral member. I know I've mentioned this before, but basically it was the same theatre that in 1599 opened on Bankside as The Globe. They dismantled it and took it over the Thames due to an ongoing feud with the landlord who wanted to get rid of them, but as they owned the building (but not the land) they removed it. Gretchen told us an interesting little snippet of information as to why they were keen to maintain the fabric of the building, which was that the price of oak had soared due to ship building requirements necessary to repel the Spanish Armada. There were two Elizabethan theatres in the vicinity, the other, was The Curtain. Now Great Eastern Street and Old Street are connected by Curtain Road, which during the Victorian period was the hub of the furniture industry and looked like this ...
And now looks a bit like this ...
Sorry, I got distracted. The reason Gretchen was keen to visit the former site of The Theatre, was because she happens to be an author of children's books and has written a book entitled 'All The World's A Stage - A Novel in Five Acts' about a young boy called Kit who as an orphan gets embroiled in to a life of crime at the very same theatre, but gets caught up by the drama on stage and the whole dismantling of the theatre I just mentioned, as well as rubbing shoulders with William Shakespeare himself. You can even watch a nice little trailer for it, if you feel inclined.
Most likely to run 10 miles home - Tim
Best hat - (joint winners) Sarah & Gretchen
Best moustache - No winners
Bowl Of Chalk veterans - Christina & Dave
Most Canadian - Dennis & Ann
Image of Curtain Road courtesy of Hackney Archives Department
Bowl Of Chalk
Bowl Of Chalk based shenanigans.