Fortnum & Mason
I began this ostensibly, to mention a clock at the well known department store on Piccadilly, called Fortnum and Mason, which I dare say you've heard of, or if not, the name might certainly ring a bell. It's not the grand clock which adorns the outside facade, added in 1964, with little statues of Mr Fortnum and Mr Mason that come out every hour to see what's going on, but a rather grand musical clock that sits close to the lifts inside, in the midst of the quite amazing confectionery section on the ground floor. It looks rather like this.
I then decided it might be a good opportunity to mention Fortnum and Mason in a bit more detail, so basically, until recently, there was a sign next to the above clock saying that if you wanted to hear it play its tune, you had to ask a member of staff to start it for you, but now, there is a slot in which you can place a 50 pence piece, and you can hear the clock for yourself. I was only reminded about it because last week I took some people to Fortnum and Mason on a walk, and evidently, someone had done just that, so I heard it for the first time. The clock incidentally was made in Leipzig, Germany in 1898.
So, Fortnum and Mason, as you might have guessed, was started by two people; Hugh Mason and William Fortnum. Mason ran a small shop in nearby St James's and had a spare room at his house which became occupied by William Fortnum, who happened to be Queen Anne's footman. A perk of the job was that as the Queen insisted on only having brand new candles each evening, Fortnum was allowed to keep the old ones, which he of course sold on for profit. Fortnum and Mason then started their own joint business on the back of the candle selling enterprise and opened their own shop in 1707. This also explains why you see numerous candle related motifs around the shop.
The history of the shop is so rich and so varied with close ties to various Monarchs and periods of history, that I won't mention everything, but by the mid 1700's their close links with the British East India Company ensured they could get their hands on all those exotic spices and of course teas infiltrating from India, making them (in their own words) a 'unique emporium for goods sold precisely nowhere else'.
During the Napoleonic wars in the early 1800's Fortnum and Mason goods helped feed the troops and by the middle of that century were pioneers of the trend for ready to eat luxury foods and apparently invented the scotch egg. In 1855 Queen Victoria had a huge consignment of beef tea sent to Miss Florence Nightingale, embroiled in the Crimea War and ships for the Crimea were so laden with Fortnum and Mason goods that officers begged them to remove their labels to stop the inevitable pilfering.
In 1886 a young American entrepreneur called Henry Heinz turned up with five cases of his tinned food and Fortnum and Mason became the first shop in the UK to sell Heinz Baked Beans ... a luxury at the time.
Many pioneering expeditions have been achieved on the back of Fortnum and Mason, although could have quite easily been their undoing. The 1922 Everest expedition kicked off with 60 tins of quail in foie gras and 4 dozen bottles of champagne, and probably for the best, Tensing Norgay was horrified for the 1933 attempt to discover that most of their Fortnum and Mason provision had been kept by customs officials.
The shop continued through the obvious difficulties presented during the 20th century and in the 1920's added new departments to include ladies' fashions, children's clothes, kitchenware and perfumes. They're still there today, and not surprisingly have held numerous Royal Warrants dating back 150 years, so if you head down to Piccadilly, why not pop in, and if you have a spare 50 pence, you can listen to the musical clock just by the confectionery section ... amongst other things.
25/10/2016 07:30:40 am
My mother worked in this wonderful store where you are treated like her majesty by the staff. My mother worked there. In about 1915. This was when Fortnums took on women to replace the men who had gone to the 1914-18 war. The clock is my way of remembering my mother and I play the clock in her memo
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