London Lantern

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A History of Fortnum and Mason - Part 2

18/01/2003, By David McIntosh

Reader Rating: 2.9 from 13757 votes


Yet another war, the Crimean, would see soldiers receiving shipments with a return address of Piccadilly Street. The dire conditions experienced by the men on the front and the outcry back home after Florence Nightingale made the story known to the British public resulted in Queen Victoria sending consignments of Fortnum and Mason beef tea concentrate to the hospitals near the front. Wherever the Ďthin red lineí held fast it was a sure thing that soldiers would be feasting on the best from the store founded by William Fortnum and Hugh Mason.

In the coming years the firm would also provide provision for society Victorians at such events as the Henley Regatta and the races at Ascot. Other events that were not complete without provisions from Fortnum and Mason included the University Boat Race and yachting event at Cowes. Especially popular during such social occasions were baskets and hampers containing an assortment of delights so that one could enjoy a day out socializing with the right kind of people. It was none other than Charles Dickens who once wrote "I see Fortnum and Mason. All the hampers fly wide open and the green downs burst into a blossom of lobster salad."

In the mid 1880s a man from Pennsylvania, a certain H.J. Heinz called on the store in London to see if they might be interested in some of his wares. While already popular in the United States, this would mark the starting point at which the company known for Ď57 varietiesí became a global food giant. In 1957 H.J. Heinz II personally extended his congratulations and appreciation.

The tradition of a Fortnum and Mason basket continues to this day with specially prepared hampers for those travelling somewhere. Going on the Eurostar beneath the English Channel through the Channel Tunnel, flying somewhere and desirous of something better than the typical airline fare, then a hamper from Fortnum and Mason will ensure you are well provisioned for the trip. Not ones to rest on their laurels, the folks at Fortnum and Mason can lay claim to being the first to carry a number of designer names and according to the companyís own history, shortly after men first landed on the moon, the wife of an astronaut, who happened to be visiting the store, was told that if the moon indeed was made of green cheese then there was really only one store that could possibly stock moon cheese.

In the early 80s the ground floor was refurbished and in the mid 90s a two year renovation project was begun. The result is that the Fortnum and Mason of today is one of the most impressive department stores to be found anywhere. So letís no longer. Itís time to take a tour.

The lower ground floor is where youíll find candles (only fitting given the storeís beginnings), china, glass and silverware, as well as picnic baskets and hampers along with cookshop and a Christmas shop. You can also arrange home delivery of anything in the store.

On the ground floor is the main food hall along with groceries and confections and pastries and flowers and produce. The ground floor also features an assortment of wines, cheeses and spirits to satisfy the most discriminating of clients. Of course there is tea, the Fortnum and Mason tea known worldwide, as well as coffee to please the most particular of coffee drinkers, along with a fine selection of cigars. Oh, and by the way, remember the English love their curry and one canít have curry without chutney and F&Mís carries as large of a choice of chutney as youíll probably find anywhere.

When one dines well, one of course should dress well and on the first floor (we Americans would think of this as the second floor) is where well-dressed ladies may drop in to purchase handbags or shoes as well as jewelry and tasteful fashions. Havenít got a hat for your day at the races, then youíd best look over the array of millinery.

Naturally when one dines well and dresses well, one should live well and that little matter can be attended to on the second floor where bathroom accessories and linens are featured. Youíll also find childrenís wear since living well should always include the children. Also on the second floor are departments carrying nursery toys and books and youíll find the perfumery along with cosmetics and toiletries.

The third floor is where men go to be properly outfitted as well as purchase leather goods and luggage. There is also where youíll find stationary and gifts. The fourth floor is where youíll find antiques and collectibles.

Since a person engaged in a busy day of shopping can work up an appetite Fortnum and Mason has seen fit, like most British department stores to locate a number of restaurants on premises; on the ground floor thereís the Fountain Restaurant which features murals depicting imaginary travels undertaken by William Fortnum and Hugh Mason in their quest to find the best items for their store, while the Patio Restaurant is on the Mezzanine overlooking the food hall. On the fourth floor thereís the St. Jamesís Restaurant and Lounge. What could more English than taking afternoon tea at Fortnum and Mason in surroundings that evoke an earlier colonial era.

Now back to the point we made at the beginning; the importance of showing courtesy to the customer. Throughout the store you will find courteous and friendly staff who are willing to take a few moments to make shopping at Fortnum and Mason a pleasant experience and treasured memory. For an eight year old child on her first trip to London the considerate staff at Fortnum and Mason have ensured that there is at least one young lady who on future visits to London will always grace their store with her custom. As for Mr. Fortnum and Mr. Mason; Iím sure they would be pleased.

David McIntosh

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Re: A History of Fortnum and Mason - Part 2

By Richard Wyland 06/02/2003, (Rating: 2.9 from 12831 votes)

"When I die, I hope that Paradise is one big London high street of shopping...Fortnum and Mason, Selfridges, Harrods, Liberty, Burlington Arcade, Portobello Road, etc. I'll have the special golden winged tennis shoe/trainers to carry me along through Eternity..."

Angel chorus here*

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Re: A History of Fortnum and Mason - Part 2

By Beverly 18/02/2003, (Rating: 2.9 from 12914 votes)

I absolutely agree, although I would have to add Burberry and Lulu Guinness on that high street, I love London and I love to shop. I will be going for my third trip in April and I'm taking one empty suitcase just to shop!!!

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Re: A History of Fortnum and Mason - Part 2

By Richard Wyland 24/03/2003, (Rating: 2.9 from 12728 votes)

sigh...I'll try NOT to be filled with envy as you shop in MY CITY...grrrrrrrrr

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