1707 - Open For Business
Fortnum, meet Mason
In 1705 Hugh Mason had a small shop in St James’s Market and a spare room in his house. The Fortnum family had come to London from Oxford as high-class builders in the wake of the Great Fire, helping to establish the St James’s and Mayfair areas as the most fashionable in London. William climbed another rung by taking a post as footman in Queen Anne’s household - and the room at Mr Mason’s.
The Royal Family’s insistence on having new candles every night meant a lot of half-used wax for an enterprising footman to sell on at a profit – so while the Queen’s wages paid the rent, William’s enlightened sideline melted down into enough to start a respectable business. The rest, as they say, is grocery.
1714 - Georgian Era Opens
Queen Anne dies, Georgian era begins
The spirit of the Georgian era shaped our young enterprise. Respect for the classical world’s harmony of form joined with a pioneering spirit of discovery to form a graceful new order that was definitively English.
The explosion in trade was creating a middle class with more disposable income and there was suddenly more than ever to spend it on. International trade expanded at a dramatic rate as new routes were discovered and transport became more reliable, with London at the hub of everything - making it a magnet for the world.
Fortnum & Mason was at the centre of this whirlwind.
1744 - East India Tea Company
Robert Clive arrives in Madras as clerk to East India Company
The British East India Company was effectively an independent imperial power with its own army, policies and governance. Robert Clive was the general who brought India into the British Empire - introducing the British palate to spices and, above all, the world’s best teas.
Strong links with the Company (there were several Fortnums on its payroll) meant that from the outset Fortnum’s was in the forefront of innovation and experimentation, a unique emporium for goods sold precisely nowhere else – exactly like today.
1773 - The Boston Tea Party
Boston Tea Party inspires American Independence movement
It is not on record who supplied the tea, but it was probably not us: we have never charged extortionate prices and none of our teas do at all well with salt water. Since Independence, though, our American cousins have been among our most loyal customers.
1794 - The F&M Post Office
The Fortnum & Mason Postal Service
Until the General Post Office came into being, the business of sending and receiving mail was open to anyone - and Fortnum’s grasped the opportunity. It had letterboxes for paid and unpaid letters which were picked up six times a day (this was before stamps, and the recipient usually paid the tab). Soldiers and sailors, already among the company’s best customers, received a discount.
The arrangement drew all sorts of traffic to the store to be tempted by the already magnificent window and interior displays. This arrangement lasted until 1839, when the GPO was founded – a year before the Penny Black with its bust of a youthful Victoria.