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Fortnum & Mason - Piccadilly since 1707

Fortnum & Mason - Piccadilly since 1707

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1815 - Our Waterloo


Having been integral to morale since the Peninsular War, Fortnum & Mason – the foremost establishment in a "nation of shopkeepers" - helped the army march on its stomach to final victory over Napoleon.

Honey, dried fruits, spices and above all preserves were ideal for the campaigning soldier and were advertised as such in The Times. The handsome packaging first helped, then hindered, as everyone at the front caught on to the rare treats contained inside.

1846 - Mr Fortnum's Fortune

Richard Fortnum leaves a fortune to the staff

Fortnum & Mason has always been an enlightened employer, understanding that if shopping here is to remain a unique pleasure, our greatest assets need looking after. Richard's gift of £1,500 (around £500,000 today) is just one in a long list of similar examples: a few years later, staff at Fortnum's were the only members of the new Shopworkers' Trade Union who were unafraid to have their names published in the press, being actively supported by the firm.

1851 - Dickens & Co

Great Exhibition, Charles Dickens and the Great Hamper Revolution

Driven by the passion of Prince Albert, the Great Exhibition of 1851 was London's tribute to the Industrial Revolution. Fortnum & Mason won first prize as importers of dried fruits and dessert goods but their influence on the nation's habits was by then acknowledged to be far greater.

Pre-fabrication was all the rage: the Exhibition's home, Crystal Palace, was manufactured in a factory and then assembled on site, and Fortnum's led a similar trend in ready-to-eat luxury foods such as "poultry and game in aspic, hard-boiled eggs in forcemeat (the famous "Scottish egg"), dry and green turtle, boar's head, truffles, mangoes… all decorated and prepared so as to require no cutting."

Charles Dickens wrote of one Epsom Derby; "Look where I will.... I see Fortnum & Mason. All the hampers fly wide open and the green downs burst into a blossom of lobster salad!" Similar references in Henry James, Wilkie Collins and others – and the preponderance of our hampers at Ascot, the Boat Race, Henley, Wimbledon, Lord's and Twickenham - meant that by the middle of its second century Fortnum's had become the out-of-household name.

1855 - Crimea

Queen Victoria, beef tea and Florence Nightingale

In 1854 the story of the Charge of the Light Brigade gripped the nation. The Crimean was the first war to be covered by on-the-spot reporters, so for once the home front was aware of the soldiers' appalling conditions.

The Queen took a personal interest, sending Fortnum's an order "to dispatch without delay to Miss Nightingale in Scutari a huge consignment of concentrated beef tea" after the scandal of the hospitals had become known in England.

Every ship that sailed for the Crimea carried cases labelled Fortnum & Mason. Many officers wrote begging us to leave it off to discourage pilferers – by now an epidemic, sparked by the sight of our name.

1886 - Young Mr Heinz

Mr Heinz brings Baked Beans to Piccadilly

Since the middle of the century Fortnum & Mason had been the leader in tinned goods – and chief provider of information on how to open the tricky devils with a pocket-knife. This made us the obvious first stop for a young entrepreneur lugging five cases of samples from the USA. Recognising a future staple we took them all, introducing the mighty baked bean to Britain for the first time – one of the more prosaic entries in our ever-expanding list of historic gastronomic firsts.

As it approached its first centenary, Fortnum's was well established as the premier supplier of exotic edibles to the gentry.

Charles Fortnum, grandson of the original William, had left Royal service in 1788 to concentrate on the business, an event noted on film in The Madness of King George. He was not alone in finding the atmosphere at the palace challenging, but at least life was easier than for a French aristocrat at the time.

Eleven years into the new century the Regency period began, with beaux of all kinds flocking to Fortnum's for snuff and sustenance during the hectic social whirl. Throughout the reigns of George, William and Victoria and into the great period of industrial explosion and imperial expansion, Fortnum & Mason grew in influence and stature every year.