Harvesting Fortnum's Honey
Fortnum's bees produce just one in-demand honey harvest every year
This year, we're celebrating a decade of Fortnum's famous hives on the roof of our Piccadilly store. Over the last ten years, our bees have been busy producing honey so truly delicious that there's a waiting list for their produce – and what's more, we've recruited the efforts of more colonies across London, meaning our honeys really do provide a true taste of the city.
There are five beehives, at six feet high almost twice the height of a normal beehive, each with a distinct triumphal arch entrance designed in a different architectural style – Roman, Mughal, Chinese and Gothick. Each hive is painted in our signature eau de nil, with copper-clad pagoda roofs and gilded ‘bee skep’ finials. The bees produce one crop a year, harvested in September, and Fortnum’s employs a bee-master, Steven Benbow, to look after the hives.
The honey, called simply Piccadilly London Honey, varies from year to year, depending on the flora available to the bees, but is usually a lovely pale, toffee colour with a soft consistency. The very first crop tasted of the Oxfordshire countryside, where the bees had been staying before they were transported to London.
More recent harvests, gathered every autumn, hint at the bees' journeys through London’s nearby parks and gardens, including Buckingham Palace, Clarence House and Green Park. The result is a honey of depth and freshness, with subtle traces of chestnut, lime and garden flowers.
OUR LONDON ROOFTOP HONEYS
In 2014, we built a new pied-à-terre for Fortnum's bees, with a new set of hives in Hoxton, East London. Based on the top of an old warehouse, this new living space gives the bees chance to roam through the parks and buddleia flower-swathed canals to produce the unique and delicate Fortnum's Hoxton Honey.
Busy travellers stopping for a breather at our tranquil St Pancras International outpost may be surprised to realise that there are some busy bees hard at work above their very heads. To access the roof of this monumental station, beekeepers have to climb a tiny spiralling staircase, then crawl out onto the rooftop through a tiny arched door.
Bees are also positioned in the heart of Bermondsey atop the White Cube Gallery, where they take advantage of the huge Tree of Heaven trees that flower in late June along the avenues – although they have to be quick, as any showers send the flowers scattering.
Lastly, those lucky bees at Somerset House have got one of the best seats in the house. The hives reside high above the Thames with an incredible 180 degree view of the river and south London.
Looking after the bees
Any potential concerns about our Piccadilly bees can be quickly allayed; these are native Welsh Black bees, known for their gentle ways, so they are less likely to sting unsuspecting shoppers and tourists. In fact, in all the time the hives have been in position, no rooftop visitors have ever been stung – not even the bold photographers, poking their lenses in through the hives’ front doors.
Pollution is also not an issue; nectar sits deep within a plant and is sucked up by the bee’s proboscis, then taken straight to the hive and sealed into the honeycomb, safe from outside influences and almost ready for our morning toast.