Fortnum's History

Fortnum & Mason: The First 312 Years

Taking the centuries in our stride


Everyone remembers their first encounter with Fortnum & Mason. Multiply that by 312 years at the very heart of things and it's clear that we could write a rather longer timeline than this. Instead we thought it best to cover some of our own favourite memories.


The beginning

The Beginning

1707

Our legacy began in 1705 by Hugh Mason, from a small store in St James Market and a spare room in his house, and the Fortnum family who had arrived in London as high class builders reinvigorating Mayfair in the wake of the Great Fire. William Fortnum, who was quite the entrepreneur, also took a post as Footman in Queen Anne’s household and in Mr Mason’s spare room, where Fortnum met Mason.
We Invented the Scotch Egg

We Invented the Scotch Egg

1738

Finding itself perfectly placed in London for travellers heading west, our young enterprise set itself the task to capitalise on creating food that was easily portable for long distance journeys. Coming up with numerous ideas, Mr Fortnum & his staff developed the smart idea of wrapping a hard-boiled egg in sausage meat and coating it in fried breadcrumbs, the world’s first Scotch Egg. Tasty, filling and portable, it proved to be just as popular then as it is today.
We Became a Post Office

We Became a Post Office

1794

Before the days of our beloved Post Office, the business of sending and receiving mail was open to anyone, another opportunity quickly seized by Fortnum’s. Providing letterboxes that were collected six times a day, this arrangement attracted all sorts of people, from those who were captivated by our magnificent windows to soldiers and sailors who received a discount. The arrangement lasted until 1839, when the General Post Office was founded – a year before the Penny Black with its bust of a youthful Victoria.
Suppliers to Royalty & Soldiers Alike

Suppliers to Royalty & Soldiers Alike

1856

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 story of the Charge of the Light Brigade gripped the nation, with The Queen taking a personal interest and 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.
Fortnum, Meet Heinz

Fortnum, Meet Heinz

1886

Since the middle of the century Fortnum’s had been the leading provider in tinned goods, which made us the obvious first stop for a young entrepreneur lugging five cases of samples from the USA. Recognising a future household staple we took them all, introducing the mighty baked bean to Britain for the first time. Whilst baked beans was one of the more prosaic entries in our ever-expanding list of historic gastronomic firsts, Fortnum's was considered as the premier supplier of exotic edibles to the gentry of the time.
Tea Fit for a King

Tea Fit for a King

1902

In 1902, we were set a challenge. “Bring me the finest tea in all of the land,” came the request from King Edward VII. Not ones to say no, we set off round the globe. From India we brought Assam. From Sri Lanka came Flowery Pekoe. And from this splendid blend of the two comes a smooth, honey-like flavour that still sets the benchmark for tea, 100 years later. The tea, Royal Blend, was our gift to the king; it’s quite the cup.
We Sent Hampers to the Suffragettes

We Sent Hampers to the Suffragettes

1911

When the Suffragettes were imprisoned for smashing our windows in 1911, we sent them hampers after they were released from Holloway prison. Containing the likes of our famous beef tea, their contents were intended to help build up their strength.
Fuelling the Front Line

Fuelling the Front Line

1914

All staff serving in France and Flanders were guaranteed to have kept their jobs on their return, which a surprising number managed, in the meantime the women of London kept things buzzing along brilliantly. Fortnum’s supplied our soldiers with hampers full of the usual quantity of tuck, where we soon learned that only metal tins were any use against the ever-present gourmet rats.
Our Hampers Ascend Everest

Our Hampers Ascend Everest

1922

Fortnum's is the only store to have a department dedicated to “Expeditions”, at a time when huge consignments of home comforts accompanied the English into the heart of Africa and up the Himalayas, right down to such essentials as butter knives and sauce boats. The 1922 Everest expedition, for example, simply couldn't start without 60 tins of quail in foie gras and four dozen bottles of champagne (the appropriately-named Montebello 1915).
Visitors From Afar

Visitors From Afar

1935

King George V's Jubilee in 1935 drew so many princes and potentates from all corners of the Empire that Fortnum & Mason, having long imported the best from all the continents, created a special department to accommodate their dietary requirements. We offered Muslim and Hindu readily-prepared meals, complete with liveried Indian servants where required. To whom else might one possibly have turned?
Our Famous Clock is Revealed

Our Famous Clock is Revealed

1964

1964 saw a new landmark added to the front of the store – the famous Fortnum's clock, with bells from the same foundry as Big Ben. Every fifteen minutes a selection of airs is played on eighteen bells, and once an hour Messrs F&M themselves appear to check that standards are being upkept.
Our Rooftop Bees Take Up Residence

Our Rooftop Bees Take Up Residence

2008

Since 2008, we've kept our own bees in rooftop hives, grown our own herbs and vegetables in our sky-high allotments - even smoked our own salmon, ready to be served in our restaurants below.
The Queen Opens the Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon

The Queen Opens the Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon

2012

1st March 2012 was an historic day at Fortnum & Mason. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, accompanied by the Duchess of Cornwall and the Duchess of Cambridge, visited the store to open the Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon. It was also an opportunity for Her Majesty to inspect the 60 unique Diamond Jubilee products created in celebration of her reign.
The Cathedral of the Railways

The Cathedral of the Railways

2013

Life has always moved at a breakneck pace at Fortnum’s, and so after a mere 306 years of trading, we decided to open a new store. Famous for serving the needs of travellers for centuries, it was only natural that we looked to St Pancras International for our second outpost, offering a little haven of Piccadilly pleasure to passengers heading out on their journeys. And before anyone could tell us to calm down and have a cup of tea, we opened the doors of yet another in Heathrow Terminal 5 the following year.
Fortnum’s Gets Its Skates On

Fortnum’s Gets Its Skates On

2013

Such is our dedication to winter pursuits that in 1930 we installed a miniature ski slope on the Third Floor. Therefore it was with great precedent that almost a century later we joined forces with Somerset House, and opened our alpine-inspired Fortnum’s Lodge at London’s most beautiful ice rink (and officially introduced the concept of après-skate, too). Returning every year since, it has proven to be a natural partnership, not least thanks to our unerring grace on the ice even after a large chocolate fondue.
We Launched the Food and Drink Awards

We Launched the Food and Drink Awards

2014

We decided it was time to celebrate the people – the writers, publishers, broadcasters, photographers and personalities – who share our passion for pursuing the extraordinary. From Jay Rayner to Mary Berry, every famous name in food has been on our guest list over the years, and in 2019 the kings and queens of food royalty were joined by HRH The Prince of Wales, who received a special award for his long-standing commitment to sustainable farming.
The Fourth Type of Chocolate

The Fourth Type of Chocolate

2018

The biggest innovation in chocolate industry for decades, our launch of Ruby Chocolate – the near-mythical fourth type of chocolate – proved a last-second race to market after more than a decade in development. We were the very first to introduce it to the UK, marking another milestone in Fortnum’s storied history of chocolate discovery and imagination. Naturally lipstick pink with intense fruity notes, ours was a pleasingly flamboyant end to a 13-year-long experiment.
Off to the City!

Off to the City!

2018

Always on hand with a hamper or case of bubbly, Fortnum’s has long come to the rescue of City workers in need of a last-minute gift: little more than a hastily scribbled card and an eleventh-hour call to our concierge team has meant that clients, colleagues and, well, spouses everywhere have been none the wiser. In 2018 we saw the opportunity to offer our services a little closer to the action, opening a new outpost at London’s historic centre of trade, The Royal Exchange.
The Piccadilly Circus Heads to Hong Kong

The Piccadilly Circus Heads to Hong Kong

2019

Fortnum’s has always been an English brand with a global palate, and our presence is felt in a number of different countries around the world. But in 2019 we packed our bags – several of them, in fact they were more like containers, several extremely large containers – and for the first time in 312 years, opened our first overseas standalone store and restaurant in Hong Kong. While afternoon tea has been enjoyed in Hong Kong since the 1920s, they’ve had to wait a century for the very best.