Fortnum’s History

Fortnum and Mason on Duke Street

1707. Founded in Duke Street

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.

Fortnum’s ingenious idea for selling Queen Anne’s half used candle wax, at a profit, paved the way for the beginning of a respectable business. The rest, as they say, is grocery.
Fortnum's Scotch Egg

1738. Invented the Scotch Egg for travellers

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.

1794. We become a Post Office

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.

1814. Suppliers to royalty and soldiers alike

Priding ourselves on being the foremost establishment in a ‘nation of shopkeepers’ we have been integral to morale since the Penninsular war. We helped the army march on a full stomach of dried fruits, honey and spices to a victory over Napoleon and supplied goods to the Earl of Egremont to entertain the Czar of Russia, who was in Britain to discuss the future of Europe at what was thought to be the end of the Napoleonic Wars.

1840. A bright new look

in a time of great industrial revolution and innovation, Fortnum’s was not one to be left behind in the dark. Our new building was amongst the first in the country to have plate glass windows that were lit by gas.

Richard Fortnum

1846. Richard Fortnum leaves a fortune to the staff

Fortnum’s has always been an enlightened employer, understanding that if shopping with us 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. We won a gold medal at the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park

Leading the trend in ready-to-eat luxury foods, such as poultry and game in aspic, hard-boiled eggs in in forcemeat (the famous ‘Scotch Egg), boars head, truffles and mangoes, Fortnum’s won first prize as importers of dried fruits and dessert goods at London’s Great Exhibition of 1851.

However our influence on the nation's habits was by then acknowledged to be far greater. 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 and the prevalence of our hampers at Ascot, Henley, Wimbledon, Lord's and Twickenham meant that Fortnum's had become the out-of-household name.

1854. On the orders of Queen Victoria

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.

1872. A charitable gift

Fortnum’s has always had gifts at it’s heart and as part of our donor policy, we gave London’s Kew Gardens a sample of ‘Old Men’s Eyebrows’ China Tea.

1886. Mr Heinz brings Baked Beans to Piccadilly

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.

In store demonstration of Heinz Baked Beans

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.

1911. Sent hampers to suffragettes imprisoned for breaking our windows

1914. Officers of the British Expeditionary Force in Northern France were kept going by Fortnum’s hampers

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.

1922. We provisioned the first British Everest Expedition

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).

1930. Sports Department opened

Upon opening our sports department, we taught our customers the art of how to ski, with our own miniature ski-slope and a slow-motion film.

1931. Contemporary Decorating Department opened

With luxurious rugs by Marion Dorn, murals by Allan Walton, Rex Whistler, Oliver Messel and Nicholas de Molas.

1935. Visitors from afar

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?

1937. Spode produced Fortnum’s Centres hand-painted china

1940. We created Active Service chocolate for military personnel

1950. Launched Chefs d’Oeuvre as a response to continued rationing

1954. First woman director, Evelyn Whiteside, appointed to the board

1955. The Fountain – one of the most beautiful and exciting restaurants in London – is launched

Fortnum's clock

1964. The clock is revealed on the Piccadilly frontage

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.

1983. Linda MacCartney orders F&M hampers for the Greenham Common protesters

1984. For the first and only time, we sold a record – “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”- on behalf of the Band Aid Appeal

In November 1984 Fortnum's made the national news when staff requested they sell the the “Do They Know It's Christmas?” single in Piccadilly. As no-one is in any doubt when it's Christmas at Fortnum's, the company took up the idea with gusto - helping spread the charitable message far beyond its traditional audience.

1999. We launched our selling website

Fortnum’s went truly global by extending its reach into the digital universe. The first online store launched with just hampers - but there were 50 of them. Soon the range grew to include classic gifts from our Food Hall and by the turn of the millennium the site featured over 800 products.

2008. The bees took up residence on the roof

Fortnum’s bees

Four colonies of Fortnum's famous bees have been gracing the roof of our Piccadilly store since 2008. The beehives are 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 Gothic. Each hive is painted in our signature eau de nil, with copper-clad pagoda roofs and gilded ‘bee skep’ finials. We don’t do things by quarters.

2012. Her Majesty the Queen visited with TRH the Duchess of Cornwall and the Duchess of Cambridge. The Queen formally opened the Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon.

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. One of these was a service tin – filled with tea and biscuits – that we sent to 17,000 British servicemen and women across the globe.

2013. We opened the store at St Pancras

For the first time since 1707, Fortnum's opened a new store in the UK at St Pancras International Station. Positioned on the St Pancras concourse, it is designed to serve the country's travellers, just as Fortnum's has done for 300 years. Opened by intrepid traveller Sir Ranulph Fiennes, it is the perfect place to enjoy a cup of tea, a glass of wine or a light meal at the beginning or end of your journey.

2014. We opened a store in Dubai, and one in Terminal 5 at Heathrow

Our first store in the UAE is a 9,400 sq ft oasis of British tradition. The spectacular ground floor displays an intelligent edit of the Piccadilly store, featuring all kinds tea, preserves, biscuits and confections - alongside, of course, off-the-peg and bespoke hampers, no strangers to the Middle East over the centuries.

Fortnum & Mason Terminal 5 is a beautifully designed 1,000 square foot store that hosts a careful edit of treasures from its Piccadilly parent. The focus is on foods to be bestowed on friends and family on arrival, though we hear through the grapevine that much is secretly destined for, ahem, personal use.