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The History of the Fortnum's Hamper


The ultimate parcel of comfort and joy 


The Fortnum’s hamper is the world’s best-travelled tuck box. Over the course of nearly 300 years, it’s been dispatched to every possible location, from the slopes of Everest and the battlefields of Iraq to the more welcoming lawns of Glyndebourne, Twickenham, Henley and Epsom. It’s a by-word for portable pleasure.


The Fortnum’s initials, stamped boldly on to a sturdy wicker basket, has been a welcome sight all over the world for hundreds of years; so much so that we’ve often been asked to leave it off to discourage pilfering. This reputation is no accident. It is the result of centuries of hard work, unparalleled standards and a determination to deliver defiantly elaborate tucker to the most theoretically unreachable corners of the world.


These days we dispatch close to 120,000 packages around the world each year, which could be anything from a box of champagne and truffles right up to a hamper filled with everything for creating a Fortnum's feast at home. Our hampers find their way into every corner of our corner-free globe, from Bulgaria to Bangladesh, Taiwan to Tanzania, America to… you get the idea.


Fortnum’s first hampers were created in the late 1730s for well-heeled customers journeying to their country estates or to take the waters in Bath. Many began their journeys at the coaching inns placed along…


Piccadilly! The food at the inns en route could be quite poor, so people asked Fortnum’s to prepare travellers’ baskets for them. These proto-hampers held delicacies such as game pies, fresh bread, West Country butter, our own ‘scotched eggs’, cheese, hothouse fruit and rich fruit cake, with mineral water, small beer and hock to drink. No wonder they took off.



At the end of the 18th century, the Romantic Movement encouraged enjoyment of the English countryside, and picnics (first known by the less catchy name of fêtes champêtres) quickly became fashionable, creating a whole new demand for the Fortnum’s hamper.


In the Victorian era, the ‘London Season’ consisted of as many outdoor events as indoor – Harrow and Eton cricket match, Henley and Cowes Regattas, the Epsom Derby – and Fortnum’s supplied picnic hampers for these occasions, too. Derby Day was a particularly important day in the calendar, with carriages queuing up from 4am to pick up the Fortnum’s picnic basket.


But our hampers were not all about leisure; many were a vital lifeline between soldiers abroad and their home comforts. Fortnum’s sent provisions to Wellington’s soldiers as they fought Napoleon in 1815; during the Crimean War Queen Victoria sent Fortnum’s beef tea to Florence Nightingale to nourish her patients; and First World War troops (including Winston Churchill, serving on the Western Front), prisoners of war and Red Cross outposts received all kinds of parcels, including one of 500 Christmas puddings.


Fortnum’s continued its military deliveries during the Second World War, opening a special officers’ department to cater for servicemen and women. Even today, troops in Afghanistan and Iraq receive consignments of biscuits, jam, chutney and marmalade, and of course tea – one delivery of which was especially requested by a Captain Lipton, who felt that without a decent cup of tea, his troops’ morale might slip.

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