Who invented the Scotch egg in 1738 as a snack for long horse-drawn carriage journeys? Which shop was the first to stock tinned baked beans and Yves St Laurent goods? What London store is synonymous with picnic hampers “brimming with delectable items” and known as an “essential destination for anyone in search of extraordinary food”?
Founded in 1707 as a grocery store, Fortnum and Mason of Piccadilly, London has grown into one of the world’s most famous department stores and supplier of the world’s most luxurious hampers – “The Gift That Never Disappoints”.
Its £1000 Windsor Hamper includes Golden Oscietra caviar, vintage Champagne, the shop’s traditionally fruity Dundee fruitcake as well as other upscale treats and biscuits (“made by artisan biscuiteers”), preserves and acacia chunk comb honey amphora, cheeses, a mini Wiltshire ham, organic smokes salmon, bespoke teas ports and wines. And much more.
But you will need a good friend with a private jet or generous enough to pay the excess luggage as these indulgences are not available outside the UK. Although a great many individual items like fig and fennel chutney, Fortnum’s truffle mayo and cherry and almond ruby chocolate are available as mail order. You can even order your own bespoke hamper, choosing its contents and your own selection from a firm with a long history of selling “exotic edibles to the gentry”.
But what you can get delivered to your door is the £500 Globetrotter Hamper. This includes speciality teas and your own F&M tea set with silver played tea strainer. Plus seriously chocolatey Chocolossus Biscuits, Piccadilly Biscuit Selection, Sea Salted Caramel Truffle Drum, our cooling Icy Mints, Milk & Dark Chocolate Selection or a bar of our Strawberry & Black Pepper White Chocolate Bar. For breakfast, alongside Sandringham Blend Coffee, you get Passionfruit Curd and Burlington Breakfast Marmalade, Morello Cherry & Chocolate Curd and Strawberry Preserve and a jar of Wild Lavender. Not forgetting “ transformative condiments” of Damson, Blackberry & Apple Chutney, Piccadilly Piccalilli, Fortnum’s Pickle, 181 Sauce and Fig & Fennel Chutney. Everything needed “to crown your breakfast or brunch”.
“Fortnum & Mason” send out over 120,000 luxury hampers every year. In 1911, it sent hampers to the Suffragettes after they were released from prison for smashing the store’s windows.
William Fortnum worked as a footman in the royal household in the reign of Queen Anne (1702-1707). The royal family liked having fresh candles every night. Fortnum sold the old ones. He also in Duke Street, St James’s Market in 1707. His grandson took over, serving Queen Charlotte and began stocking specialities like fresh poultry and game in aspic jelly.
During the Napoleonic Wars, the shops supplied fruit and preserves to British army officers. It also sent beef tea and Christmas puddings to Florence Nightingale’s hospitals during the Crimean War. It catered for Queen Victoria.
Charles Drury Edward Fortnum (1820–1899), was a distinguished art collector, benefactor of the University of Oxford, a trustee of the British Museum to which he donated his priceless collection of Islamic ceramics. In 1886, the first store to stock tinned baked beans. And the first to sell Yves St Laurent goods.
To boost their energy levels, Fortnum’s supplied the 1922 Everest Exhibition with sixty tins of quail in foie gras and four dozen bottle of Montebello Champagne. In 1964, a four-ton clock was installed by the main entrance. Every hour, 4-foot-high (1.2 m) models of William Fortnum and Hugh Mason emerge and bow to each other, with chimes amidst eighteenth century music. The clock came from the same foundry that made “Big Ben”.
In 2013, it opened its second London store and the next year on in Dubai. Its Hong Kong store opened in 2019. The London store has its own rooftop apiary (honey bee hives) and vegetable allotment. It is also one of the few shops to have its own historian who give tours.
The shop sells thirty-five varieties of hamper including an “English Essentials” hamper, a Honeymoon Hamper, a “Wedding Day”, a “Get Well Soon” hamper, a “Congratulations” hamper, and a “Bundle of Joy” hamper. There is even a “Grosvenor House” hamper. All are “brimming with delectable items” and full of “exceptional products”, “most extraordinary provisions” , “splendid puds” “fit for a royal banquet” and come with the assurance that Fortnum & Mason’s “goes to great lengths to ensure that their biscuits are the best.” Nineteen hampers are available for delivery worldwide.
Perhaps the only things missing are perhaps a picnic rug, a concert pianist, your own private chamber orchestra and, of course, a butler or manservant. But there was no room left in the traditional XL 76x51x41 wicker basket for him.