Imagine a store that has everything, from baked beans to diamond bracelets, tea to The Queen’s handbags, and candles to the finest lingerie. Come with me on a tour behind the scenes at Fortnum and Mason, a treasure trove of almost everything you could possibly want or need. Located in the the heart of Piccadilly, a stone’s throw from some of London’s most famous royal palaces, Fortnum & Mason is one of England’s oldest department stores.
The History of Fortnum & Mason
Fortnum & Mason began as a small shop window in St James’ Market, just off Piccadilly. William Fortnum, an enterprising footman in the Royal Household of Queen Anne, was allowed to take the remains of candles from the palaces at the end of the day as a perk of his job. He melted them down and made new candles which he sold to those keen to have something from the royal palace in their own home. Eventually he persuaded his landlord, Hugh Mason, to go into business with him. That was over 300 years ago.
Behind the Scenes at Fortnum and Mason
Led by Fortnum & Mason’s Chief Archivist, Dr Andrea Tanner, the tour begins on the fifth floor. It’s hard not to be impressed by the richly panelled walls, luxurious fabrics, ornate carvings and chandeliers. The plush red carpet, which lines all the beautiful staircases in the store, is there because Fortnum & Mason (known to insiders simply as F&M) want customers to feel they are honoured guests.
A Warm Welcome
Dr Tanner explained that, even if you are simply visiting the store to use their rather beautiful restrooms, F&M want you to feel welcome. Chairs and sofas are tucked in quiet corners on every floor. If you are in need of sustenance, there are six bars and restaurants to choose from.
Dr Tanner escorted us down the stairs, explaining the significance of the paintings that line the walls as we walked. Historic connections with the Royal College of Art and the Bloomsbury Group mean that F&M has a huge, very impressive art collection.
The Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon
Opened by HM The Queen, The Duchess of Cambridge and The Duchess of Cornwall in 2012, The Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon is located on the fourth floor.
This is one of the best places to enjoy Afternoon Tea in London. With 200 varieties of tea and the most beautiful sandwiches, scones and cakes, there’s definitely something to please the most discerning guests.
Gentlemen on Three
The third floor is a treasure trove of, in Dr Tanner’s words, “gifts for the man who thinks he has everything”. From bespoke wallets, to handmade sweaters, buttery leather suitcases and valise to accessories for cycling and exploring, seventy percent of the items on offer are British made. There’s even a barber shop.
You can also stop for a rest at the 3 and 6 Bar. Filled with comfy chairs, beautiful artwork and magazines, it’s a great place to soak up the atmosphere and enjoy a drink or snack. Or try your hand at the portable antique pool table that once belonged to Queen Victoria’s son, the Prince of Wales. While it may look like you shouldn’t touch it, Dr Tanner insists it is there to be used.
My Favourite Floors of Fortnum & Mason
The second floor is a treasure trove of fragrance, cosmetics, jewellery, hats, accessories and more. in addition, it is the location of the spa (and the ladies restroom should you wish to powder your nose).
Dr Tanner introduced us to the house milliner, will design a bespoke hat just for you. Or let the fragrance consultants help you find a signature perfume. I’ve used this free service and their intuition is delightfully accurate.
Peruse a selection of purses and handbags from Launer, who make many of HM The Queen’s handbags. Or browse through the jewellery department where prices start at about £11 and go up into five and six figures. There really is something for everyone.
On the first floor we browsed through a fragrance and candle section with a huge selection of ways to fragrance your home, china, kitchenware and beautifully designed picnic baskets. We tried cute mini iced cream cones at The Parlour, F&M’s ice cream parlour. Their salted caramel ice cream is divine!
The ground floor offers the most glorious selection of teas, coffees, jams, chocolate and candy. I was delighted when Dr Tanner took us to the confectionery counter and we were allowed to taste one thing – anything we wanted. My pistachio Turkish Delight was amazing.
Fortnum & Mason Hampers
No tour behind the scenes at Fortnum and Mason would be complete without learning more about their famous hampers.
If you were travelling through Piccadilly about 300 years ago, you might well choose to break your journey with a stay at one of the many pubs and hotels that lined the street. Fortnum and Mason could provide you will all the things you might need to continue your journey, all beautifully packed in a basket. Over the centuries, these traveller’s baskets evolved into the luxury hampers we enjoy today. I have both given and received these hampers, and whatever the occasion, they are a delight. I’m always excited when I see F&M’s signature eau de Nil coloured packaging!
Highlights at Fortnum & Mason
Don’t miss the amazing ceilings! Many are as beautiful as those I have seen in stately homes. Unless you are unable to climb stairs, give the lifts a miss and really explore this amazing store. The staircase at the back of the second floor opens into a beautiful glass domed roof, accented by colourful works of art. Most floors have both front and back stairs, and the huge circular staircase to the basement really is something else.
And Finally, A Cup of Tea
How better to end a behind the scenes tour at Fortnum and Mason than with a cup of tea? We descended into the crypt to find pots of tea brewing and the table laid with samples of many of the delicacies on offer upstairs. Thick slices of artisanal bread, cheese, pickles, Scotch eggs (both traditional and curried), paté and charcuterie filled the antique table. All of the products are of course available at F&M, and I couldn’t wait to go shopping!
I thoroughly enjoyed my behind the scenes tour at Fortnum and Mason, and you can too. Check out the Journal & Events Tab on F&M’s website to find out more.
Disclosure: This may seem like an advertisement for F&M but honestly, I’m just a huge fan of this wonderful store. I paid for my own ticket and have not been compensated in any way for this post.
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