Fortnum & Mason is as English as Wimbledon, polo, queuing and the scrumptious cream teas the luxury London department store famously serves. So it is not surprising that the iconic retailer has recently chosen to stock an inherently British candle maker such as Birch & Brook. However, what you may find surprising is that it was with candles that the Fortnum & Mason story began.
In 1707 a footman in the service of Queen Anne, William Fortnum, was diligently serving the royal family. One of his duties each night was to replace the old candles used by the royal household with new ones. Showing early signs of entrepreneurship, William resold the old candle wax to ladies within the royal household and the seeds of a grocery business were sewn.
Having realised that his palace connections might open up further opportunities for business, William Fortnum convinced his landlord, Hugh Mason, to go into business with him. They found new premises in Piccadilly and Fortnum & Mason was born.
Later in the century Charles Fortnum, grandson of William, followed his grandfather into royal service and his high-class connections continued to pay off. Luxury, ready-to-eat food items, became fashionable and Charles Fortnum leapt upon the bandwagon, selling such delicacies as game served in aspic to his upper-class clientele. Fortnum & Mason also reaped the benefits of the travel boom at this time, selling a range of easily transported provisions, like the 'Scottish or Scotch Egg' (invented at Fortnum & Mason) to travellers and adventurers.
Part of Fortnum & Mason's success lies in its ability to diversify in line with the demands of the time. In the days before the Post Office, for example, anybody could go into the post business, sending and receiving mail across the globe. So in 1794 Fortnum & Mason became a Post Office with letterboxes for paid and unpaid letters which were picked up six times a day. Soldiers and sailors, already among the store’s best customers, received a discount. This lasted until 1839 and the founding of the GPO (General Post Office).
The Napoleonic Wars offered further opportunities for the forward thinking store, as many army and navy officers ordered luxuries and necessities from Fortnum & Mason to sustain them through the hard years of warfare.
The focus on ready-to-eat luxury dishes continued into the Victorian period, and Fortnum & Mason was often called upon to provide sumptuous food items for court functions. The store received numerous royal (“by appointment”) warrants during the reign of Queen Victoria and became the supplier of choice, with its opulent hampers, for such high society calendar events such as Royal Ascot and Henley Royal Regatta.
Throughout its history Fortnum & Mason has always remained at the forefront of innovation responding to new trends with exciting new foodstuffs; so when an American, Mr Heinz, approached the store with five cases of his new canned food, baked beans, Fortnum & Mason took them all and the rest is history.
Into the 20th century and Fortnum's fare continued to play its role in travel and exploration across the Empire. In 1922 the store supplied the Everest expedition with 60 tins of quail in foie gras and four dozen bottles of champagne (Montebello 1915).
Today, as throughout its history, Fortnum & Mason continues to offer the most inimitable and extraordinary shopping experience. To pass through its grand oak doors is to enter a world of quality, beauty and luxury. Wander amidst the breathtaking array of fine foods, wines and teas, or sample some of the delectable cuisine on offer in one of the store's renown five restaurants.
You may wish to begin your shopping experience on the lower ground floor and here you will find the Fresh Food Hall with an unsurpassable assortment of fresh fare. If you can bear to move on, take the magnificent spiral staircase to a world of indulgent food treats on the ground floor. From fine teas to irresistible preserves, biscuits and chocolate delights. Move onwards and upwards to the first floor and you will discover a wonderful array of gifts and items for the home; Fortnum & Mason's new Candle Room can be found here and sumptuous scented candles by Birch & Brook.
“Birch & Brook is Fortnum & Mason's newest discovery. We are delighted to offer our customers this unique range of luxury candles that have been created by founder Jessica Jones. Jessica is a rising star of the fragrance industry and we look forward to seeing what she does next!” Kathryn Catanzaro, Perfumery, Beauty & Home Fragrance Buyer
As you take the stairs to the second floor, a variety of new charming aromas greet you and give a not too subtle clue to the designation of your next stop. Sure enough on the second floor perfume and fragrances abound, juxtaposed with cosmetics, ladies´ accessories and handbags. Floor three offers gifts and grooming for the discerning gentlemen; and finally last, but not least, you are greeted by the lyrical tones of pianist serenading customers in the fourth floor’s Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon.
Since its foundation in Piccadilly in 1707, Fortnum & Mason has been at the heart of London life, supplying the very finest goods and services. Today the store sells a cornucopia of luxurious items from across the globe and, from its humble origins, Fortnum & Mason has risen to become one of the country's best-loved department stores. Throughout the ages, the store's instinctive and intuitive choice of products has continued to ensure the ongoing success of this most English of all English retailers, and by selecting only the very best suppliers in terms of quality and luxury, the company's longevity is assured.
Looking at the store's magnificent candle room today, it is incredible to think how far Fortnum & Mason has come; but let us not forget that it was with candles that it all began, and it is with candles by Birch & Brook that the story continues.