Country Tails

August 10, 2014

Proud to be supported by Fortnum & Mason, they’ve been a fantastic customer since the early days, back in 2008.

Fortnum & Mason has a long and celebrated history. Here some are some interesting facts about the landmark store on London’s Piccadilly.

1707 – Fortnum meets Mason
Hugh Mason had a small shop in St James’s Market and a spare room in his house, which was taken by William Fortnum, a footman in Queen Anne’s household. The Royal Family’s insistence on having new candles every night left the budding entrepreneur enough wax for a sideline that gave him enough money to start what was to become Fortnum & Mason.

1794 – Postal Service
In the days before the General Post Office, anybody could set up a business to send and receive mail. Fortnum’s had letterboxes for paid and unpaid letters which were picked up six times a day. Soldiers and sailors, already among the company’s best customers, received a discount. This lasted until 1839 and the founding of the GPO.

1815 – Waterloo
Fortnum & Mason – the foremost establishment in a “nation of shopkeepers” – helped the army march on its stomach to final victory over Napoleon. Honey, dried fruits, spices and above all preserves were ideal for the campaigning soldier and were advertised as such in The Times.

1851 – Dickens and the hamper
By the time of the Great Exhibition of 1851, ready-to-eat dishes were all the rage. Fortnum & Mason led a trend in luxury foods, with dishes such as “poultry and game in aspic, hard-boiled eggs in forcemeat (the famous “Scottish egg”), dry and green turtle, boar’s head, truffles, mangoes… all decorated and prepared so as to require no cutting.”

This evolved into its famous hampers which became popular at events such as the Henley Regatta and horse racing at Ascot. 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!”

1855 – Crimea, Queen Victoria and The Lady with the Lamp
The Crimean War was the first to be covered by on-the-spot reporters. Their reports highlighted the appalling conditions soldiers had to cope with, especially in hospitals. The Queen took a personal interest, 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.

1886 – Baked Beans and Mr Heinz
When an American called Mr Heinz came around with five cases of samples of his canned food, Fortnum & Mason took them all, giving the country its first taste of his famous baked beans.

1922 – Everest
Fortnum’s food was an essential part of any big expedition to the far reaches of the Empire, from Africa to the Himalayas. For the 1922 Everest expedition, the store supplied 60 tins of quail in foie gras and four dozen bottles of champagne (Montebello 1915).

Second World War
Fortnum’s opened a special Officers’ Department dedicated to providing something different to bully beef. Officers were also able to get insect powder, exotic cigarettes and other essentials such as the silver-plated “Spork”, a combination knife-and fork.

1984 – Christmas hit
In November 1984, Fortnums made national news when it sold the “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” single, the song written by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure to raise money for relief of the famine in Ethiopia.

1999 – Web savvy
Fortnums launches its first online store with just hampers – 50 of them.

*facts taken from the Daily Telegraph