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London: Shopping Fortnum and Mason is like visiting a living museum

London’s Fortnum and Mason, a decadent department store with a 300 year old history

I don’t feel the least bit frivolous browsing the biscuits, jams, candies, honey, tea and assorted sundries in the grand ground floor food hall in Fortnum and Mason’s Picadilly store.

Shopping for souvenirs at Fortnum & Mason (known by locals as “Fortnum’s”) has many of the same cultural benefits of going to a museum– after all, we go to museums to learn about history and culture and to look at interesting and beautiful things. Fortnum’s has all of those things– but unlike a museum which only documents the past, at Fortnum’s history is alive in the walls of the store.

fortnum and mason storefrontFortnum and Mason has stood on the same ground at 181 Picadilly in London for over 300 years.  Over the years, a lot has happened on this ground:

  • Fortnum’s has helped buoy British morale during war-time by sending over provisions like honey, jams, spices and dried fruits.
  • Fortnum’s has the illustrious distinction of having introduced the first can of baked beans to the formerly bean-deprived public.
  • Fortnum’s tinned goods are found to be ideal for soldiers serving in the trenches, as they deter even the most gourmand rat.
  • Fortnums has an entire department dedicated to “expeditions.” No climber in the 1922 Everest expedition dared attempt an ascent without first tucking into the 60 tins of quail in foie gras and four dozen bottles of champagne sent over by Fortnum’s.

What is souvenir shopping in this “living museum” like? The experience begins even before you enter the store.

Fortnum and mason topiaryWitness the crazy topiary topping the store’s awning.

Fortnum and mason clockWho knew this clock itself was a tourist attraction? I never realized this before, but on the hour “Messrs Fortnum and Mason themselves appear to check that standards are being upkept” by greeting each other with a bow.

Fortnum and mason decorThe current decor features these colorful busts– Marie Antoinette meets Alice in Wonderland meets Chiquita Banana?

Fortnum and mason stairwellThe winding spiral staircase leads down to the fresh foods and up to the hampers (stay tuned to read about these in a future post).

giant candy canes spiral

Giant spiral candy canes.

Get ready for sensory overload.  The candy department resembles an adult version of the Willie Wonka factory.

English licorce

English licorice, I am told by my licorice connoisseur friend Amy, is extra delicious.

Fortnum and mason fruitcakeThe mini fruitcakes are the perfect size for sampling– my favorite was chocolate with morello cherries and cognac.

Fortnum and mason hot english mustardThe label does not lie. English mustard is seriously hot. I accidentally bought this one when I intended to get the milder version– I think I was distracted by the pretty colors.

game relishI’ve never cooked game before but I wouldn’t mind having this game relish in the cupboard. I can imagine as a guest comes over “Oh you’re looking for the jam?  Check in the left hand cupboard behind the game relish.”

Fortnum and mason cakeI tried to compare the long list of ingredients to figure out the differences among the Gamekeeper, Apothecary and Pirate cakes, but gave up.

Fortnum and mason orange marmaladeI loved this pretty ceramic container holding orange marmalade.

Fortnum and Mason jams come in all sort of off the wall flavors like banana and rose petal.  I always buy the more traditional (but still delicious) wild blueberry.

british tea cup A tea cup is a classic British souvenir.

english honeyFortnum’s honey, harvested from bee hives kept on the roof of the Picadilly store, is so famous that they run not one, but two bee cams.

Fortnum and mason burlap tote bagsHow do I close my visit to Fortnum’s? With one of their burlap bags. There are two sizes, the large (pictured), and a smaller size that seems too small to be useful, but might make a nice gift bag to fill with Fortnum goodies. Designs change frequently, so if you’re a hoarder collector like me, you can pick up a fresh design on every visit.

What Fortnum and Mason souvenirs did I bring home on my last visit?

DSC01848My two jam jars and hot mustard were all smartly packaged in these stretchy plastic sleeves to help prevent breakage.

DSC01884All of my goodies made it home safely.

And the Fortnum & Mason burlap bags that I collect on each trip?

fortnum mason shopping bags collection

I have at least 7 bags now, but several refused to come out from hiding at the back of my closet for this photo shoot.

T.S. Eliot may have measured out his life in coffee spoons, but I measure my London visits in Fortnum’s shopping bags.

Shopping Details:
Fortnum & Mason
181 Picadilly, London, England

All Photos Copyright 2013 by Souvenir Finder, all rights reserved, and may not be reused without express permission.

Have you been to London’s Fortnum and Mason Food Hall?  Share your favorites in the comments below!

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10 Responses to London: Shopping Fortnum and Mason is like visiting a living museum

  1. sueslaght 01/15/2014 at 5:52 pm #

    That is quite the colorful head gear Ms Chiquita Antoinette is sporting. I love the kettle earrings:)

    • Kristin Francis 01/16/2014 at 8:33 am #

      Haha yes I loved the big bust display– I like to think of it as visiting the art exhibit with the side benefit of shopping.

  2. Amy 01/15/2014 at 8:59 pm #

    Thanks for the link love! That licorice looks absolutely delicious. I’ll have to visit this store next time I’m in London.

    • Kristin Francis 01/16/2014 at 8:34 am #

      Hi Amy, you would love f&m– I couldn’t really capture the overall design of the store but it is worth visiting for that alone.

  3. Andre T 01/16/2014 at 2:33 am #

    aaw nice candy color :p

    • Kristin Francis 01/16/2014 at 8:31 am #

      Thanks for stopping by! I know I am a sucker for pretty colors !

  4. Rolling Harbour 01/16/2014 at 6:54 am #

    A fabulous shop – even just to wander round with no intention of buying anything. But you will, though, won’t you! RH

  5. dianaveggienextdoor 02/02/2014 at 12:39 am #

    You just made me realize that I don’t own a proper tea cup. Just mugs!

    I love the teapot burlap bag and hope you picked that pattern up for your collection 🙂

    • Kristin Francis 02/08/2014 at 9:29 am #

      I have so many bags now it’s entered hoarder status! Every time I hit F&M I think about bringing home a pretty tea cup, but they are spendy and delicate so haven’t yet.

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