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Legendary London shops; Fortnum and Mason’s

Fortnum and Mason’s department store is one of London’s most luxurious and oldest. It has survived over three centuries in its Picadilly location and its history is closely linked to London’s and indeed to England’s. Although nowadays only one floor of Fortnum’s is dedicated to food, the store is renowned mainly for its wonderful ground floor provisions department. 1999

Fortnum and Mason's Hampers
Fortnum and Mason’s Hampers

William Fortnum began his career in 1705 as a footman in the Royal palace of Queen Anne. Part of his job was to replace the royal family’s used candles, which he then on-sold to other servants. In 1907, he persuaded his landlord, Hugh Mason to go into business with him and together they established Fortnum and Mason’s Emporium. The business ran successfully and profitably for almost fifty years. In 1761, William Fortnum’s grandson Charles became official Royal provender to Queen Charlotte. With Royalty behind it and with a new range of merchandise including, exotic teas and spices imported from the new colonies, luxury items and pre-prepared meals, Fortnum and Masons boomed and its reputation as prestigious, luxury establishment was forged.   .

Royal and government patronage continued into the 19th century. Fortnum’s became the official supplier of preserved foods to British Officers during the Napoleonic Wars. It catered for state functions at the Court of Queen Victoria and during the Crimean war shipped beef tea to Florence Nightingale’s hospitals. At this time the store also began to deliver its famous luxury picnic hampers to Victorian high society at events like the Henley Regatta and the Ascot Races. Fortnum and Mason’s hampers feature in the works Victorian writers like Wilkie Collins and Henry James. Charles Dickens, writing of the  Epsom Derby said “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!”.

Fortnum’s success continued as its fame spread into the 20th century. Its fare featured during the Great Exhibition at the beginning of the new age. During World War II, it supplied food to the British troops and furthermore guaranteed to hold open the jobs of Fortnum staff serving in the forces. In 1922, it supplied the first expedition to Everest. A refurbishment of the sore in 1925 saw new departures into a range of different stock, like ladies and children’s wear, kitchen wear and perfumes. In 1931, in response to a growing U.S. demand for Fortnam and Mason’s products, a branch was opened in New York.

Demand from visiting overseas dignitaries for King George’s jubilee in 1935, prompted Fortnum’s to begin importing the foreign delicacies which soon became one of its hallmarks. During the Second World War, the Officers department, selling anything an officer might require like special cigarettes and silver-plated sporks.

The twentieth century saw the end of the Fortnum and Mason family association with the store. The store was acquired by Canadian W. Garfield Weston, who became its chairman. In 1964, as a tribute to the founders he commissioned the huge four-ton clock which hangs above the entrance and from which four foot models of William Fortnum and Hugh Mason emerge at the chime of every  and bow to each other. Currently, the Fortnum and Mason’s is run by Garfield Weston’s granddaughters Jana Weston Khayat and Kate Weston Hobhouse.

In 2007 Fortnum and Mason celebrated 300 years in business with a massive 24 million pound refurbishment. Today it is a thoroughly modern establishment offering all kinds of luxury services, including a Day Spa. There are four excellent and very popular restaurants, including the Diamond jubilee Tea Salon opened by the Queen in 2012

Although nowadays only one floor of Fortnum’s is dedicated to food, it is there in its food hall on the lower ground floor that a large part of Fortnum’s fame rests.  Food at Fortnum’s is always fresh and always respects the seasons. It still stocks its famous teas, its foreign and exotic delicacies and pre-prepared meals.

Fortnum has famously joined the movement to “green” inner city London and established a rooftop garden, complete with bee hives. Fortnum and Mason’s bees are housed in a bespoke hive, made from English oak painted in the Eau de Nil Blue (the colour of the house) with gold leaf filials. The bees produce 400 jars of honey each year and each year it is awaited with great anticipation. There is a long waiting list. The quality of the honey varies from year to year. Sometimes it has a light floral tinge and sometimes it is rich and aromatic. Needless to say, it is packaged in exquisitely labeled jars. The bees also contribute to Fortnum and Mason’s famous Roja Candles, an initiative which would have warmed the heart of old Willaim Fortnum.

Fortnum’s still provides to Royals and caters to official and state occasions. It still stocks its famous teas, foreign and exotic delicacies and pre-prepared meals and it still delivers luxury hampers to every occasion from christenings and Christmas to historic races and regattas.

In a tradition dating back to the Napoleonic Wars, Fortnum’s continues to support the British Forces and every soldier on active service receives a service tin. It still has an expeditions Department.

There’s something wonderfully clean, fresh and wholesome about Fortnum and Mason, it’s that light, calming Eau de Nil Blue that follows you from the shop front, the windows, to appear in little touches on the staff’s uniforms, into the décor on every floor, into the china in the restaurants, the table linen, the packaging. There’s the aroma of exotic teas and coffee and the scent of fresh flowers of fresh flowers. There’s something in those exquisitely presented tins and hampers and packets of teas and jars of pickles jams and honey that makes you want to stock up or even inspires you to race home and launch into a frenzy of preserving.

Fortnum’s is a wonderful place to wander, browse, marvel, soak up the history and the atmosphere, people-watch and, yes, even take photos

Skis, ships and The Scream in Oslo’s Museums

With my head full of beautiful images of Vigeland Sculpture Park (see Travelstripe’s previous post), with my heart bursting with emotion, my notebook crammed with jottings and my camera charged with photos, I board the bus for the next Oslo wonder. How could it better than Vigeland Sculpture, I wonder?

Holmenkollen's giant ski ramp
Holmenkollen’s giant ski ramp

We climb into the hills for a brief look at the Holmenkollen ski park, site of the erstwhile Winter Olympics. The Holmenkollen Museum shows 4000 years of ski history which, even if you’re not a skier, or even a snow person, is fascinating. While the intrepid brave the simulator to experience a leap from the towering Olympic ski jump, I sit in the sunshine and listen to the shouts and laughter of the skiers whizzing down the slopes below.

Oslo's Viking ship museum
Oslo’s Viking ship museum

Next stop is the Viking Ship Museum. The ships displayed here were unearthed from ancient Royal burial grounds beside Oslo Fjiord. They were interred there more than 1100 years ago, with their royal owners, for the journey into the next life. These Royal Vikings were clearly not giants (like my friend from Onkel Donald’s on the previous evening) as their vessels are tiny.

The Kontiki
The Kontiki

Staying with the maritime theme, we move on to the Kon Tiki Museum, a place we Polynesians can relate to. After all, didn’t Thor Heyerdahl follow the same Pacific stars, catch the same winds and throw himself on the mercy of the same tides as our sea-faring ancestors and in a similarly flimsy craft?

In contrast, our last museum call is at the Fram, resting place of the world’s strongest ship. Built in 1892, it has travelled further North and South than any other ship in history. It was used for three great polar expeditions first by Fridjof Nansen, from1893-1896, then by Otto Svendrup, from 1898-1902 and lastly by Raold Amundsen, from 1910-1912.

Back in town, with only a few hours left of my last Oslo day, I dash up Universitetsgate to the National Gallery. Oslo’s National Gallery has a wonderful collection of sculptures (including Rodins), Norwegian paintings from the Romantic Period and last but by no means least Edvard Munch’s unforgettable The Scream.

This museum also has a very beautiful, 19th century French designed downstairs gallery, with marble pillars and sculpted ceilings.  It is now a café and here I sip coffee and munch a very good Norwegian pastry while reflecting on the day’s amazing sights and on my wonderful Oslo experiences.

What is a travelstripe?

After almost two months of traumatic homelessness Travelstripe is pleased to be rehoused in a new  corner of the blogosphere .


Before I resume  where I left off, on the glorious Greek Riviera, I would  like to devote a post to defining the travelstripe.

What exactly is a travelstripe? I must confess, until seven years ago, when it was suggested to me as a possible domain name, I’d never heard the word.  I must confess that I wasn’t really terribly enamoured of it. It seemed an empty, meaningless tag, without depth, history or associations. It bothered me more than a bit.

After while, travelstripe  became my growing collection of writings. I became travelstripe and travelstripe became me.  I had grown into travelstripe. But still, I felt a niggling need to find a meaning for the word – some thing or notion that could define it.

At last, one early summer evening, in the rose garden at Hampton Court Palace there it was, etched across the sky, a trail of white, left by a plane heading west to the horizon – a travelstripe.

Next post; The Greek Riviera Revisited