The commercial history of London is fascinating - and what better way to hop on the trail than by spending a day shopping and having tea?
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London's great department stores are a treat. They certainly aren't all covered in this list, but if you stop by the assortment below, you'll have a scenic tour of London - and hopefully some lovely, luxurious trinkets to remember it by!
London's Historic Department Stores: Fortnum & Mason
Proud holder of two Royal Warrants, Fortnum & Mason is a London classic. Founded in 1707, it's been keeping London's posh set - and The Royals - supplied with tea, caviar, and champagne for over 3 centuries.
Fortnum's origins are remarkable - founded by one of Queen Anne's footman who resold the large quantities of discarded wax from the Royal Palace, which accumulated quickly owing to Her Majesty's love of new candles. Food was Fortnum's main focus through the 18th and 19th centuries.
But Fortnum's really cornered the market during The Napoleonic and later the Great War, when they started selling "hampers" (pictured below) - to the upper echelons of the officers, whose families were anxious to send their men a taste of home.
The store's first floor's "Food Hall" is a glorious display of hampers, tea, desserts, and lovely confections the delight the imagination. Not as large as Harrods similar room, it's not even remotely as crowded, and frankly, higher-end.
The upper floors contain house wears and a small selection of both men's and women's clothes and accessories. If you're in town for a special occasion, Fortnum's definitely is the spot to find the best commemorative treasures, such as my Harry & Meghan plate! Their teapots are second-to-none.
And finally, if you have a hankering for tea, Fortnum's has a small restaurant offering afternoon tea, which is gorgeous! (If tea is your thing - and if you love the Royals, I'd shell out for tea at The Goring).
Fortnum's is the #1 department store in London - don't let anyone tell you differently! If you're only going to visit one department store during your time, this should be it.
London's Historic Department Stores: Selfridge's
Another big name in London department stores is, of course, Selfridge's. Though it's always been famous, it became a more major name, at least to us Americans, with the popularity of Masterpiece's Mr. Selfridge, which premiered in 2013.
Founded in 1908 by Harry Gordon Selfridge, Selfridge's grew out of his 25 years of experience at Marshall Field's in Chicago, one of the leaders in the up-and-coming world of department stores. He realized, during a retirement trip to London, that the thriving city lacked the department stores of the U.S. and Paris and - so much for retirement! Though American, he relocated to England and rose to be known as the "Earl of Oxford Street" and presided over a retail empire.
Its massive Oxford street location is the second-largest store in the United Kingdom (Harrods is bigger). Unlike Fortnum's, Selfridge's is a more "normal" department store these days, which Americans will find similar to a high-end Macy's.
London's Historic Department Stores: Liberty London
For the polar opposite of Fortnums, and while you're in the Selfridge's neighborhood, pop down the road and the similarly historic Liberty London. If flower patterns and Tudor buildings are your thing - you'll be in heaven! The building is actually a 1920's Tudor revival renovation - and it's gorgeous.
Liberty opened in 1875, selling Victorian trinkets and foreign imports, ultimately adding its array of colorful clothing and fabrics.
Liberty doesn't sport a restaurant, but it does have a fabulous location. If you're in the area, check out The Red Lion pub, really closer back toward Fortnum's, which features in Lethal White.
London's Historic Department Stores: Harrods Department Store
Thought of by many as the mainstay of London department stores, Harrods is a more "traditional" department store than the aforementioned Fortnum's and Liberty. Built in 1849, the Knightsbridge behemoth sells a wide-ranging variety of items - clothes, food, trinkets, jewelry, home goods, and everything in between. Over-the-top luxury items are around every corner - they were feature a jewel-encrusted jaguar on our last visit.
Now owned by the Qatar Investment Authority, Harrods has a long and storied history, with perhaps one of the most interesting is the burning of the revoked Royal Warrants by then-Harrods-owner Mohamed Al-Fayed, father of Dodi, and the construction of a large monument to Dodi and Princess Diana in the store (still visible today).
Thanks for stopping by - and happy shopping! xx
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