The commercial history of London is fascinating - and what better way to learn about it, and certainly experience it, than by spending a day shopping and having tea?
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London's great department stores are a treat. From the highest-end, to the purveyors of day-to-day pieces, London's department stores changed the way England shopped over a century ago and they're no less exciting today.
Of course, I can't cover *all* of London's department stores 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 and, admittedly, my personal favorite of this list.
Founded in 1707, "Fortnum's" has been keeping London's poshest set - and even The Royal Family - supplied with tea, caviar, and champagne for over 3 centuries.
Fortnum's origin story is almost mind-boggling. It was founded by one of Queen Anne's footmen. Yes, you read that correctly! The footman resold the large quantities of wax that were discarded from the Royal Palace (gotta hustle!). Discarded wax, you ask? Well, Her Majesty had a deep and abiding passion for new candles. After it expanded beyond its candle purveying, 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 in the field a taste of home. (And quite a fancy taste, at that).
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, Fortnum's is significantly higher-end.
Fortnum's upper floors contain housewares and a small selection of both men's and women's clothes and accessories.
If you're in town for a special Royal occasion of any sort, Fortnum's definitely is the spot to find the best commemorative treasures, such as my *beloved* Harry & Meghan commemorative wedding plate!
Fortnum's 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, where Kate Middleton spent her last night before becoming a Duchess and where The Queen Mum was known to enjoy a tipple).
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, Fortnum's 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 household name, at least to us Americans "across the pond," with the huge popularity of Masterpiece's Mr. Selfridge, which premiered in 2013.
Founded in 1908 by Harry Gordon Selfridge, Selfridge's grew out of its namesake's 25 years of experience at Marshall Field's in Chicago, one of the leaders in the up-and-coming world of department stores.
Selfridge 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 truly a gorgeous rendering.
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:
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