Did you know there are shops in London that are over 300 years old? Join Hazel Baker as she shares her favourite old shops for food and drink.
Episode 34: London’s Old Shops – Food and Drink
London’s Old Shops – Food and Drink
Hazel Baker: Hello and welcome to London Guided Walks London History podcast. In the coming episodes, we will be sharing our love and passion for London, its people, places and history in an espresso shot with a splash of personality. For those of you who don’t know me, I am Hazel Baker, founder of London Guided Walks, providing guided walks and private tours to Londoners and visitors alike.
One of my favourite London wonders is its living history. There are so many beautiful old buildings have been preserved and are still in use today, sometimes for the same purpose they were originally built for.
It’s quite a novelty browsing in these old shops which have changed little since they were first built, sometimes hundreds of years ago. We are so lucky in London that there are still quite a selection of these shops still open awaiting for our custom today. Several famous London shops haven’t survived and I will cover those off in another podcast but with Christmas round the corner and shopping being a major part of that I thought I’d share with you my favourite old shops of London.
Which part of London is best for old shops? When I think of old-fashioned shop front the area of St James stands out as well as the City. But Mayfair and Holborn offer a few too.
One of my favourite wonders of London is its living history. There are so many beautiful, old buildings that have been preserved and are still in use today. Sometimes for the exact same purpose they were originally built. It’s quite a novelty browsing through these old shops, which have changed little since they were first built, some hundreds of years ago. We are so lucky in London, and there are still quite a selection of these shops. Still open waiting for our custom today, several famous London shops haven’t survived and I’ll cover these in another podcast, such as Gamages, Jones Brothers and even Woolworths. But with Christmas round the corner and shopping being a major part of that nowadays, I thought I’d share with you some of my favourite old shops.
Which part of London is best for old shops? When I think of old shop frontage in the area of St. James stands out for me as well as parts of the city, but Mayfair. And Holborn also offers a few too. But with the challenge of packing all of this into 20 minutes, I’m going to focus on London’s oldest food shops.
The first one I want to introduce you to is Berry brothers and Rudd in St. James. It was founded in 1698 as an upscale grocer by a business woman known as widow Bourne, Bourne and her daughters ran the St. James’s establishment, which supplied the area’s fashionable coffee houses. Which were basically gentleman’s clubs under another name.
And we do have a few podcast episode about London’s Coffeehouses.
And of course, then the business has just passed down through the family over generations and amazingly with it having traded for over 300 years, it is still run by the family. Now that down to the eighth generation, The fabric of the building is amazing.
Even from the outside. The dark wood in the frontage is just beautiful. And the uneven wooden floor dates back to over 300 years ago, back to when it was first set up. And the floor is formed from timbers of a former shop. And this was common practice. You might already know that Liberty shop is just off Regent Street.
They use timbers of two ancient three Decker battleships, hate your mess, impregnable and hate you. Mess hinders. From the very beginning, Berry brothers and Rudd had sold wine, but it began in 1845 to specialise in wine. And now it sells over 5,000 different wines and it holds two Royal warrants and has been a supplier of the Royal family since 1760. So that’s during the reign of George III. It’s quite handy that their shop is conveniently opposite St. James, the official residence to Her Majesty the Queen.
St. James’s palace was created by Henry VIII. He flattened a hospital called St. James and created his palace there of the same name. And the shop is now on a corner, which is formed from Henry the eighth tennis court. I doubt there is another shop in the world that can say that. Oh, he’s an, also an urban legend. I’ve heard it a few times from four different sources that there’s a passage leading from the shop to a room in St.
James, his palace. And that’s now been blocked off. So who knows, perhaps one day it will be found. And when you go in, you’ll notice a large pair of scales and these date from 1765 and they’re huge, and many notable customers have been weighed here. So names such as Pitt the younger. Lord Byron Beau Brummel and the Prince Regent.
They’ve all had their weights recorded in a book in the shop, which the shop still has. And of course they come back time and time again to see that the weight fluctuates and it’s quite interesting to see some of the records. And don’t forget, this was a time before people had their own scales at home.
And you needed to go somewhere that was reliable and grocers would make absolute perfect sense. And if you go down the rickety staircase this is where you’ll see a truncheon hanging on the wall, not what you’d normally expect to see. But this junction belongs to Napoleon the third.
And he’s the nephew of Napoleon. And why is it there? You may ask? The French statesman was good friends with George Berry and in 1838, when the childish riots spread through England George signed up as a special Constable and accompanied him with his friend, the future Napoleon the third, and the two served together as special constables, hence the truncheon on the wall.
The vaulted seller is named after Napoleon, as he used the location as a secret meeting place when in exile in London. And if you love being outdoors in this season, then perhaps you will enjoy that ginger cure. It was invented in 1903 at the request of the physician of Edward VII, the eldest son of Queen Victoria. The king liked to race around in his high-speed damn love car. So we’re talking like 20 miles an hour and one of his, and he did this come rain or shine and he loved his car so much. He actually had eight of them, quite a staggering amount since these were not commonplace.
After. The King’s physician was worried that the king may catch his death when driving on the chilly winter days due to the windchill. And so the purpose of creating this cordial which was a combination of ginger cordial and Brandy, was to resuscitate and revive. It was quickly taken up by Edward VII’s friends and other members of high society as a restorative liqueur. This accompanied them on their outdoor activities. Before long, it was a popular drink amongst Edwardian shooting parties. Ginger Brandy special cure was produced by Henry Berry, but was renamed the King’s Ginger in 1935. Oh, and it goes rather well with hot chocolate.
Our next London food shop has a history of 313 years old. And that is Fortnum and Mason ones. So this is such a fabulous shop. It’s beautiful on the inside and out. And this is one of the shops that we get to see on our Christmas lights tour and Fortnum and Mason, it’s essentially a London destination that you need to go and experience some ordinary food.
Its headquarters are located at 181 Piccadilly. It’s not far from Berry Brothers and Rudd and they too also have two Royal warrants. But Fortnum has masons which are a different kind of beast. Instead of specialising in one type of product, they have increased the offering now to different locations and also afternoon teas.
Bottom of Mason is rich with history and also innovation from the invention of the scotch egg in 1738 to its revolutionary sparkling tea in 2020. And it continues to spend new outposts home and abroad has got five retail units as well. It’s got a colourful continuous history and has often been sent to stage in some of London’s and the UK’s most important historical moments.
It was established in 1707 during the reign of queen Anne by Hugh Mason and William. And Fortnum had taken a position as a footman in queen Anne’s household. And that’s when Fortnum found that he could make a fortune by selling the Queens bundles of discarded half burned, wax candles. And he managed to convince his landlord, Mason, to start a business venture together. And so they opened the now famed grocery shop. It was decades later when the shop became primarily interested in selling mostly food to travellers. So they packaged easily transportable meals and they did this as they found the shop was a place for travellers, venturing, west.
Fortnum developed the smart idea of wrapping a hard-boiled egg with pork sausage meat, covering that in breadcrumbs and deep frying, the whole thing. And Hey Presto, you have the world’s first scotch. But how did the scotch egg get its name if it comes from London? One theory is that it was officers of the Scots guard, or they lived in the vicinity of the shock and they had taken a liking to this egg, but who knows if that’s true or not? It is certainly a favourite of mine I must admit, especially when I’m needing something to munch on between London tours, as it doesn’t lose its shape. And it’s got great taste and is very easy to eat. Fortnum’s reputation was built on supplying high quality food. It especially saw rapid growth through the Victorian era. And though it’s developed into a department store. Now it does still continue to focus on offering a variety of exotic specialty and also basic provisions such as Scott Eggs. You can get those on the lower floor, including a Stilton and broccoli one if you’re a vegetarian. I get the Royal blend tea as well as the Florentines, which are absolutely divine and they really make your jaw ache after eating one.
It’s the entrepreneurship with Fortnum and Masons that I find impressive. They hadn’t just had one idea and run with it. They’ve had several. And during the 1922 expedition to the peak of Mount Everest, Fortnum Mason they were the chief supplier of food and drinks and it was a massive endeavour. Ultimately didn’t make it to the top, but that was okay. The store had provided them with champagne in any case. And so the expedition, still breaking a mountaineering record, celebrated with that champagne along with dozens of cans of exquisite and delicious food. Sounds like a very expensive and cold pick.
The Crimean war was the very first war to be covered by on the spot reporters . The appalling conditions that all soldiers were forced to live. The story of the charge of the light brigade gripped the nation. It was described as a suicidal attack, very public failed military action involving the British light cavalry led by Lord cardigan against Russian forces.
During the battle of Balaclava, it was made famous by Alfred Lord Tennyson and his poem, the charge of the light. And even Queen Victoria got involved. She sent an order to Fortnum and Mason is requesting them to dispatch without delay, to miss them Nightingale in Scutari a huge consignment of concentrated beef tea.
And beef tea, for those of you who don’t know, is a very 19th century remedy, still used in some parts of the country, even nowadays. If you open a book about 19th century dietary remedies, then you will find beef tea amongst them. It was type of broth. Beef and water. And it was given to patients to drink. If they were suffering from digestive problems, a fever or a weakness, I find this uprising because it’s not the kind of thing. I would have thought that Fortnum and masons stocks, but they obviously did. And it must’ve sold well at the time being the go-to place for high quality and also exotic foods means that you get some interesting opportunities given too.
George V was known for throwing lavish parties. One of the largest ones was the Jubilee in 1935. And this commemorated 25 years of his Ascension to the throne. And he’s always been a tradition and the history of Fortnam & Mason. It seems that they’re responsible for catering to guests from all across the world and so they created a special department that accommodated the different dietary requirements of subjects from the empire coming from far away, such as specially prepared, Hindu, Muslim and India meals for the. And they didn’t just focus on selling delicious food and tea sets in 1984, they sold the single Do They Know it’s Christmas with a Bob Geldof image. The purpose was to raise money, to help a struggling Ethiopia deal with famine. This was an employee’s idea. And the charity single was a huge success. And continuing this entrepreneurship theme, last week’s episode was about London’s pillar boxes and before pillar boxes, while it was open up to private individuals and businesses to offer the service.
Fortnum and Mason’s got involved. They provided letterboxes, which were collected six times a day, which no one else was doing. And this then attracted all different kinds of people including soldiers and sailors who received a discount and other people who were just really attracted by the magnificent windows and their window displays even now are simply cerebral. And that arrangement lasted all the way until 1839 when the GPO, the general post office was founded. And that was the year before the ‘Penny Black’ stamp was released.
The Queen reportedly used to buy 1,500 Christmas puddings from Fortnum and Masons as they’ve been the royal grocer for more than 150 years, but now she buys six pound Tesco Christmas puddings instead. And even this year she’s given those as gifts to her staff. But she won’t be able to do that. In-person due to the COVID, but this is a tradition that both her father, George V and grandfather George IV, the fourth took part in, and each year, the Christmas decorations on Fortnum and Masons are outstanding.
So this year, like last, they have used the front of the Piccadilly side of the shop as a huge calendar. And that’s the picture that we are able to see in our show notes. So the. Lost at this really strong red light onto the walls of the shop. And then they’ve got Christmas trees up there with lights and then each window of the building is a door to the advent calendar and the windows don’t open but a light with the number of the dates.
So today, Friday, the 11th will be illuminated and so on and so forth. And it really is beautiful. And to get the best view you want to cross over the road. So you can see across Piccadilly and see the full frontage. And then of course the windows, as I said, are sublime as well. So there’s plenty for you to see and we do feature that on our Christmas Lights Tour, in person for private tours, small groups https://londonguidedwalks.co.uk/tour/christmas-lights/
Berry Bros. & Rudd
It was founded in 1698 as an upscale grocers by a business woman known as ‘Widow Bourne’. She and her daughters ran the St James’ establishment which supplied the area’s fashionable coffee houses and was passed down through the family. Amazingly, with it having traded for over 300 years it is a still ran by the eighth generation.
3 St. James’s Street, London SW1A 1EG / 63 Pall Mall, St. James’s, London SW1Y 5HZ
Open Monday to Friday 10am – 9pm, 10am – 5pm on Saturday and closed on Sundays.
Virtual Wine Tastings: https://www.bbr.com/events-and-experiences
By Appointment to:
HM The Queen
Wine & Spirit Merchants
HRH The Prince of Wales
Wine and Spirit Merchants
Fortnum & Mason
We see this fabulous shop on our Christmas Lights tour. Fortnum & Mason is an essential London destination for all in search of extraordinary food. Its headquarters are located at 181 Piccadilly, not far from Berry Bros. & Rudd. They also have two royal warrants.
181 Piccadilly, St. James’s, London W1A 1ER
Opening times: Monday – Saturday 9am – 9pm / Sunday 11.30am* – 6pm
(*11.30am – 12 noon is browsing only on Sundays)
By Appointment to:
HM The Queen
Grocers & Provision Merchants
HRH The Prince of Wales
Tea Merchants and Grocers