Sunday, 6 May 2012

Shopping Saturday - Fortnum and Mason

This seemed like an appropriate choice for 'Shopping Saturday' this week, since the podcast of Selling history: the role of the past at Fortnum and Mason has just gone live on The National Archives website. The talk was given by the company's archivist, Dr Andrea Tanner, who has researched Fortnum's history extensively. Fortnum's is one of several businesses that can claim to be the oldest department store. Their foundation date of 1707 certainly beats all comers with regard to date, but it traded as a high-class grocer for more than three centuries, only adding clothing and household departments in 1925.

Of course, the first this the genealogist wants to know is 'Are there any staff records?', and, sadly, the answer is no. This is not particularly unusual, as you may already know if you have ancestors who worked in the retail trade; it is much easier to find out about the kind of work they did than the details of any individual person's service. But shops and shopping have always been a part of everyday life for everyone, or at least for someone in their family, so we all have some connection with shops. Realistically more of us are likely to be descended from the servants or employees of Fortnum's customers than from the customers themselves - it is a little on the exclusive side.

If you are in London the distinctive building on Piccadilly is worth a visit - even if you don't go inside, the building's exterior is very attractive, and when the magnificent clock chimes the hour, the figures of Mr Fortnum and Mr Mason come out, give each other a dignified bow, and then retire. You will find a brief history of Fortnum and Mason on their website, where you will learn that they were the first British retailer to stock Mr Heinz's exciting new product - baked beans! You can also see a video of Fortnum's world record-breaking scotch egg, and follow the progress of the Fortnum's bees in their roof-top hive via the Bee-cam.

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