Famous for its Royal Warrant and splendid afternoon teas, the upscale department store of Fortnum & Mason on Piccadilly also has something else wonderful to offer. Outside high on the wall over the entrance is an ornamental clock standing 10 feet tall and weighing in excess of four tonnes.
The clock was commissioned in 1964 by the shop’s owner, W. Garfield Weston. It has 18 bells, which were cast at the renowned Whitechapel Bell Foundry—the same place that cast the bells for Big Ben. The bells chime every 15 minutes and play 18th-century airs. At the top of every hour, a pair of four-foot-tall figures depicting William Fortnum and Hugh Mason, the men who founded the shop, come out to bow to each other.
Fortnum & Mason was not always the grand store that you see today. It started as a small shop in St. James’s Market. William Fortnum was a footman in the household of Queen Anne who ran a side business selling food and household goods. Together with his landlord, Hugh Mason, he founded the first Fortnum & Mason store in 1707. As time went on the business grew and eventually, the small shop became the large neo-Georgian building you see today. In 1951, Canadian businessman W. Garfield Weston took ownership of the store. Years later, he commissioned the elaborate mechanical clock as a tribute to the store’s original founders.
Know Before You Go
The figures come out on the hour every hour and can be seen on the outside of the building.
The best place to watch the display is the raised traffic island in the centre of the road immediately in front of the main doors. Be careful, as this piece of road is particularly chaotic.