The Royal Warrant Tour by Katie Wignall
In celebration of Her Majesty’s Platinum Jubilee, esteemed London Tour Guide and Founder of Look Up London, Katie Wignall has put together a special Art of London ‘Royal Warrants’ tour of historic businesses with Royal connections in the West End.
Here’s an insider look at some of the businesses and institutions, their incredible history craftsmanship that makes them so special.
But first, what’s a Royal Warrant?
If you look up around St James’s and Piccadilly, you might’ve spotted these little symbols.
They inform you that this business has the Royal stamp of approval and that they regularly supply goods or services to the Royal Household.
The Monarch decides who is able to bestow the honour of a Royal Warrant and these are known as ‘Grantors’ They include HM The Queen, HRH The Prince of Wales and before his death in 2021, HRH Duke of Edinburgh.
Royal Warrants can trace their history back to 1155 which King Henry II granted a Royal Charter to the Weaver’s Company, giving them the right to trade in the City of London.
The tradition of displaying Royal Arms dates back to the 18th century and the Royal Warrant Holders Association - today numbering over 800 grantees – which was formed in 1840. So, you know if you see one, you’re in very good hands!
In 1730 Juan Famenias Floris and his wife Elizabeth set up a shop creating and selling perfumes alongside specialist combs and brushes.
Today, the 300-year-old perfumery continues to create quality fragrances from the finest essential oils and essences from around the world, crafting a meticulous ‘symphony of art and science’ in a sustainable yet innovative way.
Still a family business and run by the 8th and 9th generations of the Floris family, they hold Royal Warrants from HM The Queen and HRH The Prince of Wales.
Paxton & Whitfield
In 1742 Stephen Cullum was running a market stall in Aldwych. His son, Sam expanded the business, moving to the upmarket St James’s and by the 1790s he’d taken on two partners: Harry Paxton and Charles Whitfield, creating Britain’s oldest cheesemonger.
In 1850 the company received its first Royal Warrant, appointed as cheesemonger to Queen Victoria, and as pioneers in artisan cheese-making, have gone on to hold seven Royal Warrants.
Today they still hold the Warrant from HM The Queen as well as HRH The Prince of Wales.
Formerly established in 1902, this chocolatier had earlier beginnings in 1895 when Antoine DuFour brought his family’s chocolate truffle recipe to England, originally opening a shop on South Molton Street.
It was popular from the very beginning attracting customers such as Roald Dahl, author of the famous children’s book “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and in 1975 they received their first Royal Warrant from HM The Queen, later receiving another from The Queen Mother in 1999.
Prestat remains one of the few British artisan chocolatiers to make all its own chocolates, giving them complete control over recipes and sourcing of raw ingredients, and allowing them to retain the natural aromatics of cacao in some of their products.
Fortnum & Mason
The iconic shop front on Piccadilly gives passersby a great reason to look up. Wait for the clock to stick the hour and two figures appear: William Fortnum and Hugh Mason. Hugh was a businessman, owning a small store in St James’s Market and living locally. William was a builder, attracted to the expanding West End in the wake of the Great Fire of London in 1666. Seemingly abandoning his builder aspirations, William took a post in the Royal household of Queen Anne and rented a spare room from Hugh. Fortnum and Mason had met and would start a business together in 1707.
Their grocery store quickly gained a reputation for supplying the finest quality of food, tea and preserves. The provided London’s gentry with their basic provisions but also experimented with new ideas including the scotch egg; invented in 1738 as the perfect travelling snack.
Today they hold two Royal Warrants, from HM The Queen and HRH The Prince of Wales.
John Lobb was a Cornish farm boy, born in 1829 with aspirations for fame and fortune. His drive led him to walk from Cornwall to London (surely instilling an appreciation for quality footwear!) where he arrived in 1851 as an apprentice bootmaker.
He travelled to Australia during the gold rush, reported creating a hollow-heeled boot so workers could smuggle nuggets of gold. Back in England, he made a pair of riding boots for the Prince of Wales (later King George IV) Lobb was granted his first Royal Warrant.
At 29 St James’s Street since 1880, today the firm is run by the 5th generation of the Lobb family making their famous bespoke handmade-to-measure shoes and boots, catering to ‘the most discerning tastes and requirements’. They hold Royal Warrants from HRH The Duke of Edinburgh and HRH The Prince of Wales.
Turnbull & Asser
In 1980 Prince Charles was made a Grantor and his first port of call? Turnbull and Asser. Today whenever in need of a new shirt, The Prince of Wales still heads to Bury Street where their bespoke and impeccable service can be found.
The business started with John Arthur Turnbull, a hosier and shirtmaker opened a shop in St James’s in 1885. In 1893 he brought the salesman; Ernest Asser into the business and when Turnbull died the name changed to Turnbull & Asser. This heritage brand continues to pride itself on its superior craftsmanship, creating luxurious and made-to-measure shirts and ties for royalty, artists and stars of the stage.
Established in 1797 by John Hatchard, London’s oldest bookshop can be found at 187 Piccadilly. Within four years, founder John Hatchard had built the largest business in the London book trade and was a pioneer in encouraging people to buy and read books.
Hatchards Piccadilly shop became a hub for social reformers including anti-slavery campaigners like William Wilberforce but he also caught royal attention, with Queen Charlotte, wife of King George II becoming a customer in the early days of the business.
Priding itself in its ability to always match the perfect title to every customer, today Hatchards holds three Royal Warrants; HM The Queen, HRH The Duke of Edinburgh and HRH The Prince of Wales.
In 1768 a group of 36 artists and architects signed a petition. Sir William Chambers (a renowned architect responsible for Somerset House) presented it to King George III with the aim of establishing ‘A society for promoting the Arts of Design” as we all an annual exhibition and school. With the King’s approval, the Royal Academy was born.
Today the RA still has a special relationship with the Sovereign and HM The Queen is the current Patron, Protector and Supporter, even personally paying a visit in 2018 to celebrate their 250th Anniversary.
Their first grand home was at Somerset House but (after a short stint sharing with the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square) they moved into Burlington House in 1867 and have been there ever since, paying a mere £1 rent per year for 999 years thanks to the haggling on the then-RA President: Francis Grant.
Her Majesty’s Theatre
In 1705 the Queen’s Theatre (named after Queen Anne) was established by John Vanbrugh on Haymarket. It served as an opera house because spoken drama was only allowed for theatres that could boast a Royal Patent (such as the Theatre Royal Drury Lane).
Unsuccessful as a venue, it was at least praise for its charming architecture, but when Queen Anne died the name changed to the King’s Theatre - a tradition of following the current monarch that continues to this day!
The current theatre building is the fourth on the site, built in 1897, and when it opened the Pall Mall Gazette described it as possessing “a charm and a distinction peculiarly its own, and there is no doubt that it will take its place at once among the first of London's favourite playhouses.”
It has hosted the Phantom of the Opera since September 1986, the second-longest running musical in London after Les Misérables.
More landmarks to discover
The Ritz - The first and only hotel to be awarded a Royal Warrant, The Prince of Wales held a birthday party here in 2002.
The Wolseley - A perfect place to enjoy finger sandwiches and tea, introduced to Britain by Catherine of Braganza, wife of King Charles II.
The Weiss Gallery - Established in 1985, they are specialists in Tudor and Stuart portraiture, often featuring royals through history.
(59 Jermyn Street)
Hawes & Curtis, Shirtmakers - Granted a Royal Warrant in 1922, they were commissioned to design the khaki shirts and ties that HM The Queen wore in the Women’s Royal Army Corps in 1949
(34 Jermyn Street)
Burlington Arcade - Laid out in 1819 and home to a number of Royal Warrant holders.
BAFTA - With Prince William as its President, the British Academy of Film and Television host real as well as acting royalty.
The Dilly - Established in 1908 and often frequented by King George V in his early years
Sofitel St James’s Hotel - Designed to make you feel like a royal, it’s a short walk from St James’s Park, Surely the prettiest of all the Royal Parks.
(6 Waterloo Place, St James’s)
12.05.2022 - 3 months ago