We visited 5 shops in London with a Royal Warrant to find out what its really like to have Her Majesty The Queen and the Prince of Wales as your customers…
Words Russell Higham
The history of Royal Warrants
For the select group of businesses with a Royal Warrant, ranging from individual craftspeople to global conglomerates, supplying one of the royal households is both a duty and an immense privilege. Royal Warrants of Appointment, as they’re called in full, are granted to artisans, companies and tradespeople that have provided either the Queen or Prince Charles with goods or services for five of the last seven years.
The late Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip, was also a grantor, as was The Queen Mother. As well as bestowing honour and prestige upon the grantee, a warrant also confers the right to display the royal crest, along with those hallowed words ‘By Appointment To’ on their advertising, premises, and official stationery.
The tradition first came about in 1155 when King Henry II granted a Royal Charter to The Weavers’ Company, which still exists to this day, for clothes and ‘castle hangings’. Many of the 800 or so current Royal Warrant holders, are based in the central London neighbourhoods of Mayfair and St. James’s – close to Buckingham Palace. Not too far for a royal footman to run down and pick up some after-dinner truffles from favoured chocolatiers Charbonnel et Walker in the Royal Arcade, should they suddenly run out.
5 shops in London with a Royal Warrant
Writer Russell Higham dropped into a handful of shops in London with a Royal Warrant to get his own taste of a royally good service…
The first stop was the gold and silversmiths Garrard. Garrard has held a warrant continuously since 1735 and, as Crown Jewellers, it’s also in the unique position of having a picture of one of its creations – the ‘Girls of Great Britain and Ireland Tiara’ as worn by the Queen – on every single British banknote in circulation.
I’m shown upstairs to the ultra-plush Queen Mary Suite, where the Royal Family are brought to choose their gems and diadems in private. Decorated in royal blue, portraits of Garrard’s regal clientele adorn the walls and there’s even a small bar in the corner of the room, stocked with nothing but bottles of the finest champagne. On a table nearby sits a replica of one of their other most iconic pieces: a 12-carat Ceylon sapphire surrounded by 14 diamonds and set in 18-karat white gold, as given by Prince Charles to Lady Diana, and later by their son Prince William to Kate Middleton.
Floris has held a warrant since 1830 and the Royal Coat of Arms outside its shop in Jermyn Street is the oldest on display in the world. Well, most of it is – the little lion that sits on the top of the crest fell off one day and had to be recreated with a 3D printer, as I’m told by Edward Bodenham, a director and direct descendant of the founder of this venerable family perfumers.
When I ask him for a bit of insider information on the sovereign’s favourite smellies, he politely declines and explains that “a warrant holder cannot reveal… anything that discloses the personal tastes of a member of the Royal Family. So, while I can tell you that our grantors (the Queen and Prince Charles) choose from Floris’s core range of perfumes and toiletries, and do not, like some of our celebrity and VIP customers, commission bespoke fragrances, I can’t tell you which ones they actually buy!”
My guess, though, is that it just might be their classic Elite, which also happened to be David Bowie’s favourite, along with Edward himself and some of the seven generations who ran the business before him.
Lunchtime brings the ideal opportunity to visit royal cheesemongers Paxton & Whitfield. I settle for one of their Jubilee cheesecakes, designed to commemorate the Queen’s 70 years of service to the country and Commonwealth, as well as its own 225th birthday.
Around the corner on St. James’s Street is D.R. Harris, chemists and pharmacy suppliers to the Queen and Prince Charles.
As fulfiller of the royal household’s medical prescriptions, pharmacist Alison Moore is naturally tight-lipped about what she dispenses, but she does show me a letter to one of her predecessors from Windsor Castle dated March 1944, during the Nazis’ bombing of London in the Second World War. It reads: ”Dear Mr Harris, I was so sorry to hear you had been bombed again… Her Majesty was so sorry to hear about it and thought eight times seemed dreadful.”
Lock & Co, across the road, is the oldest hat shop in the world – its bicorne was worn by Admiral Lord Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar, and Winston Churchill was rarely seen without one of its Cambridge or Homburg hats. Today, it supplies all kinds of headwear, from hats for the Royal Ascot races, to cloth caps for country pursuits, to the Prince of Wales, as well as the public.
Take a Royal Warrant tour
London’s oldest hotel, Brown’s, in the heart of Mayfair, while it doesn’t have a warrant of its own, offers all guests a guided walking tour of their royally appointed neighbours. The tour takes in visits to 12 local warrant holders and gives guests the chance to experience what it feels like to shop like a royal.
A two-night stay at Brown’s, including breakfast each morning, a welcome glass of champagne, Charbonnel et Walker chocolates, and a three-hour Royal Warrants tour, starts at £1,350 for two.
Find out more here.
This is an extract, read the full feature in the August/September 2022 issue of Discover Britain, available to buy here, from 8 July.