I have long considered myself to be an Anglophile and prided myself on knowing more than the average person about all things British. That’s why I was so surprised when, on a recent trip to the UK, I discovered something new that not only was unfamiliar to me, I had never before even heard of it: Royal Warrant Holders. As it turns out these institutions aren’t just interesting, but they also play a role in better understanding the history and culture of Great Britain.
What is a Royal Warrant Holder?
Simply put, Royal Warrants of Appointment are a mark of recognition for those who supply goods or services to the Royal Household for at least five years and who have an ongoing trade relationship. The goods or services must be supplied to one of three members of the Royal Family: The Queen, The Duke of Edinburgh and/or the Prince of Wales.
The goods or services can be anything really, from tea biscuits to chimney sweeps but of course the warrants are about much more than just what is provided. They are highly sought after honors and you’ll find warrant holders advertising their unique relationship at their store, on their marketing materials and even on their web sites. Generally, those who receive the warrants are widely regarded to be amongst the best in their industry and whatever is provided is known to be of the highest quality. So it’s a big deal and as I learned one morning in London, a fascinating subset of the British shopping experience.
Visiting A Few Royal Warrant Holders
There are currently more than 800 businesses that hold these precious warrants and they really do range from the expected to the very niche. I first discovered this world of luxury goods purveyors while visiting the oldest wine shop in Britain, and arguably the world, Berry Brothers & Rudd. The history of this esteemed shop goes back to 1698 when it first opened its doors on St James’s Street – the location it still calls home today. Led by one of the employees around the old shop and the labyrinth of tunnels and rooms below and around it, I soon learned that the history of this legendary store really is the history of the UK itself. Berry Bros. & Rudd have supplied some of the most important people in British history and the documents it still has on hand is one of the great historical record troves still in existence today.
Berry Brothers doesn’t only sell wine; they have also developed their own gin using a proprietary recipe. No. 3 London Dry Gin refers to the address on St James’s Street, meant to honor the store’s impressive history. The key on the bottle was inspired by the key on the door to the Parlour in the shop; another symbol of that legacy. The No. 3 is a very traditional London Dry Gin, with juniper at the heart of the recipe. Distilled using traditional methods, it’s a great new product that does a lot to fit in with the storied history of Berry Bros. & Rudd.
They are of course also a Royal Warrant holder, as they have been for generations, providing the Royal Household with some of the best wines from around the world. It’s also very, and surprisingly, approachable though; a common trait I found at all of the Royal Warrant holders I visited. Sure, you can spend as much as you’d like at Berry Bros. & Rudd, but they also have plenty of wines for less than £20, making them accessible to the average shopper who just wants to pick something up for dinner or to take to a party. The royal warrants aren’t about price, although some do sell some very expensive goods, they are about quality. Quality can often come at a premium, but it doesn’t have to and when I walked down the street to Paxton & Whitfield I learned that important lesson and much more.
Known as the Royal Cheesemongers, Paxton & Whitfield have been selling great cheeses longer than almost any other shop in the UK and pride themselves on sourcing some of the best cheeses not only in Britain, but from around the world. I love cheese, almost to an unhealthy level, and going through a brief but delicious cheese tasting at Paxton & Whitfield was a highlight of my morning touring the Royal Warrant holders. The professionals who work there are true experts, even visiting the dairies that produce their cheeses to make sure that the quality remains high. Paxton & Whitfield supply cheeses to both the Queen and the Prince of Wales, although they and all royal warrant holders are not allowed to say specifically what it is they sell to the Royal Family. Tasting some of the traditional cheddar and other British cheeses though, I can imagine that it’s a hard choice for even the Royals to make.
Many of the oldest Royal Warrant holders have shops within an easy walking distance of each other; signaling the importance of this area of London for centuries. That’s how I found myself browsing in a shop I just happened to pass by, which turned out to be one of the best hat makers in the world – Lock & Co. Enjoying the same shop location since 1765 (that still boggles my mind) Lock & Co. Hatters have long supplied hats to the Royal Family and they can also be credited with creating the bowler hat. I went in just for fun, to look through their beautiful shop to see everything on display. As traditional a company as they come, they had almost every kind of hat available for sale, and I couldn’t help but try on a classic Pith Helmet and even a Fez. The more I looked around though, the more I liked what I saw until I found myself getting my head measured and eventually buying a hat for myself. Skipping the deerstalkers, I instead went with a simple wool flat cap, something that’s comfortable and great for fall and winter. Truth be told, I also wanted to buy it to be a part of the experience. Presented to me in a gorgeous box with the utmost care, buying the hat was a luxury experience in its own right and it was then and there that I felt, not just understood but comprehended emotionally the appeal that Royal Warrant holders have to shoppers who may not be of Royal descent. It’s a way to connect to something larger than yourself and the process is as much fun as the products themselves.
Why They’re Good To Know About
For me, visiting these and even more Royal Warrant Holders became an important part of my most recent trip to the UK in ways I would never have thought. Learning about their histories and traditions, it soon became very clear to me that understanding these vaunted institutions is very important for anyone who wants to better understand British history and culture. Walking through Fortnum & Mason, the Queen’s grocer, is unlike any other shopping trip you’ve ever been on, and even seeing what they sell and how they present it is a great travel experience. These stores are in business to make money, no doubt there, but over the decades and centuries they’ve become much more than just mere shopping experiences. They themselves have come to represent the best of Great Britain in ways I’m sure they never foresaw, but which they today take very seriously. It’s another layer of the onion to peel away and enjoy, another way to get closer to understanding this amazing island nation in a completely different way, a way that blends popular culture and history in a way I certainly never expected. It’s also fun and unlike touring cold marble memorials or endless galleries, is a way to be an active participant in that history, whether or not you walk away with your own Lock & Co. hat or block of cheese. So the next time you visit London, spend an afternoon visiting some of these important stores, not just to see some great, high quality goods, but to have your own moment feeling like a Royal yourself and to get an even greater appreciation for the complexity of British culture.
Have you ever heard of Royal Warrant Holders before?
This campaign was created and sponsored by the GREAT Britain campaign and UK Trade & Investment in partnership with iambassador. LandLopers retains all editorial control of what is published and as you know, I never shy away from honest commentary.