Retro: Sheffield family fortune in ‘Yorkshire Gold’

Sutherland's potted beef in jars
Sutherland's potted beef in jars
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A Sheffield family whose firm made the famous Sutherland’s potted meat paste are back with a new upmarket product that has brought back memories of the firm and its colourful founder.

Alistair Sutherland’s grandfather Eddie Sutherland started selling his wife Mary’s potted beef that she made for his sandwiches when he worked as a salesman for Lyon’s tea.

Eddie Sutherland, ghead of the Sutherland's potted meat firm, with his son Peter

Eddie Sutherland, ghead of the Sutherland's potted meat firm, with his son Peter

In 1920, Eddie and his horse Froggy pulling the cart were a familiar sight around Sheffield, said Alistair.

Initially Mary made the potted beef in the cellar of their home every day for three years, getting up at 4.30am to fill the orders before getting their three young children, Keith Peter and Joan (little sister Josie followed later), ready for school.

She used home-minced beef, her secret blend of spices and a pinch of salt, with clarified butter on the top to seal in the spread.

Eventually Eddie got caught selling the potted beef to his shopkeeper customers and he was sacked from his job.

Sutherland's delivery van

Sutherland's delivery van

Alistair said: “Realising the product’s sales potential, Eddie set up his own business in 1927 to produce and distribute potted meats and went on to establish a multi-million-pound brand that was eventually sold to a European food giant.”

Many people will remember the ET Sutherland and Sons factory near High Hazels Park in Darnall.

After the firm was sold off in the 1980s, Alistair still produced what he calls “the straight stuff” to Mary’s original recipe as gifts for family and friends.

When his son Will approached Alistair with the idea of producing the potted beef and other high-quality spreads three years ago, they could no longer use the family name as the rights had been sold, so the brand name of Granny Mary’s was born. Mary’s picture is on the label.

Nowadays, Granny Mary’s range of six products, made in Chesterfield, are being stocked in some Waitrose stores and sold at farmers’ markets, delis and farm shops.

Returning to Mary’s original recipes, they are a far cry from the Sutherland’s products that were the mainstay of millions of packed lunches. Cereal was added to Mary’s recipe to make it cheaper to produce.

Alistair is writing a book, Yorkshire Gold, about how Eddie and Mary started the firm. The title comes from the family’s nickname for the rusk that was added to make the cheaper potted meat paste and increase profits.

Mary Sutherland (nee Bullas) was from a large Sheffield family and her grandfather Joseph Dyson was a well-known lay preacher who spoke out against alcohol.

He urged hard work, self-sacrifice and perseverance to keep families together. His parents always taught their children that “family matters!”, said Alistair.

Alistair’s book recalls the moment when the company was born.

“Eddie, what have you got on your sandwiches today, what has Mary made you this time?” inquired Cyril, a Lyons tea customer.

“Your Mary is a fine woman always making you something special, you are lucky man, Eddie.”

He went on and on, until Eddie reluctantly gave him a sandwich, and right there was a moment that would change everything.

“Wow,” said Cyril with a very happy face, “Eddie, that is really really delicious, it is the best potted beef I have ever had, how does Mary make it so ‘special’? I reckon I could sell some of this in my shop.”

When he was finally caught out by a supervisor and lost his job with Lyon’s Eddie, who was a talented artist, swapped a painting for a motorbike and sidecar that he used for deliveries until he could afford a van.

The firm’s first slogan was ‘Sutherland’s makes better sandwiches’, painted on to shop windows.

Eddie found his first salesman, John Parkinson, when he sold him the tyres for his first Model T Ford delivery van.

Alistair describes his grandfather as a driven and no-nonsense but fair man with his growing workforce at the first factory in Huntsman Road, Darnall.

Sutherland’s was in keen competition against other local firms such as Hartley’s, Binghams and Bowlers. Alistair said that the rivalry was occasionally fierce but remained friendly on the whole.

The firm did so well that the family moved out to Hathersage Hall in the summer of 1935, which Alistair said that Mary was reluctant to do at first as she preferred to keep her feet on the ground. She recognised how far a cry this new life was from a tiny cellar in Darnall.

By this time she was no longer working for the company, and so could devote herself to the house and family.

Eddie, known by this time as Mr ET, thought that horse riding was good for everyone’s health and joined the High Peak hunt. His sons, especially Peter, shared his love of riding.

Gradually the family became established in the Peak District social scene.

They also enjoyed trips abroad, fast cars and sea cruises in the good years that followed as the firm continued to thrive, driven by Mr ET.

Tragedy was to hit the family during World War Two, however, when Keith was killed while serving in the RAF in August 1943.

Joan had lost her first husband, Ronnie Truman, who was also in the RAF, two years earlier. They had been married less than a year. Her second husband, Andre, a Polish pilot, was killed in 1944.