Going right back to the sauce...why the world is developing a taste for Sheffield’s favourite relish

Production line of Hendersons Relish in Sheffield
Production line of Hendersons Relish in Sheffield
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HENDO’S, enough said.

Sheffield’s sauce of legend has a status all of it’s own in this city.

But now they‘re getting a taste for Henderson’s Relish all around the world.

Fuelled largely by the missionary expeditions of ex-pat Sheffielders, demand is higher than ever for the delicacy that’s enhanced the earthy magic of pie, mash and peas for generations.

Last year, Henderson’s sold a record 750,000 bottles in 23 countries and the company is hoping to increase production again this year.

“We are doing well considering the pressure on us,” said owner Dr Kennneth Freeman who inherited the business in 1991 when he retired as a Liverpool GP.

“We have never been busier, orders are good and we keep going. We don’t seem to be affected by the recession, once people try Henderson’s they seem to have to have it and come back for more.

“Students come to Sheffield, get a taste for Henderson’s and take it home with them. The supermarkets have done a great job of spreading it too, we don’t have the money to advertise and we are lucky that the supermarkets have promoted it for us.

“It used to only be sold in South Yorkshire but now it’s spread to Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Lancashire and even around the world. People like it on all sorts of foods and use it in recipes.”

Thousands of commuters pass the factory every day where old Sheffield meets new. The weatherbeaten jumble of buildings in the shadow of Sheffield University’s sleek post-modernism stands Henderson’s base on Leavygreave Road near Brook Hill roundabout.

The heart of production is small-scale. Modest machinery puts a top and a label on the bottles that end, 12 feet later, as a Sheffield icon.

At one end of the machine is Dougie Dyson, at the other Paul Starkey. Craig does the secret mixing and drives the van on deliveries. Ted retired last year amd Liz Castleton is office manager.

Dougie fills the bottles and sends them through the machine. Steve packs them in boxes.

Job done.

It’s a comforting and nostalgic factory scene straight from the Likely Lads or I’m Alright Jack.

You half expect Eric Sykes to come through the door in a brown smock followed by a vexed Terry Thomas demanding increased production with an impassioned: “I say look here...”

But all is calm and the sauce keeps flowing.

“It’s not a bad place to work at all, fairly quiet until Liz comes in,” laughs Dougie as he fills the hopper with more relish bottle screw-tops.

“We don’t know how old the machinery is, only that it’s older than Ted.”

Dougie and Steve fill two pallets a day with new relish bound for who knows where, that’s 3,024 bottles. And there are plans to increase production.

“We would like to expand slightly, we don’t want to push it, but an increase would be good.”

All the major supermarkets stock Henderson’s in this area and Morrison’s in Skegness is one of it’s most voracious customers.

The ingredients aren’t secret, they appear on the side of every bottle, but it’s the proportions of the mix that no-one can know and we aren’t allowed to look in the mixing room. Henderson’s is actually part of the fabric of the city in more ways than one.

Not only is it Sheffield’s favourite sauce, the bottles are being dug up by gardeners in the area.

Some are the tiny old penny bottles from the turn of the 20th century, a few of which have found their way onto the shelves in the company’s atmospheric offices where a 3-D map of England published by the Sheffield Daily Telegraph still adorns the walls.

No motorways or ring roads and all the old branch railway lines of an England long gone.

So how did a Liverpool GP - who is shy about his age must now be in his late 80s - come to inherit a sauce factory that started production in 19th century Sheffield? “My father moved from Sheffield to Liverpool many years ago but my uncle Charles Hinksman and aunt owned Henderson’s then,” added Dr Freeman, whose wife Pamela also works in the office.

“When I retired from the NHS in 1991 she suggested I should take it over. It was quite a dramatic change, I had never been in business before.

“We have a good team. The most important thing is that Henderson’s has become a Sheffield icon and people are proud to come from Sheffield so they spread the word about Henderson’s.

“We are proud of what Henderson’s means to the city and we will never move production away from Sheffield.”

Henderson’s relish, made in Sheffield.

Enough said.