Henry Henderson first concocted his first batch of Relish in 1885, at his home on 44 Green Lane. By 1890, Henry had set up his grocers store at 35 Broad Lane. Initially, Relish was a side-line. Legend has it that it was kept in a barrel and customers had to bring their own bottles to be filled.
Through the 1890s, Henry placed various adverts in the Sheffield papers, for girls to help in the shop and for men to work as porters. In 1899, he advertised for a shop assistant, giving his contact as Henry Henderson, Relish Manufacturer, indicating what he had perhaps become best known for.
By 1910, at age 60, Henry decided to retire, selling his business and the brand name Henderson’s Relish to jam and pickle makers, Shaws of Huddersfield. Henry settled into a long retirement with his fortune made. He died whilst on holiday in Skegness in 1930.
The Henderson family ceased to have any involvement with Henderson’s Relish from 1910; and though new owner George Shaw was a decade older than Henry, he was clearly convinced by the popularity of the Relish. Shaw’s son-in-law Charles Hinksman, a former travelling salesman from Worcestershire, of all places, was installed as manager, and Henderson’s Relish moved to its first factory, 66 Leavygreave Road. The business flourished.
By 1925, Shaws posted a notice in the Sheffield Daily Telegraph inviting tenders for one million Relish bottle labels. The characteristic orange labels with black lettering would make Henderson’s Relish stand out amongst the competition on retailer’s shelves.
Bottling and packing would have been an intensively manual operation: filling the bottles by hand, pasting on the labels, sealing with a cork and wax and then packing with brown paper and string.
As the spectre of another war loomed over Europe, changes were happening at the Relish factory. In summer 1939, Miriam Hinksman died aged 70. By early 1940, Charles Hinksman had married Gladys Freeman, a journalist in Sheffield. The change in his personal circumstances seems to have prompted Charles in to a momentous decision: he bought the Relish factory from Shaws and formed an independent company, Hendersons Relish Limited. The inaugural meeting on 12th January 1940.
Hinksman was installed as chairman of directors, company secretary and managing director. A handbill was issued to reassure customers the change was in name only; the management, staff and crucially Henderson’s Relish would stay the same.
In post war years production was mechanised. In November 1948, Hinksman took a trip to London to view a new vacuum filling machine for bottling Relish, and agreed to purchase an electric motor for £100.
By the time Charles Hinksman retired in December 1951, sales exceeded one million bottles per year; enough Relish for every man, woman and child in Sheffield to have over half a pint each. Charles had managed the company for over 40 years, taking it from a side-line run from a grocer’s shop to an independent and successful family business.
Charles Hinksman’s role as chairman of directors and secretary was taken by his widow, Gladys. Her first move was to appoint her 50-year old brother, Harvey Freeman, to the board of directors and he took over as managing director soon after. Brother and sister were to run the company for the next 30 years.
This huge milestone was reached in 1951, truly showing how popular Henry’s Relish had become.
As the decade drew to a close, many small corner shops were being swept away as part of town planning. These had been the traditional retail outlets for Henderson’s Relish for a generation or more and the company was going to have to deal with a different type of retailer, supermarkets that might not appreciate a brand with strictly local appeal. Concerns were expressed at the annual general meeting in 1958 about the marketing methods of the ‘multiples’ as they were termed and also the rise in staff wages. The name was officially changed to Hendersons (Sheffield) Limited on 1 December 1958.
The following year the company was forced to move from 66 Leavygreave Road due to the expansion of the University of Sheffield, but Harvey secured a new site further down the same road, which was to be the home of Hendersons for the next 50 years.
Harvey Freeman quipped to a Sheffield Star reporter visiting the factory in 1981, providing the first pictures of the interior of the factory that people in Sheffield had seen.
The continued closure of small shops and the difficulty of dealing with ‘large combines and multiple concerns whose business methods were rigid and anonymous’ became a regular refrain at annual general meetings. The company could not escape the general economic slump of the 1970s, however, with the canny brother and sister duo at the helm, Hendersons was able to weather the storm.
Gladys Freeman retired in 1982, at the age of 90, and Harvey died early in 1985. At the board meeting following Harvey’s death in March 1985, his widow Connie Freeman was appointed as a director, and Connie’s nephew, Dr Kenneth Freeman, was appointed director and secretary. In 1987, Gladys died at the grand age of 96.
In 1991, Dr Kenneth Freeman took over from his aunt Connie as managing director and chairman. His wife Pamela became secretary. Kenneth was a retired GP who although not living in Sheffield, made twice weekly visits to mix the secret recipe.
During these years, Dr and Mrs Freeman oversaw ground-breaking developments in the company’s profile. Henderson’s Relish was listed in only one local supermarket. Deliveries were made in an old Land Rover van; the boot stacked high with cases for the driver to unload at corner shops and independent retailers around the city.
When Sheffield’s two football clubs, United and Wednesday got to the FA Cup Semi-Final in 1993, Hendersons produced commemorative bottles in the team colours. They were a hit and continue to be produced, allowing football fans to show their love for their favourite club and their favourite sauce at the same time. You can find them in the online shop.
Dr and Mrs Freeman began to visit various supermarket chains, carrying a bottle of Henderson’s to tempt potential buyers. Their hard work eventually paid off and Sainsbury’s became the company’s largest supermarket partner in 1996.
From that point on, it started to sell itself as more local supermarkets came on board; Henderson’s Relish became much more accessible for its adoring Sheffield audience and word spread further afield.
The company was informed by the University of Sheffield in 2001, the owners of the land the factory sits on, that they wished to develop a new campus on the site. This was met with fierce opposition from both Dr and Mrs Freeman, as well as customers and celebrities. The Henderson’s factory was a landmark of Sheffield and a source of local pride and it was felt that it ought to be saved.
Fortunately, the redevelopment was postponed which gave Henderson’s and its management some time to consider its options. The cost of moving was a concern but the ability to expand production and gain SALSA (Safe and Local Supplier Approval) accreditation to secure supermarket sales drove the decision and the company purchased a large industrial unit just off the Sheffield Parkway.
November 2013 marked the end of an era for Henderson’s Relish as the company moved from the humble Leavygreave Road building to the new, much bigger premises at Sheffield Parkway Business Park.
After having run the company for almost 30 years, facilitating and overseeing the move was to be one of Dr Freeman’s last duties for the company. Just one month later, after a short period of illness, he sadly passed away aged 92, ending another chapter for the company. He left everything in the capable hands of his wife Pamela, who, having been at the helm with her husband from the beginning of his tenure, should also be credited with its success. Dr and Mrs Freeman’s children are also active directors of the company and make up two of the three people who know the secret recipe, Pamela being the third.
In 2014, Lewisham MP Jim Dowd misunderstood Henderson’s Relish as a cheap copy of anchovy based Lea & Perrins and labelled it as having “parasitic packaging” in a speech in the House of Commons during a parliamentary debate on the Intellectual Property Bill. He was quickly rebutted and a social media storm erupted, eventually involving Sheffield celebrities and politicians, including Nick Clegg, who came to its defence.
Throughout recent years the company has made a series of smaller changes, including new bottling machinery and an updated label design.
In 2018, Henderson’s sourced a new, local glass supplier, just seven miles away from the factory, to create a new glass bottle with an embossed logo on the neck; a nod to the company’s bottles from the early 20th century. Importantly the company wanted a bottle that was more sustainable and are proud to have a bottle which is made from 30% recycled glass.