Yorkshire Relish: Goodall, Backhouse & Co

Yorkshire Relish was the highest-selling bottled sauce in the Victorian era. It was advertised as “the most delicious sauce in the world”.

Goodall, Backhouse & Co is established
Robert Goodall (1831-1870) was born in Market Weighton, Yorkshire. After serving an apprenticeship to a chemist, he established a small chemist’s shop on Wade Lane, Leeds from 1853.

Goodall entered into partnership with two chemists, William Powell (1836-1900), his brother-in-law and former apprentice, and Henry Backhouse (1829 – 1876), to acquire the business of Bell & Brooke, Leeds wholesale chemists, from Thomas Bell (1801 – 1878), who was retiring, in 1858.

The firm, now known as Goodall, Backhouse & Co, moved to Bell & Brooke’s larger premises at 46 Boar Lane. Goodall held 50 percent of the equity in the firm, and Backhouse and Powell each held a 25 percent stake.

Many chemists of the era branched out into consumer goods products, and Goodall began to manufacture “Yorkshire Relish” using a family recipe from 1865. It was a thin sauce, comparable to Worcestershire, but it was fruitier and did not contain anchovies.

The base of Yorkshire Relish consisted of shallots, soy sauce, garlic and malt vinegar. It was flavoured with 27 “Eastern spices” including black pepper. The sauce was matured in wooden vats for at least 14 months and up to three years.


Robert Goodall died in 1870, and his stake in the business was inherited by William Powell. The firm relocated from Boar Lane to White Horse Street in 1873, and retail activities were discontinued. The firm developed as pharmaceutical wholesalers and sauce manufacturers. William Powell became sole proprietor of the business from 1876, following the death of Henry Backhouse.

Goodall Backhouse operated the largest sauce factory in the world by 1874. The steam-powered factory was largely mechanised, and occupied a six-floor building.

Every bottle of Yorkshire Relish was embossed with a willow tree logo to confer authenticity by 1870. Over 670,000 bottles of Yorkshire Relish were sold in August 1872. Yorkshire Relish holds trademark no. 3,101; it was among the first names to be registered when trademarks were introduced in 1876.

William Powell Bowman (1862 – 1955), the nephew of William Powell, entered the business from 1877.

Eight million bottles of Yorkshire Relish were sold in 1885. Yorkshire Relish even received a recommendation from Charles Perrins (1864 – 1958) of Lea & Perrins, manufacturers of the original Worcestershire sauce.

The White Horse Street factory was doubled in size in 1886. The business employed a workforce of 400, including 100 people directly involved in Yorkshire Relish production and bottling.

When asked to account for the popularity of Yorkshire Relish, W P Bowman responded; “it is good and cheap, never varies in its quality, and its uniform excellence is now thoroughly established”.

Goodall Backhouse advertised heavily, and had an annual marketing spend of £40,000 to £50,000 per annum by 1888.

Goodall Backhouse was involved in a landmark House of Lords legal case against the Birmingham Vinegar Brewery, who had begun to manufacture an imitation product which they branded as “Yorkshire Relish”, in the 1890s. The case ruled that only Goodall Backhouse could use the name. Powell spent £25,000 in legal fees to defend his trademark rights against other businesses between 1892 and 1900.

Under the astute leadership of William Powell the business became one of the largest sauce manufacturers in the world. There were around 500 employees at the firm by 1900.

William Powell Bowman takes control of the business
William Powell died a lifelong bachelor in 1900, and left the firm to two nephews. William Powell Bowman gained a two thirds stake, and Frank Boyce received one third.

The factories occupied some ten acres of floor space by 1907, and the wage bill ran to over £80,000 (£8.5 million in 2015). Thirteen million bottles of Yorkshire Relish were sold each year. It remained the highest selling sauce in the world as late as 1911.

Bowman bought the remaining third of the company from Boyce for £36,000 (around £2.7 million in 2015) in 1916. Bowman was joined by his eldest son, George Edward Bowman (1901 – 1979), from 1921.

Following the introduction of import tariffs in Ireland in 1933, Charles Ernest Hogg established Goodall’s of Ireland, which produced the sauce for that market under licence.

Goodall Backhouse became a limited company with a capital of £125,000 (£8 million in 2015) from 1934.

A thick version of Yorkshire Relish was introduced from 1935, under the initiative of George Edward Bowman. It was made from apples, tomatoes, dates, tamarinds and spices. It allegedly had a more subtle, and fruitier taste than rivals such as HP and Daddies.

Goodall Backhouse was awarded a royal warrant from George V.

The company’s drugs business and properties on White Horse Street in Leeds were spun off as a separate company called “Goodalls (Leeds), Ltd” in 1937. George Edward Bowman remained as a director of the drugs business. The remnant foods business, mostly employed in the manufacture of Yorkshire Relish, had a staff of over 300 people and a works located on Sovereign Street.

George Edward Bowman had taken over as managing director of Goodall Backhouse by 1947, with William Powell Bowman serving as governing chairman.

Death of W P Bowman and sale of the business
William Powell Bowman died in 1955. A reserved man, he was said to have never suffered a day of illness in his life.

Goodall Backhouse struggled in the wake of the death of W P Bowman. His successor, George Edward Bowman, was an excellent salesman, but not a natural business manager.

Goodall Backhouse was sold to Hammonds Sauce Co of Shipley, Yorkshire in 1959. Hammonds (then, as now) was a largely regional brand, whereas Yorkshire Relish had a national presence and a large export market.

Hammonds was acquired by Pillsbury in 1982. Pillsbury closed the Leeds factory in 1985 and relocated all Hammonds production to a new £1 million factory in Bradford.

Pillsbury was acquired by Grand Metropolitan in 1988 who sold Pillsbury UK to Dalgety in 1991. Dalgety sold Hammonds to Albert Fisher for £12 million later that year.

Yorkshire Relish was available in thin, thick, spicy and fruity varieties by 1994. Only the thick version was available by 1996.

Hammonds was acquired by Unigate in 1999. The thick version of Yorkshire Relish had been discontinued due to low sales by 2001.

The Bradford factory was closed in 2002 and production of Hammonds sauces was relocated to a former vinegar brewery in Lancashire.

Hammonds is currently owned by McCormick, the American spice company. McCormick also own the rights to the Yorkshire Relish trademark.

Thin Yorkshire Relish is still produced by Robert Roberts in Ireland. The product has a base of vinegar, sugar and soy sauce. The thick version is also produced, under the name “YR Sauce”.

38 thoughts on “Yorkshire Relish: Goodall, Backhouse & Co”

  1. Hi – this is a very interesting article. I am the great-grandson of William Powell Bowman and would be happy to add a few personal details if you are interested – you have certainly helped me to unravel the complex ownership of Goodall’s since it was sold to Hammonds.

    One correction – WPB did not die in the First World war. He did lose two of his four sons in the conflict – one in the army, one in the navy – but he himself lived to the rip old age of 93, and it was his death duties that forced the sale of the company in 1959.

    1. Thank you very much for your comments Mike. Any information at all you can give me about the company or the Powell’s would be greatly appreciated. Cheers,Tom

  2. I have a 8inch glass bottle from this company, would it be of any interest to anyone associated with this firm.

  3. I have a Yorkshire Relish bottle with the number 1821 on the base. I was wondering what this number signifies. Perhaps you can enlighten me. Many thanks, Iris

  4. I have just found an old bottle with the goodhall backhouse @co stamped on it I found it while digging my back garden it is still intacked

    1. I bought one today at the matket . Im in townsville north Queensland australia this is the only goodall and backhouse bottle i have seen and I’ve been a collector a long time.

  5. I have been away from God’s Country for too long. What a travesty that “progress” is nowt o’t’ soort.

  6. My Grandsons found one today, August 13th 2016, at the base of a fallen Oak tree , near Netley Marsh, New Forest.

  7. I have been reading an old cookbook of my mother’s. “More Good Things A sensible Cookery Book for the Modern Home” by Goodall, Blackhouse, & Co,. Leeds
    Do you know when this book was made, or anything about the other products they recommend such as Goodall’s jelly squares, Goodall’s custard powder, Goodall’s browning sauce, Goodall’s salad cream and Goodall’s egg powder?

    1. It was just a marketing device for the company, released in 1914.

      Yes, Goodall’s sold these items as well, but Yorkshire Relish was their flagship product. The custard powder and egg powder were imitations of products first introduced by Alfred Bird & Co.

      1. Thanks foe replying quickly. My family emigrated from Leeds to Canada in 1947 and this booklet was used regularly by my mother to cook for her family of 10.

      2. Ironic really when you consider the original legal battle to protect the product way back… odd that… all is fair in love and business they say….

    2. I have come across an old copy of an earlier edition of your book, It is called “good things” by Goodal, Blackhouse and company
      dated 1886.
      Hope this helps.
      Lionel Joynson Anglesey.

  8. Is it possible to buy real Yorkshire Relish anymore? Or are we limited to the Irish Y.R. which seems to be a poor imitation judging by the ingredients.

    1. Unfortunately only the Irish version is available at the moment.

      If you want to see Yorkshire Relish reintroduced into the British market then I’m sure that McCormick has the recipe.

      Whether the British 1990s version bears any relation to the Victorian original is another question entirely.

  9. Just purchased an undamaged WWI Yorkshire Relish bottle dug up in an old British trench in Flanders. It will join my WWI food/rations display I use for historical presentations on the war for local schools. I read in a Tommy letter that Yorkshire Relish was the only thing that made a tin of Maconochie’s stew palatable.

  10. Amongst my deceased father’s papers I found a copy of “Good Things, Made, Said and Done for Every Home and Household”. Unfortunately, the first 8 and last 2 pages are missing and I can’t see a publication date. There is, however, on the inside back cover, an advertisement for Dandelion Coffee with a testimonial dated 22 January 1880. Could you please give me any indication when this booklet was first published and for how long it was in circulation. Many thanks.

  11. I have a copy of ‘Good things made and done’ which was my great grandmothers. It was published 1885 and is a 17th edition.
    The front pages are advertisments for Beechhams pills, Enos fruit salts and Fennings powders. Did Goodall make these or would the company’s have paid for advertising in the book?

  12. My grandfather was in the 30s a sales agent /rep. for Yorkshire relish . I do remember as a child in the 50s having loads of the sauce with our fish cakes etc.to enhance flavours during rationing and how conversation usually came round to believing how much better it was than the rival Worcester Sauce.We had many sales promotional gifts in the house from mirrors to packs of playing cards, all sporting the the quality and wonders of the relish .We still use the playing cards today.

  13. During our Easter “walkabout” caravan tour , this year to northern New South Wales (Australia) we visited an antique shop in the small bush town of Uralla on the New England highway. Being born and bred Yorkshire man l purchased a large framed Yorkshire Relish poster depicting a mounted lancer spearing a bottle of Yorkshire Relish! I have to admit l had never heard of Yorkshire Relish. Your informative article was forwarded to me by another Yorkshire expat on the trip who couldn’t believe l had never heard of Yorkshire Relish! Whycant we still buy it!!!

    1. It does seem a shame. I would surmise that standards declined over the years following the numerous takeovers and people switched to Lea & Perrins.

  14. I am doing a short talk on Yorkshire Relish and wondered if there was a reason why they company used the willow pattern in there advertising

    1. The willow was embossed on the bottom of every bottle of Yorkshire Relish to confer authenticity. The willow, with tree has deep associations with China, which is where many of the “Eastern spices” that went into Yorkshire Relish came from.

  15. Hallo. I found one botle in my field of olive trees. By the river Strymonas at North Greece. At that place was British army camp during the 1st World War….. Great!!!!

  16. This is all so interesting & brings a real history to our bottle found buried in our garden a couple of years ago. It’s in more or less perfect condition but on checking the bottom of the bottle, instead of a willow there are the initials J.L. Does this mean anything to anyone?

  17. Hi. I have recently found a bottle of this in a skip. I knew it was old straight away but unsure of the year, on the bottle retail price is 1’5 and the cap is red and not black like one of the pictures above so am thinking more 1950s. The bottle is unopened and full.

    Shame I can’t post a photo. If anyone knows of a museum that would take this I would love to know

  18. Just found this topic by accident. YR thick sauce is a staple food item still in many an Irish cupboard. Its simply head and shoulders above its competitors, HP et al. It is simply de rigeur to apply a dollop to bacon, hot or cold. Fascinating history.

  19. Hi all I am a Eddie Bowman – Michael Hitchcock’s cousin and also a great grand son of WPB. I recall there always being bottles of Yorkshire Relish on the table at home as a child. I think my father was in his mid 20’s when the business got into trouble. I think he was offered a chunky loan by the bank to save it, but he had two young children at the time and did not want to take the risk. So our family moved south the find work . I was six weeks old at the time. Sadly my father – also a William Powell Bowman, died young, but he often talked about trying to revive the business. Michael will confirm, but I think we still have the original recipe somewhere…..

  20. Wow! Fascinated but frustrated because I can’t find any photos of the original building. Whether inside or out. I desperately want to know if the building in Sovereign street is still the same or if the factory was pulled down and replaced when all the inner city/canal gentrification went on. I worked in Goodall and Backhouse in the summer of 1977, just after my A-levels and although I was paid less than everyone else because I wasn’t 18 yet, it was this job which convinced me that I would NEVER be beholden to anybody! Self-employed ever since.
    I remember it as positively Dickensian, dark, dirty and noisy, but they did have a ‘rolling’ work philosophy, whereby you were swopped round so you couldn’t get too bored in one job only. The heat on the top floors combined with the smells of the barrels of turmeric are a lasting memory, along with the creaking floorboards and the view onto the river below. Does anyone have any pics? Please!

  21. I was a big fan of Alana, sold here in the US as steak sauce. After a change in ownership it was sold as Goodalls. Then it was no longer available. Looking for a replacement, I discovered that YR has a very similar long list of ingredients. Some of the images of the bottle I see online even say Goodalls YR. Can someone tell me if this is a reasonable facsimile of Alana/Goodalls? YR is not widely sold in the US so before I pay the terribly inflated price, I would like some assurance that YR is very similar to Alana/Goodalls. Thanks for any assistance

  22. Fascinating article.
    Just dug up an old bottle in the depths of the veg garden (used to be part of the farm) which says “Yorkshire Relish” around the neck of the bottle, and “Goodall, Backhouse & Co.” vertically down the bottle. Glass is full of bubbles and no sign of the Willow Mark on the bottle. Does this suggest the bottle would be pre 1870?

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