Yorkshire Relish was the highest selling bottled sauce in the Victorian era. It was advertised as “the most delicious sauce in the world”.
After serving an apprenticeship to a chemist, Robert Goodall (1831-1870) of Market Weighton, Yorkshire established a small chemist’s shop on Wade Lane, Leeds in 1853.
Many chemists of the era branched out into consumer goods products, and Goodall began to manufacture Yorkshire Relish from a family recipe. It was thin like Worcestershire sauce, but was fruitier and did not contain anchovies. The success of Yorkshire Relish was driven by its high quality and low price.
In 1858 Goodall entered into a partnership with two chemists, Henry Backhouse (1829 – 1876), and William Powell (1836-1900), his brother-in-law and former apprentice, to acquire the business of Bell & Brooke, Leeds wholesale chemists, from Thomas Bell (1801 – 1878), who was retiring. The company, 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 company, and Backhouse and Powell held 25 percent each.
Robert Goodall died in 1870, and his stake in the business was inherited by William Powell. In 1873 the business was relocated from Boar Lane to White Horse Street, and retail activities were discontinued. The company developed as pharmaceutical wholesalers and sauce manufacturers. Henry Backhouse died in 1876, leaving William Powell as sole proprietor.
By 1865 the sauce was popular enough for others to attempt to pass off their own sauce as “Yorkshire Relish”. Over 670,000 bottles of Yorkshire Relish were sold in August 1872. Yorkshire Relish holds trademark no. 3,101; it was among the earliest to be registered when trademarks were introduced in 1876. The product even received commendations from Charles Perrins of Lea & Perrins.
Goodall, Backhouse & Co operated the largest sauce factory in the world by 1874. The six-floor building was largely mechanised, and powered by steam. Aided by heavy advertising, eight million bottles of Yorkshire Relish were sold in 1885.
In the 1890s the firm was involved in a landmark House of Lords legal case against the Birmingham Vinegar Brewery, who had begun to produce an imitation which they called “Yorkshire Relish”. The case ruled that only Goodall, Backhouse & Co could use the name. Between 1892 and 1900, Powell spent £25,000 in legal fees to defend his trademark rights against other firms.
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 company by 1900.
Powell died a lifelong bachelor in 1900, and left the firm to two nephews. William Powell Bowman (1862 – 1955) gained a two thirds stake, and Frank Boyce received one third. Bowman had worked at the business since 1878.
By 1907 the factories occupied some ten acres of floor space, the wage bill ran to over £80,000 (£8.5 million in 2015) and 13 million bottles were sold each year. It was still 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.
A 1930 advertisement claimed that the sauce was made using 27 “Eastern spices”, and was matured in wood for between 14 months and three years.
Following the introduction of import tariffs in Ireland in 1933, the Hogg family established Goodall’s of Ireland, which produced the sauce for that market under licence.
Goodall, Backhouse & Co became a limited company in 1934, with capital of £125,000 (£8 million in 2015). A thick version of Yorkshire Relish was introduced in 1935, under the initiative of George Edward Bowman. The company 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. Bowman’s eldest son, George Edward Bowman (born 1901) 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 & Co by 1947, with William Powell Bowman serving as governing chairman.
The company struggled following the death of William Powell Bowman in 1955. George Edward Bowman was an excellent salesman, but not a natural business manager. W P Bowman’s death duties were also very high, as he had been sole owner of the company.
Goodall, Backhouse & Co 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.
In 1982 Hammonds was acquired by Pillsbury UK, who in 1985 closed the Leeds factory and moved all Hammonds production to a new £1 million factory in Bradford. In 1988 Pillsbury was acquired by Grand Metropolitan who sold the UK business to Dalgety in 1991. Later that year Hammonds was acquired by Albert Fisher for £12 million. Goodall, Backhouse & Co was liquidated in 1990. By 1990 Hammonds had an annual turnover of £11 million.
Yorkshire Relish was available in thin, thick, spicy and fruity varieties by 1994.
Hammonds relaunched Yorkshire Relish in 1996, however by this time only the thick version was available. Production had been discontinued by 2001 due to low sales.
Hammonds was acquired by Unigate in 1999. The Bradford factory was closed in 2002 and production of Hammonds sauces was relocated to a former vinegar brewery in Lancashire.
When the Bradford factory was being demolished, a collection of papers relating to Goodall, Backhouse & Co was found hidden in the roof wall. Included was a handwritten recipe for Yorkshire Relish and the will of William Powell. The archive was sold at auction and purchased by a member of the Bowman family.
Hammonds is currently owned by McCormick, the American seasoning giant. McCormick also own the rights to the Yorkshire Relish trademark.
The sauce is still produced by Robert Roberts in Ireland under the “YR sauce” name. In 1993 Goodall’s of Ireland was sold to CPC Foods, who sold YR to Chivers Ireland in 2002. Chivers sold the brand to Robert Roberts in 2010. The Irish version in 2015 mostly consisted of vinegar, sugar, soy sauce and flavourings.