Burgess’ Essence of Anchovies was the first branded sauce to enjoy a nationwide reputation in Britain.
John Burgess (1750 – 1820) was the son of an affluent grocer from Odiham in Hampshire. He served an apprenticeship in London, before establishing his own premises at No. 101, the Strand by 1774. He held the profession of what was then called an “Italian warehouseman”, meaning he sold imported speciality foods such as hams and olive oil.
Burgess developed his reputation due to his keen business skills and his honesty. Growing trade saw the business relocate to larger premises at No. 107 the Strand in 1779.
Burgess introduced his Essence of Anchovies in 1775, and by 1788 it was his best known product. His was the original Essence of Anchovies, but it soon inspired imitations from the likes of Elizabeth Lazenby, who began to sell her anchovy-based sauce from 1793.
His only son, William Robert Burgess (1778 – 1853), entered into an equal partnership with his father from 1800, and the firm became known as John Burgess & Son.
Burgess products were onboard Admiral’s Nelson’s HMS Victory in 1805. Lord Byron referenced Burgess’s fish sauce in his poem Beppo (1817). The novelist Walter Scott claimed that Burgess made the best fish sauce in 1823.
After the death of his father in 1820, sole control of the firm passed to William Robert Burgess.
Lazenby and Crosse & Blackwell were encroaching upon Burgess’s market share by the 1850s with their lower-priced versions of Essence of Anchovies.
Whether stubborn or proud, W R Burgess stipulated that the only change in Essence of Anchovies production that he would allow for would be that twelve days’ pounding of fish by two men could be altered to six days pounding by four.
After the death of W R Burgess, the business was taken over by his wife, Elizabeth (1804 – 1884) and his son, Arthur Wellington Burgess (1840 – 1900).
A fire broke out at the firm’s pickling vaults and storehouses on the Strand in 1869. A large quantity of olive oil was destroyed.
Arthur Wellington Burgess was declared bankrupt in 1870, and the business was taken over by his mother, and his sisters, Mary Ann Burgess and Louisa Elizabeth Burgess.
The business was acquired by the Brooks family, relatives of the Burgesses, in 1874.
John Burgess & Son was incorporated as a limited company in 1901.
The company relocated its manufacturing and offices to Hythe Road, Willesden in 1908.
The company was appointed purveyors to George V in 1911. That same year, Robert Falcon Scott took Burgess products with him to the Antarctic.
The shop on the Strand was closed in 1914.
A takeover offer from George Mason & Co, the manufacturer of OK Sauce, was rejected in 1928.
The Willesden factory was damaged by German bombs in 1940.
Rayner & Co acquired John Burgess & Son from the company directors, who were the sole shareholders, in 1954. Company operations were relocated to Edmonton, North London in 1960.
Burgess creamed horseradish was launched in 1960, following three years of research.
Rayner & Co had sales of just under £2 million in 1971. Burgess creamed horseradish was by now its leading product, a market leader in its field with sales of £100,000 a year. Sales of Essence of Anchovies had steadily declined from their Victorian heyday. Rayner and Burgess was established in 1972 to jointly handle the increasing sales of both companies.
Burgess creamed horseradish was still available as late as 1993. It was a premium product.
Essence of Anchovies was still being produced as late as 1999. Latterly, its fans had included the celebrity chef Simon Hopkinson.
Rayner Burgess entered liquidation in 2007. The Burgess brand was acquired by Greencore, a large Irish foods company. Burgess pickles and sauces are still sold as of 2016.