Curry favour: a history of J A Sharwood

Sharwood’s is the leading Asian food brand in Britain.

James Allen Sharwood
James Allen Sharwood (1859 – 1941) was born in Islington, London. He was named for his grandfather, a prosperous Fenchurch Street wholesale druggist.


Sharwood’s mother was a Scottish-born schoolmistress, who instilled in him the importance of paying attention to details.

Sharwood’s father was an excellent chemist, but a spoiled man. He spent extravagantly, and was declared bankrupt and sent to debtors’ prison in 1864. His marriage ended in divorce. J A Sharwood was to meet his father only once, in 1890, before he died in the workhouse in 1894.

J A Sharwood attended the Heath Mount School in Hampstead, and then went on to work in the City of London. He initially worked in insurance, and was then employed as a manager for a wine and spirits distributor.

Sharwood establishes a grocery business
J A Sharwood established himself as a wholesale grocer on Carter Lane in the City of London from 1888. Green Label mango chutney was introduced a year later.

Sharwood was intelligent, hard-working, and innovative. He had a keen interest in overseas travel and was fluent in French and German.

A family friend introduced Sharwood to Lord Dufferin (1826 – 1902), the Viceroy of India. Dufferin asked Sharwood to bring supplies from Europe for his French chef.

Lord Dufferin (1826 – 1902) as Viceroy of India

Legend has it that the grateful chef recommended that Sharwood visit P Vencatachellum at No. 1 Popham’s Broadway in Madras. Vencatachellum made a famed curry powder, which blended turmeric from Chittagong, coriander from Kerala, chillis from Orissa, and four secret ingredients. The product impressed Sharwood, and he arranged to distribute “Vencat” curry powder in Britain from 1893.

J A Sharwood is incorporated as a limited company
J A Sharwood was incorporated as a limited company with capital of £50,000 in 1899.  A factory, the Offley Works, was established at Vauxhall.

White Label Worcestershire Sauce was the main product by 1900. It was aged for five years.

F A Bovill & Co of City Road, London, a preserve manufacturer, was acquired in 1900.

J A Sharwood supplied the prestigious Cunard ocean liners with foodstuffs from 1902.

Sharwood had entered into retirement by 1927, and he settled in Cape Town, South Africa.

J A Sharwood advertised itself as “the largest dealers in Indian condiments in the world” by 1933.

Sharwood died in 1941 and his effects in England were valued at £7,296.

Sale of J A Sharwood and subsequent growth
Cerebos, a British foods company, acquired J A Sharwood for £982,047 in 1962. The Offley Works were divested and production was relocated to the Cerebos factory in Greatham, Hartlepool.

Cerebos was acquired by Rank Hovis McDougall (RHM) in 1968.

Sharwood’s was heavily marketed and the brand dominated the British chutney market by the 1970s. Sharwood’s held a Royal Warrant to supply chutney and curry powder to Queen Elizabeth II by 1975.

The British market for Indian groceries grew, and Sharwood’s sales doubled between 1989 and 1994. Sharwood’s held 74 percent of the mango chutney market by 1991.

Company headquarters were relocated from London to Egham in Surrey from 1991.

Sharwood’s held one third of the Oriental foods market by 1998.

The Greatham factory was closed in 2001, and Sharwood’s production was relocated to Wythenshawe, Manchester.

RHM was acquired by Premier Foods for £1.2 billion in 2007. The Wythenshawe factory was closed in 2009, and Sharwood’s production was relocated to Worksop, Nottinghamshire.

According to information from Premier Foods, the Sharwood company archive was accidentally disposed of by a novice marketer, and no longer exists.

4 thoughts on “Curry favour: a history of J A Sharwood”

  1. Interesting article. I am particularly interested in F A Bovill, acquired in 1900, In the article they are described as confectioners. My rather incomplete knowledge of this company shows them to have a history as pickle manufacturers. I have a collection of their pickle jars. The company was wound up in 1900 but I had no idea that it was acquired by Sharwoods. Did they acquire the recipes, I wonder? Do they hold the archive? I would be most interested to hear of their involvement in confectionery.

    1. Thanks for the comment Valerie.

      If memory serves I tried to find out more about Bovill without much success. As I’m sure you know I believe they were based in the City of London.

      At the time, manufacturers of jam were referred to as confectioners. Perhaps it will be more accurate if I change the word I used in the article to preserve manufacturer?

    2. Also I would be very interested to hear any information you have about Bovill, as I say, my knowledge of then is limited.

  2. Hello Thomas, Maybe we are speaking of different companies, although the name F A Bovill would seem a rather large coincidence and I think there must be some connection. Now I check my notes, I see I was mistaken in the date. The F A Bovill I am thinking of was not wound up until 1938. Very briefly, Frederick Anderson Bovill was firstly a chemist and druggist but by 1871 was an Italian Warehouseman importing such things as pasta, olive oil, perfumes, etc. Frederick died in 1903 but the business was expanded by his son (same name) and is listed 1891 as Pickle Merchant and 1901 Pickle Manufacturer and by 1911 Public Sauce Manufacturer. He died in 1933 and the business was wound up five years later by his widow. The jars of various styles seem to have survived in some quantity. There are examples of large stone glaze containers, glass bottles and jars and very pretty small pots made by Royal Doulton which certainly look rather more suited to jam than to pickle. This is why I was interested to ttack down recipes or a list of what exactly they did manfacture. If I can help with more details, then please email me.

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