Ameer Kotecha

The very British history of HP sauce

  • From Spectator Life

HP Sauce is a glorious thing. The French may have their five, gastronomic Mother Sauces but we in this sceptered isle have HP and that’s what counts. Because nobody wants a pool of hollandaise with their Full English.

It first appeared on our dining tables in the late nineteenth century and has since grown to account for three-quarters of sales in our brown sauce market. Its story begins in 1884, when a Nottingham grocer, Frederick Gibson Garton invented the sauce in his pickling factory in New Basford (later also the home of Cussons Imperial Leather soap). It was a classic culinary product of Empire, with tomatoes, tamarind, dates, molasses and soy amongst its ingredients. Then it was simply a case of blending these ‘most delicious oriental fruits and spices with a suitable proportion of pure malt vinegar’ and voilà.

Garton trademarked his tasty concoction in 1890 as ‘The Banquet Sauce’. Lofty ambitions perhaps, but why not?

Garton trademarked his tasty concoction in 1890 as ‘The Banquet Sauce’. Lofty ambitions perhaps, but why not? The sauce should, he thought, have a place on the tables of grand mansions and fine hotels. And indeed, it wasn’t long before Garton heard that his bottled condiments were being served up at the Houses of Parliament no less. He renamed the sauce ‘Garton’s H.P. Sauce’ in apparent tribute.

Sadly for Mr Garton that’s where his part in the story ends. He was deep in debt to a vinegar malting factory, and despite his repeated attempts to brown-nose the debt collector to keep the bailiffs at bay, he was forced to sell his trademarks and recipes for £150, to Birmingham-based manufacturers who owned the Midlands Vinegar Company. The new owners re-launched the sauce in 1903, with the same name and now with a Houses of Parliament lithograph image on the bottle.

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