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Mr Lea, Mr Perrins and a singular sauce

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Callie JonesLea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce is a successful brand, available in 75 countries. But when two 19th century Worcester pharmacists concocted the recipe it was so unpalatable that they left the first few bottles in their cellar. On rediscovering the jars a few years later they found that the mixture had improved with age.

John Wheeley Lea and William Henry Perrins had prepared the sauce at their pharmacy in Broad Street, reportedly at the request of local nobleman Lord Sandys, who had recently returned from travels in Bengal. (The request may actually have been from Lady Sandys, but using her name would have breached decorum.)

Although the precise formula remains a closely guarded secret, an early recipe included walnut catsup, powdered capsicum and boiled hog’s liver. As wholesalers and retailers of pharmaceuticals, toiletries, cosmetics and groceries, Lea and Perrins would have had many of the ingredients to hand. They both realised the advantages of marketing their own products and their first catalogue listed more than 300 items.

Commercial production of the sauce began in 1837. By 1844 more than 31,000 bottles a year were being filled at the back of the pharmacy. The sauce has been produced in the current Midlands Road factory in Worcester since 1897, remaining true to the spirit of the original recipe by aging in wooden casks for 18 months.

Lea and Perrins began their partnership in 1823, when they opened the Broad Street pharmacy. They later established branches in Kidderminster and Cheltenham in 1825 and 1834.

The partners also produced other popular nostrums. Their concentrated sarsaparilla essence was recommended for scurvy, for skin diseases and for freeing the system from the ill effects of taking mercury. And they promoted their dandelion coffee for liver complaints.

Advertisements published in the 1850s suggested health benefits for their Worcestershire sauce. One claimed that it was “esteemed for its tonic and invigorating properties, its habitual use enabling the stomach perfectly to digest the food”.

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