How we use Cookies

Aston's HP Sauce factory closed 10 years ago today

Today marks the tenth anniversary of the last time a bottle of HP Sauce was made in famous Birmingham factory

Ii is the factory closure which, above all others, leaves a nasty taste in the mouth for many Brummies.

Today marks the tenth anniversary since the landmark HP Sauce factory in Birmingham closed and shipped its production over to the Netherlands.

It closed its base in Aston Cross on March 16, 2007, amid cries from people – both locals and from afar – that they would never buy the famous sauce ever again.

The world famous HP sauce factory in Aston closed in 2007.
The world famous HP sauce factory in Aston closed in 2007.

The world-renowned plant had been manufacturing sauce for more than a century and the closure cost around 125 jobs in the city.

Although a far cry from some of the mass job losses the region has seen, it was the symbolism of moving something so very British overseas which appeared to stick in the craw of so many people.

"May the sauce be with you!"...... BRMB radio's "Chips n Gravy" with his body painted as a HP sauce bottle outside the HP sauce factory in Aston

Production manager Jim Garnett and technical manager Gary Hayes at the HP factory in 1988
Production manager Jim Garnett and technical manager Gary Hayes at the HP factory in 1988

Owner Heinz only acquired HP Foods in the summer of 2005 from French food group Danone, a year before they made the bombshell announcement that it was transferring production of HP Sauce to the Netherlands.

At the time, union leaders reacted with anger and said workers had been left very bitter by the decision, accusing the company of breaking its word over keeping production in Birmingham.

John Bull protesting on the roof of the HP Sauce factory in Aston.

HP SAUCE worker Kevin Lewis from Halesowen sings the national anthem outside the gates

In addition to the closure of the factory, Heinz moved bottling of Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce from Aston Cross to the HP manufacturing site in Worcester.

Khalid Mahmood, Labour MP for Perry Barr, said at the time of the announcement: "I'm devastated by this news. It is a landmark in Birmingham.

"HP Sauce is associated with the House of Commons. It is our brown sauce, served in the canteens. The factory has provided employment for people over the years and it is part of the culture of Birmingham. This news has come as a real shock."

A Save Our Sauce protest march was organised by the Birmingham Mail and supported by hundreds of local people.

The original recipe was reportedly dreamed up by Frederick Gibson Garton, a grocer from Nottingham, who called the sauce HP because he had heard a restaurant in the Houses of Parliament had begun serving it.

The bottle also depicts an image of the famous seat of government in London.

Another story about its origin suggests Mr Garton had purchased the original recipe from a man called Harry Palmer – hence HP – and the sauce’s original name was Harry Palmer's Famous Epsom Sauce.

The famous factory closed down on March 16, 2007
The famous factory closed down on March 16, 2007

HP was once dubbed "Wilson's gravy" after the wife of Harold Wilson, the former Labour Prime Minister, revealed that he believed no meal was complete unless it was flooded with the sauce.

Mr Garton began to market HP Sauce in 1903 but sold the recipe and brand for £150 to a Birmingham-based vinegar company which occupied the site of the old factory at Aston Cross.

The Aston Cross factory was once bisected by the A38(M) Aston Expressway and boasted a pipeline carrying vinegar over the motorway.

In December 1956, disaster struck when a vat exploded at the factory and sent a river of vinegar streaming down the streets of Aston.

The demise of the 15,000-gallon container nearly cost commissionaire Fred Eggison his life as he was carrying out an inspection tour when the explosion happened.

HP Sauce factory tower being demolished
HP Sauce factory tower being demolished

He told the Birmingham Evening Mail: "It was like a bomb. Two minutes later and I should have been right by the vat on my inspection tour. I might have been killed."

Nobody was hurt but the incident became part of local folklore as the vinegar swept into homes, flooded cellars and carried furniture along Tower Road before pouring downhill into Aston Road, nearly a quarter of a mile away. Armed with mops and brooms, householders joined emergency service crews in the clean-up operation.

The site's connection to the food industry has not been lost, though, as the plot is now occupied by a brand new base run by another West Midlands institution - East End Foods - which is famous for its spices, lentils and rices.

The family-owned company built a brand new distribution centre and cash and carry plant at the site which opened in 2011.

Initial proposals for the site also included a new hotel and 15-storey building to replace the iconic HP tower but a more modest complex was eventually built.

Comments

Journalists

Graeme Brown
Editor (Agenda and Business)
Enda Mullen
Business Reporter
Tamlyn Jones
Business Reporter
Neil Elkes
Local Government Correspondent
Emma McKinney
Education Correspondent
Ben Hurst
News Editor
Jonathan Walker
Political Editor