There’s a rather famous brown condiment, HP Sauce, which features a rather famous building, coincidentally called the Houses of Parliament, but is one named after the other?

It’s a curious story.

Described as being “prepared by blending together the most delicious oriental fruits and spices with a suitable proportion of pure malt vinegar.”, it was not unique on the market for such products, Hoe’s Sauce was almost identical, but clever marketing and advertising in newspapers helped it to become the household name it is today.

The question really is why does Big Ben* appear on the bottle, and is the name HP a reference to the Houses of Parliament?

There’s no simple absolute answer, just a lot of legends, and myths.

The origins of HP Sauce is said to go back to 1884, and a Nottingham Grocer, Frederick Gibson Garton who invented it in his pickling factory on Sandon Street, New Baseford.

Candidly, he no more invented it than Lea and Perrins invented Worcestershire Sauce, both made a product that was already well known locally, but at a time of dodgy food labels and lack of trust, they did so with branding and quality at their heart.

His first trademark, in 1890 was for The Banquet Sauce, which was designed as being used as banquets, mansions, hotels or private dining tables. The legend, often repeated, is that he registered the name H.P. Sauce in 1895, hearing that his bottled condiments were being served up at the Houses of Parliament.

Here’s the problem, I can’t find the trademark. If it exists, it’s not under the company name, under any variants I know were used, or even under the trademark number which is recorded in a letter.

The name Garton’s H.P. Sauce was certainly being used, as there are lots of surviving early bottles with the name embossed on the side, but was it actually trademarked?

What on earth is going on?

Whatever it was, Mr Garton wasn’t to enjoy the fruits of his labours for long though, as he was deep in debt to a vinegar malting factory, and despite any appeals to delay repayment, the debt was called in in 1899.

He was forced to sell his trademarks and recipes, not just for HP Sauce, but a whole range of products he was making to Edward Eastward & Edwin Samson Moore Manufacturers based in Birmingham, where they owned the Midlands Vinegar Company.

The new owners launched the sauce in 1903 as Garton’s HP Sauce, with the now familiar Houses of Parliament logo on the bottle from the start. Note, they never said at the time the product was linked with the Houses of Parliament, just used the image and presumably let everyone draw their own, obvious, conclusion.

Derbyshire Courier – Tuesday 13 June 1905 Image © The British Library

Although the image had been in use for some years, the first advertisements that directly linked H.P. Sauce with the Houses of Parliament appeared in 1906.

Birmingham Mail – Saturday 02 June 1906 Image © The British Library

That was a rarity though, almost all adverts since then have avoided inferring a relationship between the political leadership and the condiment — focusing mainly on its flavour and versatility in the kitchen. In fact, I can’t see a reference in any adverts to Parliament until 1910, when one advert stated that it “is used on the dining tables of the House of Parliament”.

The Midlands Vinegar Company changed its name to HP Sauce Ltd in 1925, which the company said that the change reflected the popularity of its core product, and other HP branded items, such as HP Pickles, HP Yeast, and HP Custard.

It was also around this time that Garton’s HP Sauce became simply H.P. Sauce, and in recent years, the full stops have gone as well, leaving just plain HP Sauce.

Although the Houses of Parliament have appeared on the bottle ever since, the design has changed dramatically. In the earlier years, they showed the full building, with the Victoria Tower in the foreground, and Big Ben towards the rear. That fitted with how the building was generally shown at the time, where the larger Victoria Tower was considered more impressive than the mere clock tower at the far end of the building.

After WW2, probably thanks to the increased significance given in radio broadcasts to the bell, Big Ben became a much more significant emblem for the Houses of Parliament and these days, any image of Parliament needs to include Big Ben – which would have seemed very odd to the Victorians who built it.

The question that’s unanswered though, is did Frederick Garton really rename his sauce, possibly from The Banquet Sauce to H.P. Sauce after hearing it was being used in the Houses of Parliament? If the story is true, then it’s at least very odd to have used the term HP, instead of Parliamentary, or something more obviously recognisable to the layman.

The fact is, we are probably never going to know the exact truth of the matter. Whatever the origins of the name though, it’s very clear that the famous branding and square bottle shape owe their popularity to the Midland Vinegar Company.

*Yeah, yeah, I know, get over it.

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16 comments on “Is HP Sauce really named after the Houses of Parliament
  1. Jona26 says:

    “The origins of HP Sauce is said to go back to 1984”

    Wow – that recently? 🙂

  2. GT says:

    Like Worcester suace, it’s an amzing copper ( & brass ) cleaner ….

  3. Andrew says:

    Sorry, Basford not Baseford – New Basford doesn’t have that second “e”.

    The earliest HP trade mark I can find on the online register is number 335335, for pickles and sauces, previously in class 42 and now in classes 29 and 30, which was registered in 1911. Graphical marks with the familiar logo were registered in 1913 and 1914, under numbers 355505 and 361623.

    I’m not sure what the marks mentioned in the letter are, but there is an assignment of goodwill which mentions mark 99739 for “The Banquet Sauce”, which was registered in 1890. The same assignment mentions mark 195162: I can’t find that online, but perhaps there is a mistranscription or typo? I suspect some research might be required in the paper records.

  4. Eddie Cochrane says:

    I visited the HP Sauce factory in Aston back in the early 90s when HP Sauce was still produced there. I pointed out to me, the vinegar main that ran above the Aston Expressway carrying vinegar from the vinegar factory on one side to the sauce factory on the other.

  5. Tim says:

    They missed an advertising trick there didn’t they!
    They should have sponsored cladding for the clock tower scaffolding in the form of a giant HP bottle.
    But I guess MP’s & the Lords wouldn’t want to be associated with such tacky ideas?

  6. John F says:

    ‘HP’ does fit on the tall narrow bottle well, just like rival OK sauce, so may be the main reason for choice. Did anyone else learn their first bit of French from the HP sauce bottle while eating their dinner?

  7. Chris H says:

    As shown in the last picture, but not mentioned in the excellent text, the most recent change to the artwork is that the current bottle is available with scaffolding around the tower

  8. Andrew Emmerson says:

    Sauce making seems to be a risky business, leading to debt!

    From Wikipedia:
    The brown sauce product, known as Daddies Sauce, was launched in 1904, and the ketchup was launched in 1930. The brand is now owned by the H. J. Heinz Company, having been bought as part of the acquisition of HP Foods from previous owner Groupe Danone in 2005. Production of Daddies has now been moved to Poland.

    In 1899, Edwin Samson Moore, the owner of the Midland Vinegar Company in Aston Cross, Birmingham, made a visit to one of his customers who owed him a debt for vinegar. That man was Hammer Schofield, a Rossendale grocer who had a small sauce factory at the rear of his premises. The recently published book HP Sauce My Ancestors’ Legacy tells the story of how Moore on visiting Schofield saw a sauce brewing in the back copper. Schofield explained it was his new sauce called Daddies Sauce. Moore cancelled the debt and paid Schofield £150 (around £20,000 in today’s money) for the recipe of Daddies Sauce. [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daddies]

  9. Rosemary says:

    The place in Nottingham is spelled Basford not Baseford although it is indeed pronounced as Baseford.

  10. alan ashby says:

    There’s nothing new in brand advertising. Cutty Sark whisky has nothing to do with the Victorian clipper ship berthed in a dry dock at Greenwich.

  11. Kate Thompson says:

    Have you checked the Board of Trade records in the National Archives? You can’t at the moment of course!

  12. jeanie Maennling says:

    no one mentioned that if you spell Gartons backward it is snotrag. I could never get past that each time our family passed the HP.

  13. Chas says:

    Of course, the Private Eye parliamentary column was so named after Harold Wilson’s wife revealed he smothered his food with it.

  14. Nigel Britton says:

    As the author of HP Sauce My Ancestor’s Legacy and great,great grandson Of both Edward Eastwood and Edwin Samson Moore also the present owner of the Midland Vinegar Company Limited, you will find the true meaning of the acronym HP in my book. This is the history of The Midland Vinegar Company and HP Sauce. more information can be found..www.hpsaucemyancestorslegacy.co.uk Nigel Britton

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