For people who care about their food

The Story of Worcestershire Sauce

I’m currently reading The Raj At Table by David Burton (book review coming soon when I’ve finished it). It’s full of social history and interesting snippets. One of which is the story of Worcestershire sauce.

Despite its name, Worcester sauce was originally an Indian recipe, brought back to Britain by Lord Marcus Sandys, ex-Governor of Bengal. One day in 1835 he appeared in the prospering chemist’s emporium of John Lea and William Perrins in Broad Street, Worcester, and asked them to make up a batch of sauce from his recipe. This was done, but the resulting fiery mixture nearly blew the heads off Messrs Lea and Perrins, and a barrel they had made up for themselves was consigned to the cellars. Much later, in the midst of a spring clean, they came across the barrel and decided to taste it again before throwing it out. Wonder of wonders, the mixture had mellowed into a superlative sauce! The recipe was hastily bought from Lord Sandys and in 1838 Britain’s most famous commercial sauce was launched.

The Worcestershire sauce page on Wikipedia suggests that the above story was a ruse because “Lord” Sandys was in fact a lady, but it would breach decorum if a lady were to be associated with a commercially produced sauce. It’s a bit of a convoluted tale, but the page is worth a look for some of the other information it contains. Following a link from there, I found an excellent article on the subject by Greg Atkinson.

Although the recipe is still supposed to be a secret, it was reported in the British press a few months ago that the original had been found in a skip. The Telegraph has an interesting story about the secrecy surrounding the recipe.



The official site of Lea and Perrins is Splishme. It’s a really awful site with Flash everywhere and is practically unusable. However, if you have the patience to battle with the site, it does contain some interesting facts.

The Worcester City Museums website has an interesting page about sauces of the area, including Lea and Perrins Worcestershire sauce.

There’s also The Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce Cookbook. I must confess I haven’t tried it yet but it’s had favourable reviews and the recipes sound yummy.

PS: If you’re interested in snippets of food history like this, you might also enjoy a posting by Robin Lawrie on our British Expat site.

The Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce Cookbook

Buy from Amazon UK
Buy from

Paul Hartley
Hardback, 80 pages
2005, Absolute Press
ISBN 978-1904573296

7 Responses to “The Story of Worcestershire Sauce”

  1. dave

    I have been surprised lately at the amount of recipes this condiment is actually used in, today’s chefs seem to swear by it. I used to enjoy the stuff mostly on my welsh rarebit but recently have been introduced to the 300gram beefburger with nothing but L & Ps and salt and pepper, surprisingly delicious.

  2. Not Delia

    I have it in the kitchen, but I’d almost forgotten about its existence until I came across the story. Perhaps I ought to use it more often. I did try splashing a bit onto cheese and toast (not quite in the same league as Welsh rarebit) and that too was delicious.

  3. dave

    Nothing wrong with cheese on toast, my favourite is grated cheddar (Mature of course) with a crumble of stilton added to the melt, 2 rashers of grilled back bacon to accompany, heaven.

  4. Not Delia

    Sounds great! And how long does that take to make? 10 minutes or less, I’d imagine. A tasty meal in minutes. yeah!

    Stilton, cor, I fancy some. We can get French blue cheeses from our local Carrefour. I’m allergic to blue cheese, but that’s never stopped me eating it! (Gotta go easy on it, though.)

  5. dave

    I did try it with danish blue once but ther was no comparison, i thought it would blow my socks off but the only comparison was the smell. Go easy on it?, certainly yes, not for the faint hearted.

  6. Mike K-H

    The story about it fermenting in an abandoned barrel sounds a typical Victorian myth.

    I’ll bet that variations on the garum (fish entrails fermented in strong brine to inhibit other undesirable ways of breaking the mess down) theme were well known at the time, especially by a firm of apothecaries.

    I presume that the modern manufacturing process is synthetic industrial chemistry, but the original was probably fermented. A dry Indian seasoning may have been used to flavour it, I suppose.

  7. Not Delia

    I’m sure you’re right, Mike. Modern methods of processing food are often nothing like the natural old ways.

    I remember, as a child, churning butter on the farm. The buttermilk was a by-product of the process. You put cream in, and you got butter and buttermilk out. These days buttermilk is made by some kind of synthetic process. I can’t remember off the top of my head but will no doubt dig it out and write about it soon.

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