Leadenhall Market is a sumptuous architectural surprise at the very heart and centre of the City of London.
It’s built over parts of the forum and basilica of Roman Londinium, from which in 1803 a mosaic was excavated on the premises of the East India Company. This artefact was not well treated and clumsily restored, but eventually found its way to the British Museum in 1880.
In the early Middle Ages a market for poultry, cheese and butter grew around Gracechurch Street as an overflow from the main market at Cheapside, and in 1411 Richard Whittington (c1354-1423), famed in his day as a wealthy philanthropist and latterly as a figure in folk-tales and pantomimes, gave the lead-roofed Leaden Hall to the City of London, which still owns the site.
It remained a popular food market for centuries, and in the fifteenth century dealt in wool and leather. In the early seventeenth century Leadenhall Market had a local monopoly for the sale of cutlery.
The market buildings were damaged in the Great Fire of 1666, yet the irregular medieval street layout was undisturbed when in 1880-81 the City authorities decided to clear away the scruffy and smelly meat and hide market in favour of a “respectable arcade” for a poultry market.
This was designed by the City Architect, Sir Horace Jones (1819-1887), who had already designed Billingsgate (1874-78) and Smithfield (1866-83) markets. His final and most famous commission, which he did not live to see complete, was the architectural treatment of Tower Bridge, designed in 1884 and completed in 1894.
His model for Leadenhall Market was the impressive and technically advanced Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II (1877) in Milan, designed by Giuseppe Mengoni (1829-1877).
Like his Italian counterpart Sir Horace Jones made full use of iron and glass in an eclectic design which Sir Nikolaus Pevsner applauded: “…as gloriously commercial as a circus poster”. The building bristles with silver dragons which recall the supporters of the City coat of arms. Its richly coloured interiors were vigorously restored in 1990-91, and it’s a welcome bravura contrast to the sober architecture of much of the City.
After centuries of commercial enterprise it now also has cultural fame as the location, in the film Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2000-01), of Diagon Alley and the Leaky Cauldron pub.
The magnificently named Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II (in blunt English, King Victor Emmanuel II’s Shopping Centre) is an architectural jewel.
Stretching from the square, Piazza del Duomo, in front of Milan’s magnificent cathedral to the home of the legendary La Scala theatre, Piazza della Scala, the Galleria is colloquially known as “Milan’s drawing room” (il Salotto di Milano), one of the great formal spaces which distinguish the city.
Its architect, Giuseppe Mengoni (1829-1877), after twelve years’ work on the gallery’s construction, fell to his death during a final inspection two days before the royal opening by the king whose name it bears.
Mengoni combined splendid décor with engineering virtuosity to provide two barrel-vaulted, top-lit, galleried passages intersecting at an octagon surmounted by an iron-and-glass dome 123 feet in diameter and 56 feet high.
It was by no means the first such covered shopping arcade in a major city. The genre dates back to the Parisian Passage des Panoramas (1800), London’s Burlington Arcade (1818) and the Royal Saint-Hubert Galleries in Brussels (1847), but the Milan Galleria – larger than any of its predecessors – presented an unprecedented spectacle for shoppers.
It inspired a succession of splendid malls such as the Galleria Umberto I in Naples (Emanuele Rocco, 1890) and two of Britain’s finest arcades, the Leadenhall Arcade (Sir Horace Jones, 1881) in the City of London and County Arcade, Leeds (Frank Matcham, 1898-1904).
The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is, inevitably, the sort of shopping opportunity where if you need to ask the price you can’t afford the goods.
It’s the prime Milanese location for Giorgio Armani, Gucci, Prada, Swarovski and Louis Vuitton – brands that can position two pairs of shoes in a sumptuously decorated window and wait for the customers to stroll in. Most visitors, of course, look at the windows and stroll on.
McDonalds maintained a discreet presence here for twenty years, but were let go when the lease came up for renewal. They were compensated by premises nearby.
The mosaic floor under the octagon is embellished with the arms of Milan and the three major cities of the Kingdom of Italy – Rome, Florence and Turin – which was united in 1861, the year Mengoni produced the Galleria’s original design.
The arms of the city of Turin illustrate an unmistakably masculine bull, and the Milanese custom is to place your heel on the testicles of the animal and spin 360° for luck. Indeed, if you do this on the stroke of midnight on December 31st you can expect good fortune for the whole year.
The result is that the poor bull’s genitals became entirely obliterated.
I didn’t see this performance when I visited, though I did see an extremely large gentleman sitting, like Buddha, in the middle of one of the coats of arms, while his loved ones took his photo on their phones.
Mark Dawson’s talk ‘A Saucy Tale: the history of Henderson’s Relish’ is a detailed account of one of Sheffield’s proudest cultural icons, created by a food historian with access to the archive of a traditionally reticent family business.
His presentation is exemplary: the PowerPoint presentation is immaculate; the content – replicated in his book of the same title – is comprehensive and entertaining, and though he talks at 100mph you can hear every single word.
Relish, a piquant condiment to meals as well as an ingredient in gravies and sauces, is derived from catchup – later ketchup – which from the late-seventeenth century was made laboriously and expensively by hand until after about a hundred years it was mass-produced to sell to middle- and then working-class markets.
The two most prominent brands were Lea & Perrins’ Worcestershire Sauce and Goodhall, Backhouse & Co’s Yorkshire Relish, both introduced coincidentally in 1837.
Henry Henderson (1850-1930) was born in Lincolnshire and apprenticed as a miller until he realised that the impact of roller mills in the late-nineteenth century threatened him, as Mark relates, with grinding poverty.
He started a grocery business when he married and moved to Sheffield in 1874 and, like many of his competitors in the north of England, he began to make and sell his own version of Yorkshire relish from his shop on Green Lane, Neepsend.
In 1885, to avoid litigation, he adopted the brand ‘Henderson’s Relish’ for his unique blend of exotic spices – tamarind, cloves, cayenne pepper and garlic – in a vinegar base. Modern food-labelling regulations make the claim of a secret ingredient ambiguous, but there’s no question that Henderson’s, unlike Lea & Perrins’, does not contain anchovies.
The Hendersons company is a remarkable survivor. It has always been maintained and sold on as a family business, and it’s never left Sheffield.
Henry Henderson sold up in 1910, enjoyed a twenty-year retirement and left an estate worth, in current values, three-quarters of a million pounds.
The company passed to George Shaw, a Huddersfield jam and pickle manufacturer, who moved Hendersons to Leavygreave and meticulously kept the Sheffield and Huddersfield businesses separate, which reinforced the strong connection between the relish and the city.
In 1940 Shaw’s manager, Charles Hinksman, bought the Sheffield business, formed Hendersons Relish Ltd and enjoyed a boom period after the war. Mark Dawson calculates that in the early 1950s the factory was producing enough relish for every Sheffield inhabitant to consume half a pint a year.
When Charles died in 1953 his widow Gladys appointed her brother Neville Freeman to the board, and he ran the business with the characteristic pride and obstinacy of Sheffield business traditions.
“We don’t reckon to be up to date”, he told a news reporter, and admitted that he personally never used the relish.
This was the period when Henderson’s Relish became a Sheffield institution. It wasn’t sold outside a 25-mile radius of the factory. “If you mention Henderson’s Relish in Rotherham, they don’t know what you’re talking about,” Neville boasted. The Sheffield actor Sean Bean bought two gallons of relish on the basis of a false rumour that company was going bust. Other Sheffield illuminati ranging from the nightclub entrepreneur Peter Stringfellow to Matt Helders of the Arctic Monkeys and the musician Richard Hawley have eulogised a condiment that used to be practically unknown south of Dronfield.
Mark Dawson characterises Sheffield as “a one-sauce town”.
When Neville died in 1985 his widow Connie brought in her nephew Dr Kenneth Freeman, who reconciled the company to a retail market dominated by major supermarket chains, and faced down the threat of losing the Leavygreave site to university development by opening a brand-new factory on Sheffield Parkway.
The Lewisham MP Jim Dowd caused uproar in 2014 by claiming in the House of Commons that Henderson’s orange label was copied from Lea & Perrins. He had the grace to apologise and to put in a stint in the packing department when he visited the factory.
Nowadays, it’s cool to use Henderson’s Relish. The orange labels have occasionally been rested to celebrate the local football teams and Jessica Ennis’s 2012 Olympic gold medal. The bottle features in the Park Hill musical Standing at the Sky’s Edge.
I’m intrigued that Henderson’s Relish stayed so close to home for so long. Sheffield is different to the rest of the old West Riding. When I was interviewed for a job in Ecclesfield in 1973, I was firmly told that “Hartley Brook [the old city boundary] is as wide as the English Channel”.
My distinguished interviewer added, “They’re very conservative round here. They still return Liberal candidates.”
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