Museum relishes restoration of iconic ‘Hendo's' sign

A familiar Sheffield landmark has found a new home on permanent display at Kelham Island Museum. The iconic ‘Henderson’s Relish’ sign, which once took pride of place on the Leavygreave Road factory wall, has been lovingly restored by the museum’s conservation team after being rediscovered and reclaimed by the Henderson’s team following its mysterious disappearance from their factory site in 2008.

The orange and black sign, originally produced in the 1960s, was donated to the museum in November 2016 and now resides in the industrial museum’s ‘Unexpected Industries’ gallery, which has recently been redisplayed as part of the trust’s ‘Sheffield 1916: Steel, Steam and Power’ Heritage Lottery funded project. The gallery is home to the non-industrial manufacturers important to Sheffield’s heritage such as Henderson’s Relish, Stones Bitter, Ward’s Classic Yorkshire Ale, Izal Products and Batchelor’s Fruits - now famous for soup and mushy peas.

The story of the sign’s disappearance from the factory wall almost a decade ago still remains a mystery. Patrick Byrne, General Manager of Henderson’s Relish recalls -

“The calm of Hendersons was rocked one morning in September 2008 when two security guards from across Upper Hanover Street knocked on our factory door. During the night they had seen some lads on the roof of the lean too structure to the right of the house, and when inspecting outside we realised half of the old sign on the side of the building was missing”.

“We thought it was most likely a prank as it was fresher’s week given the intruders description,” continues Liz Castleton, Office Manager who truly expected the sign to return.  

When the original sign did not reappear, an insurance claim enabled a new sign to be created by local sign writer Woollen Signs in April 2009. Very soon after the new sign appearing, the factory was visited by builders from across the road with the missing half of the old sign. They had been clearing the site of the newly completed Jessop West University building and had found it wedged against the hoardings that had acted as security for the site.

The sign was too damaged to be re-used but was kept with its other half and moved to the new Henderson’s factory off Sheffield Parkway. When Liz heard that Kelham Island Museum were collecting items from Sheffield’s industries, she decided to offer the sign in agreement that it could be restored to its former glory for the people of Sheffield to see.  

The original sign was painted onto two 1/2 inch thick plywood sheets, larger than the common sizes now available, each 9ft by 5ft making the total length of the sign 18ft. The sign had been damaged on its top and bottom edges and had faded to a pale pink as opposed to the deep orange of the famous brand.

The restoration process took place over a week, with the museum’s conservator, Darren Bown, himself a fan of the popular relish, experimenting with various processes such as rubbing the paint finish with renaissance wax and a light abrasive to remove the faded paint and reveal the brilliant orange underneath. Darren explains:

“When we first saw the sign I relished the opportunity to conserve a bit of Sheffield’s history. A decision was made by us not to address the damage to the edges of the sign as it helps tell the story of its passage here to us.”

The museum also welcomes another donation from the Henderson’s Relish team, a loan of one of their 100 year old bottles for display in the new ‘1916 House’, a replica ‘two up, two down’ terrace house, complete with a welcoming fireplace and its very own backyard, whose interactive and sensory displays take visitors back to the First World War era to consider what 'home' really means.

The '1916 House' opened on Sunday 25 September to mark the centenary of the Zeppelin raid bombing of Sheffield in which 24 people lost their lives. This new permanent exhibition is part of the project ‘Sheffield 1916 - Steel Steam and Power’ supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).

The Henderson’s Relish sign can be seen in the ‘Unexpected Industries’ gallery located at the bottom of the Transport Gallery during normal opening hours.

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