Hendersons began in the retail grocery business back in 1897 selling butter, cheese, and eggs at premises in the Old Lodge Road in Belfast. John Henderson was a well-known figure and frequently was a judge of cheese and butter at the annual Balmoral Show.
John ceased being a retailer by selling his products wholesale from premises at 46 Royal Avenue in Belfast. Some years later he moved to larger premises in St George’s Market in Belfast. St George’s was a traditional covered market with lock-up premises for all the wholesale dealers. In 1923 the business was incorporated as a limited company and the records show that sales were £99,000 in the first year of incorporation.
A few years earlier Mr William Adam Agnew inherited his father’s farm in Randalstown at the age of 19. Neither his brother nor sister, were interested in farming and he sold it after five years and worked in a variety of businesses in travel and public transport.
In 1929 William Agnew married Margaret the daughter of John and Maggie Henderson. In his late 70’s and with two daughters not interested in running the Henderson business, John decided to run down the business in preparation for retirement. This led to son-in-law William joining as a salesman in 1940 and taking a controlling interest when John Henderson retired in 1943. A few years later in 1947 John Henderson, founder of the company died at the age of 82.
William expanded the business and the range of products it sold. This was difficult as food was scarce during the war years and there was food rationing, so he started to bring in canned and packaged goods from countries as far away as Australia. This earned the company the catchphrase Henderson’s ‘Have it All’.
The business grew and required a further expansion of the premises at St Georges Market and a few years later Henderson’s took on an additional warehouse at Dawson Street, off the Antrim Road.
A key development however, was the acquisition of Andrew Millar & Company in 1956. They occupied a 50,000 sq ft warehouse at Ravenhill Avenue, Belfast.
Andrew Millar was a very old established jam manufacturing business formed in 1873, Millar jam had been a market leading product in the Province. Mass produced jam post war from the big companies meant that it was difficult to compete with the national companies and the jam production was ended after two or three years.
William Agnew had a son John and two daughters Margaret and Dorothy. John Agnew would join the firm in 1957 after he had been sent to South Wales as part of his management training from 1955 to 1957 at Capper & Co (Newport) Ltd.