Growing up in the sleepy Derbyshire town of Glossop, The League of Gentlemen, a black comedy series which aired from 1999 to 2002, was always on in the background.
Not only was the BBC show filmed in Glossop and nearby Hadfield, which stood in for the fictional Royston Vasey, but it brought tourism to the otherwise rather unremarkable commuter towns. The programme followed the bizarre yet parochial lives of a bunch of locals, including the owners of a cornershop, whose slogan, a "local shop for local people," seems especially pertinent in the wake of Brexit. In October, one of the show's creators Mark Gatiss announced that he hopes to make another series because "I think increasingly, talking about prescience, we have become a local country for local people."
Perhaps the biggest beneficiary of The League of Gentlemen tourism boom was Mettrick's, a butcher shop with branches in Hadfield and Glossop. The shop was used as the filming location for Hilary Briss and Son, Royston Valley's butchers. In the programme, butcher Briss sells "special stuff"—meat that is not only highly addictive but produced immorally and illegally.
At the height of The League of Gentlemen's popularity, Mettrick's began selling its own "special stuff" sausages to tourists. But in a strange case of fiction-reflecting-reality, the butchers did not reveal the ingredient that gave these novelty sausages their "special" edge.
Keen to get to the bottom of the Mettrick's mystery sausage, as well as the show's enduring impact on the two towns, I set off for what was once Royston Vasey.
"What's special about our produce is that it's local. We have our own abattoir and we source all our meat from the local farms," says John Mettrick with just a hint of irony, when I arrive at his Glossop butcher shop. "I suppose that was the whole point."
When I ask Mettrick about the special sausages, he tells me: "We don't market them as such anymore, because the demand has dwindled. But we did make them with a very special secret ingredient."
I tell him I once heard a rumour that it was beer.
"Yes, it was an ale from one of the local breweries," Mettrick admits.
Slightly disheartened at the ease at which I appear to have uncovered the special sausage secret, I nevertheless hop on a train to meet Mettrick's cousin Pamela, who runs the family's other butchers in Hadfield. She quickly obliges to pose with the meat cleaver used in the first episode of The League of Gentlemen, before we begin talking about the infamous bangers.
"Sausages are still one of our biggest sellers and John is always inventing new recipes, but it's not half as busy here as it used to be," she says.
Indeed, the town is eerily quiet. When I call into the cafe that was also used as a League of Gentlemen filming location, there's literally no one around. Waitress Nicola Cowley tells me she remembers Mettrick's' special sausages.
"They were slightly sweet, but had a bit of an edge to them that you knew was more than sausage," she says. "I got them a few times. They were just as popular with the locals as they were with the tourists."
When I head back into Glossop, I stop off for a drink at the Star Inn.
"There was nothing special about them. They were just normal Mettrick's sausages. I mean, they're good sausages, but it was just a marketing ploy," landlady Janette Hurditch tells me matter-of-factly.
When I ask the handful of customers in the pub, each drinking a respective solitary pint, what they thought about special stuff, every one pleads ignorance. I can't quite get my head around the fact that no one seems to remember the sausages, especially as it's pretty much all I recall from growing up here.
"I think it's because it's too close to home," Hurditch whispers. "They saw themselves in it and they didn't like what they saw."
Undeterred, I push on towards Howard Town Brewery, the place I'm told produced the Dark Peak beer that went into Mettrick's' special sausages. Speaking to brewer Simon Dove, I soon discover that it was a strong dark ale with a hint of liquorice and a warming rum kick. This seems to align with the description of the sausages I got in the cafe from Cowley.
But Dove looks a bit uncomfortable. I ask him why.
"Well," he says, "the Dark Peak didn't come out until 2007."
As it turns out, the brewery was established in 2005, which means none of the ales were in existence when the special sausages went on sale.
"We've been swindled," I tell my photographer Akash.
Getting back on the train, I think about what just happened. Having bought a pound of Mettrick's Old English sausages—which the butcher promised me are as close to the original special ones as he's currently selling—I instruct Akash to give them a try, being veggie myself.
"They were good," he tells me the next day.
"In what way?" I ask.
"Juicy and succulent," Akash says.
"But were they special?"
All photos by Akash Khadka.