Drury Lane

173 drury lane, c1919.
173 Drury Lane, c1919.
Drury Lane was an old street where there was plenty of custom, both from working people who lived locally, and richer people who came to see plays at the local theatres. It was described by a journalist of the time as:

an honest, hard working and thrifty thoroughfare... but between the churches of St Giles-in-the-Fields and St Clement Dane's an amazing amount of beggary, destitution, profligacy, vice and downright villainy hides its many-headed misery.

173 Drury Lane had five floors which included the shop, an attic and a basement, where the food for the shop was stored. The Sainsbury family's living conditions must have been cramped, as they shared the premises with three other families.

london cowkeeper.
19th century London cowkeeper.
John James and Mary Ann Sainsbury aimed to have 'the best butter in London'. The provision merchant's trade was steadily becoming an important line of business in London. The gradually rising standard of living meant that there was an increasing demand for food. Milk, eggs and butter were all gaining in popularity. The increase of tea drinking promoted the demand for milk.

At number 153 Drury Lane there was a cowkeeper. As this image shows this style of milk production was very unhygienic, as the cows were kept on the premises. Often dung would be thrown into the street when the animals' stalls were cleaned. The Sainsburys by contrast, relied on a better and more modern method of production. They sold 'Railway Milk' which was supplied directly to London daily from the farms of Devon, Dorset and East Anglia by specialist milk trains.

Kelly's <I>Post Office Directory of London<I 1870.
Kelly's Post Office Directory of London 1870.
When Mary Ann and John James moved into Drury Lane in 1869 there were a couple of hundred shops in the lane and a quarter of them were in the retail food trade. The cutting here shows only a small detail of the Kelly's Post Office Directory of London, 1870. To see more of it please select from the files below. If you would like to see a map of Drury Lane in 1873 then please go to the Map Room.

The Sainsburys' style of trading proved popular with customers and in 1873 they were able to open a second shop at 159 Queen's Crescent, Kentish Town.


model of drury lane.
Model of 173 Drury Lane exterior.
Inside Drury Lane - a model.
Inside a model of 173 Drury Lane.
Back to the Victorian page. Copyright J Sainsbury plc, 2000. On to Queen's Crescent, Kentish Town.