21 morris street, rear of watney street.

21 Morris Street, rear of 68 Watney Street, where goods were delivered to the shop.

In Victorian times Watney Street, Stepney, was one of the busiest markets in London. It was in a district which was populated by dock workers, boatmen, shipwrights and people who worked in the factories along the banks of the Thames.

In 1881, John James Sainsbury took over a shop at 68 Watney Street from his brother-in-law, Edward Staples. The shop sold cheese and salt bacon to the East End dockers and lightermen, who would stock up with bulk orders before setting off down the Thames with their cargoes.

Building up a thriving trade in a close community like Stepney was not just a matter of offering good quality at competitive prices. Customers were loyal to their local shops, and a newcomer like John James Sainsbury was treated like an outsider. The most successful local shopkeeper in Watney Street was Mike Drummond, a very popular and charitable Irishman. The many Irish immigrants who shopped in Watney Street were very loyal to him and Sainsbury's had to be careful not to upset customers by appearing too successful. John Benjamin Sainsbury later recalled:

To meet the competition my father induced one named Husk to go to the branch on Saturdays to talk to the passers-by and encourage them to try our butter, and as he had an amusing personality he was successful in bringing about many new patrons.

As time went on our trade increased and Mike was beginning to notice the volume of our daily supplies that were delivered by our [horse] van to the front of the branch, and so it became necessary to hide our progress as far as possible. We did this by buying a small private house which backed onto our premises and then delivered our goods to the rear of the shop.

This strategy was successful. In 1894, after Mike Drummond's retirement, John James Sainsbury bought his shop across the road at 67 Watney Street.


Back to Kentish Town. Copyright J Sainsbury plc, 2000. On to Islington.