Victorian Sainsbury's

chapel street, islington, c1895
Chapel Street, Islington, c1895

Victorian London was the world's largest city with 3.2 million inhabitants in 1861. Each year there were more people to feed and so there were plenty of opportunities for new food retailers. The traditional shopkeeper was a family run business, where the parents and even the children helped out. The traditional style of trading was through street markets, and these were crowded, busy places.

Henry Mayhew, a reporter of the time, wrote about the conditions of the 'New Cut' in Lambeth in the early 1850s:

The pavement and the road are crowded with purchasers and street-sellers. The housewife in her thick shawl, with the market-basket on her arm walks slowly on, stopping now to look at the stall of caps, and now to cheapen a bunch of greens. Little boys, holding three or four onions in their hands, creep between people asking for custom. Then the tumult of the thousand different cries of the eager dealers, all shouting at the top of their voices, is almost bewildering. "Twopence a pound grapes," roar some. "Chestnuts all 'ot, a penny a score," bawls another. "Buy, buy, buy bu-u-uuy!" cries the butcher. "Penny a lot, fine russets,"calls the apple woman: and so the Babel goes on.

It was within a location like this that Mary Ann and John James Sainsbury opened their shop in Drury Lane.

    Copyright J Sainsbury plc, 2000. On to Drury Lane.