A Typical Day's Work

The hours of trading in market streets were long. The shopkeeper lived on the premises, so there was someone available to serve at almost any hour of the day or night.

William Goodwin, who worked at 159 Queen's Crescent, Kentish Town, recalled:
getting up early and waiting behind the shop door with trestles and boards for the police to blow a whistle at 6am as the signal for business to commence. There would be a great rush to set up the stalls.

Saturday was the busiest time of all. Most people were paid on Saturday night after their long week's work and wanted to do their shopping as soon as they received their wages. This meant that shops stayed open into early hours of Sunday morning, with shopworkers often working longer hours than other working people.

The typical hours of work were :
  Start am Finish pm
Monday 6 to 7.30 2
Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday 6 to 7.30 9.15
Friday 6 to 7.30 10.15
Saturday 6 to 7.30 midnight
Sunday 9 11
For these long hours a junior member of staff, aged about 12, would receive about eight to ten shillings (40 or 50 pence) a week and his board and lodging. In today's money 50p would be worth about £25.

A manager would be paid about 30 shillings a week (£1.50) plus board and lodging. £1.50 would be roughly £75 today.

With streets lit by flickering gaslight, people would enter the shops still drinking from the tankards that they carried from the pubs. H F Jones recalled:
we used to clear up the tankards and take them back after we'd closed.

Although the shutters were pulled down before midnight to protect their stock, trading continued as long as there were customers to serve. As the last customer left, the shop would be scrubbed down from top to bottom ready for Monday morning. This was particularly hard work but was very important. All the counters and floors had to be done, and staff could not finish until the work was completed.

NB: Recollections of working life at Sainsbury's are available in the Audio Library.

Copyright J Sainsbury plc, 2000.