Young Workers at Sainsbury's

wood green, 1929.
Wood Green, High Road in 1929: market trading had changed little since Victorian times.
In Victorian Britain, young people began full-time work when they left school, aged 11 or 12.

A worker's first job at Sainsbury's might have been on the egg counter. However selling eggs was not as simple as it sounds. Eggs came in boxes and a typical box would contain about 360 eggs. The first task was to make sure the eggs were fresh and not cracked or bad, by holding each egg in front of a candle to see inside. This was called 'candling.'

The box would be carried from the downstairs store room up to the shop and placed on display on the wooden stall outside in baskets with hay or straw bedding. Howard Bell, who worked at the Colchester branch, recalled:

I had to carry one of these boxes up the stairs, and unfortunately my apron was too long and I tripped going up. Eggs went everywhere - mostly on me! My manager was none too pleased, and I had to pay for some of the breakages.

Selling eggs also tested a boy's honesty: one boy was sacked for cracking three hundred eggs and selling them off cheaply to his friends.

Working outside on the egg stall could be pleasurable on a warm morning, especially in a busy market street, very much like the market street in 'Eastenders'. The traders' rivalry in 'barking' the price and quality of their wares added spice to the work. David Barnett who worked at Wood Green branch in London was a quiet, shy boy. Whenever his voice dropped, the manager would cry from the back of the store, 'I can't hear you Barnett!'
Eggs outside 159 Queen's Crescent, Kentish Town, c1900.
In cold weather however, the job could be miserable. Despite the concession of mid-morning cocoa, being allowed to wear a coat under your tunic and taking turns with the other lads, all these failed to keep out the cold and chilblains were common. Mr S D Dyer, who worked as an egg boy, recalled that one winter it was so cold that the eggs froze in their shells!
Another resource is available on eggs.

Copyright J Sainsbury plc, 2000.