Sainsbury's was founded in 1869 by John James Sainsbury and his wife Mary Ann Sainsbury in London. Their first shop was in Drury Lane, and ‘The Best Butter in the World: A History of Sainsbury's', recounts that when John James Sainsbury ‘had finished his work ……… he went over to Drury Lane and scrubbed the counters and cleaned the scales and weights…'.
Our first dealings with Sainsbury's are recorded on this Sales Ledger page, when Sainsbury's took over a grocers shop previously run by Brown & Co.
In the 1900s Sainsbury began to buy our Lion Quick Action scales, and these can be seen in many of the photographs of shop interiors of the time, such as Guildford (1906) and Wealdstone (1919). As their history records, ‘John James (Sainsbury) was determined to establish the highest standards of quality control. This had been a central tenet of his trading policy from the earliest days' … ‘Cheating on weights was extremely common, with some retailers even having two sets of weights – one false and one fair – so that the latter could be offered to the inspector of weights and measures should the need arise.' …. ‘Sainsbury's scales were specially made by Herbert & Sons of Smithfield. Herbert's scales were advertised as having ‘a quick movement and a long drop' so the customer could see that she was getting a fair weight. They were also accurate to 1/32 of an ounce. Sainsbury's staff could be sacked on the spot for giving short weight.'
During WWI, with so many men away on active service, staff shortages were a major problem. The Daily Mail of 8th September 1914 reported ‘A large firm of wholesale provision merchants, Messrs. Sainsbury, advertised for 200 single women to replace a portion of the 500 of the firm's employees who have joined the colours.' This Pathé newsreel of 1915 also demonstrates the news value of female recruitment, showing women working on the cheese and butchery counters with our scales.
During WWII our scales were used in Sainsbury's emergency shops, two vans converted to serve customers when bombing incidents had made it impossible to trade normally. The East Grinstead branch was totally destroyed during the Blitz, and the business was transferred to a disused Wesleyan church where it remained until 1951. This ‘shop in a church', complete with Lion Quick Action Scales, even appeared in tourist brochures aimed at visitors from the USA.
Sainsbury's celebrated their 125th anniversary in 1994, and marked the occasion with the publication of ‘The Best Butter in the World: A History of Sainsbury's'. David Sainsbury is pictured at the book launch knocking up butter and weighing it on our scales.
Sainsbury's continue as customers to this day, and one of our checkout scales at their branch at Heyford Hill, Oxford is pictured on the right.
Our thanks to Bridget Williams author of ‘The Best Butter in the World' and the Sainsbury Archive at The Museum of London from whom much of the above is taken.
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