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The webmaster, Pat Cryer, as a young child

Sainsburys in the 1940s
and into the 1950s

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There were several grocers in Edg­ware when I was a child there in the 1940s. All were branches of chain stores, which is notable because chain stores had not yet come in for other types of shops. Some such shops may have had more than one branch, but not enough to be called chain stores. Sainsburys was one of the few grocery chain stores that still exist as I write.

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Why Sainsburys was so popular

My mother used Sainsburys more than any of the other grocers because she felt that the food was fresh, and she was registered there for our food rations. The place certainly looked fresh and clean.

outside of old Sainsburys shop

Life-size reconstruction of outside an old Sainsburys shop, photographed in Beaulieu Motor Museum. Without the ropes it would look just like the Sainsburys that I remember.

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Inside Sainsburys

The following photo gives a good idea of the layout and decor of Sainsburys in the 1940s and 50s as I remember them. The photo was actually taken in another town in 1906, so all Sainsburys were probably in the same style. In the 1940s and 50s, though, shortages and rationing were severe. Consequently a significant difference between the photo and my recollections of the 1940s and 50s is the amount and quality of the food on display. Another difference is that the photo shows gas lights hanging from the ceiling. In the Sainsburys of pre-war suburbia, built in the late 1930s, the lights were electric.

Inside Sainsburys shops, early-mid 20th century"

Although this photo was taken in the Guildford Sainsburys in 1906, it could easily have been the Sainsburys that I remember from the 1940s and 50s. Presumably all Sainsburys had this internal style and layout.

The only difference of between this photo and one that could have been taken in the 1940s and 50s would be the paucity of the food on sale. The shortages and austerity in and after the Second World War were considerable.

To me, as a child, walking into Sainsburys was like walking into a wonderland. It was a large shop, much deeper than it was wide, and every surface that could possibly be tiled, was tiled. The tiles were coloured mosaics with different patterns and inscriptions for the floors and walls; the counters were white marble; and the assistants all wore white. The whole impression was of lightness and cleanliness.

There was a single till with a cashier at the end of the shop inside a dark wooden carved cubicle and there were chairs beside the counters for the use of customers. Above the cashier's cubicle was the shop clock which was helpful for customers, very few of whom had watches.

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What it was like to shop at Sainsburys

Different counters served different foods and each counter had its own queue. Queuing was a way of life that was accepted, even though grumbled about.

Although some goods were ready-packaged, so that the shop assistant at any one counter just had to reach for them, much of the fresh food was weighed out and packaged separately for each customer - which took a long time! During rationing, the pre-packaged goods were labelled National or Ministry of Food.

Customers paid at a single till at the far end of the shop, which meant that the assistants handling food never handled money - which was reasonable as so little was pre-wrapped.

Serving and packaging butter

Wooden butter pats as used grocers by British grocers in the mid 20th century to pat butter into the required size and shape for sale

Wooden butter pats or paddles. Model in the Museum of Nottingham Life showing how grocers used them to pat butter into the required size and shape for sale.

Publicity logos on the butter

Our equivalent of Sainsbury's was David Greig whose company logo was a Scottish thistle. Each butter paddle was beautifully carved with a Scottish thistle in reverse so that the block of butter had the David Greig thistle logo embossed on it.

Jan Clifford

Butter was freshly patted out for each customer from a large block according to the amount they wanted. Then the freshly patted out block was placed on a sheet of greaseproof paper on a scale. If necessary, knobs of butter were added or taken off to achieve the requisite weight.

The wooden pats (also known as paddles) were dipped into a container water between uses to prevent sticking.

There was only one type of butter during rationing and it was labelled National Butter.

Serving and packaging tea

Tea was loose in a big tea chest and was weighed out into a paper bag for each customer. During rationing it was one type, no choice.

Old style cheese wire for cutting portions of hard cheese, as used and as on counter display in grocers shops in the middle years of the 20th century

Grocer's cheese wire for cutting cheese. Photographed in Fagans Museum of Welsh Life.

Serving and packaging cheese

Cheese was in a large round lump and was cut with a wire. As far as I am aware, only Cheddar was available.

It was cut to size or weight with a cheese wire.

Serving and packaging sugar

Sugar was weighed out into a paper bag labelled National Sugar.

Serving and packaging bacon

Bacon slicers were on the counter to cut to order whatever thickness of bacon a customer wanted.

The cut bacon was wrapped in greaseproof paper and put into a paper bag.

Old style bacon slicer, as used and as on counter display in grocers shops in the middle years of the 20th century

Old bacon slicer, photographed in the Museum of Nottingham Life

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This website Join me in the 1900s is a contribution to the social history of everyday life in 20th century Britain from the early 1900s to about 1960, seen through personal recollections and illustrations, with the emphasis on what it was like to live in those times.