Select Sainsbury Miscellany



Here are some Sainsbury stories and accounts over the years:

Sainsbury Name Origin


The Sainsbury surname is locational in origin, deriving from the village of Saintbury in Gloucestershire.  This name was recorded in the 12th century as Seynesbury and it meant Saewine's fort.  Saewine was an old English personal name derived from sae meaning "sea," and wine "friend," to which was added burh, "fort" or "town."


Robert Sainsbury from Market Lavington

The village of Market Lavington in Wiltshire was noteworthy as being a place where some of the earliest clockmakers in SW England originated.  John Snow the lantern clock maker worked in Market Lavington from at least the 1620's and died there in 1658.

Another clockmaker from Market Lavington was Robert Sainsbury, the son of Robert Sainsbury a yeoman farmer.  No clocks are known by Robert Sainsbury, although he is thought to have made clocks as well as guns.  He was made a free Burgess of Bristol in 1682.   


Thomas Sainsbury from Market Lavington

Thomas Sainsbury was born in Market Lavington in 1730, the son of Samuel and Elizabeth Sainsbury.  He was recorded as a master Bowyer (maker of bows) in London and a "grocer of Ludgate Hill;" and he served as alderman for Bishopsgate from 1778 to 1795 and as Lord Mayor of London in 1786. 

Sainsbury died in 1795.  He was commemmorated by the following lines that can be found on a plaque in St. Mary's church, Market Lavington:

"To this shrine traveller attentive turn
And pause awhile o'er Sainsbury's hallowed urn.
Of him who's now an inmate of the skies
Beneath this tomb all that now mortal lies
In honour firm and faithful to his trust
In ev'ry station moral wise and just
A magistrate, observant of the laws
A Briton, ardent in his country's cause
A tender husband, father, brother, friend
Esteem'd through life, lamented in his end
Such Sainsbury was, now 'midst angelic lays
He wants no tribute of vain mortal praise
Yet from oblivion such rare worth to claim
This honest marble here records his name
Here shall his relatives their visits pay
And with their tears embalm his honour'd clay
And his example shall instruct our youth
To walk the paths of virtue and of truth."

Above the text is a life-sized sculpture in white marble of a draped female weeping over an urn.


Early Sainsburys of the Supermarket Chain and Elsewhere

The Sainsbury line seems to start with a John Sainsbury, believed to be Jewish and born sometime in the 1780's.  He had two sons, John (born around 1810) and William (born around 1825).  These two lines would appear to have lost contact with each other.

John was an ornament and picture frame maker in south London.  His income would appear to have been neither sizeable nor stable -  as he moved his family around from rented room to rented room in the area by the Thames wharves and Waterloo station.  He and his wife Elizabeth had four children, three daughters and the youngest, a son born in 1844, John James.  It was John James who opened his firsf small dairy shop in Drury Lane in 1869 and went on to found the supermarket chain of Sainsbury's.

The other son William, a tailor, married Mary Ann McCrery in St. Pancras, London in 1854.  They had three children, Mary Ann, William, and Elizabeth.  However, both parents died young, William in 1868 and Mary Ann in 1876.  The youngest child Elizabeth ended up as an orphan in a Catholic home in Essex and was then parked with the Children's Rescue Mission who shipped her out to Canada as a maid.

There was another Sainsbury in London who was possibly related.  His name was Albert Victor Sainsbury and he was born in the Shoreditch area of London in 1865.  He was a passenger on the Titanic who died on its fateful voyage in 1912.



The Sainsbury Family


John James Sainsbury, the founder of Sainsbury's (1844-1928), married Mary Ann Staples (1849-1927)       in St. Pancras, London in 1868.  They had six sons and five daughters, their sons being:
- John Benjamin (1871-1956)
- George (1872-1964)
- Frank (1877-1955)
- Arthur (1880-1962)
- Alfred (1884-1965)
- Paul (1890-1965)

John Benjamin Sainsbury, the successor known as "Mr. John" (1871-1956), married Mabel Van den Bergh,   an heiress from a Dutch Jewish family whose fortune was in margarine.  They had two sons:
- Alan John (1902-1998)
- Robert (1907-2000)

Alan John Sainsbury, the next successor (1902-1998), married twice,                                             having three sons from his first marriage:
- John Davan (born in 1927), known as "Mr. JD," who headed Sainsbury's from 1969 to 1992
- Simon (1930-2006), who was an art collector and philanthropist
- Timothy (born in 1932), who was an MP and pursued a career in politics

Robert Sainsbury, who also headed Sainsbury's (1907-2000),                                                            had three daughters and a son with his wife Lisa:
- David (born 1940), who headed Sainsbury's from 1992 to 1998
  was the last member of the family to be the Sainsbury's chairman

It was said of the later Sainsburys: "Having inherited both Victorian and Jewish traditions of philanthropy, they also set the tone of the family's prevailing left-liberal social conscience."


JD and David Sainsbury

John Davan Sainsbury, who became Chairman in 1969 on his uncle's retirement, had a forceful, autocratic style of leadership  During his twenty three years at the helm, "Mr. JD" put together a management team full of yes men who were used to taking orders. 

He was said to taste each brand product himself to make sure that he was satisfied with the quality control; and he personally approved each own-brand product packaging design himself before their official launch.  He would also turn up unannounced at stores by helicopter or in his Bentley to patrol the aisles and to shout loudly if something was not right.

In 1992, when he retired, he was succeeded as chairman and chief executive by his cousin, David Sainsbury.  This brought about a change in management style.  David was more consensual and less hierarchical.  He would commute to work on the Underground, as opposed to being chauffeur-driven in a Bentley.  However, Tesco overtook Sainsbury's during his time as leader to become the UK's largest supermarket chain.  David stepped down as chairman in 1998 to pursue a career in politics 




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