This London couple established a grocery chain which grew into, what is now, the UK’s third largest supermarket.
John James Sainsbury (1844-1928) and Mary Ann Staples (1849-1927) met when they were both working at Stutton Ground, which is near Victoria Station in London. Mary Ann was working in a dairy at number 32 while John James was working at number 57.
The pair married in 1869 and opened their first shop, at 173 Drury Lane, Holborn, the same year. It was a dairy selling milk, butter and eggs. For the first few weeks Mary Ann was in charge while John worked out his notice at another shop. She insisted on very high standards of cleanliness and was particularly proud of the butter they sold. In 1873 they opened a second shop in Kentish Town.
John James was an astute businessman. He expanded the business steadily, taking on existing shops, a number of which had been previously run by members of Mary Ann’s family. In 1882 the Sainsburys opened a branch in Croydon, their first outside central London. This shop had a rather more up market clientele and allowed them to extend the range of goods their shops sold.
As the business prospered and their family grew Mary Ann did less work in the shops. In late 1880s the now wealthy Sainsbury family moved to fashionable Highgate. All of their six sons worked in the family firm while, in keeping with the times and the family’s new status, none of their five daughters did.
For more information go to the Sainsbury Archive held by the Museum of London.