Skip navigation Skip hierarchy
Sainsbury Archive Logo
Video and audio recordings (unedited) of interviews of former Sainsbury's staff. The interviews appear to have been recorded for the 'Quality perfect, Prices lower' video about Sainsbury's history. Interviewed by Bridget Williams (Sainsbury's Archives). Recorded at the Royal Lancaster Hotel during the Sainsbury's Veterans Group Annual Reunion. Transcripts of the interviews are also included.

Interviewees:
Laurie Holmes - Sainsbury's employee from 1921 at various branches initially on the counter, later becoming manager at East Grinstead.
Edward 'Ted' Smith - Sainsbury's employee initially at Folkestone store, later became assistant manager.
Les Hessey - Sainsbury's employee, a branch manager.
Marjorie Farrell (or Maureen Farrell?) - Sainsbury's employee at head office from 1933, became secretary to R.J. Sainsbury in 1939.

Summary of content:
1. Laurie Holmes (audio file 134_A, video files 1998.0457 and 1998.0458): Wanted to be an engineer but in 1920 high unemployment. Saw advertisement for Sainsbury's in newspaper. Describes attending interview at 13-15 Stamford Street. Attended Stamford House school. Started in January 1921. Had heard of Sainsbury's. Training included lecture on hygiene, how to weigh butter; eviscerating poultry. Cheese preparation. Bacon slicing. 25 shillings week pay. Started at Cricklewood Broadway shop. Lived in with 4 or 5 other boys. 15 shillings deducted for board and lodging. Thursday early closing day. Housekeeper in hostel from Yorkshire. Pictures on the wall of Kipling's If; an English proverb. First job as third butterman. Aspired to work in departments such as cheese. Small warehouse with no refrigeration. Ice box and ice man. Summer 1921 very hot. Moved to Gloucester Road, Kensington: bigger store, different people. Opening of new Bedford branch – was there for 18 months. Worked on cooked meat counter. Transfer back to London to Finchley store. Mr Alan Sainsbury working behind the counter. Story of being on the High Barnet cooked meat counter when Mr John James Sainsbury's visited the shop and receiving a subsequent pay rise. Worked on bacon counter in the new High Street, Ealing branch. Skills of counter hand. Promoted to First Bacon Hand after 3 months. Easter egg colouring and window display. Relief working in Wembley, Worthing and Weybridge. 1932 relieving managers on their annual leave. First management position East Grinstead. 1939 conscription of male staff. Experience of Second World War. Duties during 1939-1945 deal with rationing, firewatching, Home Guard. Would have preferred to have been called up.

Laurie Holmes, part 2 (video file 1998.0458): Egg-boy at Cricklewood. Egg selling. 1945 working in East Grinstead. Closed early at East Grinstead on VE Day and took all staff out to celebrate at the pub.

Edward 'Ted' Smith (audio file 134_B, video file 1998.0458 at 9’24”): Worked for The International [Stores] for 4 years. Saw Sainsbury's advertisement for staff. Attended interview at Blackfriars with four International colleagues. Instructed at Blackfriars training school. Experience made him an instructor. Appointed to Folkestone branch. Worked in different departments. Joined up [into the armed forces] in September 1937. Returned to Folkestone 1945. Later promoted to Assistant Manager. (Break in recording). First job in branch was bacon department. Skills bone and roll, slice. Better money at Sainsbury’s than the International - International 27/6 a week, Sainsbury £2.10 a week. Working day: Started at 5.45am wrapping fresh meat, breakfast, prepare counter. Shop closed 17.30, cleaned counters, poultry preparation. 21.45 supper 2 mins. 12.45am finished. Trade with hotels. Wholesale grocery post 1945. (Interview is not summarised in as much detail after this point). Customer service. Changes in the post Second World War period including product ranges. Training of staff.

Les Hessey, part 1 (audio file 134_B 21'30", video 1998.0455): First Management position George Street Croydon. Opened for 5 years before Les took over for 15 months. Promoted to Lewisham. 7.5 years. Opened Langley in Eastbourne. Opened Bexhill, Hastings. School and education disrupted by war effort. Left school age 14. Father policeman. Sainsbury's advertising for boy at Blackfriars [Sainsbury's former head office complex]. Interview. Difficulty writing. 107 young boys started at the same time. 14 boys in hostel at Croydon. Window displays. Story about frozen chickens being stolen from Peckham Rye window. Explains how to pat butter. Explanation of boning bacon. Security. Deputy Manager of Purley branch. Introduced diagrams for dressing shelves. Expansion of product lines caused display problems in small stores. Small deliveries too time consuming. Croydon office trade. Introduced packers at tills. Introduction of Chief Cashier. Managing rivalry between cashiers. Practical skills important for career progression. Introduction of computers. Operation of tills. Plessey machines. Time saved with Plessey machine. Introduction of frozen fish products displayed. Comparison between Lewisham and Bexhill stores.

Les Hessey, part 2 (video 1998.0454): Function at Empress Hall, London raffled a Ford car. Sainsbury's characteristics tall, short hair and smart shoes and practical ability.

Marjorie Farrell (video file 1998.0454 2'44"): Started in 1933 at Stamford House [Sainsbury's main head office building]. Left when married in 1939 as Sainsbury's didn't employ married women. Returned to Stamford House when war broke out as secretary to Mr R.J. Sainsbury. Offices evacuated. Husband at Blackfriars [Sainsbury's head office complex]. When air raids started would go down to the basement. Offices built in lower ground floor. Personnel problems during the Second World War when people were called up. East Grinstead bombing. Married women returned to fill places of male employees called up for war service. Received news bulletins. Had a map on the wall noting the different war campaigns. Went up to London to celebrate V.E. Day. Left school in 1933 when 17 and worked in the general typing office shorthand typing for Mr R.J. Sainsbury 1 year later worked in Mr R.J. Sainsbury's office with his PA Ted Farrell who she later married. Rationing. Lived outside London and would travel in by train every morning. No air raid shelter at home. Rationing and shortages such as one egg a month. Mr R.J. Sainsbury interviewed each man who returned from war service personally. Women also returned from being called up. V.J. Day great excitement when men returned from the Far East. Retired in 1947 but later returned to work as Sir Robert Sainsbury's private secretary until she was 65. A family business when she started now a public company which no longer has the personal touch.