The second generation (1)
John Benjamin Sainsbury
The founders’ eldest son John Benjamin was born above the Drury Lane shop and from an early age was trained to take over from his father at the head of the firm. He later recalled:
‘I remember wearing a small white apron (made especially for me by my mother) to fill the position of Egg Boy in the shop on Saturdays. How proud I was to be able to bank out of my wage of one shilling and sixpence [7.5p] for services rendered!’
‘Mr John’ as he became known was the keenest of the brothers and took on a range of responsibilities within Sainsbury’s: the bacon and ham departments and the buying of lamb and Ostend rabbits, the development of new shops and the maintenance of existing ones, recruiting staff and managing vehicles and stables.
John Benjamin maintained high standards and received weekly reports on each branch from a network of inspectors. Sainsbury’s Branch Management department changed its name to the Shop Services department overnight after Mr John pointed out that he was the branch management department. Even during the uncertain times of rapidly rising prices at the outbreak of war in 1914 he insisted that all food be clearly labelled.
He also played a key role in Sainsbury’s expansion during the 1920s and 1930s, visiting potential new store sites with his family at weekends and conducting his own market research.
John Benjamin ran the business in partnership with his father from 1915, and became a director in 1922 and chairman in 1928. He died in office in 1956.
George, the second son was also born at Drury Lane, but the family moved to Kentish Town before his first birthday. George joined the family business around 1886 and became responsible for the firm’s ‘office and counting house’, together with butter and cheese, cold storage poultry and game and ‘despatch’ (distribution). His neat signature is visible on many early accounts ledgers.
Frank showed little inclination for a career in retailing and was dismissed as branch manager at 18/20 Seven Sisters Road, Holloway after his father caught him riding around the shop on a bicycle. Frank was sent to work for a trial period on the farm of a family friend. This proved so successful that in 1902 John James established Frank on his own farm at Blunts Hall, near Haverhill, Suffolk.
Frank supplied Sainsbury’s with eggs and poultry and later established his own egg collection scheme in East Anglia. Eggs were collected from local farms, then tested and packed at Blunts Hall. This scheme gained a reputation for Sainsbury’s as a supplier of British eggs at a time when most English and Irish eggs were a few weeks old by the time they reached the shops. Frank also supplied meat for sausages and cooked pork products, which became an important part of Sainsbury’s business from the 1890s.
Find out more about Frank Sainsbury's farm at Haverhill.