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Sainsbury Archive Goes Digital to Mark 150 Years

The Sainsbury Archive is putting almost a hundred thousand never-before-seen items online for the first time, allowing the public to easily access materials which tell the story of the Sainsbury family and the changing face of retail from the mid-19th century to the present day.


Sainsbury’s celebrates its 150th birthday this year and while it is now one of the UK’s largest retailers, it began as a family-owned shop on London’s Drury Lane selling just butter, milk and eggs. From working closely with the Government to develop the concept of rationing during World War Two, to opening one of the country’s first ‘self-service’ stores – where customers shopped for items themselves rather than over the counter – Sainsbury’s and the Sainsbury Family are woven into the social history of the nation. The Sainsbury Archive brings this to life through its varied and extensive collection.

The Sainsbury Archive was initiated in 1969 under the leadership of John Davan Sainsbury, The Rt. Hon. Lord Sainsbury of Preston Candover KG, who is grandson of the supermarket’s founders, John James and Mary Ann Sainsbury. Lord Sainsbury took over as Sainsbury’s Chairman and Chief Executive in 1969, the supermarket’s centenary year, and during these celebrations the collection was instigated as a way to maintain a record of the contribution the Sainsbury family has made to British retail. Along with items catalogued by the supermarket itself, much of the collection has been donated by the Sainsbury family over the years, as well as including items from colleagues and customers.

The collection, located at the Museum of London Docklands, comprises hundreds of thousands of individual items – from packaging to uniforms, advertisements and correspondence to colleagues during wartime. The Sainsbury Archive began its life at the retailer’s old headquarters in Blackfriars but is now an independent charity, run by a board of trustees including members of the Sainsbury family. By the end of the digitisation project, approximately 90,000 items from the collection will be publically available on the website,

Mark Sainsbury, Trustee of the Sainsbury Archive charity, commented: “The aim of the Sainsbury Archive is to educate the public on the transformation of retail and the role the Sainsbury family has played during this time. Not every family has such a carefully curated record of its history and role in society and I am delighted that much of the collection is now online, enabling more people to benefit from the resource.”

Jon Hartland, North Zone Managing Director for Sainsbury’s and incoming Chair of the Sainsbury Archive charity added: “Retail has changed immeasurably since the opening of the first Sainsbury’s shop on Drury Lane but the values of the brand have stayed true, providing quality food at fair prices for the benefit of the communities Sainsbury’s serve and source from.  In the 150th anniversary year, the charity’s online archive gives us the opportunity to share the unique story of Sainsbury’s.”

The online archive will comprise a variety of content, from historical images of stores, to old recipe cards, images of packaging items from throughout the supermarket’s history and advertising materials. The Sainsbury Archive continues to add items to its collection and would welcome donations from anyone who finds a piece of Sainsbury’s history in their homes.  

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