Working in Sainsbury's in St Albans Road

Doug Petty

Going on from my last story about my Saturday job at Watford market, I moved from there to Sainsbury’s in St.Albans Road, North Watford, near to my home in the Harebreaks. This store was a”Manual” shop… pre supermarket and was a great place for a 15 year old to learn about food and provisions.

There were a number of different ‘counters” and for anyone who remembers the store run by Mr. Collins, as you walked in the front door to the left was “Dairy”, that specialised in butter, cream, chicken, rabbit, lard etc and it was only a few weeks before that they had ceased patting the butter by hand. The next counter was “Cheese” and as well as serving on this area I was also taught how to unpack, skin and cut up 56lb round chedars from Australia , New Zealand and Canada. I also used to have a crafty taste of all the different varieties to see what they were like!

Next stop was “Provisions” which sold Tea, Coffee, and biscuits that came in big metal square tins and were weighed out by the pound . Then across the centre aisle was bacon where sides came in either Smoked or Green to be broken down and sliced up by the expert bacon butchers. Next counter was probably the busiest “Cooked Meats” they had Corned beef (which came in huge tins from Argentina) liver sausage , luncheon meat, meat pies ( my favourite Chicken and Ham) Pork pies etc etc.

The jokers of the staff

Some times us staff had to slice the liver sausage and lunceon meat by hand and I was always being asked for, because I had a steady hand and could slice really thin. The last counter was “Meat” again nothing pre packed, all the lamb, pork and beef came in bulk and had to be cut up and prepared. We made our own sausages, salt beef and mince daily. The butchers were the jokers out of all the staff and would talk in code sometimes, so you didn’t know what they were saying.

If I remember rightly you had to pay at each counter… I might be mistaken on that as there was a central Till/Office at the back of the main isle. I was really lucky because I eventually became the “floater” and would arrive on a Saturday and be placed to whichever counter needed an able body, so I had to be familiar with every aspect of the store… what a lucky boy I was. I’ll just mention the uniform before I finish, we were issued with a white, double breasted , high collared long sleeved jacket with black buttons held on by little metal rings on the inside, then we had a long white apron that nearly reached the floor, this was about as ‘Victorian era’ as you could get in the sixties and to me the end of a great era, before the modern Supermarkets came in. Thanks for listening.

This page was added on 03/05/2013.

Comments about this page

  • Doug
    I was lucky enough to work full time at Sainsbury’s counter shop at 19-21 Watford High Street by Clements starting there in 1969 after leaving Victoria Secondary Modern (1964-69)
    These counter service shops had a family atmosphere and we all worked together helping each other out where needed. I am still in touch with my best friend Barry Parker who I worked with there to this day almost 50 years on.
    This shop was the same as yours all one to one customer service, but was spread across two shops with meat and poultry in the second shop connected by a hole in the wall.
    I have fond memories of those days.
    Eggs were sold in paper bags unless you brought an egg box with you or paid an old 1/2d for the box. Many broke the paper bag while putting in their bag.
    Broken biscuits in a box, and no cash registers to add the bill up or scan the price, everything was done on paper or in your head and the final total rung up on the till by pushing big keys.
    Bacon was cut from a whole side of bacon; it had to be boned and cut and sliced, very little was pre packed although it was starting to increase in popularity.
    Yes cooked meats had to be sliced and don’t forget the slices of gala pie with or without egg and no one wanted the end crusty bits.
    Cheese was cut from big blocks and you could try them before buying.
    I remember English Irish and Imported cheddar in blocks side by side. You could taste cheese in them days before buying.
    On one occasion we ran out of two of the three and it was decided to fill the gap with the same cheese, ( still saying English Irish Imported ~ no trade descriptions in them days)
    A lady came in and wanted to try the three, saying I don’t like that one, that one is horrible oh I like this one its much better I’ll have that one ? to the three samples of the same in different piles?
    I too remember the long white coats with buttons and the long apron as well which fell off if the top button came out of its slot in the middle.
    Lastly of course there was the “plonker” pricing things. A long stemmed thing with rubber price affixed. each plonker had a different price and we had to plonk it in blue ink to price the goods. When prices went up or down we has to re-price the items by rubbing out the old with spirit and putting the new one on instead.
    It was a sad day when the store shut to move to its self-service shop near to where Intu is now. I left soon after and went to work for the Coop as a trainee Manager then Manager.
    Ironically one of my first stores as Manager at the Coop was to manage the Coop at 160 St Albans Road a small self-service shop.
    I left Watford in 1975 when I married moving to Wembley, Tooting and then finally Mitcham in Surrey. Finally I left the retail trade to become a Police Officer in 1982 retiring in 2010.
    I still return to Watford many times but it has now changed almost beyond recognition.

    By Charles Baldwin (21/09/2016)
  • Thanks Linda, I’m glad that short story bought back some pleasant memories. I was talking to a friend of ours in South Australia the other day about our experiences as youngsters in our respective home towns… the older you get the more you remminise I suppose! Anyway we got talking about home deliveries and I was able to relate a couple of stories from when I used to help both the Express Dairy, and the CO-OP milk and bread man around the Harebreaks Estate circa 1960-3. My favourite story was helping the CO-OP milkman “RON”… he had a horse and cart, but I can;t remember the horses name. Anyway it was an early start summer or winter, Ron would tell me the order for each house and off I would go with up to 6 pints of milk in between my fingers. There could be gold top for the posh people, green, silver or red top for the rest and the older customers would also have the pasturised milk in a longer skinny bottle, which was harder to carry between the fingers as it had a crimped metal cap. Once the bottles were delivered I had to pick up the empties in the same way and return them to the “Cart”, once the glass bottles had clinked in the crate “old dobbin” would automatically move on to the next house. The wheels of the cart would regularly run over my foot if I didn’t get rid of the bottles quickly enough and get out of the way…. lucky the wheels were pnuematic tyres so it didn’t do any damage. Half way around our “round” we would cross paths with the CO-OP bread man, we would give him a bottle of orange juice or 1/2pt of milk and we could take our pick of any cake that was available… (always a split jam and cream doughnut for me) then we would continue on our way. On Fridays we used to collect the money and I would sometimes work the CO-OP Dividend machine, penciling in the number so the customer could get their “DIVI” back. I still remember my mums number to this day as she would sometimes send me to the local CO-OP for some items for dinner. One of the funniest things working with a horse is that between houses he would have a munch on the grass verg or have his nose bag on for a feed, resulting in, of course a reaction at the rear nether regions of his body… amazingly, to me anyway, was that the instant he did a POO one of the ladies in the adjacent house would rush out with a hand shovel annd bucket and clean up the mess….. for the roses! They must have been watching like hawks. It was a great Saturday job and every I worked every day in the holidays, winters were a bit harsh especially in the snow, but in those days we just got on with it and I did like having the 1/2 a crown I earned!

    By Doug Petty (24/06/2013)
  • Doug, I remember Sainsbury’s at North Watford so well. I do remember all that you do , as well as being mesmerised by watching the person behind the counter cut the cheese with a wire cheese cutting contraption. That amazed me how they cut that cheese…. I asked my dad to make me one for when I played shops at home …. Loved going into Sainsbury’s…. I also now live in Australia in Brisbane… Still have very fond memories of Watford. Top Rank, Cawdells, Clements, British Home Stores, Watford market every Saturday morning. My dad used to buy himself some kippers from the seafood stall.. I also went to Francis Coombe school 1966 to 1969. We then emigrated to Australia… My dad worked for Benskins then Ind Coope.. Most of my Mum’s family worked there their name was Deacon.. Great days and times…

    By Linda Adkins (17/06/2013)

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