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A Sainsbury's sports day

The Museum of London Docklands houses a special collection: the Sainsbury Archive. Spanning nearly 150 years, it charts the story of the Sainsbury's company since its foundation in 1869. The archive holds everything from adverts to entire shop-fronts, forming a unique social history of how thousands of Londoners shopped, ate and worked. Assistant Archivist Liane MacIver shows off one small photograph collection, and what it tells us about sports and Sainsbury's.

Liane MacIver

Assistant Archivist,the Sainsbury Archive

12 August 2016

This summer is showcasing some marvellous sport, giving us the perfect opportunity to look back at a former sporting institution. For almost all of the Sainsbury’s company's history, staff have come together to play sport. In the early years of the 20th century, staff would gather to play football or cricket on their half day off. This led to the creation of the Griffin Athletic Club in Dulwich in 1922, run by the Sainsbury's company for its workers and their associates.

The club was founded as a sports association to provide Sainsbury’s staff with facilities to take part in sports such as football, cricket, netball, hockey and darts. The club also hosted an annual sports day at which members could show off their skills. The Griffin Athletic Club converted two fields into sports grounds in Dulwich, and employees paid a membership fee to use the grounds and equipment.

The club proved extremely popular with Sainsbury's staff in London. These images, both from the 1920s, show organised teams of Sainsbury's employees. During the day, these men and women may have served customers, prepared food or delivered goods; weekends would see them travelling across the city to play hockey and football.

Hockey team made up of Sainsbury's workers. Copyright Sainsbury Archive/Museum of London.

Women's hockey team at the Griffin Club, Dulwich (1920s)

© Sainsbury Archive, Museum of London; ID no. SA/EMP/SOC/3/IMA/1/4

A football team made of Sainsbury's employees. Copyright Museum of London/Sainsbury Archive.

Men's football team at the Griffin Club, Dulwich, 1925

© Sainsbury Archive, Museum of London; ID no. SA/EMP/SOC/3/IMA/2/1

This next set of photographs is somewhat later, dating from the 1930s or 1940s. The grounds were closed during World War II, but when they reopened the Griffin Athletic Club experienced a huge boom. Such was the Griffin Athletic Club’s popularity that some Sainsbury's stores in London had every single staff member subscribed.

Employees of Sainsbury's practice running at a sports club in Dulwich. Copyright Sainsbury Archive/Museum of London.

Women competing in a running race at the Griffin Club, Dulwich (1930-1940s)

© Sainsbury Archive, Museum of London; ID no. SA/EMP/SOC/3/IMA/1/5


Men's hurdles at the Griffin Club, Dulwich (1930-1940s)

© Sainsbury Archive, Museum of London; ID no. SA/EMP/SOC/3/IMA/1/7

We have dozens of objects in our archive connected to the Griffin Athletic Club, ranging from uniforms to sports trophies. One oral history from a former worker who joined Sainsbury's aged 14 includes his fond reminiscences of the club, which he described as having ‘one of the finest cricket pitches in the south of England’. He must have enjoyed them, because he recalled walking from Blackfriars all the way to Dulwich in order to play on them, as he couldn't afford the bus fare. That's a distance of over four miles - plenty of exercise even before the match began!

Employees of Sainsbury's practice the long jump at a sports club in Dulwich. Copyright Sainsbury Archive/Museum of London.

A long jumper

© Sainsbury Archive, Museum of London; ID no. SA/EMP/SOC/3/IMA/1/6

The Griffin Athletic Club closed in 1990. At least one sister club had been established, for workers at the Sainsbury's depot in Basingstoke, which remained open until 2008.

Find out more about the history of Sainsbury's, its workers and customers from the Sainsbury Archive, housed at the Museum of London Docklands.