Sainsbury Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Sainsbury Surname Meaning

The Sainsbury surname is locational in origin, deriving from the place name Saintbury near Broadway in Gloucestershire.  The earliest surname incidence was a Reginald de Seinesberia recorded in the 1190 Gloucestershire Pipe Rolls.

Sainsbury Surname Resources on The Internet

Sainsbury Surname Ancestry

  • from England (southwest and London)
  • to America and New Zealand

England.  Although Sainsbury may look as if it were one extended family, there have in practice been two distinct groupings of Sainsburys:

  • one in the west country centered around Gloucestershire and Wiltshire from the original Saintbury line,
  • and another of more modern origin based in London from which the supermarket Sainsburys emerged.

Wiltshire  The largest cluster has been in Market Lavington in Wiltshire, a village on the northern edge of Salisbury Plain.  The surname has occurred there more frequently than any other in the parish registers.  The name also cropped up in nearby villages such as Eastcott, Easterton, Littleton, and Urchfont, as well as in places on the western edge of Salisbury Plain such as Bratton and Westbury.

The earliest recording in Market Lavington was that of a Henry Sainsbury in the late 1500’s.  Later:

  • Robert Sainsbury was a clockmaker and gunsmith in the early/mid 1600’s
  • and Thomas Sainsbury established himself in London in the late 1700’s and was Lord Mayor of London in 1786.

The Sainsbury name has lived on in the village.  A Sainsbury family supported Catholic services in the village during the 1930’s and a Sainsbury charity has for many years distributed bread to the needy in the parish.

Somerset  The Sainsbury name was also to be found in various places in Somerset:

  • in Beckington near Frome (where the Sainsburys were rectors) – from the early 1700’s
  • further south in Bridgwater (where the Sainsburys were clockmakers) – from the mid 1700’s
  • and further south again in Taunton – from the late 1700’s.

London. The other Sainsbury line has been in London.  These Sainsburys may have come from the west country or have been Jewish immigrants to England who had adopted the anglicized name of Sainsbury.

John Sainsbury, born in Southwark in 1809, was an ornament and picture frame maker in London.  His son John James was the founder of the famous Sainsbury supermarket chain.

“During the blazing hot summer of 1869 John James Sainsbury and his newly-married wife Mary Ann began selling milk, butter, eggs, and cheese from a small shop in Drury Lane, one of London’s poorest districts.  Their shop was a success and by 1873 they had opened up another branch in Kentish Town.  Their six sons joined the business and they now began to sell other produce such as cooked meats and smoked hams.”

At the time of his death in 1928, he owned more than 200 shops throughout Britain.  The Sainsbury family continued to run the company until 1998 as it rose to become the UK’s largest supermarket.

Australia.  A James Sainsbery and his wife Louise left Bristol for Australia on the Deborah in 1852.  They worked in Melbourne before departing for the Victoria goldfields.  George and Elizabeth Sainsbury came out on the Bowdon in 1881 and also ended up there.

New Zealand.  John Sainsbury came from Taunton to New Zealand in 1868 with his second wife Elizabeth and their five children.

Sainsbury Surname Miscellany

Sainsbury Name Origin.  The Sainsbury surname is locational in origin, deriving from the village of Saintbury in Gloucestershire.  This name was recorded in the 12th century as Seynesbury and it meant Saewine’s fort.

Saewine was an old English personal name derived from sae meaning “sea,” and wine “friend,” to which was added burh, “fort” or “town.”

Robert Sainsbury from Market Lavington.  The village of Market Lavington in Wiltshire was noteworthy as being a place where some of the earliest clockmakers in SW England originated.  John Snow the lantern clock maker worked in Market Lavington from at least the 1620’s and died there in 1658.

Another clockmaker from Market Lavington was Robert Sainsbury, the son of Robert Sainsbury a yeoman farmer.  No clocks are known by Robert Sainsbury, although he is thought to have made clocks as well as guns.  He was made a free Burgess of Bristol in 1682.

Thomas Sainsbury from Market Lavington.  Thomas Sainsbury was born in Market Lavington in 1730, the son of Samuel and Elizabeth Sainsbury.  He was recorded as a master Bowyer (maker of bows) in London and a “grocer of Ludgate Hill;” and he served as alderman for Bishopsgate from 1778 to 1795 and as Lord Mayor of London in 1786.

Sainsbury died in 1795.  He was commemorated by the following lines that can be found on a plaque in St. Mary’s church, Market Lavington:

  • “To this shrine traveller attentive turn
  • And pause awhile o’er Sainsbury’s hallowed urn.
  • Of him who’s now an inmate of the skies
  • Beneath this tomb all that now mortal lies
  • In honour firm and faithful to his trust
  • In ev’ry station moral wise and just
  • A magistrate, observant of the laws
  • A Briton, ardent in his country’s cause
  • A tender husband, father, brother, friend
  • Esteem’d through life, lamented in his end
  • Such Sainsbury was, now ‘midst angelic lays
  • He wants no tribute of vain mortal praise
  • Yet from oblivion such rare worth to claim
  • This honest marble here records his name
  • Here shall his relatives their visits pay
  • And with their tears embalm his honour’d clay
  • And his example shall instruct our youth
  • To walk the paths of virtue and of truth.”

Above the text is a life-sized sculpture in white marble of a draped female weeping over an urn.

Early Sainsburys of the Supermarket Chain and Elsewhere.  The Sainsbury line seems to start with a John Sainsbury, believed to be Jewish and born sometime in the 1780’s.  He had two sons, John (born around 1809) and William (born around 1825). These two lines would appear to have lost contact with each other.

John was an ornament and picture frame maker in south London.  His income would appear to have been neither sizeable nor stable –  as he moved his family around from rented room to rented room in the area by the Thames wharves and Waterloo station.

He and his wife Elizabeth had four children, three daughters and the youngest, a son born in 1844, John James.  It was John James who opened his first small dairy shop in Drury Lane in 1869 and went on to found the supermarket chain of Sainsbury’s.

The other son William, a tailor, married Mary Ann McCrery in St. Pancras, London in 1854.  They had three children, Mary Ann, William, and Elizabeth.  However, both parents died young, William in 1868 and Mary Ann in 1876.  The youngest child Elizabeth ended up as an orphan in a Catholic home in Essex and was then parked with the Children’s Rescue Mission who shipped her out to Canada as a maid.

There was another Sainsbury in London who was possibly related.  His name was Albert Victor Sainsbury and he was born in the Shoreditch area of London in 1865.  He was a passenger on the Titanic who died on its fateful voyage in 1912.

The Sainsbury Family.  John James Sainsbury, the founder of Sainsbury’s (1844-1928), married Mary Ann Staples (1849-1927)  in St. Pancras, London in 1868.  They had six sons and five daughters.  Their sons were:

  • John Benjamin (1871-1956)
  • George (1872-1964)
  • Frank (1877-1955)
  • Arthur (1880-1962)
  • Alfred (1884-1965)
  • and Paul (1890-1965)

John Benjamin Sainsbury, the successor known as “Mr. John” (1871-1956), married Mabel Van den Bergh, an heiress from a Dutch Jewish family whose fortune was in margarine.  They had two sons:

  • Alan John (1902-1998)
  • and Robert (1907-2000)

Alan John Sainsbury, the next successor (1902-1998), married twice, having three sons from his first marriage:

  • John Davan (born in 1927), known as “Mr. JD,” who headed Sainsbury’s from 1969 to 1992
  • Simon (1930-2006), who was an art collector and philanthropist
  • Timothy (born in 1932), who was an MP and pursued a career in politics.

Robert Sainsbury (1907-2000) had also headed Sainsbury’s.  He had three daughters and a son with his wife Lisa.  His son David (born 1940) headed Sainsbury’s from 1992 to 1998 and was the last member of the family to be the Sainsbury’s chairman.

It was said of the later Sainsburys:  “Having inherited both Victorian and Jewish traditions of philanthropy, they also set the tone of the family’s prevailing left-liberal social conscience.”

JD and David Sainsbury.  John Davan Sainsbury, who became Chairman in 1969 on his uncle’s retirement, had a forceful, autocratic style of leadership  During his twenty three years at the helm, “Mr. JD” put together a management team full of yes men who were used to taking orders.

He was said to taste each brand product himself to make sure that he was satisfied with the quality control; and he personally approved each own-brand product packaging design himself before their official launch.  He would also turn up unannounced at stores by helicopter or in his Bentley to patrol the aisles and to shout loudly if something was not right.

In 1992, when he retired, he was succeeded as chairman and chief executive by his cousin, David Sainsbury.  This brought about a change in management style.  David was more consensual and less hierarchical.  He would commute to work on the Underground, as opposed to being chauffeur-driven in a Bentley.  However, Tesco overtook Sainsbury’s during his time as leader to become the UK’s largest supermarket chain.  David stepped down as chairman in 1998 to pursue a career in politics.

Sainsbury Names

  • Thomas Sainsbury was a master bowyer and Lord Mayor of London in 1786.
  • John James Sainsbury started his first grocery shop in London in 1869, which led to the Sainsbury’s supermarket chain.
  • Peter Sainsbury was a Hampshire cricketer of the 1950’s and 1960’s.
  • JD Sainsbury was the forceful chairman of Sainsbury’s who grew the company to be the UK’s largest supermarket.

Sainsbury Numbers Today

  • 4,000 in the UK (most numerous in Kent)
  • 1,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia).




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Written by Colin Shelley

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