Britain’s First Supermarket

Sixty seven years ago today the way that Britain shops changed forever on the Romford Road in East London.

Sixty seven years ago today something dramatic happened in Manor Park, London.

The phenomenon of self service food shopping, which had begun 32 years earlier in Memphis1, arrived for the first time on British shores.

1948 was a year when all sorts of interesting things happened in London, one of the biggest was the hosting of the first Olympic games since Berlin in 1936 (the 1940 and 1944 games were cancelled due to the second word war). When it comes to shaping the direction of consumer culture in Britain though, nothing can compare to what happened on the Romford Road on January 12th.

Long before Tesco became the behemoth it is today, the London Co-operative Society opened the first full-sized self-service grocery store in Britain. M&S opened a self service food department in their Wood Green store a few months later, and Sainsbury’s opened their first shop in 1950.

Today we love to hate supermarkets and complain vocally about the power the big companies wield. Statistics show that we are moving away from them, spending more of our time and money buying food from online providers and specialist shops. The vast majority of people still do the vast majority of their shopping in supermarkets though, and there is little or no chance that we will ever go back to the long queues and limited choice of counter-service shops entirely.

Oh, and what has become of this pioneering Manor Park store?

It isn’t a Co-op anymore; the closest one of those these days is in Forest Gate. For about twenty years the store operated as a cash and carry, and has spent the last seven years as a Tesco Express.

  1. Clarence Saunders opened Piggly Wiggly, Memphis in September 1916 and patented the concept of the “Self-Serving Store” a year later.

2 thoughts on “Britain’s First Supermarket

  • January 13, 2016 at 9:09 am

    What is the definition of a supermarket?

    • January 14, 2016 at 11:23 am

      The dictionary definition is:
      a large self-service shop selling foods and household goods.

      In this article we were just taking it to mean a self service shop, as opposed to one offering counter service.


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