While shoppers don’t blink twice at seeing Tesco, Aldi, M&S, or Sainsburys, there was another supermarket giant that Londoners flocked to.
No, we’re not writing about Lidl but about David Greig’s chain of stores that had up to 220 stores in southern England.
David Gregg grew up in Hornsey, North London, and worked in the supermarket business around the same time as John Sainsbury of Sainsbury.
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However, the supermarket tycoons have two completely different stories to tell.
The David Greig chain is believed to have been created in 1870, and began when the founder’s mother, Mary Gregg, opened a small hardware store on 32 High Street in Hornsey – now Madame Hair’s salon.
While his mother ran the store, David’s father, also David Gregg, worked as a cabinet maker for Frederick Sage & C of Gray’s Inn Road.
In 1881, when David was only 15 years old, he was already working in the store as a “pantry dealer”.
The shop’s decorative tiles are still visible today and the historical significance of the shop is revived with a green plaque over the storefront.
When he was 23, David went out of his own accord and acquired a corner store south of the river at 59 Atlantic Road in Brixton – now Brixton Wolves.
The store initially sold butter, cheese, and eggs with bacon sold on an open-window counter.
In the following decades, the business expanded across London and the southeast, diversified into grocery supply and eventually became a regional chain across the southeast.
By 1944, the company occupied 5, 7, 9, 30A, 54, 56, and 58 Atlantic Road along with several other Lambeth stores and an impressive headquarters building at 145 Waterloo Road.
Brixton still maintains the original “DG” code to indicate the importance of the store.
David was so committed to the business that he moved to the top of the store and this is where he lived with his wife Hannah – and John Sainsbury was one of the friends of the couple.
Early in his career, the supermarket mogul considered Croydon-based Sainsbury (founder of Sainsbury’s) a friend.
Sainsbury’s was established in 1869 in Holborn just a year before David Grieg’s mother opened her Hornsey store.
But despite being friends at first, David Gregg and John Sainsbury are said to have disagreed about a verbal contract over location selection.
David Grieg stores are designed to gather the most basic requirements in one place, just like a modern supermarket.
The idea might seem obvious now, but when David Gregg’s stores were just getting started, the stores sold specialty goods like butchers, bakery, or fishmongers.
So the David Grieg model saved customers a lot of time and his stores with glazed ceramic tiles with thorn motifs became a familiar sight all over London.
By the late 1960s, there were more than 220 Greig stores across southern England, and the company seemed poised to continue expanding.
But the company stalled its advance after a series of deaths.
First, David Gregg himself died in 1952 at the age of 86.
Then several of the family’s men died in quick succession and we were forced to sell the company in 1972 due to crippling death duties.
Although he moved to start his first store in Brixton, David Gregg never forgot Hornsey’s roots.
The David and Mary Greig Trust, named after David’s father and father, was founded in 1933 and has provided scholarships, grants, and dependency allowances to help increase children’s education.
The trust still exists today, and Greig City Academy in Hornsey is named after the teacher’s trust in the supermarket.
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