Many Ewell residents will be aware that Sainsbury’s are about to open a HomeBase in Ewell. Some will be aware that Sainsbury’s had a store at 3 Castle Parade, from 4/10/35 to 10/7/69. Few will be aware though, that Sainsbury’s once had a much larger presence here.
Around the time that the Second World War was declared, Sainsbury’s put into action a plan to decentralise staff from its offices at Stamford Street, near the south end of Blackfriars Bridge. Broadly speaking, staff who lived north of the river were relocated to Cockfosters, whilst those from the south went to Ewell. In Ewell they were provided with offices over the parade of shops opposite the Organ Inn, with the Inn itself becoming the staff restaurant. Accommodation was provided in Cheam for those who found travelling difficult. Initially 40 staff were evacuated, but numbers fell as progressively the young men, who comprised the majority of Sainsbury’s staff, were called up.
The move was kept quiet, perhaps because of the serious impact that a direct hit on Sainsbury’s rationing and accounting records would have had. As it was, Ewell suffered enough from the disruptive effects of bombing. One of the supervisory staff later recalled that during the flying bombs period in 1944 ‘most of the departments had been transferred to the dug-outs in the field and the number of bombs that fell in the vicinity of Ewell or in Ewell itself had a very disturbing effect on the work... The main furniture (in the dug-outs) was the wooden benches stretching the length of the chamber, and the confusion which resulted from invoices and receiving notes being worked on, either on the floor or on the knees of clerks, did not make for speed or accuracy’. It seems likely that the office staff at Ewell returned to Blackfriars as soon as it was considered safe, possibly before the end of the war.
(Many thanks to Bridget Williams of Sainsbury’s Archives for the above information.)
From conversations that I have had with some of the older residents, it seems that people were aware that something slightly hush-hush was afoot, but they didn’t know what. The rumour was the parade of shops and the diggings near the old Banqueting House gave access to the uncompleted tunnels of an extension of the Northern Line, in use as an air-raid shelter.
A quick delve into the archives of London Transport revealed that there had been a scheme for extending the Northern Line from Morden to Epsom, enthusiasm for which peaked around 1934, but it was largely wishful thinking on the part of the local councils along the proposed route. London Transport had been very lukewarm, on the grounds that the anticipated traffic would not justify the cost, and whatever traffic there was would overload the already busy inner section of the line. Thus the extension was never actually started.