Since the the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War in September 2019, Running Past has covered a number of aspects of life on the ‘Home Front’ including the evacuation of Lewisham’s children to safer areas, the shelters built to try to keep the local population safe during air raids and the role of the Air Raid Precautions (ARP) Service.
We turn now to food rationing which was introduced on 8 January 1940; we’ll cover cover the linked issue of growing food in allotments and gardens through ‘Digging for Victory’ in a later post. Rationing didn’t completely end until 1954 and also covered clothes, petrol and various other goods.
In 1939 Britain was importing large quantities of food – including 70% of cheese, cereals and sugar, 80% of fruit and more than 50% of meat. It was fully expected that the Germans would target food supplies coming in via sea, as they had done with the U-Boat Campaign in World War 1.
The preparations for food rationing had begun soon after war started with the compilation of the 1939 Register which was used to was used to devise a carefully detailed rationing plan and issue Identity Cards. It listed everyone living at properties, although in London there were very few children mentioned due to evacuation that had happened a few weeks earlier; it also excluded any serving locally based adults serving with the armed forces.
Running Past has used the 1939 Register several times to look at specific streets, including Ardmere Road (pictured above), close to Hither Green Station. So, at 1 Ardmere Road, there was Fanny and Frederick Histed, the latter was entitled to extra rations due to his ‘Heavy Work’ as a builders labourer. Next door at No 2 (the numbering is consecutive) Amy and John Ashling lived, John was a general labourer, but not entitled to extra rations. It was the same at No 3 where Albert Tolhurst was also a general labourer. In the street as a whole just under a half of the men had the suffix or prefix to their trade of ‘Heavy Work’ which entitled them to extra rations. The differences were stark when we looked at both the Verdant Lane estate and the Arts and Crafts housing on Old Road – both had only a smattering of people entitled to extra rations for ‘Heavy Work.’
From 8 January 1940, every individual was issued with a ration book (see below, along with an Identity Card) which was registered at their local shops. Shopkeepers were then supplied with sufficient food for everyone registered. Ration books worked on a coupon based system, so people could purchase their entitlement but no more, although a good relationship with the shopkeeper might lead to more favourable treatment.
So in the terrace of shops 310 to 332 Lee High Road, locals may well have had ration coupons for the butchers RC Hamnett at 324; those close to Manor Park Parade (which will feature in posts in early 2020) would have no doubt queued up for their rations at Arthur Howard’s grocer’s shop at no. 16.
Returning the Ardmere Road, the locals from there and neighbouring streets such as Brightside Road would have taken their ration books to Edith May’s grocers at no 18 (which is pictured above), the shop closed in the 1980s and it is now a house. There are memories of the shop having (in this period and beyond)
Old marble counters, wooden single drawer for a till, flagstone floor, shelves with doilies and a huge brass scales.
So what were the foods that Lewisham residents would have found rationed during World War 2? Initially, it was just bacon, butter and sugar were rationed; but meat was rationed from 11 March 1940; cooking fats and tea in July 1940; while cheese and jam were added to the list in March and May 1941.
- Bacon and ham 113 – 227 g (4 – 8 oz)
- Sugar 227 – 454 g (8 – 16 oz)
- Tea 57 – 113 g (2 – 4 oz)
- Meat 5 – 6p worth (1/- to 1/2d)
- Cheese 28 – 227 g (1 – 8 oz)
- Preserves 227 g – 1.36 kg (8 oz – 3 lb)
- Butter 57 – 227 g (2 – 8 oz)
- Margarine 113 – 340 g (4 – 12 oz)
- Lard 57-85 g (2-3 oz)
- Sweets 227-454 g (8-16 oz) – monthly
Lewisham Market survived during the early part of the war, although fruit such as oranges and bananas which were relatively common before the War became something of a rarity with queues ‘a mile long’ when they became available (1). Tomatoes too were much less common on the market than they had been pre-war; when they were available, traders typically imposed rations of their own, limiting purchases to 8 ounces (227 grams) (2). As a result there were long queues with children often sent to take adult places in the queue, while parents got on with the rest of their shopping (3).
However, it really struggled after V-1 attacks (4) including a direct hit on the market itself in July 1944.
There is a fascinating film in the collection of the Imperial War Museum, which was aimed at American audiences which is at least partially Catford based – the Catford Bridge Tavern is clearly visible in one of the shots. Unlike many of the other propaganda films, including ‘Britain Can Take It’ this wasn’t one made at Blackheath’s GPO Film Unit, made by the smaller World Wide Pictures.
Some with longer memories than mine recognise the shop that ‘Mrs Green’ is coming out of as being Sainsburys at 58 Rushey Green (pictured below, probably just after the War), almost next door to the current Aldi Shop.
- The picture of the Sainsburys shop at 58 Rushey Green is via the Sainsbury’s Archive
- 1939 Register data is via Find My Past (subscription required)
- The photograph of the the ration book and identity card is via eBay in December 2019.
- The photograph of the destruction of Lewisham Market by V-1, was first used a while ago on a post on that attack and came from the Lewisham War Memorials Wiki on a Creative Commons
- Lewis Blake (1995) How We Went to War – Deptford & Lewisham 1939 – 1945, The People’s Story p23
- ibid p24
- ibid p23
- ibid p23