Serving the communities of Bures St Mary and Bures Hamlet


"The British Restaurant" in Bures





Soon after the war started, there was the strong possibility that the country would quickly run out of food, as so much was sourced from abroad. Rationing began on 8th January 1940, when bacon, butter and sugar were restricted.
By 1942 many other foodstuffs, including meat, milk, cheese, eggs and cooking fat, were also rationed.

In the Blitz came the first attempt to feed the hungry, namely the `Londoners Meal Service`, which inspired the Communal Kitchens or Community Feeding Centres.
However, only a few months after their launch, Prime Minister Winston Churchill considered the name was degrading and so they were renamed the British Restaurants.
These new establishments assisted people who had been bombed out of their homes, or who had run out of ration coupons or otherwise needed urgent assistance.
One effect of food rationing in Britain was that empty spaces began to appear in the family kitchen larders.
As German bombs laid waste to city centres, an increasingly small and inadequate supply of restaurants was over-run, with desperate customers looking for food.
These offered cheap, nourishing meals in plain surroundings on a self-service basis. To give an idea of their excellent value, a Londoner in 1942 could receive roast beef and two vegetables, treacle pudding, bread and butter, and coffee, set at a maximum of 9d.
They were non-profit-making, which angered the commercial opposition who saw themselves unfairly undercut, as they were extremely popular with the eating public.
British Restaurants were run by local authorities, who were guaranteed against any losses by the Government.
School dinners and Factory canteens provided another source of nourishment, and these greatly multiplied during the war years.
The Restaurants were set up by the Ministry of Food and run by local government or voluntary agencies on a non-profit basis. No one could be served with a meal of more than one serving of meat, game, poultry, fish, eggs, or cheese. Standards varied, but they were appreciated by a large regular clientele.
British Restaurants were open to all, rich or poor.

In March 1939, the Bures WI was asked by the Local Authority to assist in the running of a British Restaurant to cater for the evacuees. All the necessary equipment would be supplied by the Government, but staffing was down to the WI. However, the newly formed Women`s Voluntary Service(WVS) was then given the task of looking after the children, including Evacuees. The Local Authority then wrote back to the WI, saying their services were no longer required, but the WI were not deterred and paid for the children`s food out of their own funds.
Finally, the British Restaurant in Bures was opened in November 1941 at the rear of the Angel Inn, opposite Chambers Garage and staffed by the WVS.
By 1943, 2,160 UK British Restaurants had served 600,000 meals still at a maximum price of 9d.
Then came along the 1944 Education Act, which compelled Schools to provide school meals, so without warning the school was in breach of the Act. It was then decided to retain the British Restaurant under the control of the Local Education Authority (LEA).
Two cooks were appointed to run the facility, namely Mrs Gage and Mrs Keeble and so all the children from Bures School could now enjoy a nourishing meal for 5d per day.
By 1945, nearly two million children were fed at school, this was more than seven times the figure for 1939, while the total of Factory canteens shot up in that period from 1500 to 13,300.
The Restaurants were officially closed in 1947, but Bures School was still without a kitchen, so the Angel Yard restaurant continued to supply meals.
In September 1947, work commenced to build a new dining room and kitchen, but due to unforeseen delays these were not fully operational until September 20th 1949, so it's possible the LEA run British Restaurant didn't close until the end of the Summer Term 1949.

A Christmas Broadcast during WW2 quoted "Mrs Lee has cooked no fewer than 15,894 main meals at the British Restaurant since last June"
Date unknown, but the period would have been from June to December

Meals were sold for a set maximum price of 9d or less. No-one could be served with a meal of more than one serving of meat, game, poultry, fish, eggs, or cheese

In the poorer areas, pennies were exchanged for a token at the door.

Tokens were different colours, in some case coloured red, green and yellow. One was for the main course, one for the 'sweet' and the other for a cup of tea.
All three would cost the statutory 9d

In one in ten restaurants the meals were prepared at central depots. Schools and churches were often used because they had dining halls and kitchens.
In London, mobile canteens delivered meals to air raid shelters and on the street in the aftermath of air raids

By contrast, ordinary private restaurants continued in operation and were not subject to rationing.
They did have some restrictions: for instance, no meal could be more than three courses and the maximum price was five shillings.

Published 16/04/2021