Friday, 28 June 2013

Rationing in Britain

I collected the info on rationing in Britain from Norman Longmates' "How We Lived Then" and came up with the following.

Rationing in Britain was first introduced on Monday, 8th January 1940. The following rules applied (note that they kept changing so it'll all be different from one point in time to another, and note that supply will vary greatly with season and location).

Bacon/Ham: rationed from 8th January 1940 at 4 oz a week

Sugar: rationed from 8th January 1940 at 12 oz. Extra allowances was granted during the jam making season.

Butter: rationed from 8th January 1940 at 4 oz, then at 2 oz 

Cooking fat: rationed from July, 1940 at 2 oz

Margarine: rationed from July 1940 at 4 oz

Meat: rationed from March, 1940 at 1s 10d a week for those under six and 1 d for smaller children. The adult ration was occasionally be reduced to 1s 1d or 1s 2d. Offal was excluded, but very hard to find and people literally fought over scraps of liver, pigs’ trotters, tripe and the like.  Sausages were unrationed too, since they were mostly made from offal and non-meat products, but were naturally hard to get and, again, you would have to queue.

Fish: unrationed, but very hard to find. People queued for hours for a few herrings or salted cod.

Tea: rationed from July, 1940 at 2 oz. In December, 1944 an extra oz of tea was added for people over 70.

Jam, marmalade, syrup, mincemeat, lemon curd, honey: rationed in 1941 – amounts varied due to season from 8 oz to 2 pounds a month (I’m not sure if it was altogether or for each product)

Cheese: rationed from May 1941 at 1oz, later raised to 2oz. From August 1941, an extra 8oz-1 pound was added fro agricultural workers, miners, and other heavy workers who carried their food with them.

Eggs: before the war, average consumption was 3 eggs/week, but rations were 1 egg/week with allowances for priority groups like expectant mothers and children who actually got more than that the pre-war average. From June 1942 and onwards there were dried eggs from America. One package were (mostly) available every 4 weeks, being the equivalent of a dozen eggs.

Milk: Controlled Distribution of milk began in November, 1941 and was usually about 2-2.5 pints a week per person, and every family was allowed one tin of dried skim-milk that could yield 4 pints of liquid milk a month, and was primarily used for cooking. Children under 1 and later 2, got full cream dried milk.

Vegetables were never rationed, but they were controlled through a system of Controlled Distribution under which scarce items were allocated in turn to various parts of the country. Onions were initially very hard to get (because they had been imported), and sought after, but in 1941 and 1942 this was rectified. Fruit was also occasionally scarce and sometimes people would queue for hours for apples (I suspect this was more a seasonal and regional thing, as apple trees aren’t really in short supply in England). From May 1941, there were occasionally oranges, but they were usually reserved for the under-fives and expectant mothers, and secondly for the group 5-18. Lemons were unavailable and most of all, bananas, of course (there’s a wonderfully horrid story that I've read elsewhere about how when bananas first became available after the war, Evelyn Waugh ate the first one with cream in front of his wide-eyed children who didn’t even get a taste, something his son Auberon would write with certain indignation about later on).

The points system was introduced on 1st December 1941. You got 16 points per person and month, which were later raised to 20. At first it was only necessary for canned meat, fish and vegetables, but over the next year more items were added until it included rice, canned fruit, condensed milk, breakfast cereal, biscuits and oatflakes. This actually increased availability of many products. The points system was forever fiddled with to match supply and demand, so you can’t really get any correct or stable listing for them. Just assume they were hard to get, and that supply was limited. “The outstanding ‘buy’ was generally agreed to be the large tin of American sausage meat which cost a whole 16 points, but besides providing enough meat for several main meals contained a thick layer of nearly half a pound of fat, invaluable for cooking.” (quoted from Longmate)

Other products were unrationed, like coffee, custard powder and pepper, but very scarce.

Apparently school meals and meals at work canteens were not counted against your rations, neither were restaurant meals. However, if you stayed at a hotel for more than three days, you had to hand in your ration book. In July, 1940 it became illegal to serve more than one main course at any restaurant meal. In June 1942, a 5s max for all restaurant meals were introduced, though luxury establishments could demand an extra 7s 6d cover charge and certain luxury foods like oysters and caviar were not included.

I find this interesting when compared to the Swedish system where restaurant meals were also counted against your rations and the very first item rationed was coffee. I will try to write a post on that later and if anyone has info on the American system, please let me know!

Note: all pictures by me


  1. I have a book of wartime recipes called "We'll eat again", I could type some up for you if you fancied?



  2. Oh, that be nice! I have on called "Eating For Victory" and one called "Good Eating" which is a reproduction of a wartime cookbook published by Daily Telegraph with readers' recipes.