Community Feeding Centres were first established in 1940 by the Ministry of Food to help people who had been bombed out of their homes, had run out of ration coupons or otherwise needed help.

They were operated by local government or voluntary agencies on a non-profit basis and served inexpensive meals. No meal could be more than one serving of meat, game, poultry, fish, eggs, or cheese and did not require ration coupons to be “spent”.

The demand for them soon spread. In 1942 they were renamed British Restaurants and by the end of that year 2,160 restaurants were serving some 600,000 meals a day. Initially the restaurants were subsidised by the Ministry of Food but in September 1943 this subsidy was removed and they were expected to be self-financing. A statement of accounts issued by the Ministry of Food for the financial year 1943/44 showed that during that year 1,931 restaurants had served about 375M meals at an average cost of 1s.2p. per meal. Taken together there was a net profit of £90,000 after the repayment of capital expenditure, but only about a half of the restaurants were making a profit.

The Ministry had concluded that in some areas the restaurants had outlived their usefulness and felt it necessary to remind the public that “The British restaurant movement is not an experiment in State trading but is designed to provide an essential wart-time service. The Ministry is not directly responsible for restaurants but confines its contribution to the provision of capital and the repayment of unavoidable losses. It has delegated its powers to the local authorities, who are expected to operate on a self-supporting basis and to repay the initial capital expenditure. The restaurants will cease to exist with the expiry of the Defence regulations, unless Parliament sees fit to make other arrangements.”

Due to the continuation of rationing the self-financing British Restaurants operated by Local Authorities continued until 1947, when the Civic Restaurants Act was passed. This enabled those that were still profitable to remain open as Civic Restaurants. In 1949, 678 Civic Restaurants existed in the United Kingdom.

British Restaurants in High Wycombe

In Wycombe a British Restaurant was established in the Town Hall and formally opened on Wednesday September 3, 1941. It was open 7 days a week but initially only served a mid-day meal, from noon to 2.00pm. It could accommodate up to about 500 persons. The Catering Manager was a local lady Mrs O. Price, who was assisted by members of the Women’s Voluntary Service.(WVS).

The cost of the meal was: meat and vegetables 9p, or 6p for a child under 10; pudding 3p; tea 1p; soup 2p; bread or cake 1p per portion.

The entrance to the restaurant was through the door which opens onto the car park and once inside tickets could be purchased for the desired meal. The meal could be taken home to be eaten (a cash and carry service) but the customer needed to supply their own dish.

The people who patronised the restaurant were representative of all sections of the community in the town – shop assistants, clerks, factory workers and others.

Due to insufficient demand, from January 1942 the restaurant was closed on Sundays.

In July 1942, following a request from the Bucks War Agricultural Committee it was agreed to “provide breakfast and evening meals for the two hundred Land Girls living in a camp in the district.” The prices were 10p for breakfast and 1s.2p. for an evening meal.

The Borough organist Mr Own Hickman began organ recitals in the restaurant from August 1942. These were from 12.15 to 1.15pm on Fridays and were proving very popular. Requests were encouraged from the diners and by October more than 120 had been made. It was decided that from time to time vocalists and other instrumentalists should be included.

In 1943 the restaurant in the Town Hall began to be used for social events, such as “sausage supper and entertainment” for the Civil Defence Services on March 9.

In June 1943 it was decided that another British Restaurant should be established in Wycombe to serve the western sector of the town. This would be west of Desborough Rd and a site in Oakridge Rd was chosen. A prefabricated concrete-framed building was assembled by the local firm J.Lovell & Son at a cost of £1,393. The equipment costs came to £1,730.

The Ministry of Food issued a circular on Sept 30, 1943 explaining how and on what terms local authorities could take over full responsibility for the operation of British Restaurants. Wycombe Borough Council decide to proceed with this for both the Town Hall and Oakridge Rd operations.

The Oakridge Rd restaurant was finally opened to the public on Wednesday June 2, 1944. It had a capacity of 200 persons in one sitting and was under the overall management of Mrs Price, with Mrs Kimber as Head Cook. In “reminiscent mood” at the opening ceremony the Mayor said that the building stood on what at one time was called Miller Britnell’s Orchard. He also “visualised British Restaurants in the future becoming the people’s social centres”!

The second part of this article will continue the story of British Restaurants and consider others which were established in the district, such as in Marlow and Beaconsfield.


Last week’s article should have included this acknowledgement - I am grateful to John Gurney to allow me to include his article on Dolly Walker’s shop, which first appeared in the magazine of the Chepping Wycombe Parish Council.