One aspect of the Home Front often forgotten is the British Restaurant. According to Wikipedia: "British Restaurants were communal kitchens created in 1940 during the Second World War to help people who had been bombed out of their homes, had run out of ration coupons or otherwise needed help. In 1943, 2,160 British Restaurants served 600,000 very inexpensive meals a day. They were disbanded in 1947".
Further down the page you can see the site of one that still remains in Barrow. While others in Bury and Blackburn have sadly been demolished, photos of these buildings still remain and these along with personal testimonies are included on this page.
ABOVE: "View of the British Restaurant sign in Mayson Street" courtesy of Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council for use in the Cotton Town digitisation project: www.cottontown.org.
LEFT: Six more photos of the Mayson Street British Restaurant. All photos taken February 1942 and again courtesy of www.cottontown.org - CLICK ON A PHOTO TO MAKE IT BIGGER.
RIGHT: The Elton Conservative Club in Bury (now sadly demolished). During the war it served as a British Restaurant serving meals that didn't require ration books for those that needed them. According to 'Bury and the Second World War' by Inman & Helm there was some controversy when it was opened in June 1942: "The waitresses were ambulance girls from the Brunswick First Aid Depot, and the Chamber of Trade complained of unfair competition with private traders. Since the cost of a three course meal plus tea or coffee was only 11d. they perhaps had a point. When the restaurant was closed in February 1945 there was a storm of protest, and a Ministry of Food enquiry was set up."
LEFT & BELOW: The Strand British Restaurant, Barrow.
This British Restaurant still stands today, hidden under a road bridge
Its name on the blue door still faintly visible. Although locals tend to know it as "the morgue" - the building's other use. But during the war it was one of several British Restaurants in the town.
According to 'The Barrow Blitz' by Bryn Trescatheric, "At Barrow the main restaurant was at the old Public Hall. "Takeaways" served meals to customers on their own plates - for example the premises in Euryalus Street and the corner of Devon Street and Moorfield Street." The one on Hindpool Road (LEFT) is the only one still showing evidence of its former use.
The site of the Ritz Dance Hall, Accrington (later the New Era Club) RIGHT was also a British Restaurant set up in 1941. Ron Freethy interviewed Gerald Rawstron of Great Harwood who said the following: "The meals were cheap but not very good. It was sometime later that I discovered that the custard was bright yellow and had a metallic taste because it had been made with water and never milk. The peas were hard and the potatoes were soggy. The meat was mainly fat and gristle. We did not go there very often."
Ron Freethy, in his book 'Lancashire V Hitler - Civilians At War' remembers going to the one in the Public Hall, Barrow, which opened in May 1941. "This was able to serve some 400 meals a day and operated on a cafeteria system. You had to purchase tickets before going in and you were given plastic tokens in exchange for cash. Three courses - soup, main course and pudding - were on offer but each customer could have only two. The maximum cost was 10d, which in today's terms is less than 5p. There was no choice of soup and the main course included some meat and lots of vegetables. Ginger pudding and semolina were on offerand there was tea and coffee.I remember once having black bananas floating in the bright yellow, milkless custard. Breakfasts were also available and included porridge, bread, liver, sausage and occasionally bacon. Tea, usually without sugar, was also served."
Some of the above memories were less than favourable, but the restaurants were undoubtedly an important resource for people in the Second World War and millions were grateful for them. Their story has widely been forgotten but thanks in particular to Ron Freethy's recording of Lancashire people's recollections, their memory lives on.