Thursday 28 July 2011

On this day 17th January...

1918 - Queues for butter were 70 foot long and questions were raised by Bradford West MP Fred Jowett in the House of Commons


Before the war two thirds of the population purchased butter over margarine and about half of the country's supplies of butter and margarine were imported. However it became increasingly difficult to obtain butter and margarine from those sources as the war continued and also to balance the need for milk with that for butter, margarine, cheese and other dairy products. During 1916 places like the Bradford War Hospital changed their orders to margarine in place of butter.

In November 1917 the Ministry of Food issued the Butter (maximum prices) order 1917. The Ministry also worked to considerably increase the production of margarine at home rather than relying on imports which were subject to U-boat attacks. By this time the consumption of margarine had increased and would eventually even exceeded that of butter.

However despite the Food Control Order there were still problems with supply. In the beginning of December 1917 the Executive officer of the Bradford Food Control Committee wrote to the Ministry of Food regarding long queues of people waiting outside shops in which margarine is sold. It took them until the end of the month to be able to “commandeer” some butter for Bradford. 

In January 1918 Bradford Food Control Committee aimed to establish a distribution of butter and margarine scheme. This would “put into operation as early as possible a scheme of registering and rationing.” However it was recognised that improving the distribution was only of value in an emergency and could do nothing to deal with the problem raised by the continuing shortage of butter and margarine. Butter cards were to be issued recording all purchases  and containing consumers name and address, the name and address of the retailer,  and in case of those 13 and under their age. It was decided that it was better to have individual registration rather than registering each household so that they didn’t have to keep amending the cards to deal with births, deaths and removals etc. Retailers were to keep a list of all those consumers registered with them and each purchase was to be ticked off. Bradford worked with the surrounding districts of Baildon, Clayton, Denholme, Drighlington, Queensbury, Shelf and Shipley to develop a uniform rationing scheme. 

Even while the scheme was being planned problems of distribution in Bradford continued so much so that Fred Jowett MP for Bradford West at the time raised the issue in House of Commons on 17th January 1918. He stated that in “Bradford on Saturday last there were queues of people two and three abreast at five different shops all within half a mile distance from the town hall, the shortest of which was not less than 40 yards and the longest 70 in length waiting for butter or margarine” He was also concerned on the effect on the health and physical condition of the women and children of standing for hours in the streets in cold and wet weather. The response from the Ministry of Food to his concerns was that Bradford was already at the forefront of establishing the most effective remedy by developing a model scheme with a view to the establishment of a local rationing with Bradford as a centre.

By February that year ration cards were issued, the scheme was said to be working smoothly and it was reported that the queues had disappeared. However there were still frequent complaints that distribution was still uneven with some areas receiving only butter and others only margarine.

Even after the war in April 1919 although margarine was free of rationing in Bradford it still had a fixed maximum control price. Butter was still rationed with no increase in quantity available. Despite the Food Control committee wanting to continue with their work until there are no longer any shortages the Ministry of food notified them that the committee would cease to exist from 30th June 1920.

Food shortages
BBC1/29-42 — Bradford Food Control Committee Minutes 1917-1920  -West Yorkshire Archive Service 

1 comment:

  1. Interesting. Hard to imagine - We take so much for granted now.
    Theresa (Tangled Trees)