Churchill's British Restaurants

In a previous article I mentioned the British Restaurant which was situated in the Memorial Hall for several years during the war. This was staffed by a supervisor (whose name I never knew), Mrs Peason (or Pierson) who lived in New Avenue, Mrs Ringwood who lived in Lincewood Park Drive, and my mother who lived in Raglan Road. All three lived in unmade side roads off Berry Lane. These ladies all worked in the kitchen, up to their elbows in steam and hot water preparing and cooking food, cleaning dishes, and doing general cleanup work. In addition there was a Mrs Dunlop who dressed in heels and sat at a card table, took money, handed out tickets and acted as a social Lady Muck according to my memory of the other working ladies.

I have since wondered what exactly was the British Restaurant? I often ate there and jolly good food it was. My first experience of eating outside the home. Memory says the staff must have worked from 8am to 4pm and served meals from 11.30 to 2.30. There was no menu. You took whatever was on that day. Like it or lump it. Everybody, to my knowledge, liked it. The price was right. I cannot remember exactly but it must have been under six pence for an all you could eat hot dinner and a dessert. There may have been a second shift to serve evening diners but I cannot remember that. It would seem to make sense as most people worked during the day and did not finish the work day until 5 or 6pm.

Coincidentally, I was reading “Dinner with Churchill” by Cita Stelzer and came upon the following extract which filled in some of the gaps.

“The rationing scheme had to be and be seen to be fair. So when the access of upper income diners to restaurants at which ration coupons were not required threatened to cause a loss of support for the scheme, the government subsidised some two thousand non profit restaurants established by local authorities to provide lower income families with an opportunity to dine out. Home Intelligence reports suggested that the popularity of these restaurants was due to the fact that, by offering a meal for less than a shilling, “they gave poorer folks a chance to do what the rich have always been able to do — have a meal without giving up coupons”. On 21 March 1941, the Prime Minister wrote to the Minister of Food, Lord Woolton: I hope the term “Communal Feeding Centres” is not going to be adopted. It is an odious expression suggestive of Communism and the workhouse. I suggest you call them “British Restaurants”. Everybody associates the word restaurant with a good meal, and they might as well have the name if they cannot get anything else. Churchill’s suggestion was adopted and these establishments became the proudly patriotic “British Restaurants”.

This would seem to explain the origin of the British Restaurant in the Memorial Hall. A non profit, government mandated effort, carried out by local councils (the BUDC in this case), to afford working class people an opportunity to eat out “off the coupon” as their betters were able to do at the Savoy or the Ritz. Not quite the same thing of course. Apparently there were two thousand British Restaurants established. The only one I know of was in Laindon High Road. Perhaps other readers of this site can authenticate others. Did other British Restaurants exist in Billericay, Pitsea, the Bursteads, or elsewhere?

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