“How much allowance have I got left?”
By DJ Forrest
In the 10th Episode of Torchwood in Season One, the lives of three people from the 1950’s were the responsibility of Torchwood Three. Catapulted into present day Cardiff they had a lot of adjustments to make, one of which was how much in abundance the foodstuffs they’d been rationed on for years was now readily available in much larger quantities.
Ianto Jones issued the three travellers from the 1950’s a £25 weekly shopping allowance. Emma told Ianto that her dad was only paid £10 a week back in the ‘50’s so receiving a higher allowance seemed like she’d just struck gold. Entering the store stocked full of Christmas delights, they were introduced to colour televisions, films on a disk in a box (DVD’s) and scantily clad celebrities on the front cover of magazines in full view of children. Times had most definitely changed!
It seems hard to imagine what it must have been like living on rations, surviving on coupons for a few ounces of butter and jam that would have to last a week, and feed a family. That your petrol that you fill your car with HAD to last for some time before you could fill her up again. Unlike these days when you fill your tank and away you go for as far as you can travel – although to some of us, once a tenner has been used up, travelling comes to a complete standstill unless it’s not too far to walk. In the 1950’s there would have been less pollution from exhaust fumes given the rationing during and after the war, less money, less fuel, less of everything, would hardly make a dent in their carbon footprint back then.
So what was rationing and why did it start?
Governments had to feed their nation during the War but to ensure that there was enough food to go around, after cargo ships travelling from abroad with food were bombed by the enemy, rations were imposed, limiting each family, and each individual with a certain amount of food each week.
On September 30th 1939 ID cards were issued to every man woman and child in the UK, these were needed in order to purchase your ration coupons. The coupons themselves were used on a weekly basis and children under the age of 16 were also given them. They were similar in size to the Green Shield Stamps and were taken from the books so you couldn’t reuse them. Although you each had a coupon you were still limited to how many lbs of meat and ounces sugar and butter you could have and that had to last you a week so there were no sly sandwiches before bed, or a sneaky bowl of cereal.
If you lived in the countryside, on a farm, there was more of an abundance of food, plus there were rabbits in the fields to provide the meat, there were the wild birds, and fish, there were crops, vegetables. I would imagine a fair few were snagged or poached to put a meal on the table.
Rationing in the UK began on 8th January 1940 when sugar, butter and bacon were targeted under the rationing laws.
By 1946, soap, clothes and coal were rationed. It made a lot more sense to me then why people broke into railway depots to steal the coal, which was slower burning and different coal entirely to that which went in the fireplace at home. But it was still coal and it would eventually burn when it reached a certain temperature and threw out the heat.
With clothing I suppose that’s where the term ‘hand-me-downs’ came into fashion. When I was a kid I often recall the family holidays to Wales, and my parents and grandparents would offload several large binbags of clothing, from children to adults that we’d all grown out of but was still in relatively good order, some almost like new. This was something my family had always done, even during rationing, what they received back, was meat (rabbits) and dairy produce, but it wasn’t a form of payment, it was good will and because nobody liked cheese on the farm and the rabbits were in abundance.
Bread rationing came to an end in 1948 but it wasn’t until Feb 5th 1953 that sweet rationing was finally over. Up until then children were seriously limited in their sugary delights. Imagine if sweets were rationed now, there would be no large slabs of chocolate; the large jars of sweets behind counters would be limited to a quarter of a pound a fortnight or a month. Imagine having to suck slowly to savour the flavour!
“We’d only just come off rationing in ’53.” John Ellis told Ianto as he stared at the vast array of food in Asda supermarket. But that’s not technically true. Although bread, petrol, soap and clothes rationing was over by 1950, food rationing hadn’t completely ended until July 3rd 1954.
Sometimes I think rationing would be a good idea again, it would certainly help in reducing our intake of junk food and perhaps teach us how to look after ourselves when we know how limited we are with resources and perhaps we’d value things more, we wouldn’t be so negligent in our care of equipment, clothing, machinery, petrol, the environment. We’d eat only when we needed to eat, not just eat for the sake of eating. You appreciated things more back then I think and we’ve lost that over the years.
Artwork by Nikki Forrest