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Harringay, Haringey - So Good they Spelt it Twice!

I was alerted to the topic of Hornsey Civic Restaurants by @SteveHartUnite who tweeted about a new poster he's just acquired on the subject of "Hornsey Civic Restaurants".

A few minutes on the web led me to some outline information about what these institutions were. In short, they emerged out of a response to food shortages in London during the Battle of Britain and lasted through postwar rationing.

If you'd like to dip your toes in a little deeper into this topic, I have reproduced below some excerpts (with occasional minor edits for clarity) from Atkins, P.J. (2011) 'Communal feeding in war time : British restaurants, 1940-1947.', in Food and war in twentieth century Europe. Farnham, England. The full chapter from which these quotes are taken is attached.

In the summer of  1940 an experiment was being conducted by the Ministry of Food on a working-class housing estate in North Kensington. Over 2,000 hot meals per week were cooked on simple ranges, the choice being limited to popular dishes such as Irish stew and dumplings, or roast beef. A different main meal was cooked each day at an affordable price by volunteer labour. People's reactions seem to have been largely positive, although timeliness was identified as a key issue because workers and school children all needed to eat quickly in the short lunch period available to them. The ministry was sufficiently encouraged by this project to envisage the scaling up of catering to meet local needs in what were to be called Community Feeding Centres. 

In early September the ministry requested that the London County Council should take the lead in providing communal feeding facilities in the capital. Called the Londoners' Meals Service, this was always separate from the 'British Restaurants' scheme. But in effect the two were similar, at least in post-blitz London, which was dominated by field kitchens and mobile canteens offering a 'cash hand carry' service. The first indoor dining room was opened in Woolmore Street, Poplar on 24 October 1940. By Christmas, 139 Londoners' Meals Service centres were producing a total of 80,000 meals a week. Many of the sites were schools, first because the buildings were increasingly available as children were evacuated, and, second, because the domestic science teachers and their facilities would otherwise have been unemployed and underutilised. The price was an affordable 9d or 10d for a two-course meal. 

In November 1940 provincial local authorities were circulated, asking them to consider setting up what were now to be called Community Kitchens. By the end of the year these had been established in major cities such as Birmingham, Bradford, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle upon Tyne. Progress was slow at first but the spread of air raids concentrated the minds of councils, as did the minister's offer offinancial assistance.

Churchill disliked terminology such as 'Communal Feeding Centre' and 'Community Kitchen' as redolent' of Communism and the workhouse'. In March 1941 he suggested the name 'British Restaurant' because the word 'restaurant' is associated positively in people's minds with 'a good meal'." One modern branding professional sees this in retrospect as the masterstroke of someone who instinctively understood the difference between product and brand.

Most British Restaurants were run on the cafeteria principle. The diners bought tickets and then queued up and chose food from a series ofhot plates.

Generally speaking, the food in British Restaurants was said to be of good quality and filling. There were some attempts to introduce meals in the Oslo style, with the intention of providing in one sitting all of the day's needs for animal protein, vitamins and minerals. But this met with resistance from customers who wanted their traditional meat and two vegetables. In Birmingham all 56 British Restaurants had a choice of five meat dishes, five vegetables and five desserts, and those in the city centre had more. In other cities with less on offer, menus had to be removed from the entrances because customers would wander from one to another and the restaurant serving roast attracted the customers.

In 1942 most local authorities with populations over 50,000 (mostly County and Municipal Boroughs) had adopted the British Restaurant idea. In the band 10,000 to 50,000 it was about a half, and a quarter for those authorities under 10,000. Twelve local authorities had ten or more restaurants open each, and London dominated with a quarter to a third of British Restaurants nationally.

After 1947 some restaurants were converted, under the Civic Restaurants Act, into civic restaurants run by the local council. If a civic restaurant operated at a loss for three consecutive years the act provided that ministerial consent would be needed for it to continue to remain open. These restaurants existed at least into the mid-1950s. The poster at the top of the page looks like it was published as the schemes were being shut down around the country and was part of an attempt to keep them open locally.

Sadly I have no specific information on the Hornsey restaurants in particular. If you do, please feel free to pile in.

The full Act of Parliament that created Civic Restaurants is also attached.

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Replies to This Discussion

I remember seeing references to a 'feeding station' in the old NHP log books so I assume the school was part of the scheme. I'm pretty sure meals were provided during most of the school holidays and tbh I thought they were for only for the children.

Very interesting Hugh!

And I remember seeing something about a few malnourished children being taken to a coffee shop in Turnpike Lane as well as outdoor classes for some (which I don't think lasted)

I have a feeling that the Criterion Restaurant between, I think Frobisher and Falklands or maybe the next block started life as one of these. I recall it being rather austere and plain. We ended up there on Christmas Day in about 1952 after our Christmas was stolen on the 23rd through an easily opened toilet window! But its funnier since my father was then a serving Metropolitan Police detective... 

I'm a bit late to the party, as I'm surfing "back numbers" but thought I'd add my pennyworth anyway, for the little historical record!

The Hornsey Historical Society bulletin "Home Fires - A North London Suburb at War" has a mention of Hornsey County School's main assembly hall doubling up as a British Restaurant. School lay between Pemberton and Mattison Roads.(memoir related to 1943)

I believe that the YMCA in Tottenham Lane was a post-war Civic Restaurant. Perhaps that followed on from having been a wartime British Restaurant? However, I have not yet found a formal refence to either, in resources readily available to this layman.

I remember the civic restaurant at West Green Primary School where I was a  pupil from 1945 to 1949..The food was prepared by the school kitchen staff and eaten in the school hall. My mother ate there sometimes and said the food was very good

One of these restaurants was in Crescent Road N22, this is nowadays a Deli.

 I remember queing and that cooking smells were not like those at home but it was wholesome food.

Next door was a greengrocer which was not open every day and not well stocked but us kids were able to scrounge loose cabbage leaves from the floor or emptied crates for our rabbits.

In 1941 there was a planning application to build a nursery at 7 Osborne Road, Stroud Green, "at the rear of the British restaurant". A copy is in Bruce Castle's collection of Hornsey Council planning applications. This particular one is numbered 11816, and the Museum Reference is 1/HLA/B2/6 ROADS STR-TET.



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