From the records held at the Norfolk Record Office and the newspaper archives at Norfolk Heritage Centre
Food supplies were becoming a major concern as the war showed no sign of ending. The Carrow Works Magazines, held at the NRO, had frequent articles on wartime economy. The January 1916 edition reported on a speech made by the Right Honourable H H Asquith who had spoken on the matter in the House of Commons the previous November stating “There must be a far stricter economy, both public and private.”
The April 1917 magazine reported on a display on economy at the Castle Museum. For housewives, the central section of the hall proves most attractive, from the laundry table to the home-made furniture polish, bottled fruits or jams. . . . . . On one visit I found many things that could be made from rice, as a substitute either for flour or potatoes. . . . . . . (Economy) is a difficult and engrossing art, which is apt to fill a woman’s entire time and thought.
Food economy and the possibility of rationing was a regular topic of conversation. Then, in May 1917, a Royal Proclamation by the King appeared in the press urging the nation to reduced bread consumption by a quarter. The Proclamation appeared in the Eastern Daily Press on 3rd May and was followed by a short statement:
THE ROYAL HOUSEHOLD
We are authorized to state that his Majesty is not asking his subjects to do anything which he is not prepared to do himself. Very early in February strict rationing was introduced into the Royal Household and has been strictly adhered to.
A follow-up article in the next edition of the EDP reported that it would be for the public, through their choice of action, to decide whether compulsory rationing would be introduced. The need for compulsory rationing may not even arise then if the public loyally observe the exhortation of the King voluntarily to reduce their consumption of bread by no less than one fourth.
A letter from Lord Lieutenant Leicester, Chair of Norfolk County Council appeared in the EDP on 7th May 1917. We therefore make the most serious and earnest appeal to the people of Norfolk to concentrate their efforts on the saving of bread.
The Proclamation was circulated amongst the public with the addition of a ‘Bread Pledge’ whereby families could pledge to reduce their bread consumption.
Posters were also displayed to encourage the public.
Some appealed for special allowances to be made. A letter dated 11th May 1917 to the Norfolk War Agricultural Committee requested higher bread rations for agricultural workers. C/C 10/15
The nature of the Agricultural Labourers created a keener appetite than many of indoor employments and that the allowance was wholly inadequate . . . . further the smallness of his wages made it impossible for him to purchase a sufficient quantity of meat and other substitutes to enable him to cut down the consumption of Bread to any extent unless the price of meat was greatly reduced.
Not everyone adhered to the bread regulations. On 12th May 1917 Norwich Mercury reported that William Webb of Hall Road Norwich was fined for selling bread which did not weigh an even number of pounds. On 15th May the EDP reported that a woman in Bromley was fined £5 when the dustbin man found bread thrown away in her bin.
Others, however, were more committed to doing their bit. In the EDP on 16th May 1917 the Ipswich Cooperative Society reported a fall in the sale of bread compared to the previous month in response to the call to reduce consumption. The reduction in sales to the well-to-do having fallen 20 to 25 per cent.
Whether the not-so-well-to-do were equally committed is not made clear. However, despite or in spite of their efforts, compulsory rationing still had to be introduced the following year.
Daryl Long NRO Research Blogger