Rationing in Essex

Initially the Great War had no real effect on the availability of food although there was a rise in price. 

By 1916 things changed due to conscription robbing farms of even more men, the mobilisation of the majority of premises for the war effort and increased difficulty in maintaining imported food supplies. 

In the winter of 1916 and spring of 1917 there was a shortage of potatoes which led to the Government imposing a maximum of one and a half pence per pound but many Essex families had to manage without potatoes for several months until the summer of 1917 brought new crops. Given that the potato was the staple food of the masses this caused serious hardship. 

By spring 1917 the price of bread was also rocketing and the government introduced a fixed price and took control over flour distribution. No formal rationing was introduced although a voluntary rationing of 4 pounds weight per week for flour and bread products was introduced. 

The first item to be rationed was sugar for which registration cards were issued and half a pound per head was allowed. 

Sugar ration

By the end of 1917 there was a general shortage of food and queues outside food shops were common in both town and country. Butter was especially prized although fish and meat also were short in supply. 

By 1918 things were much worse with meat quite scarce and even rabbits costing 4 shillings if you were fortunate enough to be able to buy one. In February 1918 this led to the introduction of meat rationing  with everyone being limited to one shilling and eight pence worth of meat and a quarter of a pound of butter and 2 ounces of lard per week.

 In November 1918  2 ounces of tea and four ounces of  jam were added to the weekly rationing book. 


Coal also increased in price during the war and continued to do so until at least 1920. It was rationed in the winter of 1918 to one ton for every room of the house. As a few houses by then had electricity this allowance also included the equivalent cost in electricity.


 Matches were a surprise shortage item with shortages making those available a high price. 

While this affected smokers it also caused problems for most households who relied on coal fires for cooking and heating. 

Many people used spills from fires and there was a growing trend for mechanical lighters. 

As with many such shortages the government stepped in and fixed their price at one penny per box and limited each household to one box per week. 


Prosecution was the normal result to breaches of the rations. Examples of this were at Harlow Magistrates Court on 8 November 1919 where the following cases were heard 

Frederick Clarke, a baker from Potter Street Harlow was summonsed fro selling currants at one shilling a pound which was two pence above the price allowed under the Dried Fruits Order. 

Arthur Wood, a carpenter from Potter Street, Harlow and grocer , Mr George Dent were summonsed after it was shown that Wood had obtained 4 pounds of sugar in one week for his family of five when he was only entitled to 2 and a half pounds.