• Food and Rationing
  • Age 9 to 11 (KS2)
  • Age 11 to 14 (KS3)

IWM historian Terry Charman takes us on a tour of the 1940s house. The house is a reproduction of the home in which the Hymers family lived during the making of the Channel 4 series 1940s House (2001). The replica house was on display at IWM London until 2011.


  • Challenges for Britain, Europe and the wider world, 1901-present - KS3/4.  
  • Warfare and British society, c1250-Present - GCSE.
  • To understand what life was like on the Home front during the Second World War.



Onscreen: [The Living Room]  

This is the living or sitting room of the 1940s house. It's decorated in the style that was very popular in the late 1930s, Art Deco. The family would have kept the same furniture and decoration throughout the war because furniture like everything else was in short supply. The focus of the room was the fireplace, and the open coal fire was the main source of heat when the room would have been cosy and warm when the fire was alight, however fuel was in short supply during the war time and a fuel saving scheme was introduced in 1942 which encouraged household has not used their fire at all in the summer months and to turn off the lights when not necessary. Children would use the living room or sitting room as a play area rather than their bedrooms during wartime.  

Pride a place in the living room was the wireless set or radio. The 9 o'clock news was the focus point of the family's listening day in the radio, but they will also comedy programs like ‘ITMA’, ‘Happidrome’, and ‘Hi gang!’, and more serious programs like ‘The Brains Trust’. The family would have also had a record player, or as they were known at the time grammar phones. You had to wind them up yourself and they played records that were very, very easy to scratch or to break. The records of the time featured stars like Vera Lynn and Glenn Miller and his band.  

From June 1941 onwards clothes were rationing, and the public were given sixty-six coupons to buy their clothes. Clothes rationing continued for the next eight years, but even before the war many people had made their own clothes. They were now encouraged by the Board of Trade, the government department that oversaw clothes rationing, to make even more and to use and alter old clothes a lot in a ‘Make Do and Mend’ scheme, and many found the making of clothes knitting darning a sort of an exercise to while away the long nights of the blackout. The blackout began in Britain on the 1st of September 1939 and continued in some places until VE Day May 1945. The idea of course was to black out all the windows of a house so no lights could be seen by German bombers. 

The Living Room

In the Living room we see how families spent their spare time listening to the wireless and gramophone records. The family also used this room to sew and knit, having to ‘Make do and Mend’, after clothes rationing was introduced in June 1941.


Onscreen: [The Kitchen]

This is the kitchen of the 1940s house, and the room in the house that's probably undergone the greatest changes since the Second World War. A look around the kitchen reveals that there are very few, if any, labour-saving devices. Hardly any British households had fridges at the beginning of the Second World War, and none had freezers. Washing machines were comparatively few, in the kitchen here there is an electrically heated tub which was used to do the household laundry. At the time Monday was washing day in Britain. It was a very time-consuming task that the housewife had to do in washing, and indeed doing the washing up. No detergents just done with household soap and soap flakes, and even they were rationed from February 1942 onwards. China, glassware, and cutlery were also all in very short supply during the Second World War.  

Keeping the 1940s house clean was also a difficult and time-consuming task. A few households did have electric Hoover's but most just had the carpet sweeper. A broom, dustpan and brush, were used for sweeping up the dirt, whilst the kitchen floor would be mopped up with a bucket of soap and water.  

Lacking a fridge most of the household edible foods were placed either in the larder cupboard or in a separate pantry in some of the older houses. Food was rationed in Britain from the 8th of January 1940, ration books had been issued in November 1939 and the first items food to be rationed were bacon and ham, butter and sugar. Other foods were added later, meat going on the ration in March 1940. Here is a typical week's ration of food. Churchill, when shown that week's rations, said, “That doesn't look a bad meal to me,’ but had to be told, “But Prime Minister that's one entire week,” and the Prime Minister said, “Oh my poor people.”  

Fuel was also rationed during the Second World War, and housewives revised to cook as much as possible in one go to conserve fuel. Behind the cornflakes packet there's the family bread bin, bread wasn't actually rationed during the Second World War but was rationed from July 1946 for the next two years. During the war a national wholemeal loaf was introduced but it wasn't at all popular with the public. 

The Kitchen

The difference between a modern and wartime kitchen are highlighted here, in particular storing food without a fridge and washing clothes without a washing machine. Food and fuel rationing also affected activity in the kitchen. Bacon, ham, butter and sugar were the first foods to be rationed in January 1940, with meat going ‘on the ration’ from March 1940.

Two housewives discuss the problem of food shortages during a shopping trip, somewhere in London.
IWM D 24987
Food Rationing

In this photograph from 1945  two women discuss food rationing. Behind them we can see a fruit and vegetable stall. Fruit and vegetables were never rationed, but they could be in short supply as very little could be imported from abroad and so Britain was reliant on home-grown seasonal crops. Some food rationing continued in Britain until June 1954. In the audio clip Joyce Henderson describes how food rationing affected her wedding in March 1944, and how she coped with clothes rationing.

“When we were married I had a wedding cake made but I couldn't have, there wasn't enough sugar ration for the icing. It was proper wedding cake, but it was covered over with white paper with little decorations and everything to look as if it was iced. And my wedding reception was at the Coop Hall at Ashford, the Coop did it and it was a Monday morning, we were married on a Monday morning at 10 o’clock because Ken was home on leave and the wedding breakfast, I think was 3 shillings and sixpence a head. And it was like a cold salad if I remember rightly. And it was trifle with cream because it was a Monday there was some cream, so you could have cream. When I got married, I was, an old chappy across the road and I went over and begged some coupons for a coat to go away with and he let me have 10 coupons which I was very lucky to get.”

Squander Bug air rifle target mounted on a wood baton
© IWM (EPH 4611)
Squander Bug air rifle target

The Squanderbug first appeared in press adverts, but quickly developed a life of its own after use in several poster designs, urging people to save for the war effort rather than helping Hitler by ‘squandering their money on consumer goods. Members of the public made their own effigies from materials like papier mache, using them for target practice and in town parades culminating in the symbolic hanging of the creature.

The Queue at the Fish-shop by Evelyn Dunbar
© IWM (Art.IWM ART LD 3987)
The Queue for the fish shop

Although fresh fish was never rationed, it was often in short supply, and quite expensive. Fish queues were always long and even air raids could not disperse them. Supplies were limited as the Royal Navy requisitioned much of the fishing fleet and the German Navy and Air Force restricted the activity of the remaining fleets in the North Sea. In this audio clip Lily Phillips explains how her mother used the black market to supplement their rations, and  the excitement and inevitable queues when they heard about new goods.

“My mother did enjoy some of the services of the black market. Janice had the baby and she used to pay a shilling an egg. She'd spent seven shillings a week for this baby to have an egg every day. Fruit we did used to get, not regularly, you know, whenever you heard the greengrocer because we knew this was like a Chinese whispers or something and you know, would go around. Everybody knew, like, I knew that at one time there was a big store, Wickhams and it was going to have Pyrex dishes. We queued up for hours to get a Pyrex dish and one of the things that was left over from when I was in Cornwall, this friend of ours, she had five children and the oldest one worked in the ironmongers, and she got me some saucepans and sent them from Cornwall. And that was marvellous had a big bowl and I remember I had a colander for years that was sent to me, but it was like wildfire. Wickhams has got, and then Mr Wolfe's got apples in today and you ran, and you got your apples. Course, no oranges or bananas, but it was mainly apples. Me, my, my mother did get things where she was probably being naughty, but we did have onions, onions were priceless. Most of the cooking was like tasteless if you didn't have an onion. It was a very strong black market in those days, if you wanted to, you could get anything. Because everybody knew somebody who knew somebody who knew somebody.”


Onscreen: [The Dining Room]

This is the dining room of the 1940s house, and in those days a British family would eat most of their meals together in this room. Indeed, they were encouraged by the government to eat their meals dim one room to conserve fuel.  

The teapot on the table in its cosy shows that tea drinking was an important ritual in the British wartime house. Although tea was rationed from July 1940 onwards to two ounces a week, enough for about 25 cups. Rationing began in January 1940 and continued into the 1950s, finally finishing at the end of June 1954. The last thing going off the ration was meat and bacon. The Ministry of food and the law and Walton had a very effective public relations department which tried to popularize dishes that the British wouldn't normally have eaten during the war years. One of them was named after the minister himself Lord Walton called Walton Pie, best described as a steak and kidney pie without the steak and kidney. The Ministry of Food also had food flashes which was shown in the cinema or each week telling the British how to make the most of their rations. “Finish here on the page, but don't tear it out. Over leaf the next slot begins and they're the ones that bring your extra sweets for Christmas. Extras for green box and blue books.”  

The dining rooms French windows opening onto the garden have had to splinter net tape applied to them, this was to reduce the risk of flying glass if the windows have been shattered during a bomb blast in an air raid. In the garden would be the family's Anderson shelter to protect them during air raids these were distributed from February 1939 onwards and undoubtedly saved thousands of lives during the Blitz between September 1940 and May 41. From the spring of 1941 the indoor Morrison shelter began to be distributed, it was named after the minister of home security Herbert Morrison. Too late to become effective during the Blitz itself, it undoubtedly saved lives during the German V1 and V2 campaign in 1944-45. 

The Dining Room

The focus in this room is food rationing and Terry Charman takes us through a typical rationed meal and how to use a ration book. In this room we can also see how the family prepared for air raids, with Splinternet tape on the windows and an Anderson Shelter in the garden.

 a line drawing of a Morrison shelter in use as a table during the day, with food, cutlery and flowers laid out. Clearly visible are the steel 'mattress' and, behind the 'table', the steel mesh sides which would prevent rubble falling into the shelter when fixed between the base and top.
IWM D 2031
Morrison Shelters

This Ministry of Information drawing shows the multi purpose Morrison Shelter. It was available from 1941 onwards, and provided a solution for families without a garden, who could not build an Anderson Shelter ARP Wardens kept a list of houses that had an Morrison Shelter, so rescuers knew they should dig to free the family beneath the rubble. In this audio clip Ron Frost describes his family’s Morrison Shelter.

“We had a, we had a Morrison shelter in the lounge. We lived in a, in a two-bedroom council house and the lounge was reasonably large, so we had this heavy iron construction which we used as a table during the day, and I was always put to bed in the Morrison and if the if the sirens went during the war, then mother would bring the baby down and crawl in. But father never ever went in there. He said that if a bomb came with his name on it, well, so be it.”


Onscreen: [The Boys' Bedroom]  

This is one of the three bedrooms in the 1940s house, a room occupied by two schoolboys. You can see on the fireplace a model tank. The boys bedroom also contains the bookshelf, books like ‘Biggles the Air ace’ or the famous William books by Richmond Crompton, including titles like ‘William and the ARP’. ‘William and the evacuees’.  

The first Christmas of the war toys were relatively plentiful, many of them had a warlike theme like soldiers' outfits, nurse's outfits, and model aeroplanes. But gradually toys became scarce as the toy manufacturing companies went over to the production of the real weapons of war.  

In September 1939 the outbreak of the Second World War nearly 2 million children were evacuated from London and other towns and cities for fear of them being caught in German air attacks. As these attacks didn't materialize a lot of the parents brought their children back home, and the children had to be re-evaluated when the Germans started bombing London and other towns in September 1940. 

The Boys' Bedroom

In the Boys’ bedroom we discover the toys that the boys played with.Toys became more difficult to obtain as the war continued and companies such as Meccano produced weapons instead. We also see books with a wartime theme that the boys read. IWM historian Terry Charman goes on to explain how nearly two million children were evacuated from major cities and towns in September 1939.

A 4 year old girl models Utility underwear as she sits reading a book in front of the fire before bed.
© IWM (D 13102)

In this photograph from 1942 a four year old girl is modelling utility underwear. Her pale blue wool sleeping suit cost 18s 9d and four coupons. Clothes rationing was introduced in June 1941. In the same year utility clothing was introduced to save on labour and materials. Clothing meeting Board of Trade standards were labelled with the CC41 insignia, denoting Civilian Clothing 41. She is surrounded by toys including a doll in a cot and soft toys. By 1942 toys were very difficult to buy new and many were handmade.

Pull-along toy dog (Daschund), comprising a flat wooden cut-out dog mounted on four wheels
© IWM (EPH 6354)

Toys were in short supply during the Second World War and many were hand-made. This pull-along toy dog was made by German prisoners of war for the Duke family children. This was the inspiration for Michael Morpurgo’s “Little Manfred”.  In this audio clip Pamela Leopard describes how her Dad made her a wooden doll’s pram for Christmas and the difficulty her Mum had in getting her a doll.

“And in the morning, I had a wonderful surprise. They wheeled a dolls pram in. My father had made it in his shed. It was wood, of course, being a Carpenter, all lacquered black. That, it was wonderful. My mother had a job to get a doll for me. I wanted the sleepy-eyed doll, and I was in the bus queue talking to a lady and she said I've got one at home and that's how I got my doll. Lovely it was, you know, it was wonderful for me, and I treasured that doll. There were things that were very hard to get doll and dolls and toys, weren’t they then?”

The Evacuation of Children from Southend by Ethel Gabain
© IWM (Art.IWM ART LD 264)
The Evacuation of Children from Southend by Ethel Gabain

The evacuation of children from towns and cities began on 1st September 1939, but due to the inaction of the Phoney War many returned home quite quickly. In June 1940 the government expected the Nazis to invade Britain. This led to the evacuation of coastal towns such as Southend. Children in other towns and cities were evacuated once again when the Blitz began in September 1940. In this audio clip Derek Milton explains that his Mother decided not to evacuate him, despite living in Kennington, London.

“My mother, when they wanted to evacuate all the kids, she said, “Well, I'm not having my children taken away from me,” so I wasn't, no. A lot of the children did. They were evacuated and then they came back to London because there was such a lull and they thought, well, nothing's going to happen, and they came back before the air raid started.”


Onscreen: [The Master Bedroom]  

Here is the main or master bedroom of the 1940s house, slightly unusual in the fact that there are twin beds. Most couples would have had a double bed. The beds are covered were down and feather filled Ida downs, but hot water bottles would still be needed in wintertime as the room would get very cold with only a very small electric fire for heating in front of the fireplace.  

In the 1940s the British male wasn't as fashion conscious as he is today. Most men would have had two work suits, a Sunday best suit or for funerals and weddings, and a sports jacket and flannels for the weekend. In 1942 the Board of Trade announced that all men's jackets were to be single breasted from now on and limited to three buttons. Turn ups on trousers were banned completely, a move that was extremely unpopular and questions were even asked in the House of Commons about it.  

In August 1942 furniture was also introduced and controlled under the utility scheme. There were 22 essential items, and each came in two qualities and three designs. Household goods such as sheets towels carpets and blankets were also later added to the utility scheme.  

The fall of France in June 1940 meant that French scents and perfumes are unavailable to British women, and so they were forced back on homegrown products like Yardley's lavender water which one can still get today. 

The Master Bedroom

In the Master Bedroom we see a bedroom which unusually has twin beds instead of a double. Terry Charman explains how clothes rationing affected men’s fashions. In 1942 the Utility Furniture Scheme (UFS) was introduced and here we see a utility bedroom suite. The emphasis was on good quality and economical use of materials. There were 22 items of essential furniture made in three designs and two qualities.

Newly-engaged Marcelle Lestrange looks at her permit for Utility furniture which she has just received from Chelsea Borough Council.
© IWM (D 12855)
Newly-engaged Marcelle Lestrange looks at her permit for Utility furniture which she has just received from Chelsea Borough Council.
Utility Furniture

The photograph shows Marcelle Lestrange looking at her Utility furniture permit in March 1943. These permits were introduced in 1942 for newly-wed couples setting up home and for people who had been bombed out. Second -hand furniture did not require a permit and goods were also donated for distribution to those in need by the Women’s Voluntary Services. In this audio clip Betty Brown explains how Wrighton Aircraft Factory, where she worked ,also made utility furniture.

“It was utility furniture which they would have made, and a certain area of the factory was put over to making some basic furniture. It was very basic but very well made and it had a little symbol, it was like almost like two little seeds and it was stamped on anything which was utility. It was a good design and well-made. If you bought a thing which was marked utility, you thought you'd got some sort of a standard, well-made, well-designed furniture. It wouldn't be any frills, would be a basic table and basic chairs but made to a standard.”


Onscreen: [The Bathroom]  

This is the bathroom of the 1940s house. It was still not all that very common to have an indoor bathroom. Most families still relied on the old tin bath have their Friday night bath, that being a ritual. The bathroom has a bath but no shower, and to save on fuel families were advised to limit the amount of hot water in their baths to five inches.  

The royal family set an example in this. President Roosevelt's wife Helena, stopping with the royal family at Buckingham Palace, was surprised to find the baths had a line marked around them giving the statutory 5-inch limit.  

Soap was rationed from February 1942 onwards the ration was four ounces per person per week toilet soap, and rations were reduced to three ounces in July of that year. Shampoo was scarce so women often had to resort to washing their hair with their own small ration of soap. Men's shaving soap was also rationed.  

Families are encouraged by the government to have a first aid kit in the bathroom to be used in the event of injuries caused during air raids.  

Even more uncommon than a bathroom was an indoor lavatory or toilet. Many older houses in large towns and cities in Britain would have had a toilet outside, and sometimes that toilet would have to be shared by a large number of families. 

The Bathroom

The 1940’s house had both an indoor toilet and bathroom which were still quite unusual at that time. Many families relied on a tin bath in the kitchen for their weekly bath and the toilet was located in the back yard. Bathroom products such as soap and shampoo were rationed from 1942. Every family was advised to have a First Aid kit in the bathroom to treat minor injuries caused by the bombing.

A man demonstrates how to draw a line in the bath
© IWM (D 11080)
Hot Water Rationing

In order to save coal, essential for the war effort, a line of five inches was drawn in the bath. This showed the amount of water that you were asked to use. The British Government asked people to ration their use of hot water in order to conserve fuel. Even the baths in Buckingham Palace had  lines drawn in them. In this audio clip Pauline Harris explains how people obeyed the instruction to limit the bath water they used, despite there being no way to enforce it. She confesses to once using more hot water than she was allowed.

“The most impressive thing about how people pulled together was the way that people never had more than three inches of bath water, and nobody could check on that. We were asked not to have more than three inches of hot water in our bath, and I remember having four inches once, and I confessed to a fellow student, and she was horrified. She said, “We won't win the war if you do things like that.””


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