On the afternoon of Wednesday, the 4th of February, 1953, the wartime rationing of “sweets” in the United Kingdom finally came to a complete end. (The “sweets” referred to both candy and chocolate.)
“FROM OUR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: “Answering questions by Sir Ian Fraser (C. Morecambe and Lonsdale) and Mr Kenneth Thompson (C. Walton) the Minister of Food announced that the rationing and price control of chocolate and sugar confectionary ends to-day.” — Sweets off the ration. Liverpool, England. Liverpool Echo. Wednesday, 04 February 1953. Page 6.
A few web sites such as even the BBC mistakenly say that it was the 5th of February.
Wartime rationing of candy in the United Kingdom
Rationing of candy and chocolate was implemented by the Ministry of Food in the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) during the Second World War on the 26th of July, 1942.
The goal was to ensure that everyone had access to at least a small amount of sweet treats that they could count on to be in shops for them, if they wanted it.
The Ministry of Food issued you ration coupons that entitled you to purchase per week a limited weight of candy and chocolate combined. You could not purchase any more than you had coupons for. Note that the ration coupons only gave you the right to buy it: you still then actually had to pay for the candy, with money.
“Sweet rationing began on July 26, 1942, with a weekly ration of 2 oz. (@ 60 g). A month later the ration was doubled for eight weeks and then cut to 3 oz. (@ 90 g) per week.” Sweets are now off-ration. Aberdeen, Scotland: Evening Express. 4 February 1953. Page 1, col. 5.
You had to hand the ration coupons over to the shopkeeper at the time of the purchase, so that they couldn’t be re-used. Instead of using your ration coupons for sweets, you could though give them to someone else to use.
Another element of the sweets rationing policy was that retailers were only allowed to sell sweets produced in their local region. The purpose of this policy was to reduce long-distance transportation, thus freeing up petrol (gas) and fuel for the war effort. This meant for instance that Rowntree sweets, made in York, in the north of England, became only available there, and not in southern areas of England. Rychlikova, Megi. 60 years ago today marked the end of sweet rationing. York, Yorkshire: York Press. 5 February 2013. Accessed January 2021 at https://www.yorkpress.co.uk/news/10205990.60-years-ago-today-marked-the-end-of-sweet-rationing/
A first premature lifting of sweets rationing
A first lifting of the sweets ration occurred on the 24th of April, 1949, nearly 5 years after the war ended. But it proved to be premature, and did not last long:
“Sweets were de-rationed in April 1949. This policy proved to be a failure since demand far exceeded supply…” Zweiniger-Bargielowska, Ina. “Rationing, Austerity and the Conservative Party Recovery after 1945.” The Historical Journal, vol. 37, no. 1, 1994, pp. 173–197. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/2640057. Accessed 23 Jan. 2021.
The government had announced the 1949 lifting months in advance. In fact, at least one doctor in Scotland even worried in advance about the health impact of suddenly letting children have unlimited access to candy.
“I am warning parents not to go haywire by letting their children eat too many sweets,” said Dr E. K. Macdonald, chairman of the Central Council for Health Education, at the council’s press conference in London last night. De-rationing of sweets takes place on Sunday and Dr Macdonald said: ‘We believe that the indiscriminate use of sweets will do the children’s teeth no good and probably harm. During the war, rationing did a very great deal of good because we got a balanced diet. Now rationing is going gradually, it may lead to a period of unbalance in the national diet.'” Don’t go haywire on sweets. Aberdeen, Scotland: Aberdeen Press and Journal. Friday, 22 April 1949. Page 1, col 5.
A newspaper reporter in Bristol, England, described the scene there on the 24th of April on this first lifting of the sweets ration:
“Weather-beaten Sunday newspaper vendors with a sweet tooth beat the children to it in queues which began forming early outside sweet kiosks and shops all over Britain yesterday, but the children, of whom it was the first day in their lives on which they were able to buy sweets without Government restrictions, were not far behind.
But this was not the old “hap-orth and pen’north” stuff. Those days were gone. Retailers, however, were concerned that stocks would not last out the day. Ice-cream traders, by contrast, had a quiet trade…
To relieve congestion, one Taunton retailer had a one-way stream of customers in the front door and out the back. Brisk trade and queues of moderate size were experienced by those shops dealing in confectionary which opened in Bristol.
Mr W. A. Wakefield (secretary, Bristol branch of the National Union of Retail Confectioners) told the ‘Western Daily Press and Bristol Mirror’ that during the one-and-a-half hours he opened, he had about 250 customers, whose purchases averaged 2s. a head — equivalent of approximately 1-11 of sweets.
So far as he knew, there were queues everywhere. ‘Stocks’, he added, ‘are uneven.’
In Burnham-on-Sea shopkeepers were ready for the rush and did good business. Some shops usually closed on Sundays, remained open.” Swarms for sweets. Bristol, England: The Western Daily Press and Bristol Mirror. Monday, 25 April 1949. Page 1, col. 8.
But, the need for any doctor’s long-term concern about people’s teeth from a sweets rush proved to be short-lived, as the queues for candy consistently stripped the stores bare of any supply. There just still wasn’t enough sugar available to make enough candy to meet the demand, and large shortages were constant:
“All over the country, people are queuing for sweets. Kirkcaldy is no different from anywhere else and whenever a confectioner gets his allocation, word goes round and within a few minutes the shop is crowded and the queue gathers until it blocks the pavement.
Since the end of sweet rationing, there has been a lot of sweet greed, and the children are not the only greedy people for many adults are just as keen as the youngsters to secure more than their fair share of the limited supplies. It has become quite a game in recent weeks stalking the confectioners’ shops in search of sweetmeats.
Naturally, the shopkeepers get a bit annoyed, and their annoyance is justified in many instances for sweet hunters are not always polite when told they cannot have any more. In one instance refusal almost led to a fight, in another, a woman customer, after waiting for a long time in a queue, practically fainted. And, the time these greedy people are searching for every ounce of chocolate they can buy, other people who do not have the time to queue, have to do without.
One local confectioner has written to Mr Strachey, the Minister of Food, about it, and he has received this reply, ‘The position is being closely watched and if supply and demand do not come into balance shortly there will be no hesitation in re-introducing rationing.’ Then, perhaps, all will share once more in the sweetmeats.” Sweet Greed: Rationing May return. Fife Free Press. Saturday, 9 July 1949. Page 3, col. 7.
Customer complaints were many.
“The whoop of joy which hailed the de-rationing of sweets turned soon into groans at maldistribution of sweets turned soon into groans at mal-distribution of what was available…” How Rugelely Spent 1949. Rugeley Times. 31 December 1949. Page 3, col. 4.
Outages in the supply of something were contrary to the whole raison d’être of the British Ministry of Food. The Ministry was supposed to ensure that even if the amount of something you could get was limited, that you would still be guaranteed that that limited amount was available for you.
But the supply of sugar was just not there to make enough candies and chocolate for even a moderate market demand:
“Sugar was still rationed and the supply of sweets could not cope with the demand. So four months after the Government gave children a taste of heaven, sweet rationing was reimposed…” Rychlikova, Megi. 60 years ago today marked the end of sweet rationing. York, Yorkshire: The Press. 5 February 2013. Accessed January 2021 at https://www.yorkpress.co.uk/news/10205990.60-years-ago-today-marked-the-end-of-sweet-rationing/
On the 14th July 1949, the Ministry of Food announced that in a month sweets would be going back on ration, just under 4 months after they had gone off-ration.
“The Minister of Food announced today that the sugar ration will be reduced from ten to eight ounces on August 14 and sweet rationing reintroduced on the same day. The ration will be four ounces per week.” — Restoring Sweet Ration: Food Ministry spring series of surprises. Belfast, Ireland: The Belfast Telegraph. Thursday, 14 July 1949. Page 5, col. 2.
It was felt that sellers of candy and chocolate would actually be pleased:
“A genuine sigh of relief will go up from thousands of retail confectioners when sweet rationing returns tomorrow. The general public, also tired of seeing “Sorry, No Sweets” notices in shop windows, and of having to queue for a share of whatever supplies arrived, will be thankful for the return of rationing.” Sweet rationing return pleases everyone. Staffordshire Sentinel. Saturday, 13 August 1949. Page 5, col. 2.
The ration rate as of August 1949 would be 4 oz. per week, or 16 oz. per four-week period:
“Sweets go back on the ration (personal points) today. Total for the four-week period is 16 oz.” Bulk Syrup Reduced by Point a Lb. London, England: Weekly Dispatch (London). Sunday, 14 August 1949. Page 5, col. 5.
In November of that year, the government announced a temporary increase in the amount allowed for Christmas: the weekly amount of 4 oz a week would be increased temporarily to 6 oz a week (in a 4 week period, from 16 to 24 oz).
“On the 14th [of November] increases in the tea and bacon ration and a Christmas bonus of sweets and cooking fats were announced.” 1949 Reviewed. The Tewkesbury Register and Gazette. 31 December 1949. Page 5, col. 4.
On 1st January 1950, the ration amount for sweets went back down to 4 oz. a week (that is, from the 4 week bonus figure of 24 oz. to back down to 16 oz.)
“From tomorrow the ration of chocolate and sweets for ration period No. 9 will be 16 ozs. This is a reversion to the position before the Christmas bonus of 6 ozs. was introduced. Coupons for ration period No. 9 are the four “D.9” and the four “E.9″ coupons on page 39 of the ration book. Each of these coupons is worth two personal points. The points value of chocolate and sweets remains at 16 points per pound.” Sweet Ration back to 16 oz. tomorrow. Londonderry, Northern Ireland: Londonderry Sentinel. Saturday 31 December 1949. Page 3, col. 1.
Abolition for good
By January 1953, the sweet ration had been permanently increased back up to 6 oz a week, and there was hope that the sweet ration could be done away with altogether by that coming summer, when the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II would take place.
“Major Lloyd George, Minister of Food, is planning to end sweet rationing before the Coronation in June, says the political correspondent of ‘The Daily Telegraph’. He is at present discussing the position with the trade.
Next week he will make a statement in the House of Commons on ‘bonuses’ of rationed food for the Coronation period. Supplies of meat, bacon, cheese and margarine are expected to be much improved in the near future. He may not, however, be in a position to announce the end of sweet rationing at the same time. The Government is anxious to ensure that stocks will be available to meet any rush on the shops comparable to that which defeated the previous attempt to de-ration sweets. Since December 30, 1951, the sweet ration has been 6 oz. a week. During the eight weeks ending October 4, the take-up of sweets was about 91 per cent. Sweets were taken off the ration on April 24, 1949, and a run on the shops began immediately. By the middle of the summer, buyers had to queue for their sweets and many shops organised unofficial rationing schemes. Rationing was reintroduced on August 14.” Hope of sweets off ration by Coronation. Crewe, England: Crewe Chronicle. Saturday, 31 January 1953. Page 10, col. 4.
In fact, the end to sweet rationing would come only a few weeks later, at the start of February 1953. The end was announced in Parliament on the afternoon of the 4th of February, 1953.
“Ration and price control of chocolates and sweets ends as from to-day, the Food Minister told the House of Commons this afternoon. Questioned on the availability of supplies, he said that he had no doubt whatever that stocks were sufficient to meet demand.
Sweet rationing began on July 26, 1942, with a weekly ration of 2 oz. A month later the ration was doubled for eight weeks and then cut to 3 oz per week.
Sweets were taken off the ration on April 24 1949. A run on stocks in the shops began at once, and by the middle of that summer there was queuing for sweets, and many shops had imposed unofficial ration schemes. The official rationing scheme was reintroduced on August 14.” Sweets are now off-ration. Aberdeen, Scotland: Evening Express. 4 February 1953. Page 1, col. 5.
Candy industry caught by surprise
The announcement during the afternoon of the 4th of February seems to have caught all retailers by surprise. The industry hadn’t been consulted, either, and some manufacturers were not pleased by the lack of consultation:
“Sweets and chocolates are off ration from to-day [ed: 4th February]. This was announced in the Commons this afternoon by Major Gwilym Lloyd-George, Minister of Food…
Today’s announcement took the trade completely by surprise. In Liverpool, one big manufacturer stated: ‘There is not yet enough raw material in the country to sustain a situation likely to follow the abandonment of rationing.’
Wholesalers and retail shops, however, said the trade was very well supplied for the present.
When sweets were taken off the ration on April 24, 1949, a run on stocks in the shops began at once. By the middle of that summer there was queuing for sweets and many shops had imposed unofficial schemes. The official rationing scheme was reintroduced on August 14.
A Liverpool sweet manufacturer told the Echo, ‘This is absolutely flabbergasting news. We are not prepared for it and I am certain that the trade knew nothing of it. I am sure there are no reserve stocks, and we have just had a severe cut in the sugar ration that has put most manufacturers back 10 per cent. We are working at present on a 57 per cent sugar allocation, and that will not be enough to meet a 100 per cent demand. The whole thing is absolutely crazy.’
Another leading Liverpool manufacturer told the Echo, ‘Frankly there is not enough raw material in the country as yet to sustain a situation such as is likely to follow the derationing of sweets.’
Since December 30, 1951, the ration has stood at 6 ozs. a week.
‘Manufacturers were accustomed to import up to 40,000 tons of fondant and other raw materials for sweet making from the Continent. On November 8, 1951, with the restrictions on European payments the source practically dried up. Imports were cut by 80 per cent. Later the remaining 20 per cent was cut further by one-third, so that our raw material position is now virtually at rock bottom.’
‘Although manufacturers, wholesalers and retails are well stocked with supplies, a rush on sweets might produce a situation where in the absence of further allocations of sugar by the Ministry of Food, we shall be unable to sustain the situation.’ Sweets off the ration. Liverpool, England. Liverpool Echo. Wednesday, 04 February 1953. Page 6.
Some shoppers began asking for unrationed sweets and chocolate that very afternoon and evening of the 4th, but were turned away by shop workers who didn’t believe them that the rationing was over:
“Immediately after the surprise announcement yesterday by the Minister of Food that sweets rationing ‘will end today’, an Evening News reporter went out to buy himself half-pound box of chocolates. But he came back half an hour later empty-handed and bitterly disappointed. Nobody believed him.
Sceptical shopkeepers turned a deaf ear to his story. In despair he produced the paper carrying the good news, but the cautious traders replied: ‘We’ve heard nothing about it, so until we do we are still taking coupons.’ And they did, too.
One assistant in a Nile Street confectioner’s immediately telephoned the manager of her firm in Newcastle for guidance. But it was the first he had heard of it, so the ruling was: ‘Take points until you hear from me to the contrary.’ Another assistant, however, in a shop in Albion Road was relieved to hear that the news was official. A few minutes previously — while the manager was out — a customer had come in flourishing The Evening News and demanding a box of chocolate on the strength of the news. She hadn’t the heart — or the nerve, she admitted — to refuse him. ‘But’, she told our reporter, ‘I was prepared to forfeit my own coupons in the story hadn’t been true.’
Many shops, however, were spared any worry, for they had closed for their weekly half-holiday. The few that were caught open “were definitely caught on one leg”, as one trader put it. The Tynemouth confectioners who opened their shops earlier this morning — ready for all-comers — were disappointed. The expected ‘assault’ on sweet shops was about as powerful as a damp squib.
Few traders had really expected a repetition of the scenes in April, 1949, when Mr John Strachey took sweets off the rations. One North Shields retailer said that many people were not using all their personal points — mainly because of the prices, and the fact that a 6 oz. a week ration was sufficient for most people.” Sweets. All you want, and no bother. Shields Daily News. Thursday, 5 February 1953. Page 4, col. 4.
On the evening of the 4th of February a “big manufacturing firm” received its first large post-ration order, one for 5,000 chocolate bars from a single customer:
“Chocolate for flood victims: Shortly after the announcement that sweets were to be derationed a big manufacturing firm received an order for 5,000 bars of chocolate from the Tyne Area of the Royal Naval Minewatching Service — to be sent to the children of flood-damaged Sheerness.
Last night Mr D.R. Browell, minewatching chief of the Tyne, spoke to his opposite number in Sheerness by telephone: “Can we do anything to help?” he asked. Back came the requests for sweets for the children.
Members of the Service are being asked to send donations to pay for the gift to the North Shields headquarters.” Sweets. All you want, and no bother. Shields Daily News. Thursday, 5 February 1953. Page 4, col. 4.
A few days later, the National Union of Retail Confectioners (Sweets and Chocolate) sent a letter to the Ministry of Food dated 7th Feb. acknowledging the 4th February announcement of the end of sweets rationing Letter from the National Union of Retail Confectioners (Sweets and Chocolate) to the Ministry of Food dated 7th Feb. acknowledging 4th Feb. announcement of end of sweets rationing. Accessed January 2021 at https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/education/resources/fifties-britain/ending-sweet-ration/:
National Union of Retail Confectioners (Sweets and Chocolate)
7th February, 1953.
Dear Mr. Hancock,
Your letter of 4th February addressed to our General Secretary, Mr. T. Hutchinson, has been received here in his absence through illness.
I thank you for your kind remarks and appreciation of the strain which supply and price controls have placed upon all sections of the industry during the rationing period, and my members certainly welcome the relief which de-control now brings, as it is another step towards that freedom which will enable true enterprise to re-assert itself. We all hope that de-rationing of the sweet trade at this time be quite successful and take encouragement from the Minister’s statement that more raw materials will be made available to the industry. We are looking forward to the time when it will be possible to abolish ministerial control of raw materials, as we feel that the only satisfactory method of regulating the flow of such materials is through free competition for the consumers’ choice.
In conclusion I would like to thank you and your colleagues for your courtesy and assistance to this Union during our past relationships and for your kind wishes for our future success.
Yours very truly,
A. C. Ashley
The lifting of candy rationing meant not only that you could buy unlimited amounts: it also meant that stores were now no longer restricted to selling only sweets and chocolates made in their region.
During 1953, spending on candy and chocolate rose from £100m the year before to £250m that year. BBC. 1953: Sweet rationing ends in Britain. On This Day, 1950-2005. Accessed January 2021 at http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/february/5/newsid_2737000/2737731.stm
[Ed: note that of these sources, the English sources have the date wrong, while the Scottish source — the Scotsman — has the correct date of the 4th February.]
BBC. 1953: Sweet rationing ends in Britain. On This Day, 1950-2005. Accessed January 2021 at http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/february/5/newsid_2737000/2737731.stm
Early, Chas. February 5, 1953: Children rejoice as sweet rationing ends in Britain. British Telecom. 28 January 2019. Accessed January 2021 at https://home.bt.com/news/on-this-day/february-5-1953-children-rejoice-as-sweet-rationing-ends-in-britain-11363959721584
On this day: Sugar rationing ends in Britain. Events, birthdays and anniversaries on February 4. 1953: Sweet rationing ended in Britain. Edinburgh, Scotland: The Scotsman. Thursday, 4th February 2016. Accessed January 2021 at https://www.scotsman.com/news/opinion/columnists/day-sugar-rationing-ends-britain-1483845
Wartime sugar rationing finally ends – sweet! Manchester, England: The Guardian. 6 February 1953. Accessed January 2021 at https://www.theguardian.com/theguardian/2013/feb/06/sugar-chocolate-sweets-war-rations
|↑1||Sweets are now off-ration. Aberdeen, Scotland: Evening Express. 4 February 1953. Page 1, col. 5.|
|↑2||Rychlikova, Megi. 60 years ago today marked the end of sweet rationing. York, Yorkshire: York Press. 5 February 2013. Accessed January 2021 at https://www.yorkpress.co.uk/news/10205990.60-years-ago-today-marked-the-end-of-sweet-rationing/|
|↑3||Zweiniger-Bargielowska, Ina. “Rationing, Austerity and the Conservative Party Recovery after 1945.” The Historical Journal, vol. 37, no. 1, 1994, pp. 173–197. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/2640057. Accessed 23 Jan. 2021.|
|↑4||Don’t go haywire on sweets. Aberdeen, Scotland: Aberdeen Press and Journal. Friday, 22 April 1949. Page 1, col 5.|
|↑5||Swarms for sweets. Bristol, England: The Western Daily Press and Bristol Mirror. Monday, 25 April 1949. Page 1, col. 8.|
|↑6||Sweet Greed: Rationing May return. Fife Free Press. Saturday, 9 July 1949. Page 3, col. 7.|
|↑7||How Rugelely Spent 1949. Rugeley Times. 31 December 1949. Page 3, col. 4.|
|↑8||Rychlikova, Megi. 60 years ago today marked the end of sweet rationing. York, Yorkshire: The Press. 5 February 2013. Accessed January 2021 at https://www.yorkpress.co.uk/news/10205990.60-years-ago-today-marked-the-end-of-sweet-rationing/|
|↑9||Sweet rationing return pleases everyone. Staffordshire Sentinel. Saturday, 13 August 1949. Page 5, col. 2.|
|↑10||Bulk Syrup Reduced by Point a Lb. London, England: Weekly Dispatch (London). Sunday, 14 August 1949. Page 5, col. 5.|
|↑11||1949 Reviewed. The Tewkesbury Register and Gazette. 31 December 1949. Page 5, col. 4.|
|↑12||Sweet Ration back to 16 oz. tomorrow. Londonderry, Northern Ireland: Londonderry Sentinel. Saturday 31 December 1949. Page 3, col. 1.|
|↑13||Hope of sweets off ration by Coronation. Crewe, England: Crewe Chronicle. Saturday, 31 January 1953. Page 10, col. 4.|
|↑14||Sweets are now off-ration. Aberdeen, Scotland: Evening Express. 4 February 1953. Page 1, col. 5.|
|↑15||Sweets off the ration. Liverpool, England. Liverpool Echo. Wednesday, 04 February 1953. Page 6.|
|↑16||Sweets. All you want, and no bother. Shields Daily News. Thursday, 5 February 1953. Page 4, col. 4.|
|↑17||Sweets. All you want, and no bother. Shields Daily News. Thursday, 5 February 1953. Page 4, col. 4.|
|↑18||Letter from the National Union of Retail Confectioners (Sweets and Chocolate) to the Ministry of Food dated 7th Feb. acknowledging 4th Feb. announcement of end of sweets rationing. Accessed January 2021 at https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/education/resources/fifties-britain/ending-sweet-ration/|
|↑19||BBC. 1953: Sweet rationing ends in Britain. On This Day, 1950-2005. Accessed January 2021 at http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/february/5/newsid_2737000/2737731.stm|