10. DIG FOR VICTORY... Food in Wartime Farnborough – Part 2.
Wartime memories of Farnborough Kent children


by John Riches. 2004.

Although the very limited war time rations Farnborough families bought from the range of small food shops that still existed in the village provided a subsistence diet, it was the food we produced ourselves that made the wartime diet so healthy.

Christine Harding (nee Williams.), another of The Alley Kids who lived in Pleasant View recently explained from her winter home on the island of Eleuthera in the Bahamas that “….. we Williams children, like many others, never went short of food. Our father had a big allotment at the rear of the Ex-serviceman’s Club and he grew all our vegetables.” She vividly remembers my Dad Alf coming home on Sunday mornings from his allotment on Green Gardens opposite The Woodman just behind The Iron Room Chapel, where a housing estate has now been built, pushing his wheelbarrow into which he’d stacked his tools and a large wooden bodge piled high with freshly gathered vegetables. He grew potatoes, parsnips, leeks, onions; broad, French and runner beans; cauliflowers, purple spouting, swedes and lots more besides. In those days fathers taught their sons how to provide food for the family – something that I’ve never forgotten and continue to this day. Each Spring I was asked to take Dad’s annual 5/- (five shillings) allotment rent to the owner of the land called Mr Plumbridge who had farm buildings and shop on the north side of the arterial road.

Back in Pleasant View our then garden was tiny. We grew a few vegetables in my Gran’s garden at number 36 High Street, including marrows on the earth piled high up over the Anderson shelter. Mum borrowed a piece of land from old Mrs Owen who before her move to 4 Prospect Place (now 11 Pleasant View) lived at 34 High Street in the old Kentish clapboard cottage adjoining my Gran’s. On that land my Dad erected a chicken house and run. When we needed new chicks my Mum Florence; Floss to her friends; would cycle over to Mr Cook’s Poultry Farm in Blackness Lane in Keston or down Tubbenden Lane to his very large world famous poultry farm, close to where Roseberry Gardens now stands. She would ride back home with a ventilated cardboard box in the front basket of her bike from which there emanated the frantic twittering of so called day old chicks. We kept a variety of breeds including Rhode Island Reds, White Leghorns and of course Farnborough’s very own world famous breed of chicken. Yes I know that those large attractive fluffy fowls that laid delicious brown eggs are known as “Buff Orpington’s” but they were developed in Farnborough Parish by William Cook in 1894 and have since spread right round the world.  

People who kept poultry during the war could forsake their egg ration in favour of a ration of meal on which to feed their fowls. Mum would take me to a corn-merchant close to the top of Swan Hill in Bromley beyond the Odeon Cinema. We would cross the road and catch a “47 Farnborough” bus. The conductor would allow us to pile the heavy brown paper bags of meal in the luggage compartment under the stairs and when we arrived at Farnborough Green we would carry the heavy bags home. Our hens had a very healthy diet. Mum would mix up household scraps with some of the meal and boil it up either on the gas stove or in the wood fired copper in the scullery we shared between our two cottages in Prospect Place. At harvest time after the reaper had cut the corn and bound it into sheaves that were placed upright against each other to dry in stooks, the farmer at North End Farm just over the parish boundary in Downe would allow villagers to go gleaning and pick up all the loose ears of corn that the reaper had missed. We would pop these in hessian sacks and take them home to store in our shed. We usually collected enough to last our hens for much of the year.  

The old country skills of wringing the neck of a fowl had not been lost then, so very occasionally, when a hen ceased laying I would be taken for a Saturday walk up the fields to find that Sunday lunch was chicken. It was very hard for a child to eat a friendly pet that you had helped nurse from being a day old chick to a prolific layer. But extra meat was a very welcome supplement to the wartime diet.
  With the considerable number of eggs that we produced we had more than enough for our own needs, so we were able to barter excess eggs for other foodstuffs. The Pucknell and Williams families who lived close by in Pleasant View Cottages kept rabbits. So Mum would swap eggs for a rabbit that would be stewed with lots of home grown vegetables.  

As our butter ration was very small we made some of our own. There was no shortage of milk in those days and it was all full-cream. If a bottle was left to stand for an hour or two the cream would rise to the surface and we would drain it off into a screw topped jar, place a little salt in and then shake it until globules of butter solidified. This would then be mixed with margarine or on special occasions used on its own. Shop bought butter was always known as “best butter” in those days.  

Unlike today, the population of Farnborough during wartime consisted of essentially country people, so the fields and woods around the village were a ready source of food. We knew all the fields where wild mushrooms grew – Bushey Viners, the Walnut Park, Church Fields and many more. The hedgerows were crammed with blackberries in the autumn and in The Larches, that we called James’s Wood, there were hazelnuts and chestnuts. The latter would be sealed in a biscuit tin, buried by the back door and dug up in mid December ready for Christmas. The orchards alongside Green Gardens and behind the Ex Service Man’s Club provided plums, pears and apples. Mr Goodchild sold his own home produced fruit from his shop in The Square where the 47 and 51 buses terminated, whilst Jess Sawyer sold his high quality produce from the little greenhouse fixed on the front of his cottage close to the bus stop by Bank House. The first plums of the summer were called Early Rivers and Jess would sell us lots of these. In the days before freezers mothers would bottle plums, gooseberries and other fruit. The process was simple. Fruit would be packed in kilner jars, sugar syrup added and the whole lot baked in the oven until the fruit was cooked. Then whilst everything was very hot, the lid would be screwed down tightly and placed in the larder to be saved for the winter.  

Mothers were not averse to, how shall I put it, filching food to feed hungry families. Potatoes grown on the farms were stored in clamps at the points where Shire Lane and North End lane meet and by Lower Hook Farm close to Sevenoaks Lodge – one of the lodges at the exit to the Holwood Estate. We would creep close to the clamps in the autumn, break open the surface and take potatoes from the hot clammy interior. We then covered our tracks and returned home rapidly. The farmers must have realised what was happening but were content to let us have potatoes as they would certainly need the women and children of the village to help with the next year’s harvest.  

The main meal of the day was always served at mid-day. As we did not have electricity, there simply wasn’t enough light for food to be prepared by candle or gaslight during the evening. The man of the house, when he was not away serving in the armed forces or engaged in other war work, was always served first as he needed good helpings of food to fuel his manual labours. The children were served next and the mothers last. My friend Graham Wood remarked to me very recently that mothers often went without so that their children and men folk would have sufficient.  

Lastly the government provided food supplements for children such as dried bananas, dried eggs and orange juice. Some of these were distributed from the Baby Clinic that took place regularly at the Methodist Church at the bottom of Starts Hill. These were all very welcome. I was fortunate that as I was growing very tall, Dr McLoski believed I needed a glucose ration. We bought this from Mr Newling’s the chemists, situated where the bowls shop in the Square is now located. Powdered glucose could be used as a substitute for sugar and we were allocated so much that we were able to barter it for other foods.  

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