The BBC’s website ‘World War One at Home’ has a 15 minute audio recording of the story of Reading’s first communal kitchen at the British School on Southampton Street.
Meals Superintendent Fred Marsh wrote a pamphlet about how to set up and run a communal kitchen which made the Southampton Street operation a model for others.
Lynda Chater, who wrote the chapter on food shortages and rationing in Reading library’s publication Berkshire in the First World War, speaks on the recording. You can also hear Reading author Stuart Hylton on the recording as well as Jeremy Burchardt of the University of Reading and Tom Kerridge, the owner and head chef of the Hand and Flowers and the Coach in Marlow, as they talk about the food, the customers and the management of the first of Reading’s communal kitchens.
Vegetarianism is also covered in some depth. We learn that Eustace Miles was a famous sportsman and vegetarian who toured the country at the time to promote meatless cookery. His visit to speak in Reading on 12 April 1917 was advertised as ‘meat substitute dishes without waste’. Linked with the talk, cookery demonstrations were given at Heelas by Miss E.M.Brown, pincipal of the E.M. Cookery School on 12, 13 and 14 April [ref 1].
Vegetarianism was not new to Reading. Before the war, Salmon’s Cafe in Market Place advertised in the local press that its speciality was a ‘hot vegetarian dish daily, 12.30 – 2.30, 6d (2.5p)‘ [ref 2].
The Southampton Street kitchen opened on 3 September 1917. In December the Reading Observer wrote under the title, ‘Christmas and the War’ [ref 3]:
The Christmas Dinner will be eaten under the stern frown of the Food Controller and Liquor Control Board. The vegetarian and the teetotaller may feel some degree less virtuous than usual as they see the rest of us reduced to something near to their own level of attenuated conviviality.
- Reading Mercury 7 April 1917
- Berkshire Chronicle 7 January 1911
- Reading Observer 22 December 1917
- Southampton Street, Reading: Model for Feeding the Nation BBC World War One at Home
- Chater, Lynda. Food Shortages and Rationing, Berkshire in the First World War. Reading Borough Libraries, BWW1 Berkshire in the First World War History Project.
- Marsh, Frederick W. Reading Communal Kitchen
- Hylton, Stuart. Reporting the Great War.
- Berkshire Stories – Reading Library First World War resources
- Feeding Katesgrove in World War One