On This Day: Sweet rationing finally ends 11 years after it began in WWII

Julian Gavaghan

FEBRUARY 5, 1953: Sweet rationing came to a sticky end on this day in 1953 – to the delight of millions of children whose diet of sugary treats was limited 11 years earlier during World War II.

Queues outside confectioner shops stretched around corners in some places while keen customers bought as much as they could – with toffee apples the biggest seller.

Firms also sparked a frenzy by handing out free sweets – with one company in Clapham, south London giving 150lb of lollipops to 800 schoolchildren.

Adults also joined in the candy craze by most commonly snapping up 2lb boxes of chocolate – more than five times the former monthly ration - to guzzle over weekend

Sweets, which had been eaten in larger quantities by Britons than by any other people on Earth, were among the last items to be put on ration and the first to be taken off.

The Labour government, which had built the NHS and nationalised many industries after being elected in 1945, failed to end the food limits due to economic difficulties.

Following the destruction of war and fear of 1930s-style depression, Prime Minister Clement Attlee prioritised jobs and reconstruction over consumer goods.

Britain was also helping to supply starving Europeans in the aftermath of a conflict that had claimed 50million lives and, in the aftermath, threatened more unrest.

As a result, in many cases, rationing became even stricter than it had been during the war.

Sweets, which had only been rationed in July 1942 – three years after the conflict began – had initially been limited to 2oz (57g) per week.

This changed later that year to 12oz per month until 1946, when it was halved down to 6oz per month.

[On This Day: Wartime rationing ends]

In 1949, the government tried to end restrictions on sweet sales – but after four months they were put back on ration after demand far outstripped supply.

A British Pathé newsreel from that year captures children’s joy with a long queue of boys and girls – and the odd adult - waiting for a shop to open, while others are seen gorging on chocolate for the first time in their lives.

The Pathé reporter said such feasts were 'once seen as the birthright of every child' in this particularly sweet-toothed country.

Public anger rose over Labour’s failure to end rationing, which had been introduced because Britain imported most of its food in 1939, including 70% of its sugar.

In 1950, the Conservative party campaigned on a manifesto pledge to cut consumer restrictions as quickly as possible – and were only narrowly defeated.

But, when another election was called the following year due to a Cabinet split over NHS prescription fees, the Tories won.

[On This Day: Allies invade Sicily in WW2]

New Food Minister Gwilym Lloyd-George, the son of Britain’s last Liberal premier David Lloyd-George, took two years to begin cutting restrictions.

But removing sweets from the ration books, which included coupons for people to hand over when buying an allotted amount, opened the flood gates.

Soon, sales were unlimited for eggs, cream, butter, cheese, margarine and cooking fats and – in September 1953 – sugar.

Rationing finally ended after 14 years when meat sales were unrestricted in July, 1954.

At a stroke, the end of rationing killed the black market and consumers quickly ditched alternative foods such as whale meat and snoek fish.

While rationing was unpopular, it did have a positive effect on the nation’s health.

Because everyone had access to a varied and vitamin-rich diet, infant mortality declined and life expectancy rose, discounting deaths from hostilities.

However, food production remained depressed long after rationing and, notably, there were few types of cheese other than cheddar for years afterwards.

[On This Day: WW2 Blitz begins over London]

The sweet industry, on the other hand, boomed – with sales jumping from £100million to £250million within a year.

But, remarkably, Britons now guzzle less sweets than they used to.

They eat on average an astonishing 9.8kg of chocolate per year – but that only puts them third, behind the Irish and Austrians at 10.3 and 10.08 respectively.

Even more astonishingly, Americans only eat half this amount – consuming 5.3kg per capita, according to research carried out in 2011.