Kingston ephemera blog - 1

Ministry of Food Expert Comes to Town

Author: Vincente Canas - Heritage Apprentice, Kingston Heritage Service

The first in a series highlighting the interesting posters held in the ephemera collection by Kingston Heritage Service. The collection includes the war years, but also a few years on either side, and was acquired from New Malden Library over a decade ago. My name is Vincente Canas and I have been the Heritage Apprentice at Kingston Heritage Service since January 2021.

The poster is advertising the Malden and Coombe Flower Show in 1943, at the height of World War Two. The event was on Saturday 11th September 1943. To give some wider context, this was an eventful week for the war in Europe. Three days earlier (8th September), the Italian surrender was announced, and the following day the Allies landed at Salerno (south west of Naples). The day after the show, Mussolini was rescued by German commandos from a mountain prison in Gran Sasso, Italy.

What drew my attention to this poster was the wording surrounding the visit by an “expert”  from the Ministry of Food to speak about fruit bottling. To modern ears, the term “Ministry Of Food Expert” sounds dated. However, the use of the word “expert”, and the fact that fruit bottling is in both quotation marks and capital letters underlines how important fruit bottling was considered to be. 

During the war, the Ministry of Food was a government organisation whose purpose was to ensure the nation had adequate nutrition in the face of food scarcity and rationing. Their ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign was aimed at strongly encouraging people who had any piece of land, even just a small garden or allotment to grow their own food. Food bottling was an important method for preserving home-grown fruit and vegetables and avoiding waste.

To try to find out more about the show, I searched our collections. I started with the microfilm editions of the Surrey Comet. I had a feeling the event would have been reported on, given that the Mayoress gave out prizes and the fact that a representative from the Ministry of Food was in attendance. As the Surrey Comet only came out on Wednesdays and Saturdays, it was easy to locate. According to the Surrey Comet, Wednesday 15th September 1943, “housewives were most interested in fruit bottling”.  

To my surprise, I also found a programme of the event in our archive collection. This programme may help to explain why the Ministry of Food chose Malden and Coombe to provide advice on fruit bottling. The programme states that Malden and Coombe had been producing better than expected results in their efforts for the  “Dig for Victory Campaign” and this was attributed to the efforts by the locals. This may have been helped by the fact that the area had quite a bit of open countryside at the time; as quoted by the Mayoress in the  Surrey Comet, “Malden is a town, but has the quietness of the countryside”. Interestingly, the programme provides no mention of the visiting expert from the Ministry of Food, although it does have an advert for a food advice centre in Wimbledon run by the Ministry of Food.

The programme also gives extra information that the poster does not tell us. Firstly, the 1943 show was not a one-off; the 1942 show was hugely successful and the organisers hoped to increase the number of entries and visitors in 1943. It still runs today being incorporated into the Malden Fortnight Festival. We do not know how successful this was, but the Surrey Comet suggests 600 joint entries were admitted to the flower show and  even though the weather conditions were not perfect, the produce on show was exceptional. 

The poster tells us that the admission fee was 6d for adults (which is roughly £0.89 in current currency) and 3d for children. Furthermore, we can see that there was a prize ceremony in the evening involving prize giving by the Mayoress,  Mrs F.S. Wagner. (Having researched the Mayoress in our collections, I discovered that she was not actually the mayor of Malden and Coombe, but was the wife of the Mayor, although she was referred to as Mayoress).

The poster does not state what these prizes were awarded for, but it can be inferred that they were for the best produce in show. However, from the programme, we also know that entrants had to submit forms and payments (3d per class entered) in advance. The programme has a double spread, listing all the classes which could be entered.The two which particularly caught my eye were on fruit bottling. One class was “Bottle of Stone Fruit in water of 1943 season fruit” and the other was “Bottle of any other fruit in water (NOTE: fruit in Campden Solution is not allowed)”. The warning that Campden Solution was not admissible” intrigued me. I did not know what Campden Solution is nor the connection with fruit bottling.  Having looked it up, I now know that it is used in wine making as it can be used for sterilising containers, preventing oxidation during storage and the growth of bacteria and yeast, and can see why Campden Solution would be useful as a method of sterilisation during fruit bottling. However, I am still puzzled as to why it would have not been allowed for stone fruit but not any other fruit. 

The Flower and Vegetable show was held at the Beverley Central School on Blakes Lane, New Malden. It is now called Coombe Boys. In 2021, it celebrated its 90th birthday, meaning it opened in 1931 (so just 12 years before the show). The school has changed its name twice since it was called Beverley Central School. 

To help people travel to the show, the poster gives the three buses (72, 152 and 213) which all stopped near Blakes Lane. The 152 and 213 both still run through New Malden, however the 72 does not run through New Malden anymore. Having looked at the bus map from the 1950s within the ephemera box, both the 152 and 213 take slightly different routes today from those back then. The 152 ran from  Mitchem to Hampton Court to Belmont; nowadays the 152 runs from New Malden to Pollards Hill in Merton. The 213 today runs from Kingston to Sutton; back then it ran from Kingston to Belmont.

I was intrigued by the 72 bus route because it does not pass through New Malden anymore.  By investigating further, I discovered that we hold a list of bus routes for 1950 in our ephemera collection. The 72 ran from Esher in Surrey to East Acton in north London, passing through Malden and Coombe and past Blakes Lane.

There are many more files to search through so stick around to see the continuation of my quest into the archives. If you have any questions or queries relating to this article, please feel free to email for more about the poster collection.