North Skelton British Restaurant

by Stuart McMillan

On my travels researching the wartime history of this area I have spent many hours in Records Offices throughout the area. From County Hall, Durham, to the Records Office of what was Dorman Long, later to become British Steel, now Corus, to the County Records Office in Northallerton and to the County Archives Middlesborough.

It was on one of these trips to the County Archives Office that I was looking through the list in the Skelton & Brotton UDC records for the war years. There I found reference to the WW2 British Restaurant, North Skelton. What was this? I must admit it was new to me, a restaurant in North Skelton during the war? Were there not restrictions, rationing, coupons, dig for victory etc?

I immediately thought, I wonder if there is anything in it for The Key. I put in a request on my card and in a short time I was presented with three large books. Two were green hard-backed ledgers, one with North Skelton British Restaurant embossed on the cover in a very faded gold, and the other, an identical book embossed with Carlin How British Restaurant. On opening the books I was presented with the daily store records. Potatoes, turnips, parsnips, cabbage and peas - the lists were endless. There were jams and bottled rhubarb, ground rice, even Bisto! Almost every crop was available plus tea and coffee and of course meat - 6 to 12 lbs daily, bacon 6 - 10 lbs monthly and margarine 1-5 lbs (up to 10 lbs some months). For the winter months there was coal and coke, as well as paraffin, to keep the place warm and to cook on. But where in the village, I wondered, was the ‘British Restaurant’ situated ? It must have been at the pit, or so I thought. A quick phone call to Norma and I was put straight; it was, in fact, in the village Institute (known to locals as the ’Tute) and the tables were on the dance floor - it was all very nicely set out.

“I have something that may interest you,” exclaimed Norma, “on the subject of the British Restaurant”. A few days later a hand written note was passed on to me. It read:

“I began work at the North Skelton British Restaurant, I think either in May or June 1943. I had to bike from Guisborough because there were no buses until 8.30am from there. Edie Harding and Norma Sturman arrived about the same time. They saw to the potatoes and veg being prepared, and there was an old machine to peel the ‘tatties’. They went into a zinc bath of water and another stood with fresh water. Edie and Norma ‘eyed’ each one and washed them. Our favourite ‘tattie’ song was ‘Nelly Dean’. I bet some rare noises escaped outside, but we had lots of laughs!

My job was to cook the large joints, first in a huge pan and then roasting in the coal-fired oven, which was very temperamental and ‘smoked’. I use to send for a council workman and usually a Clerk from Skelton Council arrived. He was a Londoner by the name of Harry Devoil and he could not quite reckon me up He just use to stand and listen then send someone to clean the little tin chimney, and away we went for a little bit longer. Alice Watson from Carlin How, who was supervisor, usually called in once a week. Making pasties once a week was a favourite day for folk. I made 100 -150 a day, and there was never any meat and veg left. This was followed by steamed pud, jam ‘roly-poly’ or ‘spotted dick’ and custard - cost 1s. 6d. We were very well patronised by both residents and office staff from the pit. One little girl came regularly for 2 dinners “to take home please”. Gypsy, a large greyhound, was often seen peeping in the side door for any leftovers. When we said, “Can you smile?”, it showed a line of white teeth before it got its reward! Dadd’s of Guisborough were our veg suppliers, Jarman and Flint of Stockton brought dry ingredients, plus 7 lb tins of jam. It all seems a long way off now, but it brings back many happy memories. I think I’m the only survivor. It was a lovely place, always someone popping in to lend a hand or bring a bit of village news.”

Edith Wilkinson

Flicking through the pages of the ledgers it’s hard to imagine the days when children had not seen a banana or an orange, or chocolate. This restaurant may have been the only ‘square meal’ they got. There were no street lights and no central heating and work was hard.

The restaurant at North Skelton’s first entry in the ledger was on 4th July, 1943 and the last was 15th June, 1945, serving the community during the later part of the war. Carlin How’s restaurant served from 16th May, 1942 until 30th June, 1945. Also in the ledger was a unemployment card for a Thomas Chambers, of 50 Garney Street, Boosbeck, with stamps and the card looking as fresh as the day it was issued. There was another surprise in the last large book that I requested, a book twice the size of the two ledgers - the ‘GOVERNMENT EVACUATION SCHEME’ - the local authority’s register of accommodation. This purple book listed the addresses of the people not only in North Skelton but every village from Carlin How, Moorsholm, Lingdale, Boosbeck to Charltons. It told how many rooms a house had, how many people lived there and how many rooms were spare.

Some examples were:

1 Hombeck Road 6 rooms 2 people 4 spare rooms

10 Glen Coe          5     “      4      “      1      “        “

1 Railway Ter       5     “      4      “      1      “        “

Elnora House       5     “      6      “      0      “        “

7A Bolckow St     0     “      0      “      0      “        “
(Police House)

Stuart McMillan


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