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The advent of war in 1939 brought with it limited supplies of food, cloth and timber, so the British Board of Trade imposed controls on both civilian consumption and industrial production. Clothing, furniture and other household goods were made available on a ration-only basis, subject to need. The rationing of furniture was a potential problem as people were either replacing houses destroyed by bombing or setting up their first home. Due to these shortages, prices for second-hand furniture increased dramatically; the government realised they had to prevent manufacturers from producing low-quality furniture and selling in on at a high cost. By introducing design standards within the industry, both quality and cost could be maintained. Gordon Russell was enlisted to head the design team where he combined utilitarian demands with British Arts and Crafts traditions. The first catalogue of utility furniture was published in 1943; this was an essential reference as retailers could not obtain furniture from the manufacturers without the necessary units from the customer, therefore all purchases had to be chosen directly from the catalogue. In 1944 the Council of Industrial Design was formed to aid development of the Utility Furniture Scheme after the war. The ‘Britain Can Make It’ exhibition was held at the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1946, which ran until the Festival of Britain in 1951, showcased the development of utility furniture. In 1947 rationing ended and utility specifications began to relax, manufacturers began to introduce their own variants, adding walnut veneers and a wider range of handles. This resulted in the Utility Scheme CC41 mark appearing on many different pieces until the scheme ended in 1952.

CC41 mark
Referred to as the cheeses, the Utility Scheme symbol was created by Reginald Ship. He was asked to ‘design the double C so that the public would not recognise the letters as such’ but instead recognise it as a mark of guaranteed quality.

CC .......... Civilian Clothing
41 .......... 1941 rationing units and coupons

To obtain a permit to purchase furniture, fabrics, etc. a Certificate of Need was required. Once this certificate had been issued, the following number of units were allocated:

Number of units pre-1943 .......... 60

Number of units post-1943 .......... 30

Number of permits issued in first two months of the scheme .......... 18,500

number of rationing units required for…

wardrobe .......... 8 units

kitchen chair .......... 1 unit

bed settee .......... 15 units

* (available only to bed sitters)

On 8th May 1945, red, white and blue bunting was available without the use of coupons for one month.

wartime propaganda slogans
lend a hand on the land – dig for victory – careless talk costs lives