These corrugated iron building, now part of the the museum and workshop complex at the Buckinghamshire Railway Museum, have a fascinating history. They are a remnant of the secret side of Britain.
Several hundred Strategic Foodstores or Buffer Depots, exactly like these, were built across the country by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries & Food (MAFF) during the Second World War, to store supplies in case of food shortages. At Quainton they were erected in 1941.
By 1943 there were some 6.5 millions tons of food held in Buffer Depots across the country.
The Depots were built away from towns or other potential aerial targets, and next to a railway line, or canal, with good connections and good road access for local distribution.
Each Depot had one large brick building where flour was stored on large pallets, and any number of Romney steel fabricated buildings, originally designed for other military use. At Quainton these corrugated stores were filled with sugar and sultanas. Great care was taken to seal the roof and doors with chicken wire, to prevent rodents getting in.
These stores continued to be used until the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s, with a regular turnover of contents transported by road.
Plans and exercises from the mid-1950s predicted that in the event of a nuclear attack, the loss of raw materials, power and water together with physical damage and loss of workers would seriously reduce if not completely stop all food manufacturing and processing. There would also be no imports of food for months, and this would probably include importing food from another home defence region. Furthermore, the breakdown in transportation systems, communications and the economy in general would stop food moving to the shops. If food were available to the public they would struggle to cook it, without electricity, gas or uncontaminated water.
Such fears meant that the Depot had a long life as part of contingency planning, even in the 1980s regulations required local authorities to draw up plans for: Providing and maintaining a service in their area for the distribution, conservation and control of food in the event of hostile attack, including emergency feeding services and equipment.
The responsibility for contingency planning for food supplies, as in the Second World War, remained throughout the Cold War with MAFF.
In a period of crisis, MAFFs role would be to monitor the availability of food through its local Regional and Divisional Offices with the aim of ensuring the continuity of supply of food throughout the country. It would encourage manufacturers to increase output, increase its buffer stockpile, disperse bulk food stocks, set up its post-attack structure and possibly introduce the rationing system.
In the 1960s the reserve food stock held in Buffer Depots, though much reduced from the 6.5 milions tons of wartime, still stood at a staggering 582,500 tons, made up of:
- Corned beef (in 12oz and 6lb tins) 75000 tons
- Flour (in 140 lb sacks) 196000 tons
- Sugar (raw) 252500 tons
- Raw materials for processing 36000 tons
(mainly oils and fats)
From 1961 the idea of an immediate survival element of biscuits and boiled sweets was introduced. The wartime corned beef was sold off by 1967. With minimal funding being received from central government, storage costs were covered by gradually selling off the stocks and by 1971 only 402,000 tons remained.
This total would have been totally inadequate to feed a survivor population, particularly when you consider in the 1960s it was assumed there would be some 40 million survivors who would need feeding for 3 months after which it was assumed food imports would be resumed.
It was thought that normal commercial stocks would provide food for 33 days and the strategic stockpile would then provide an additional 23 days supplies.
There were frequent calls from MAFF to increase the stocks by up to a million tons to cover the shortfall, for example in 1969 a MAFF report advised that “…current arrangements for food supplies in the UK in the aftermath of nuclear war are inadequate to prevent widespread starvation” but with the continual absence of money for civil defence measures these concerns fell on deaf ears. Remarkably, it still wasn’t until 1991 that the decision was finally made to dispose of the remaining stockpile of around 200,000 tons of food still held in the Buffer Depots.
The Quainton site was acquired from MAFF in 1997 and adapted to house railway carriages and wagons.