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National Life Stories: Food: From Source to Salespoint

One of the largest of its kind, this oral history collection of recordings charts the extraordinary changes which transformed the production, manufacture and consumption of food in twentieth century Britain.

Marks and Spencer pear display 1920s [29KB]

Marks and Spencer pear display 1920s (photo: Marks and Spencer)


Conducted over a ten year period, the recordings document people working at every level across a broad spread of industry sectors, ranging from farmers, to the point of sale in outlets as contrasting as family-run independent shops and supermarket chains. The variety of ways in which foods such as fish, meat, poultry and fruit are produced, distributed and sold are charted in detail across complementary recordings, including those with manufacturers as diverse as Nestlé, Northern Foods and Unilever. 

Among the phases charted by the recordings are the scarcity of food during the lean years of the 1930s, rationing and the period of austerity which lasted until the early 1950s, the increasingly industrialisation of farming in the post-war period, advances in technology in manufacturing, and changing consumer tastes prompted by foreign holidays and the increasing availability of produce and ready-meals once considered exotic. British habits shifted from using small, often individually owned, high street shops to huge out of town superstores; instead of fish and chips as the mainstay take-away, choices from around the world became commonplace.

Within Food: From Source to Salespoint a set of interviews with Chefs is now underway, exploring the working lives of chefs over a period when their role has changed from being in charge of the kitchen, to being more high profile.  The project also features restaurateurs and food writers.

Further information about Food: From Source to Salespoint can be found in the National Life Stories Annual Reports and Newsletters, particularly in the 2006/2007 Report which featured reflections from Cathy Courtney (Project Officer), Sir Dominic Cadbury (Chairman of the Advisory Committee), interviewee David Lidgate, and project partner Professor Peter Jackson in Food: From Source to Salespoint 1997 - 2007 (PDF format, 1.2MB).  The 2009/2010 Report featured Prue Leith in Reflections on a life story (PDF format, 75KB).

Advisory committee

  • Bob Boas
  • Sir Dominic Cadbury (Chair)
  • Bill Mason CBE
  • Jonathan Taylor
  • Caroline Waldegrave
  • David Webster


  • The Worshipful Company of Butchers
  • The Fishmongers' Company
  • The Fruiterers' Company
  • The Vintners' Company
  • Northern Foods Plc
  • Unilever
  • Cadbury/Cadbury Schweppes
  • Sainsbury's Supermarkets Ltd
  • Baxters of Speyside Ltd
  • Nestlé UK
  • John Craven

Accessing the collection

To access oral history material:

  • Search for oral history recordings held at the British Library using the online Sound and Moving Image Catalogue (see useful advice on searching the oral history collections).
  • Onsite access to oral history recordings: The Listening and Viewing Service in St Pancras provides free public access to the oral history collections on an appointment basis. Many digital recordings are also available via SoundServer, a computerised listening facility located in the Humanities Reading Rooms.  SoundServer is also available at the British Library’s site in Boston Spa in Yorkshire.
  • Internet access to selected oral history recordings: The British Library Sounds website gives remote access to a selection of interviews from the Library’s oral history collections. Some recordings are currently only licensed to Higher and Further Education users in the UK, others are available for full public access.

Further information

Contact us

Oral History
The British Library
96 Euston Road
United Kingdom

T +44 (0)20 7412 7405 (Rob Perks, Lead Curator, Oral History  / Director of National Life Stories)
T +44 (0)20 7412 7406 (Mary Stewart, Curator, Oral History / Deputy Director of National Life Stories)
T +44 (0)20 7412 7404 (Elspeth Millar, Archivist, Oral History)

Media files

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