Milk is a valuable source of protein, vitamins, calcium and other minerals. The importance of milk in a child’s diet has long been recognised and in 1906 legislation was passed enabling Local Education Authorities to provide free school meals and free milk. Good nutrition was seen as vital for growing children and a benefit to their ability to learn. This permissive legislation was adopted by less than half the Authorities and after the Second World War, at the start of of several major social and health reforms, the Free School Milk Act of 1945 gave every school child under 18 the right to a third of a pint of milk each day.
The milk was delivered to schools in glass bottles, such as the one illustrated here and those shown below. How effectively the milk was stored and distributed was up to each school. The bottles might be delivered to individual classrooms or taken to a central point, such as a school hall. The milk would normally be in good condition, but, without refrigeration, in hot weather it could deteriorate if not consumed quickly and in cold weather it could freeze and the frozen cream push the top off the milk.
The top on the bottle was either metal foil or waxed cardboard with a round portion that could be pushed in to create a hole for a straw. In some schools, pupils would be chosen as milk monitors to oversee the distribution of the milk.
As the Nation’s health improved, and to save money, in 1968, the Government ceased supplying milk to secondary schools. Three years later free milk was withdrawn for children over the age of seven, though some children did benefit from local schemes or subsidies. Free milk is now mostly found in pre-school facilities and special schools.