International Vegetarian Union (IVU)
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15th World Vegetarian Congress 1957
Delhi/Bombay/Madras/Calcutta, India


ENGLAND
THE VEGETARIAN MOVEMENT IN BRITAIN
JAMES HOUGH
(For many years Secretary of The Vegetarian Society)
The Arnold Hills Memorial Lecture, presented on April 30th , 1955.

If we were dealing with the birth of vegetarianism, and not simply with the movement in Britain, we would have to go back centuries. Pythagoras with some of his pupils may be said to have formed a vegetarian community, and associated with the teaching and practice of vegetarianism are the names of the Holy Buddha, of Seneca, of Plutarch and of Socrates. One of the sayings of Pythagoras appeared regularly on the title page of The Vegetarian Society's official magazine from its inception over a hundred years ago : "Fix upon that course of life which is best, custom will render it most delightful." Eastern seers and Western visionaries have always looked forward to a return of the time foretold by Isaiah, when "They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain" and sung of by Shelley, when he wrote 'Never again may blood'of bird or beast stain with its venomous stream a human feast."

The vegetarian movement in Britain had its beginnings near Manchester, in the year 1809. The reasons for this early practice of vegetarianism were ethical and religious rather than hygienic or economic, although the latter aspects had been advanced by its earliest advocates. Manchester at that time was more rural than urban, and although it had its dark alleys and mean streets it also had its green, open spaces in the city itself. It was on the borders of Manchester, in the borough of Salford, in the year 1809, that the members of the Bible Christian Church pledged themselves to abstain from fish, flesh and fowl as food. The Church was founded by the Rev. William Cowherd, whose new ministry began on January 29th, 1809, thirty-eight years before the foundation of The Vegetarian Society. Mr. Cowherd, a young Anglican clergyman, was so convinced that abstinence from fish, flesh and fowl as food was absolutely essential for the highest spiritual attainment, and that it must be the basic part of his message as a minister, that he left the Church of England and after a short time in the Church of New Jerusalem, founded the Bible Christian (Vegetarian) Church.

Mr. Cowherd gathered round him a body of men of outstanding ability and integrity who shaped the future of the vegetarian movement. Foremost among these was Mr. Joseph Brotherton. He took an active part in the agitation for the extension of the suffrage until in the year 1832 the great Reform Bill became law. By this Act, Salford was allowed one representative in Parliament, and the electors returned Mr. Brotherton as their first Member, a position he retained for the next 26 years. Mr. Brotherton had served the Church as an unpaid minister for fifteen years, and did not relinquish his pastorate on election to Parliament, but continued his gratuitous services when free from attendance at Westminster. He took a leading place in the public advocacy of vegetarianism and presided at the meeting, held in Ramsgate in 1847, when The Vegetarian Society was formed. It is worth noting that Mr. Brotherton wrote in 1820, the first vegetarian tract printed in Britain, and that his sister wrote the first vegetarian cookery book.

The Mayor of Salford, about the middle of the nineteenth century, was Mr. William Harvey, the second President of The Vegetarian Society, and a prominent member of the Bible Christian Church. He gave the first recorded teetotal and vegetarian banquet, an unusual happening in these days, and a remarkable event one hundred years ago.

In the spring of 1817, 41 members of the Bible Christian Church, in the charge of the Rev. William Metcalfe, emigrated and established a sister church in Philadelphia. These "admirers" of the civil and religious freedom existing in the "New World" had a severe test of their adherence to vegetarian principles during the long and stormy passage in a sailing ship. Not all kept true to their pledge, but those who were tested and not found wanting were possessed of faith and fortitude and were the tight type to take up pioneer work in the "New World". Mr. Metcalfe held a belief that a minister should be able to heal both the soul and the body, and while in the United States graduated as an M.D. In 1848 he returned to England and took part in The Vegetarian Society's first Annual General Meeting.

In Aldous Huxley's book, The Olive Tree, there is an essay on "Writers and Readers," which is of special interest to those vegetarians who are disappointed by the slowness of our progress as a movement. He says: " The ardour of all violently active religious and political movements has generally given place to relative indifference and worldliness after a period of anything from a few months to 25 years." Although the vegetarian movement is strictly speaking, neither religious nor political, it is linked up with both movements and it is encouraging to reflect that it has been making steady progress for 146 years.

Even in 1809 vegetarianism was no new cult in England, for there is a letter extant from Sir Richard Phillips, High Sheriff of the County of Middlesex, written in 1837, in which he gives testimony of his then 57 years of abstention from flesh foods, taking us back to the year 1780.

These are comparatively easy days for vegetarians and it is difficult to realize the popular contempt in which they were held at the beginning of the last century. Only a man of firm conviction, of great determination and of splendid vision could have won through to the success that crowned the efforts of the Rev. William Cowherd, the founder and leader of the first vegetarian organization in England. There have been prominent and highly esteemed vegetarians outside the churches, but it is significant that the vegetarian movement had its birth in a church.

It was with Mr. James Simpson, a leading member of the Bible Christian Church, that the idea of an Organized Movement for Food Reform, apart from the Church, first took definite shape following on a suggestion for co-operation which appeared in the Truth Tester in a letter dated April 1st, 1847, and signed "A Vegetarian." The word "vegetarian" had appeared in The Healthian, of April 1842, a magazine published monthly and dealing with "Human Physiology, Diet and Regimen," a journal connected with a small vegetarian colony at Alcott House, Ham Common, in Surrey. Mr. Henry B. Amos, a leading worker in the movement and keenly interested in its history, said that although he had spent considerable time in going through the literature issued round about 1840 he had been able to find no earlier reference to the word than 1842. It is interesting that the earliest reference in the Vegetarian Messenger to the derivation of the word came from America. Mr. Jonathan Wright, of Philadelphia, writing in 1852, said : "The word vegetarian itself was almost convincing ; the ancient physiologists thought that vegetus was the most proper word to convince their fellow-men that their physical proportions could be best developed and best; supported by 'a growing diet,' 'a strong diet,' 'a sound, lusty, whole, quick, fresh, lively, gallant food or diet,' for the word vegetus had all these meanings in ordinary language"

The founders of The Vegetarian Society included a number of leaders of the Bible Christian Church, Mr. Joseph Brotherton M. P. being Chairman at the inaugural meeting held at Ramsgate on September 30th, 1847. The aim of the Society was said to be: "To induce habits of abstinence from the flesh of animals as food, and thus to secure, through the association, example and efforts of its members, the adoption of a principle which will tend essentially to true civilization, to universal brotherhood and to the increase of human happiness generally."

In Mr. W. A. Sibly, the Vegetarian Society to-day has a President fitted to take his place with the greatest of his predecessors in that office. He has been a consistent vegetarian all his life, as his father, Mr. G. W. Sibly, the founder of Wycliffe College, was for more then 60 years. In 1909 he became Housemaster of Springfield, one of the College Boarding Houses, and for 35 years he conducted Springfield on vegetarian lines. He believes that a wisely chosen vegetarian dietary is to be preferred to a meat dietary for growing boys, that vegetarianism develops a sound mind in a sound body and is an aid to clean living. "I am convinced." he says, "after watching the development of many hundreds of boys and sharing their confidence, and that of many young men, that those who abstain from meat and other simulating foods can wage the fight for self-mastery with a far greater likelihood of victory." Mr. Sibly's experience was confirmed by Canon Edward Lyttleton, late Headmaster of Eton College, who said that: "Above all, my long experience in the training of boys has shown me that a vegetarian dietary helps to keep under control the sexual passion. That alone would warrant a crusade."

The London Vegetarian Society has been fortunate from its beginning in having outstanding and highly esteemed public men as Presidents. Mr. Arnold F. Hills, its first President, was a University Blue in Athletics and, later in life, the head of a great engineering and shipbuilding firm. The London Vegetarian Society, of which he was a very generous supporter, had first claim on his time and ability. He was intimately associated in this with Mr. Ernest Bell and Professor J. E. B. Mayor, who were, at the same time, active office bearers of both the London Vegetarian Society and The Vegetarian Society, Professor Mayor being President of the parent society from 1884 to 1810, and Mr. Ernest Bell from 1914 to 1933. Professor Mayor was President of St. John's College, Cambridge, a man of profound knowledge and simplicity of character; Ernest Bell, an unassuming and most effective worker in so many animal welfare societies, that he was known throughout the Movement, at home and abroad, as "the animals' friend." At the time of his death, in 1933, he was Chairman of the Executive Committee of the London Vegetarian Society and president of the Vegetarian Society, Mr. H. S. Salt and Mr. G. B. Shaw added great strength to the movement during this period by their public advocacy. In addition to these eminent men, the London Vegetarian Society has had the outstanding services as President, from 1922 to the present time. of Dr. Bertrand P. Allinson, a son of Dr. T. R. Allinson, one of the earliest members of the L.V.S., known everywhere for his courageous and successful advocacy of vegetarianism. Dr. Bertrand is not one whit behind his father as a well-known medical man-fearless in his advocacy of natural methods of healing. For a medical practitioner to take a prominent part in the practice and advocacy of unorthodox methods of treatment calls for courage, and testifies to the strength of his convictions. The devoted services of so many gifted and generous men have played a great part in gaining the favourable opinion of the general public and advancing the Progress of the vegetarian movement.

The Societies in War-time. - During 1914 to 1918, and from 1939 to 1945, the Societies obtained some consideration in matters of diet for vegetarian conscientious objectors. They also obtained special arrangements for vegetarians in the rationing schemes for the civil population. In the second Great War, the Ministry of Food granted vegetarians a special ration of cheese and fats. A margarine was provided meeting the requirements of vegetarians (the essential vitamins being from vegetarian sources), and supplies of nuts, for vegetarians only, were distributed through the Health Food Stores. Vegetarians serving in H. M. Forces were given extra bread, cheese and margarine in lieu of meat and bacon, but the arrangements varied in the different Services and were not available under all conditions.

In 1941, acting on a suggestion of the Ministry of Food a Committee of Vegetarian Interests was formed in order to have a body with which the Ministry could communicate direct on matters affecting the interests of vegetarians. The Committee was made up of representatives of the two national societies, of health food manufacturers and of distributors and consumers, and still meets regularly in London. The late Mr. Frank Wyatt represented the London Vegetarian Society at the beginning and Mr. Ronald Lightowler is the present Hon. Secretary.

The vegetarianism that has stood the test of 146 years' practice in Britain is based on the rock principle of humaneness; but that, is not to say that the dominant force that, has impelled our leaders has always been moral force. It is significant, however, that the vegetarianism of the majority of those who have given their time and energy to supplying the health argument, or to furnishing the testimony of success in competitive athletics, has had a sound moral basis.

Mr. Henry Light (Captain Light of the V.C. & A.C.) who gave years to vegetarian propaganda through athletics, believed and demonstrated that perfect physical fitness can be attained and maintained on a fleshless dietary. He studied the problem of feeding for fitness and did more than any other vegetarian advocate to convince a sceptical public that a vegetarian diet meets all the needs of a body subjected to prolonged and strenuous physical strain. Mr. Light was at one time Captain of the Vegetarian Cycling & Athletic Club and, later, its President. It was under his guidance that the Club produced the premier all-round road-racing team of the United Kingdom, winning the National Shield, presented by the proprietors of Cycling, in the first three years it was put up for competition. It was of the Vegetarian Cycling & Athletic Club that Sir William Arbuthnot Lane said: "That the vegetarian can lead at least as vigorous a life as the meat-eater is demonstrated by the history of the Vegetarian Cycling & Athletic Club. It can reasonably claim to have been one of the most powerful forces of propaganda for a scientific dietary."

From time to time, there have been, in England, and there are to-day, organizations outside the vegetarian societies playing an active part in the advance of vegetarian practice. Some have made abstention from fish, flesh and fowl as food a condition of membership, others have recommended, but not insisted, on such a condition. Members of the Order of the Cross undertake to abstain not only from fish, flesh and fowl as food, but also from intoxicating liquors and from the use of tobacco. Thousands of vegetarians are to be found in the Order of the Cross, the Theosophical Society, the Church of the Seventh Day Adventists, the Mazdaznan Association, and in kindred societies teaching better ways of living.

The history of the vegetarian movement in England, however, is mainly the story of the Bible Christian Church, founded in 1809, followed by the story of the parent vegetarian society, established in 1847, and from 1888 the story of two societies engaged in national propaganda - The Vegetarian Society, with headquarters in Manchester, and The London Vegetarian Society.

Scotland. The Scottish Vegetarian Society was founded in 1892, and has steadily grown in strength from the beginning. Mr. Arnold F. Hills helped greatly through the Vegetarian Federal Union, with the work of organization. It was in 1897 that Mr. John P. Allan became co-secretary with Mr. William Scott, and "John Allan" is always spoken of as being largely responsible for the outstanding success of the Scottish Society, together with Mr. H. S. Bathgate and Mr. Dugald Semple, the latter well known in Scotland for his caravan lecture tours and throughout Britain for his many-sided activities in progressive movements.

Ireland. The work in Ireland has been particularly difficult, and there have been intervals when it has not been possible to find officers with time, ability and energy to face the task. At the moment, the vegetarian movement is being well served in both Dublin and Belfast by capable and energetic committees and it is significant of the progress made that meetings recently held in Dublin had lengthy and favorable notices in the Press. Mr. and Mrs. James H. Cousins, prior to taking up work with Dr. Annie Besant, in India, in 1915, bore the brunt of the work in Dublin, and Mr. William D. Cousins has been intimately connected with the work in Belfast over the past forty years.

The foundation and growth of The International Vegetarian Union has been so intimately bound up with the development of the Movement in Britain that reference to it must be made in this brief historical record. The I.V.U. was formed in 1908, following a suggestion made by Dr. Danjou, of Nice, at the Diamond Jubilee Meetings of The Vegetarian Society, held in Manchester in 1907. The first International Congress, held in Nice (sic) in 1908, was convened by Mr. Albert Broadbent, Secretary of The Vegetarian Society, as also the second Congress, held in Manchester in 1909, the centenary year of the Bible Christian (Vegetarian) Church. It is interesting to note that the first Congress held following the long break caused by the 1939 to 1945 War, was held at Wycliffe College, Stonehouse, Gloucestershire, in 1947, the Centenary Year of The Vegetarian Society. Al the work of the International Union from 1908 to 1950 was done by honorary officials, busy men and women engaged in full time occupations. In 1950, Mrs, Clarence Gasque, an active world leader of the Mazdaznan Movement, generously made herself responsible for the establishment and maintenance of permanent Headquarters in England, with Mr. J. Hanworth Walker as paid Secretary. There are now so many talented, keen and influential workers in the international movement that we hesitate to add to the individuals already named. Suffice it to say that that the I.V.U. is making a major contribution to bringing about universal vegetarianism.

The Executive and staff of a National Society should be free to give their time to the carrying through of extended and more active propaganda work, rather than to the consideration of ways and means to raise funds. In the case of the parent Society, its first President was a wealthy man who paid for most of the Society's activities out of his own purse. Curiously this was repeated in the early years of the London Society, its first President contributing largely to the cost of the Society's publications and paying the salaries of lecturers who toured the country on his instructions. It is, of course, most encouraging to have an enthusiastic and generous honorary official giving an annual contribution of say, one thousand pounds, but it is far better if he is supported by one thousand members giving one pound each! The death of one wealthy subscriber may paralyze the work. Experience, however, has shown that the undertaking of an ambitious programme of events, the evidence of good work being done under difficulties, has always brought in the money needed to carry the efforts to a satisfactory conclusion. Our two Societies have each had a paid Secretary, assisted by an office staff - The Vegetarian Society since 1871, the London Society since its inception in 1888.

The two Societies throughout their existence have reached the public through the platform and the Press, by banquets and cookery demonstrations. They have also undertaken special propagandist enterprises such as the establishment of dining rooms at great nations exhibitions.

The Summer Schools (now known as Summer Holiday Centres), first promoted by the parent Society in 1901, have played an important part in the educational work of The Vegetarian Society. The objects of the Centres are to provide for the holiday comfort, healthy enjoyment and physical benefit of the "scholars," and also to spread a knowledge of vegetarian principles and practice. There are usually about 100 "scholars" in residence for the five weeks' or six weeks' term.

The services rendered to vegetarians by Summer Holiday Centres have been gradually replaced by Guest-Houses catering specially for vegetarians. Seventy-five years ago, there were not more than half-a-dozen; to-day there are at least two hundred throughout Britain. The vegetarian Catering Association, established "to safeguard the interests of proprietors of Guest-Houses and their guests," has done excellent work in "promoting and developing vegetarian catering." The Association carries through courses for the training of Caterers and of Cooks and issues certificates of efficiency.

The importance of literature as a means of propaganda has always been recognized by the Societies. Copies of the Societies' magazines are sent each month to civic libraries and other public institutions and enquiries are often received from readers reached in this way. The Societies' books include many of the classics of vegetarian and humane literature. Their pamphlets and leaflets are very numerous and have been circulated by the million. The widespread distribution of free literature is probably the most effective method of advocacy, but often entails great waste and is expensive.

Mr. Peter Freeman, M.P. when President of The Vegetarian Society, "recorded" an address on "The Advantages of a Vegetarian Diet," this being the first use of the gramophone for the propagation of vegetarian teaching.

The British Broadcasting Corporation has been slow to allow the use of its systems for vegetarian propaganda, but there have been occasional Television Demonstrations of Vegetarian Cookery and Broadcast Talks by members of the national societies.

Considerable publicity has been gained for the Movement by starting correspondence in the Press, and by answering adverse criticisms.

The Societies have found that the best openings for platform advocacy are the Debating Societies and Guilds, meeting regularly in connection with religious, political and social organizations. Through such societies large audiences of the right kind are reached, and at little or no expense.

There is no surer way of attracting the housewife than by cookery demonstrations, and the work done in this direction has always gained the interest of the outside public. The Societies have opened food kitchens in time of national distress and, during the war years, conducted cookery demonstrations throughout the country, teaching the people that the foods best for health are also the cheapest and are obtained without the cruelty inseparable from the supply of flesh-meat.

The Societies have induced the Education Authorities in several large towns to include vegetarian cookery courses in the curriculum at their Domestic Science Centres.

Since 1876, special meetings extending over three or four days have been held in May of each year, in different parts of Great Britain; most of the large towns having been visited. The meetings, carried through in conjunction with an affiliated society, always arouse and strengthen local interest in vegetarianism and have often put new life into a dormant society.

The Societies affiliate local societies which receive certain privileges in return for a small subscription. Each affiliated society aims at making new vegetarians and endeavours so to gain their interest that they will eventually become active supporters of the movement. Social gatherings, dances and country rambles are organized in connection with the Society and its affiliated branches and these activities serve the excellent purpose of keeping together workers and friends and introducing new members. In the event of the failure of an affiliated society, the cause is invariably the need of an efficient secretary.

Each affiliated society should have a children's branch; effective use should be made of the cinematograph: each national society should have, in addition top its secretarial staff, a paid lecturer and a paid cookery demonstrator; each society should, as far as possible, give active support to all efforts to ameliorate the suffering of animals.

The success of the National Societies' work is only partly shown by the number of their members. A truer indication of progress is to be seen when we compare the reception given to their advocates by the pupils at the beginning with that given today. One hundred years ago the organized advocacy of vegetarianism was confined to The Vegetarian Society and two small churches - one in England and the other in the United States of America - but today vigorous societies for vegetarian propaganda are to be found throughout the old and the new world. The establishment of vegetarian restaurants and food-stores and the manufacture of vegetarian food specialities were possible only after the pioneers of our movement had prepared the way.

In compiling this brief review of the foundation and growth of the vegetarian movement in Britain, our confidence in the ultimate triumph of the principles for which all vegetarian societies stand has been confined and strengthened. There is encouragement in the abundant evidence that vegetarianism continues to grow in favour with the general public. There is also cause for encouragement in the pronouncements on the side of vegetarian practice by many of those who would the thoughts and opinions of the people. The world is ready to listen to our teaching and is more willing to put it into practice than it ever was before. We hope that what has been said will encourage workers in the vegetarian movement everywhere. To-day it is the privilege and the duty of vegetarians to take full advantage of the growing support given to our claims by the scientist and economist, but in giving first place to the moral argument we shall be continuing in the tradition of the pioneers of our movement. The future is with the vegetarian!