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Vegetarian Societies in the United Kingdom

From the Vegetarian Messenger (Manchester, England), December 1893, pp453-455:

By William E. A. Axon
(Read at the Annual Meeting of the Vegetarian Society, Oct. 23, 1893.)

As the Vegetarian Society is now not far off the attainment of its half century, it may not be without interest to notice that it had a precursor. There was in the early part of the present century a great quickening of moral and intellectual forces. The spirit of reform and of progress was in the very air, and the old forms and usages of society were freely challenged. In particular there were many efforts put forth for the organisation of a common life, but from one cause or other these attempts failed of success.

There was at Ham Common a socialistic and educational experiment carried on in Alcott House, under the name of the Concordium. Here that fine mystic James Pierrepont Greaves, William Oldham, and others united to form a fraternity of water drinkers, Vegetarians and truthseekers. They published a paper called The Healthian, which was succeeded by The New Age and Concordium Gazette. It was a monthly. The first number appeared 6th May, 1843, and the last 1st December 1844. The number for October, 1843, contains an article which we reproduce :-


The following proposal for the formation of a Society has been handed to us by a friend, who takes great interest in the subject to which it refers; and we need scarcely say that we shall hail with much pleasure the extablishment of such a Society; but whether it is to be expected from those who still remain among the impure influences of our towns and cities, will remain to be seen by the practical steps that will be taken. For our own part, we know there is no impediment but the imperfection of man's being, out of which proceeds all prejudices and error, false education and false society; but this is the very evil the Society is designed to remedy, by inducing a more careful adherence to the universal laws in humanity. We shall be glad to see those who think with us come out entirely from among the pollutions in which they exist; still, however, we hail with pleasure this as well as every other indication of the attention that is now given to a different mode of existence being necessary for man's real well-being.

Object of the Society. - This Society is formed for the dissemination, by means of the press, lectures, and missionaries in England and abroad, of correct principles on universal peace, health of soul and body, and on the prolongation of human life.
Society. - The Society is composed of members and officers of both sexes.
Membership. - Every person who subscribes to the subjoined declaration, and contributes to the funds of the Society, is thereby constituted a member.
Declaration of Members. - I hereby declare that I will abstain from animal food, and promote, by word and example, the objects of the Society for the Promotion of Humanity and Abstinence from Animal Food.
Officers of the Society. - The officers shall consist of a President, three Vice-Presidents, a Treasurer, a General and an Assistant Secretary, and a consulting Committee of seven, to be elected annually in a General Meeting, and to be re-electable.
Duties of Officers. - The President, Vice-Presidents, Treasurer, and Secretaries consitutute the executive department, the Council the advising and assisting department. All officers to serve without salary; the Society defraying the expenses of printing, staionery, postage, and outlays of missionaries.
Support of the Society. - The Society is supported by monthly and annual subscriptions and other modes of voluntary contributions.
Branches. - The Society is to form branches throughout England, the Colonies, and in foreign countries, as a means of greater efficiency and support.
General Meetings.- A General Meeting of members to be held annually in London, for the purpose of examining the affairs of the Society, electing its officers, amending the constitution, if necessary, and passing resolutions and regulations for the subsequent year.

In a subsequent number (p.139) we are told that the society was formed at Alcott House. Mrs. S. C. Chichester accepted the office of president.

We have pleasure in reporting a favourable progress. Several members have since enrolled with their names. Among them one lady, who wishes it to be stated that for ten years she has not tasted flesh food, and during that time has had unvarying good health, excellent appetite, and sound sleep. An objection to animal food was felt by her when very young; and she relates that at eight years of age, when requested by the servant to eat her dinner, her reply was, "I cannot, nurse - I cannot eat what has eyes!" When older, she was induced to do as others did; when older still, the Spirit resumed its rights, and, free to do as she liked, she relinquished it entirely.

A letter is printed from a friend, whose initials only are given, J. E. S., pointing out the extensive use of animal substances in other ways than as food. It is perhaps permissible to conjecture that this was the Rev. James E. Smith, the Editor of The Shepherd and of The Family Herald, who looked with friendly eye upon both Vegetarianism and teetotalism as signs of a better future. He was then preaching a Universal Church, and Mrs. Chichester and another of Greaves' disciples, Mrs. Welch, were amongst those who subscribed for the cost of his lectureship. (Shepherd Smith, the Universalist, by W. Anderson Smith, 1892, pp.205 et seq.)

At one of the meetings of the B.F.S.P.H.A.F. the question was proposed, "What is Man's Relationship to the Animal World?" This produced the following pithy communication, printed in The New Age, February, 1844:-

You ask, "What is Man's Relationship to the Animal World?" You want an answer. Why he is their burying place, for which they repay him by burying him in return. This is the sum and substance of animal consaguinity.

Such are the scanty data that remain as to the history of this apparently short-lived Vegetarian Association, the precursor of our present strong society, which was not organised until 1847. The time was not quite ripe for "The British and Foreign Society for the Promotion of Humanity and Abstinence from Animal Food." Possiby it was killed by the length and weight of the name given to it.