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1847-1981 :

A thesis presented to the London School of Economics, University of London,
for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, by Julia Twigg
©AUTUMN 1981 - Thesis Index

The author is now Professor of Social Policy and Sociology at Kent University, England, and has given permission for this previously unpublished thesis to be published on the IVU website. The ownership and copyright remain hers and no part of this thesis may be used elsewhere without her express permission.


[Numerical links are to the author's footnotes, use your back button to return to the same point in the text. Text links are to relevant items on the IVU website, all open in new windows]

On 30 September, 1847, a meeting was held at Northwood Villa, Ramsgate, out of which emerged the Vegetarian Society. (1) Vegetarianism was not new in the 1840’s, though the word was, for the diet had been known from the seventeenth century and before. (2) During the eighteenth century the diet was often associated with people termed 'mystics' and with a medical self-doctoring and healthy-living tradition. The growing tendermindedness towards animals at this time has already been noted. The late eighteenth century saw the first significant upswing in vegetarianism, (3) associated with the explosion of Romantic sensibility - most notably illustrated here in the diet's connection with Shelley and his circle. (4)

In this study, however, I have taken as my starting point the conventional date of 1847. This marks the point at which an organised vegetarian movement can be said to have emerged. As part of the background of this event, we need to look at two prefiguring institutions both of which were strongly represented at the Ramsgate Conference: these were the Bible Christian Church and the Concordium.

  1. Northwood Villa was a vegetarian hydropathic nursing home run by William Horsell and his wife.
  2. As noted above, it existed, within a rather different structure, as an element in monastic discipline, for some seventeenth-century associations, see p75
  3. For a brief account of eighteenth-century vegetarian literature, see C.W. Forward,  Fifty Years of Food Reform,  Manchester, 1898. Howard Williams, The Ethics of Diet: A Caetena of Authorities Deprecatory  of the Practice of Flesh Eating, Manchester, 1883, gives a comprehensive, if over- inclusive list of vegetarian advocates.
  4. For Shelley's advocacy of vegetarianism, see his, Queen Mab: A Philosophical Poem and A Vindication of Natural Diet, 1813 (written originally as a note to Queen Mab) for the general background see N.I. White, Shelley, 1947, and for a spoof of the period on vegetarianism see N.I. White, The Unextinguished Hearth, North Carolina, 1938.
    Shelley based his advocacy on the interconnectedness of health, morality and diet, arguing that the depravity of the physical and moral nature of man derives from his unnatural habits 'Crime is madness. Madness is disease’. What was needed was to return to a simpler and more natural form of society, and with it a return to man's natural diet - vegetarian. Ancient myths like that of Prometheus, Shelley relates, tell us how man was free from suffering, until he stole fire, and applying it to cooking, initiated meat-eating. Vegetarianism, he argued, was a fundamental reform because, unlike mere legislation, it struck at the roots of evil in: 'the furious passions and evil propensities of the human heart'. He pointed also to economic reasons - vegetarianism he argued would bring national independence and the end to trade rivalries and the corruption of the commercial spirit, as well as reducing the gap between the classes through the general reduction of luxury.
    Thus Shelley displayed all the principle arguments for vegetarianism except, interestingly, the animal cruelty one, which is absent from the Vindication and. only tangentially present in Queen Mab. At the heart of Shelley's conception was the visionary reconstruction of society, and in Queen Mab he gives a picture of this edenic dream in the form of the glorified earth where cruelty, bloodshed and tyranny are banished and man stands an equal among equals. This image is of recurring importance in the history of modern vegetarianism.

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