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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now Professor of Social Policy and Sociology at Kent University, England, and has given permission for this previously unpublished thesis to be published on the IVU website.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.

Decline and Revival, 1860s-1880s

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During the 1860s and '70s vegetarianism went through a period of decline, evidenced in the dwindling membership figures and in the almost total disappearance of the vegetarian restaurant. (1) Vegetarianism was out of tune with the high tide of mid-Victorian. England. But in the early 1880s new stirrings began to be felt. Many of the mid-Victorian certainties began to be questioned as the challenge to British economic supremacy began to be felt. A series of movements critical of the established social and cultural structures began to gather, and many of the issues of the 1840s re-emerged, although in slightly different form. This Late Victorian Revolt was experienced across a wide spectrum of ideas and movements of which vegetarianism and its connections formed a part.

The new quickening of interest in vegetarianism began to be felt from the late 1870s. (2) In the eighties, a number of local branches were established or revived; (3) the distribution of these groups and of the fast expanding vegetarian restaurants - in 1878, there was one; in 1889, fifty two, thirty four of which were in London - shows a shift away from the previously predominating northern industrial towns, towards London, which now emerged as the new centre. The influence of the Bible Christian Church declined steadily in this period. (4) During the sixties, articles expounding Swedenborgian interpretation were increasingly infrequent, and when biblical arguments were employed - decreasingly from the 1870's - they were non-sectarian in character.

The arrival of Francis Newman in 1868 marked a new departure for the society and foreshadowed a growing acceptance in more metropolitan circles. Newman became president [of the Vegetarian Society] in 1873, (5) retiring in 1883. Despite certain eccentricities, he was a respected figure in literary and academic circles, and the vegetarians clearly felt that his presence gave weight to their cause and helped to divest it of some of its provincial flavour. Professor J.E.B. Mayor, his successor as President, and Professor of Latin at Cambridge, brought further academic respectability. (6)

With this shift to London goes a certain shift in social basis. Increasingly vegetarianism is associated with the middle class, especially with the fast expanding lower-middle class. The late nineteenth century saw the emergence of new intermediary classes, sections of which provided the basis for a series of social progressivist movements. (7) Membership of the Vegetarian Society in the mid 1870's already shows an increased preponderance of white-collar, especially clerical and retail, occupations, and this trend appears to continue. (8) Working-class vegetarians do still occasionally feature in the journals but in decreasing numbers.

The accounts of vegetarian restaurants confirm this social background. Most of them were situated in the City or in other commercial areas. (9) The Pall Mall Gazette described the majority of customers as being dressmakers and shopkeepers assistants, with about twenty-five per cent women. Axon believed that the majority came for cheapness and a change and were not necessarily vegetarians, though he describes them as including: 'some of the more thoughtful members of the artisan class, and large numbers of those - both men and women - who are engaged in warehouses and offices'. (10) These restaurants were part of a wider expansion in the period of cheap and respectable lunch places for white-collar workers, particularly women. (11) Many of these vegetarian restaurants acted as meeting places and club houses for those of similar views. (12)

Certain issues within the Vegetarian Society at this time display conflicts arising from its changing social base. The first was the issue of membership. Newman in particular felt that requiring a pledge of total abstinence was a barrier to recruitment, and he suggested associate membership for those not able to give full commitment. (13) This was introduced in 1874 after much dispute, and the issue rumbled on throughout the eighties and nineties. (14) Many, especially those of the northern old guard, felt that it watered down their stand, and they stated strongly that the Vegetarian Society was 'not simply a diet reform society'. (15) A pledge was in line with ideas from tee-totalism, and was not an alien concept at the time, however it did exclude those from the burgeoning diet-reform movement and it did reinforce the closed sectarian feeling. Both these factors were significant in the conflict between the London-based groups and the Manchester society. Newman summed up the more inclusive London view when he said that: 'the object of the society was not to found a sect but to influence a nation'. (16) Similar tensions were displayed in the attempt to find a new name for the diet. (17)

The second major issue concerned the society itself. In the late 1870's a number of food-reform groups had emerged in London, the principle one of which was the London Food Reform Society. (18) All the vegetarian and food-reform groups at this time included a heavy overlap of members, particularly at the top, and the rivalries between the societies were internal and personal. Relations between London and Manchester became increasingly strained during the 1880's. Manchester felt London should be represented, as before, by a local branch or auxiliary; whereas the London people wanted a strong and independent centre in the metropolis. Their members tended to be younger - in their teens according to Forward. London was also more catholic in its concerns, and its journal, The Food Reform Magazine, carried articles on a wider range of topics. In 1888 these conflicts - intensified by personal animosities - precipitated a total split, and the London Vegetarian Society was founded. (19)

In this period, vegetarianism flourished in a number of different settings; their social background and concerns differ in focus, though as we shall see there are also strong inter-connections. The eighties were in particular a period that favoured the total world-view, in contrast to the more fragmented and compartmentalised approaches that succeeded them. Vegetarianism tends to flourish in such periods of cultural holism.

  1. By 1870 membership had sunk to 125. During the 1850s there had been vegetarian ordinaries in cities like Manchester, but by 1862, the Dietetic Reformer could find none, a state of affairs that continued until 1878.
  2. There was a steady growth in membership of the Vegetarian Society in the late seventies, peaking in the early 1880s at 2070. During the late eighties there is a slight decline, though this reflects the emergence of the new London Vegetarian Society, for which no membership figures survive. None of these figures approximate to the actual number of vegetarians.
  3. The Vegetarian Review, hereafter VR, 1897, p465 has a brief account of this growth.
  4. Though figures like peter Foxcroft, W.E.A. Axon and the Reverend James Clark were still influential in the society.
  5. F.W. NEWMAN: 1805-1897, brother of Cardinal Newman, evangelical, later mystical theist. Professor of Latin, University College, London. Supporter of a variety of causes, including anti-vaccination, anti-vivisection, reformed spelling, land reform, neo-Malthusianism; see obituary, VR, 1897, p497; William Robbins, The Newman Brothers: An Essay in Comparative Intellectual Biography, 1966; Basil Willey , More Nineteenth Century Studies, 1956,
  6. J.E.B. Mayor, 1825-1910, see DNB and DR May 1880, p92, for his testimony.
  7. See G. Crossick, 'The Emergence of the Lower-Middle Class in Britain', in his The Lower-Middle Class in Britain, 1870-1914, 1977.
  8. See DR, 1875 for occupations in the membership lists, though this information ceases shortly after.
  9. See C.W. Forward, Fifty Years of Food Reform, Manchester 1898, p103-7, including a map.
  10. DR, June 1890, p169, for the Gazette description and Axon's comments.
  11. See Robert Thorne, 'Places of Refreshment in the Nineteenth-Century City', A.D. King, ed, Buildings and Society, 1981.
  12. As Lt-Col Newnham-Davis' account of a visit to a vegetarian restaurant in St. Martin's Lane makes clear. He stresses the modesty and. cleanliness, and mentions the ladies chess club. He adopts a humourous, though not hostile, tone. Dinners and Diners: Where and How to Dine in London, 1899.
  13. Newman tried to extend the scheme to allow for grades of membership - for example for those who still ate fish or chicken. (He himself by the time of his death had reverted to eating fish). He also opposed vigorously any ideas that salt or milk were injurious: 'the number of dogmatic prohibitions against everything that make food palatable will soon ruin our Society if not firmly resisted'. (quoted in Forward, p76)
  14. The issue was raised repeatedly at AGMs and feelings were strong. See for example DR, July 1883 and DR, Oct 1895. Associate membership proved very successful, and to the end of the century associates were enrolled in about equal numbers to full members.
  15. DR, June 1881, p116, opposition lead by Foxcroft and Clark.
  16. Quoted by Forward, p76.
  17. See p28
  18. Later the National Food Reform Society, a change that angered Manchester. Its officers included C.W. Forward, Frank Podmore, Howard Williams, T.R. Allinson, J.E.B. Mayor and P. Doremus, with articles by Kingsford, Joynes and Salt.
  19. See C.W. Forward for a slightly veiled account of the break-up and for hints of personal acrimony. Forward later edited The Vegetarian Review, the magazine of the L.V.S. for Arnold Hills.

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