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History of the Scottish Vegetarian Society

The following article first appeared in The Vegetarian (the magazine of the Vegetarian Society UK) in the Winter 1999 issue.

The Lost Society

Scotland now has its own parliament, but from the veggie viewpoint it lacks something it had a hundred years ago - its own vegetarian society.
by Leah Leneman

The first vegetarian restaurant in Scotland was the 'Garden Restaurant' at 17 Bothwell Street, Glasgow, started in 1892 by A J Hardy Moffat. After it opened, Ernest C. Clark (from Manchester, but resident in Glasgow), Secretary of the Scottish Food Reform Society, suggested that the time was ripe to establish a society. On November 23 1892 it was resolved that the name of the new society should be the Scottish Vegetarian Society. H.S.Bathgate was elected President and served until 1929 (after which he served as Honorary President). John Barclay, the first Honorary Secretary, was a keen athlete who won a number of prizes before leaving Scotland for Jamaica. John P.Allen was Secretary fro 1897 until the 1930s.

In February 1893 the first vegetarian banquet in Scotland was held at the 'Garden Restaurant', attended by sixty and by this time the city boasted another vegetarian establishment, the 'Eden Restaurant', which hosted 'a model vegetarian dinner' in April 1893, attended by over a hundred.

Membership numbers were never high: during the first year of the society's existence it had only nineteen, and as late as 1933 it was still under 300. However, the Society produced its own recipe book and held public meetings - in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee and Dunfermline particularly - often bringing in lecturers and cookery demonstrators from the 'parent society'. Attendance at these meetings averaged 150. John Allen and his wife helped to run the Vegetarian Society's summer schools at St Andrews, Melrose and Crieff. Women were always active in The Scottish Vegetarian Society, and Mrs A S Hunter, of Bridge of Allan, was said to have been 'one of the greatest pioneers ofr the health of people that Scotland has ever produced'.

In 1933 Dugold Semple, already well-known in the movement for his many books on vegetarianism and 'simple living', became President and the Society went from strength to strength. It celebrated its fiftieth anniversary during the war in 1942, at a time when it was 'proven that the health of the nation depends upon a plentiful supply of natural home-grown foods, and that the food question goes to the root of most social problems.'

So what became of the Scottish Vegetarian Society? It is believed that in the early 80s it became the Glasgow branch of The Vegetarian Society of the United Kingdom, and is now just an Information Centre.