London Vegans 1856 – Elizabeth And William Horsell
Note – I use the word ‘vegan’ in my historical ramblings to refer to folks who ate only plants – ……but please remember that the word ‘vegan’ itself was not used until 88+ years ago – in 1944.
William Horsell, London, c.1857 (1)
We are a part of an old tradition! There were actually vegan ‘meet-ups’ & ‘pot-lucks’ being held in London 150+ years ago. We are fortunate to have original records of some of them in the Ernest Bell Library.
London’s first vegan residential community – ‘The Concordium’ – ran from around 1838 to 1848. The Concordium’s goal was to produce – “integral men & women” – ……”whole men & women”. (2)
In the late 1840s & the 1850s, vegan pioneers Elizabeth and William Horsell, actively leafleted London & farther afield, broadcasting the clear message that: –
~ ….it was not enough that one should give up the use of flesh, one should become a whole, and not a half person, and give up the use of tea, coffee, cheese, eggs, and milk. ~
Discord – Elizabeth and William Horsell met with strong opposition from the wealthy milk, egg & honey addicts of the Manchester based ‘Vegetarian Society’, which the Horsells themselves had co-founded in 1847.
Books & Whole-foods
At the bottom of this post you will find the image of the front cover of the Horsells’ July 1856 catalogue of vegetarian and other books, wholefoods and kitchen utensils, and ‘pure’ chocolate.
A best-selling book of the period among vegetarians was a ‘recent’ 1852 edition of Martha Brotherton’s recipe book: –
[BROTHERTON, Mrs. Joseph]. VEGETABLE COOKERY. By a Lady. With an Introduction Explanatory of the Principles of Vegetarianism. London: Fred Pitman, 1852. (We have a copy).
In the book, Martha Brotherton had categorized vegetarians into 4 ‘styles’ & she boldly called ‘veganism’, ‘The First Style. (3)
Why no tea & coffee? – the Horsells were teetotalers & active prohibitionists. Remember also that in the 1850s your ‘China’ tea & ‘Jamaica’ coffee was very likely to be adulterated, unless you were very well connected & very wealthy. A relatively small amount of Assam tea was already available in London. Tea had just began to be planted in Darjeeling, but the bushes were still too young to be ‘picked’.
Once British colonial tea was firmly established by the 1880s, perceived to be a strong beverage unadulterated and unsullied, Indian and Ceylonese tea could be seen as the “patriotic” drink of the hygienically minded Briton: “While China tea was still grossly adulterated, grown and manufactured by primitive hand methods, Indian was produced on large, highly capitalised estates, using all the modern apparatus of science, technology and research. The Victorian mind was greatly reassured by the knowledge that its Indian tea was ‘untouched by human hand’” – much more here
Flours & baked breads were also horribly adulterated. The Horsells sold hand grinding mills, so that their customers could grind their own wheat flour, pea flour & other flours.
Cocoa was the preferred drink of the vegetarians and the teetotalers. William Horsell worked with the Quaker Cadbury family promoting their ‘pure cocoa powders’. The Cadburys were also important supporters of the ‘Animals’ Friend Society’, which Ernest Bell later revived.
The vegetarians, humanitarians, teetotalers etc. of this era were superb net-workers.
In our Ernest Bell Library, we are fortunate to have an original bound volume of Elizabeth and William Horsell’s monthly magazine: –
The Journal of Health
Covering the period – Sept 1855 to August 1856.
The only other catalogued surviving copies, which we can locate, are held in the British Library.
There are 12 monthly issues. The magazines were edited by another vegan, Frederic Towgood. Jabez Inwards, also a vegan, was another close collaborator; the above photograph of William Horsell came from the collection of his son, Richard Inwards.
Below this, transcribed, is my one of my favorite pieces in the magazines. I have emailed it to many friends, this is the first time that it has appeared on the Internet!
The original font is tiny & the layout is 2 narrow columns per page. I have presented it as separate lines of text, this is because the original paragraph breaks are somewhat unclear. I have also added some other notes – ……as is my habit.
Setting the scene
……please picture a room full of – whole people, meeting together to exchange stories each month, with a table covered in vegan snacks & drinks, on a Thursday afternoon in 1856.
All in a time before cars, when bicycles were ‘high-wheelers’ or ‘penny-farthings, when flight was possible only in hot air balloons, when railways had not yet penetrated the City of London or the West End, and when most people would have arrived at the meeting on foot or in horse drawn carriages.
The room would have been lit by gas lamps or by oil lamps. It was 25 years later, in 1881, that the Savoy Theatre in London was the first public building in the world, to be lit entirely by electricity.
The Horsells’ monthly vegan meetings had become popular & had outgrown the space at the ‘Vegetarian Depôt’ at 492, Oxford Street.
Remember also that, in 1856 there were still no vegetarian restaurants in London. Thomas Low Nichols opened the first one in 1879, ‘The Alpha’, also located in London’s Oxford Street. (In future posts we will share copies of some of the first reviews & the menu cards of ‘The Alpha’.)
In this part of the meeting one Mr. Groves (first name not yet rediscovered) very graphically discusses his meetings with the London vegans & his decision to help his whole family to become fully vegan.
Report of the – ‘Vegan Meet-up’ – Thursday April 3, 1856.
The Journal of Health & Phrenological Magazine – No. 9. Vol 5.Issue for May 1856– excerpt from pages 213 & 214.
The London Vegetarian Association held their usual monthly soiréeat the National Hall, Holborn, on Thursday April 3rd.
Mr. GROVES related his own experience.
He had tried the old system, and he knew from experience what vegetarianism was. (my note – ‘the old system’ = the flesh diet)
He was an old teetotaler.
At first he had been induced to try vegetarianism for three months, and during that time refrained from the use of dead flesh; but he found he had a family growing up around him, and he considered that it was his duty to take care of his means as well as his health.(my note – here – ‘means’ = money, financial resources.)
He called at the Vegetarian Depot, at 492, Oxford-street, where he received some good instructions; among others, that it was not enough that he should give up the use of flesh, he should become a whole, and not a half man, and give up the use of tea, coffee, cheese, eggs, and milk. (my note – the ‘Vegetarian Depôt’ was a project of William Horsell, Frederic Towgood & other friends. ‘whole man’ / ‘whole person’ = full vegetarian – vegan)
He resolved to do so.
At first his family felt some little inconvenience in entirely giving up milk, but they got out of it gradually.
He had also given over shaving, and had let his beard grow. (my note – William Horsell was most definitely a ‘beard man’ – see photo at the top of this post.)
He had likewise abandoned the use of tobacco and snuff.
When a youth he was troubled with a pain in his side, and he had actually been whipped to smoke; but he did not long require whipping: he also took snuff. (my note – tobacco was considered by some to be medicinal – this started to change after the isolation of nicotine from tobacco leaves in 1828. ……imagine parents ‘whipping’ their children to force them to smoke!)
Now he had entirely given up everything of the kind.
He now enjoyed his cold bath; and with his bread and apples, toast and filtered water, and plenty of jams and other good things, prepared from the corns and fruits, always enjoyed comfortable meals; and now at 45, as a vegetarian, he enjoyed as good health and mental vigour as he did at 21.
He could walk twenty to thirty miles a day with the greatest ease; and during the time he had been a vegetarian, he had enjoyed himself better than at any former period of his life.
From his own experience he could speak of the vegetarian system in the highest terms: he was deeply grateful to the vegetarians of London, and spoke in high terms of their untiring energy and self-denial.
He cordially recommended the system to all who had not tried it; and, in conclusion, recommended brown bread as being much preferable to white.
This is the cover of Elizabeth & William Horsell’s July 1856 catalogue of vegetarian, animal rights & other books. Copies of the full catalogue will be emailed to anyone who requests one. The .pdf file size is approx. 10 MB.
The Ernest Bell Librarywas conceived in 1934. It is still strong & very active eighty years later – its primary objectives are to: –
Collect all of Ernest Bell’s book & non-book works and make them easily accessible to everyone.
Collect the literature of vegetarianism and all the other humanitarian movements in which Ernest Bell was so deeply involved.
Assist students and scholars in their research.
Introduce all aspects of Ernest Bell’s life, including his writings, campaign work, influences and his circle of friends.
Undertake our own research into missing aspects of Ernest Bell’s life and work.
We already have more than 300 pieces of Ernest Bell’s own writings.
We are also actively building a collection of examples of promotional material, campaign material, fundraising & marketing activities etc. – related to: –
veg(etari)an books & other publications.
animal rights organisations.
animal rights publications.
rambling clubs run by members of the above groups & related publications.
the work of Richard St. Barbe Baker & the ‘Men of the Trees’ organization & its many sub-branches.
There are currently more than 3,000 items in the Ernest Bell Library.
We will complete the cataloging of the collection as & when adequate funds are available.
It is long past time for the library to go online!
“I have little doubt that the proposal for the establishment of an Ernest Bell Library, which would specialize in humanitarian and progressive literature, and so form a sort of centre for students, will meet with a wide response.”
Working to promote vegan businesses since 1978. Henry S. Salt Archive - researcher & fundraiser. The Humanitarian League - researcher & fundraiser. The Ernest Bell Library - archive manager. Collecting & republishing historical material of vegetarianism and other humanitarian movements. Running the 'Hum-an-imal Badge Co.'.
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