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A Taste of Eden: Modern Christianity and Vegetarianism


This article considers how the roots of modern vegetarianism, one of the fastest growing cultural trends in the UK and USA since the 1960s, can be found in Protestant sectarianism. Christian vegetarianism is shown to have developed in three main periods: the first during the first half of the nineteenth century and culminating in 1847 with the founding of the Vegetarian Society; the second starting in the 1890s; and the third in the 1960s. The article demonstrates that the main themes to be found in the arguments for Christian vegetarianism are humanitarianism, purity and reincarnation. It examines why these movements experienced only limited success in preaching a Christian vegetarian message and considers whether this work continues today in the work of groups of vegetarian Christians within the mainstream Churches.

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1 Survey by The Food and Drink Federation, April 2003, cited by the Vegetarian Society UK:

2 Julia Twigg, ‘The vegetarian movement in England: a study in the structure of its ideology’, unpubl PhD diss. London 1981, 88.

3 Ibid. 59.

4 The Alcott House Concordium, founded in 1838, was a community of utopian socialists influenced particularly by Owenites.

5 There was a forerunner to the Vegetarian Society, the British and Foreign Society for the Promotion of Humanity and Abstinence from Animal Food, which was founded in 1843 at Alcott House; its president was a Mrs S. C. Chichester. This society, unlike its successor, was short-lived. I am indebted to John Davis at for this information.

6 This was not achieved without some difficulty, however. See Theodore Compton, The life and correspondence of the Rev. John Clowes, MA, 2nd edn, London–Bath 1882, 3.

7 D. Antrobus, A guiltless feast: the Salford Bible Christian Church and the rise of the modern vegetarian movement, Salford 1997, 52.

8 See P. J. Lineham, ‘The English Swedenborgians, 1770–1840: a study of the social dimensions of sectarianism’, unpubl PhD diss. Sussex 1978, 309; C. Hulbert, Memoirs of an eventful life, privately printed 1852, 155; and J. T. Slugg, Reminscences of Manchester fifty years ago, Manchester–London 1881, 192–3.

9 Twigg, ‘Vegetarian movement’, 78.

10 Report of a conference, 1809, 14–16, cited in Lineham, ‘English Swedenborgians’, 296.

11 W. Cowherd, Facts authentic in science and religion: designed to illustrate a new translation of the Bible, Salford 1818–20.

12 Lineham, ‘English Swedenborgians’, 298.

14 Ibid; Report of a conference, 1809, 17–18.

15 Lineham, ‘English Swedenborgians’, 299.

16 Cited Ibid. 300.

17 Ibid. 306.

18 Ibid. 307.

19 Cited Ibid. 306.

20 Hindmarsh was one of Cowherd's severest critics on this subject, no doubt in part owing to his own painful experience at Cowherd's hands: D. G. Goyder, A concise history of the New Jerusalem Church with a critical account of her defenders, London 1827, 110; R. Hindmarsh, Rise and progress of the New Jerusalem Church, London 1861, 204.

21 For a discussion of the various rebellions in the Cowherdite chapels see Lineham, ‘English Swedenborgians’, 307–9.

22 Select hymns for the use of Bible Christians by the late Rev W. Cowherd (with additions), 8th edn, Salford 1898, 443.

23 Ibid. 254.

24 Ibid. litany at p. 476.

26 Ibid. 477.

27 Ibid. 478.

28 Antrobus, Guiltless feast, 64.

31 Joseph Brotherton, The first teetotal tract on abstinence from intoxicating liquor (1821), Manchester–London 1896, 14.

32 Scholefield's name is rendered as Scholfield by some authors. The spelling chosen here is that used by W. E. A. Axon.

33 W. H. G. Armytage, Heavens below: utopian experiments in England, 1560–1960, London 1961, 180.

34 W. E. A. Axon, A history of the Bible Christian Church, Salford 1909, 51.

35 Northwood Villa was a hydropathic nursing home owned by William Horsell (1807–63).

36 Axon, Bible Christian Church, 52.

37 Colin Spencer, Vegetarianism: a history, London 2000, 247.

38 Cited Ibid. 248.

39 Roland Detrosier is a good example of how the similarities between the two led to Detrosier giving his support to Deism: Twigg, ‘Vegetarian movement’, 103–4.

40 Lineham, ‘English Swedenborgians’, 320.

43 The Salford chapel school taught more than religion and there were evening classes for the workers. The schoolroom of the chapel in Queen Street, Hulme, eventually became James Scholefield's Hulme Institute.

44 Lineham, ‘English Swedenborgians’, 321.

46 Twigg, ‘Vegetarian movement’, 88.

47 Published in 1892, this novel provides an interesting insight into the vegetarian community in Manchester and its link with movements concerned with secularism, science and reason. Mrs Humphry Ward may well have been inspired by Fred Smallman's enterprises. For a discussion of Smallman and his business interests see Antrobus, Guiltless feast, 100–1.

48 Axon, Bible Christian Church, 236.

49 Vegetarian Messenger, Dec. 1905, 117; Feb. 1898, 70–1.

50 Twigg, ‘Vegetarian movement’, 95–7.

51 J. Simpson, Dietetic reform: a lecture on the principles and practice of vegetarian diet, Northampton 1856, 27, cited in Antrobus, Guiltless feast, 82.

52 Brotherton scrapbooks, 35/65, cited in. Antrobus, Guiltless feast, 96.

53 Dietetic Reformer and Vegetarian Messenger xxi (Jan. 1866), cover page.

54 Bible Christian Church minutes, 8 July 1927, GMCRO, G27/5.

55 Ibid. 12 Mar. 1920, G24/5. The Vegetarian Society did not take up the tenancy but moved to premises in Wilmslow in 1921 which were reported to be smaller and more expensive than those in Deansgate.

56 See, for example, 58th annual report, Vegetarian Messenger and Health Review 7th ser. ii/12 (Dec 1905), 339.

57 Ibid. 7th ser. iii/1 (Jan. 1906), 2.

58 The Congregational year book, 1906, states that Ferrier was also a minister at Wigton from 1882 to 1883, and at Grimshaw Street, Preston, from 1884 to 1891.

59 Obituary by the Revd V. A. Holmes-Gore, Vegetarian News, published by the London Vegetarian Society (Spring 1944), 31–2.

60 Vegetarian Messenger and Health Review 8th ser. xl/9 (Sept. 1943), 200.

61 I am indebted to John Gilheany for information on the Order of the Golden Age and its relationship to the Order of the Cross. Gilheany is shortly to publish a pamphlet on Christian vegetarianism in the UK (1809–2005).

62 Revd J. Harold Kemmis and Mrs E. Mary Kemmis, The Order of the Cross, London [c. 1974] (pamphlet published by the Order of the Cross).

63 Various volumes published by the Order of the Cross from the 1960s to the present include Revd John Todd Ferrier, What is a Christian? (1909), London 1966; Life's mysteries unveiled (1923), London 1992; The logia or sayings of the Master (1913), London 1980; and The Master: his life and teachings (1913), London 1980.

64 Ferrier, The Master, 304.

65 R. Berry, Food of the gods: vegetarianism and the world's religions, New York 1988, 306.

67 Twigg, ‘Vegetarian movement’, 190.

68 Ibid. 219.

69 Maitland is quoted in the preface to the third edition of Anna Kingsford as saying that the draft version of the life had much material on the Theosophical Society ‘in which he convicted them of having utterly mistaken the teaching they had received’: Anna Kingsford, I: Her life, letters, diary and work, London 1913, p. vii.

70 The Herald of the Golden Age vii/8 (Aug. 1902), 94.

71 Ibid. vii/12 (Dec 1902), 141.

72 Concerning human carnivorism was published in London by the Order of the Cross; it is undated but the preface is dated July 1903.

73 Ibid. 55.

74 Ibid. 72.

75 Ibid. 73.

76 The example given is 1 Cor x. 27–30.

77 Twigg, ‘Vegetarian movement’, 311.

79 This was referred to in a discourse by Albert Broadbent to the Bible Christian church in Salford on 20 October 1901, entitled ‘Peace on earth’ and reprinted in the Vegetarian Messenger in 1904; cf. Ernest Axon to Francis Wood, 14 Oct. 1932, MCL, MISC/1050/75.

80 Axon to Wood, 9 Oct. 1932, MCL, MISC/1050/73.

81 An interesting insight into the life of one member of the Order of the Cross and his non-member family can be found in the moving memoir by Tim Jeal: Swimming with my father, London 2004.

82 Spencer, Vegetarianism, 298.

83 Veg4Lent: introduction and study guide, published by the Christian Vegetarian Association,, 14/09/2004, 2.

84 John Michael of Cardiff, Ibid.

I would like to express my thanks to my supervisor, Professor Hugh McLeod, for his advice and support during the preparation of this paper, to the Editors and the anonymous reviewer of this Journal for their helpful comments and suggestions for improvement and to Dr Nigel Scotland, who supervised my MA work at the University of Gloucestershire upon which this paper is based. All errors or omissions are, of course, my own.

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