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Arnold Hills (1857-1927)

Mr. Hills from The Vegetarian, December 21, 1889

At the second World Vegetarian Congress, held in Manchester, England in 1909, the assembled delegates passed the following resolution:

"The International Vegetarian Congress now in session at Manchester, sends Mr. A. F. Hills a grateful message of sympathy and appreciation for his many services to the cause of a humane diet."

Most people today have never heard of Arnold Hills, but he made a huge contribution to the development of vegetarianism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He provided inspiration, and a lot of financial support to many vegetarian societies, and worked closely with individuals such as Gandhi, George Bernard Shaw and Henry Salt.

The first we know about him is in 1888 when he became the first President of both the London Vegetarian Society and the Vegetarian Cycling and Athletic Club. The following year he initiated and became President of the Vegetarian Federal Union and launched The Vegetarian, an independent magazine. He was also President of a London Vegetarian Rambling Club.


Arnold Hills in later life

Memorial Hall in 1930

These were all based in the Memorial Hall, Farringdon Street, London which was owned by the Congregationalist Church - Arnold Hills was a deeply religious man and appears to have had some connection with the Congregationalists.

The London Vegetarian Society had broken away from the original Vegetarian Society, based in Manchester, but the relationship was very amicable and Mr Hills remained an Honorary Vice-President of the older society. The two eventually merged again in 1969 to become the Vegetarian Society of the United Kingdom.

The Vegetarian Cycling and Athletic Club is has an unbroken history and is still going strong today.

The Vegetarian Federal Union was an early attempt to co-ordinate vegetarians internationally, it didn't work out the way it was set up, but there were some successes and the later founders of IVU learned a lot from it.

Copies of Mr Hills' magazine The Vegetarian still exist from 1889 at the offices of the Vegetarian Society UK.

Mohandas Gandhi spent some time on the Executive Committee of the London Vegetarian Society in 1890/91 and knew Arnold Hills well. See the LVS page for Gandhi's comments. Hills was also almost certainly in close contact with people like George Bernard Shaw, Annie Besant, Henry Salt and Bramwell Booth (Salvation Army Chief of Staff, later General) who were all active vegetarians in London at that time.

Mr Hills was the Managing Director of the Thames Iron Works, a large shipbuilding business in London and was a very wealthy man.

An interesting recollection of England in this period appears in The First Century of Health Foods by Kathleen Keleny (1998). She quotes from her father James Henry Cook who in 1890 took part in debates in Birmingham in favour of Temperance and Votes for Women. Then in 1895 he went to a meeting of the Vegetarian Federal Union where Arnold Hills spoke for an hour on Vegetarianism. Mr Cook was persuaded and described Mr Hills was 'an inspiring speaker'.

Mr Cook explained that Arnold Hills offered to contribute to the funding of a vegetarian restaurant in Birmingham: 'In 1896, it so happened that a new building was being erected in Corporation Street, Birmingham. After much deliberation, the consortium of businessmen rented the whole of the basement and ground floor to use as a Vegetarian restaurant. As I was very keen on the whole idea, I was appointed manager. Then the landlord asked us if we would take the whole of the seven storey building and convert the upper five storeys into an hotel. In the summer of 1898 the first Vegetarian hotel in England, called 'The Pitman Vegetarian Hotel', was opened and I was made manager of that too. The hotel was named after Sir Isaac Pitman of Pitman Short-hand, who had been a Vegetarian for 60 years, and at the time was one of the best known vegetarians in England.'

Mr Hills also encouraged his workers at the Thames Iron Works to participate in sports, especially athletics and football. He funded the works football team from 1895, in 1898 they turned professional and then, in 1900, changed their name to West Ham United.

A 1910 issue of the Vegetarian Messenger describes Mr Hills as being 'on his back in an invalid chair' though no further details of his illness are given. Also in 1910 he was made one of the 'Membres d'honneur' of the Committee of the International Congress at The Hague but it is unlikely that he attended the event in person.

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