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now Professor of Social Policy and Sociology at Kent University, England, and has given permission for this previously unpublished thesis to be published on the IVU website.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


[Numerical links are to the author's footnotes, use your back button to return to the same point in the text. Text links are to relevant items on the IVU website, all open in new windows]


During the interwar period, the established pattern of the vegetarian societies continued, though by the time of the death of Hills in 1927 there are signs that the rivalry between the two societies had largely ceased.

With regard to the pattern of rise and fall, the picture is less clear than in previous periods; though there are signs that the immediate post-war years and the early 1920s were lean ones for the vegetarian societies: the post-war climate was not favourable to their aspirations. (1) From the late twenties, however, there are indications of a quickening of interest in the vegetarian magazines, (2) though the evidence for an upswing comes also from the rise in the late twenties and early thirties of a series of cultural movements favourable to vegetarianism. To some degree these represent once again the re-running of familiar themes from Romanticism, though in this period its influence is much more modified than was the case in the 1880s and '90s (or indeed in the 1970s). This period of the late twenties and thirties is of course dominated economically by the Depression; the relationship of this to the context of vegetarianism is not clear. Northern vegetarianism does not appear to have been seriously eroded by the economic crisis, indeed certain groups such as the Mazdaznans may indeed have flourished in this context. For those of the middle class, particularly in the expanding parts of the south, the thirties, especially the later thirties, were a period of rising real incomes and expanding circumstances: (3) again the relationship to vegetarianism remains unclear.

With regard to the social background: of vegetarianism, the tendency towards an almost exclusively middle- and lower-middle-class base continues. Testimonials and references to working men are now almost completely absent. Fenner Brockway, recalling his journey through England in the early 1930s gathering material for Hungry England and staying with working-class people, can remember no fellow vegetarians among them. (4) Leo Price, a vegetarian miner in South Wales who went to fight in the Spanish Civil War, reports that he knew of no other vegetarians in the mines. (5) In the same vein, the recommendation of the diet for working people in particular largely ceases.

With regard to the attitudes of dominant society in the interwar years, though many vegetarians reported that they now met with an 'easier response' (6) and Ernest Bell asserted that they were no longer regarded as cranks, (7) ignorance remained the predominant response and the diet continued to be disparaged: cartoons of the period suggest a scarcely veiled hostility behind the humour, and Aldous Huxley's account of a vegetarian couple in his short story 'The Claxtons', though perceptive, is essentially malicious in tone. (8) Many shared Orwell's celebrated exasperation with such groups and the continuing fame of that passage is itself significant. (9) Shaw was vegetarianism's most famous figure in the period and his position as both the Grand Old Man and Enfant Terrible of English letters brought wide publicity to the cause. In the literary world the vegetarians engaged in running battles with G.K. Chesterton – for they were, not surprisingly, among his pet aversions (10) – and with Dean Inge, a much quoted pundit of the period. Inge had argued in his Outspoken Essays of 1922 that: 'Sir Leslie Stephen’s remark that no one is so much interested in the demand for pork as the pig, is surely quite valid,' and this aroused a storm of objection from the vegetarians that lasted well into the 1930s. (11)

The work to establish the healthfulness of the diet continued and much publicity was given in vegetarian magazines to the work of G.W. Sibley [editor's note] at Wycliffe College, a boy's public school where the performance in sport and health of the boys from a vegetarian house was compared favourably with those conventionally fed. (12) Similarly the publishing of cycling and other records continued, and the society had some success in getting the BBC to drop its insistence on. the necessity of meat for children. (13)

Certain changes occurred at the level of food. In line with general trends in retailing, manufactured vegetarian foods became increasingly available. Companies like Mapleton's and Pitman's had been founded before the First World War, though it was the interwar period that saw the steady expansion of the market and of the health food companies. These companies were often more than just commercial enterprises and had been founded by people committed to the vegetarian cause – Hugh Mapleton had been a friend of Carpenter - and Wallaces' Pure Food, Pitman's and Allinson's were all products of a wider concern. Often the food factories themselves followed idealistic standards with a stress on hygiene and staff welfare. (14)

Among the restaurants, Shearns of Tottenham Court Road, deserves a mention, since it was the most famous vegetarian restaurant of the period and was often used for celebrations. (15) Lady Emily Lutyens ordered her nut rissoles from there, which arrived with a neat piece of macaroni stuck in the end to form a bone. Not all vegetarian food had this mimicking aspect, and from this period onwards, vegetarian cooking begins to develop a more distinctive style. A major aspect in this, evident from the middle years of the First World War, was the growing popularity of raw food, often termed in the twenties and thirties 'sun-fired' food. (16) The discovery of the role of vitamins aided this development, (17) though as we have seen the idea was itself older and drew on other perceptions than just the scientific-nutritional. The German Bircher-Benner was particularly influential here, as was the American Bengamin Gayelord Hauser. Hauser's system was essentially that of nature cure, stressing elimination, raw food, fasting and the creation of a 'radiant blood stream'. (18) 'Radiant, life giving foods build vital and healthy bodies. Do not expect to keep young and healthy', he advised, 'if you build with coarse, poor, dead materials', (19) and the Beverley Hills tone of his advice and his own good looks (20) endowed the books with a wide appeal in the period, beyond just traditional vegetarian circles.

The 1930s saw a steady expansion in the number of people taking holidays, between 1931 and 1939 those entitled to paid holidays grew from one and a half million to eleven million, and twenty million people were visiting the seaside by the late thirties. (21) This general trend was reflected in the vegetarian magazines, which from the early thirties feature advertisements for vegetarian guest houses, (22) though many vegetarians found a happy solution to the problem of holidays through the vegetarian summer schools which flourished in the interwar period. Ernest Bell was a popular figure at these events, taking the role of 'headmaster' and organiser. (23) A wide range of activities was available including walking, folk dancing, concerts, slides, lectures, and fancy dress balls, though by the mid-thirties the organised programme had given way to a freer approach, whereby the schools were essentially holiday centres. The schools sometimes lasted six to eight weeks, and the annual photographs reveal about a hundred people attending at one time, with about sixty per cent women.

  1. 10. For example, in 1920 Maurice Webb, on the point of leaving the editorship of the VN, gives a depressing picture of the state of the LVS: 'I would venture to say that the Society in London and other societies in the country at the present time are quite unworthy of the movement they represent. There is about them and their work an air of meanness and littleness, an obvious lack of imagination and courage that reflects very badly on the vegetarian cause Two years ago, the LVS had a staff of one, a dingy office, some miserable pamphlets, and its activities began and ended with the holding of a few poorly attended meetings and an annual bazaar’, VN, Sept 1920, p103. A.C. Newcombe, five years later, was still comparing the present days unfavourably with those at the turn of the century, VN, Jan 1926, p20
  2. 11. The figures for vegetarian-type restaurants between the wars confirm this : in 1921, ten in London and thirty-six in the provinces, 1928, twenty-two in London and forty-four in the provinces, 1937, twenty-one in London and thirty-nine in the provinces. The Food Reformer's Year Book and Health Seekers Guide, for these years.
  3. 12. For the economic background, see John Stevenson and Chris Cook, The Slump: Politics During the Depression, 1977.
  4. 13. Interview.
  5. 14. Correspondence.
  6. 15. VM, Feb 1934, p38.
  7. 16. ERNEST BELL: 1851-1933. St Pauls, Cambridge. Son of the founder of the publishing house he himself headed. Vegetarian from 1874. Active in numerous animal welfare societies including Humanitarian League, RSPB, Anti-Bearing-Rein Society, Animal Friend's Society. Interested in folk dancing, sport and Higher Thought. VM, Jan 1915, p23; Jan 1925, p5; and obit. in VM, Oct 1933, p301.
  8. 17. Brief Candles, 1930.
  9. 18. 'One sometimes gets the impression that the mere words "Socialism" and "Communism" draw towards them with magnetic force every fruit juice drinker, nudist, sandal wearer, sex-maniac, Quaker, "Nature Cure" quack, pacifist and feminist in England'. The Road to Wigan Pier, 1937, Penguin ed., p152.
  10. 19. Chesterton saw vegetarians as pagans and materialists who 'believe in taking the body seriously'. See VN, April 1921, p39; VM, May 1924, p77, and subsequent issues for Salt's comments. See also Chesterton's earlier attacks on Religion of Nature and on Salt in his Orthodoxy, 1909, p138, 198.
  11. 20. Salt argued in reply that non-existence could not properly be compared with existence. He also wrote a poem on the subject:

    We are the Pigs Unborn, the Pigs Forsaken;
    O'erlooked by heedless folk who eat no bacon.
    In blank pre-natal Nothingness we pine,
    Robbed of that proud prerogative of swine,
    The born pigs birthright - to be penned in muck,
    In garbage grub, be fatted, and be stuck.
    Mere ghosts of porkers, pork we'll never be:
    This, Vegetarian, this we owe to thee!
    O deaf to crys of Pigs that Might Have Been,
    Art thou not cruel? ask the learned Dean.
    - VM June 1926, p118

    See also Reverend Francis Wood, A Reply to Dean Inge's Defence  of Flesh Eating, 1934.
  12. 21. VN, April 1926, p86, and recurringly thereafter. VN, Jan 1935, p450, gives an account of the school, which appears to have been more in the public school tradition than a progressive school though the OTC had been abandoned 'on the grounds that it was opposed to what the world's new outlook ought to be'. [editor's note]
  13. 22. VN, Feb 1935, p38, and March, p71, 81.
  14. 23. For the food factories see accounts in VM, April 1915, p96 Aug 1932, p223; and May 1933, p143. Pitman's Healthy Food Company (called after Pitman though not founded by him) was at Vitaland in Warwickshire, where the aim was a 'factory in the countryside'. Photographs show model production areas, lawns and flowerbeds. The visit to Mapleton's Nutfood Company (Mapleton had pioneered the development of vegetarian fats) also stressed pure manufacturing conditions and good staff facilities.
  15. 24. For the interwar restaurants, see illustrated articles in New Vegetarian, May 1977, p8-13. They included the Vitamin Cafe founded by Edgar Saxon in 1930 and the Vega, founded in 1933 by Walter and Jenny Fleiss, refugees from Germany and followers of Bircher-Benner.
  16. 25. As we have noted, salads were not widely eaten in the previous periods; see also Stephen Winsten, Salt and his Circle, p116, for comments on the diet followed by nineteenth-century vegetarians - mostly overcooked vegetables minus the meat – and VM, March 1917, p54-5, and subsequently for the virtues of conservative cooking by Mrs Leonora Cohen, the suffragette.
  17. 26. See F. Bicknell and E. Prescott, The Vitamins in Medicine, 1946, for the dates of discovery.
  18. 27. Food, Science and Health, New York, 1930, p25.
  19. 28. Harmonised Food Selection, New York 1930, p18. See also his Eat and Grow Beautiful, 1939.
  20. 29. Interview with Nina Hosali.
  21. 30. John Stevenson and Chris Cook, The Slurp, p25.
  22. 31. The first summer school had been in 1901. See annual reports and pictures in VM, and article in Oct 1935, p333
  23. 32. See his Summer School Papers: Animal Vegetable and General, 1928.

    Editor's note: The vegetarian house was run by W.A. Sibly, known as 'WAS', not his father, G.W. Sibly. WAS became master of Springfield House in 1910 and made it all vegetarian. He took over the headship when G.W. was injured in 1912 and Springfield continued to be vegetarian at least until WAS's retirement in 1949.
    By 1947 WAS had become the President of both the Vegetarian Society (UK) and IVU, and the 11th IVU World Vegetarian Congress was held at Wycliffe that year. See the bottom section of the linked page for more about WAS and Springfield House.

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