VegHist Ep 12: Radicals & Romantics. Bible Christians, Grahamites, and Transcendentalists; with Adam Shprintzen and Derek Antrobus; at Deerfields, Fruitlands, and Salford

Sheaf of wheat with fruit

In the 1800s, overlapping circles of utopians, mystics, and romantics in both Europe and America develop arguments against meat until “vegetarianism” finally becomes a real movement. 

Episode 12: Radicals & Romantics

In the aftermath of the American and French revolutions, the sects and philosophies that embrace a “vegetable diet” multiply – from ecstatic cult to puritan crusades, to utopian community to public-spirited congregation. No longer are they isolated groups – they connect with each other in books, magazines, and letters. Until a single word catches on – “vegetarianism”.

In the United States of America, Ian discovers the the vegetarian sword and shoes of a 1790s “free love” vegetarian sect in a local Massachusetts museum, and visits the failed vegan commune where Louisa May “Little Women” Alcott lived as a child.

And in Salford, NW England, he walks in the footsteps of a nineteenth century vegetarian church, with local historian Derek Antrobus and the vegetarian history specialist Dr Samantha Calvert.

It’s a story that also takes in the French bohemian “cult of the bearded men”, the man who invented the modern idea of Robin Hood, the woman who invented Frankenstein and his creature, Sylvester Graham, and, finally, the creation of modern vegetarianism.

Play or download (65MB MP3 47min) (via iTunes) or read transcript



Geek Reference of the Month

The debates amongst a medical profession stumbling towards usefulness are a big part of this episode, and although the Victorian Dr William Lambe (and other “water cure” fans) were wrong to think distilled water can heal, the converse is true. Polluted water can be very harmful indeed.

Dr John Snow is widely known as the man who identified sewage-contaminated water as the cause of the 1854 London cholera epidemic, and removed the handle of the water pump to halt it; and as the father of epidemiology who mapped cholera cases to show this. But he was also a follower of Dr William Lambe and spent many years of his life on a vegan diet.

It would have taken too long to describe all that in the show. But I wonder (and it should be possible to check) what part his belief in the importance of pure distilled water played in forming the idea that polluted water could transmit epidemic disease.

Production Diary

Back when this series was just an idea, the Messy Vegetarian Cook, Kip Dorrell, mentioned to me at London Vegan Meetup that she had a distant relative who ran some kind of American vegetarian sect long ago. Little did I know I’d end up photographing his shoes next to mine.

It was a stroke of luck that my life took me to New England in 2015 – I hadn’t originally planned to visit anywhere in America for the series. We did try to find the hill where the Dorrelites once lived, and though we ran out of road, we ran into a woman who lived there and knew that it had once held some kind of vegetarian cult. The locals really do still tell stories about William Dorrell.

We also spent half an hour looking for the grave in what’s meant to be his cemetery, but didn’t find it. It’s said to be marked “Soldier of the Revolution” – artfully eliding which side he fought on!

As you can tell from the recording, it was very rainy in Salford; my next fundraising goal might include a mic with a proper windshield.


The curators of the two American sites we visited this episode, Timothy Neumann and Mike Volmar, gave me enormous help with the primary sources on these characters. Photographs of them are by Heidi White, who also drove me up and down Vermont and Massachusetts on the trail of vegetarian history.

The theme music is by Robb Masters. The actors were Jeremy Hancock, Guillaume Blanchard, Amy Saul, Matthew Arenson, Orna Klement, and Ian Russell.

The Romantic period music was by Ludvig van Beethoven – for the Bracknell Circle, his “Pastoral” Sonata No. 15 performed by Paul Pitman (PD), and for Shelley’s circle, his Piano Concerto no. 3 performed by Stefano Ligoratti (CC-BY).

The Bible Christian vegetarian hymns were very kindly performed by The Choir of St. Mary’s Nottingham, directed by John Keys.

The cover picture is from Asenath Nicholson’s “Nature’s Own Book”, 1848 edition.

Originally broadcast on Resonance 104.4 FM March 7th 2017, with a very hoarse narration. I re-recorded once my voice had recovered.


Antrobus, Derek. 1997. A Guiltless Feast: The Salford Bible Christian Church and the Rise of the Modern Vegetarian Movement. Salford: City of Salford, Education and Leisure.
Calvert, Samantha Jane. 2013. “Eden’s Diet: Christianity and Vegetarianism 1809-2009.” Birmingham: University of Birmingham.
Harland, William Harry, Charles Lane, and Joel Myerson. 1978. William Harry Harland’s “Bronson Alcott’s English Friends.” Richmond, Va.: Dept. of English, Virginia Commonwealth University.
Levitine, George. 1978. The Dawn of Bohemianism: The Barbu Rebellion and Primitivism in Neoclassical France. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press.
Marini, Stephen A. 1982. Radical Sects of Revolutionary New England. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Philadelphia Bible-Christian Church (Philadelphia, Pa.), and Maintenance Committee. 1922. History of the Philadelphia Bible-Christian Church for the First Century of Its Existence from 1817 to 1917. Philadelphia: Lippincott.
Francis M Thompson. 1898. “The Dorrellites.” In History and Proceedings of Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Assoc., 2 (1880-1889):82–89. Deerfield, Mass.: Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association.
Preece, Rod. 2014. Sins of the Flesh: A History of Vegetarian Thought. Vancouver: UBC Press.
Serna, Pierre. 2010. “Droits d’humanité, droits d’animalité à la fin du 18e siècle, ou la matrice du « racisme social » en controverse.” Dix-huitième siècle 42 (1): 247.
Shprintzen, Adam D. 2015. The Vegetarian Crusade: The Rise of an American Reform Movement, 1817-1921. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press.
Twigg, Julia. 2001. “The Vegetarian Movement in England, 1847-1981: With Particular Reference to Its Ideology.”

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About Ian McD

I'm a British new media person with a passion for radio, and interested in the kind of stories best told when we see humans as part of the world of animal minds. I blogged about why I'm producing The Vegan Option.

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