A New Age for a New Century: Anti-Vivisection, Vegetarianism, and the Order of the Golden Age
The work of Josiah Oldfield and the Christian-inspired Order of the Golden Age, whose objective was to bring about the Messianic Kingdom of peace and harmony with nature, serves as a case study of the work of the new age movement in the early-twentieth century. Oldfield founded a vegetarian hospital, an anti-vivisection hospital and a fruitarian colony. The theological basis of the movement was that the development of humankind was being held back by an undue preoccupation with the world of the flesh, particularly meat-eating and vivisection, which were barriers to spiritual progress. For new age reformers, science needed to be less materialistic and more open to the influence of faith and feeling.
To Josiah Oldfield (1863–1953) belongs the distinction of having founded Britain’s, and quite possibly the world’s, first anti-vivisection hospital, the short-lived Hospital of St Francis, which opened in 1898 at 145 New Kent Road in South London. Oldfield is now remembered, if at all, as a pioneering dietary reformer; a bearded, Bible-quoting, besmocked prophet of fruitarianism who devoted his considerable intellectual energy to a raft of utopian projects: a vegetarian hospital, a fruitarian colony, a programme of dietetics. To his critics he was a crank, but it was not easy to dismiss the arguments of a Middle Temple barrister, medical graduate and Oxford Doctor of Law. Oldfield’s medical career was an unusual one, pursued outside conventional hospital circles and devoted to a health reform programme whose principles included a cruelty-free diet, a more natural lifestyle, and an emphasis on spiritual as well as physical health. His work is considered here for the light it sheds on a broader health and spiritual reform movement that drew on influences as diverse as Eastern philosophy, transcendentalism and Darwinism to promote a worldview of ‘universal kinship’ and harmony with nature. 1 This movement, which included vegetarians, anti-vivisectionists and other social improvers, approached the new century in anticipation of a new age in which materialism would be tempered by spiritualism and true science would flourish, heralding an age of prosperity in which violence and oppression, including the abuse of animals, would no longer have a place.
Oldfield set about building this utopia by establishing ‘healthian’ colonies in the South East of England—the warmest region and thus the best suited to the outdoor work, fruitarian diet, nudity and sun baths that his followers were encouraged to enjoy. The locals regarded these communes of free-living fruitarians with suspicion, but Oldfield’s strategy also included vegetarian and anti-vivisection hospitals that he hoped would demonstrate the practical benefits a meat- and cruelty-free lifestyle. His projects were typical of the new age movement in that, while attractive to a minority, they failed to win enough support among people of influence or achieve the necessary level of popular acceptance to bring about significant social change. The first world war undermined public confidence in the prospect of creating a cruelty-free utopia, but the final straw for the back-to-nature movement was the subsequent co-option of ‘green’ ideology by British fascists, which, along with its links with German National Socialism, made its values seem subversive and treasonable as Britain once more prepared for war.
The Food Reform Movement in Britain
The antecedents of the back-to-nature movement lay in social vegetarianism, of which Oldfield was a lifelong champion. In Britain, organized vegetarianism had been linked from the outset with Fabianism and, in particular, the Concordium (1838–1848), a utopian socialist community that collectively sought the inspiration of the ‘Triune Universal Spirit’, and whose journal, the New Age, Concordium Gazette, and Temperance Advocate, placed health at the centre of an idealistic programme of anti-militarism, temperance and ‘vegetarianism’ (veganism in modern terminology), which was extoled as the ‘beginning and end of all true reforms’. 2 The Concordium, in turn, traced its roots to the American transcendentalist movement—which had a much broader social emphasis than the scientific transcendentalism taught in British medical schools—and named its Surrey headquarters after the New England transcendentalist philosopher Amos Bronson Alcott (1799–1888).
[The] notion of the life of an animal having ‘no moral purpose’, belongs to a class of ideas which cannot possibly be accepted by the advanced humanitarian thought of the present day—it is a purely arbitrary assumption, at variance with our best instincts, at variance with our best science, and absolutely fatal (if the subject be clearly thought out) to any full realization of animals’ rights. If we are ever going to do justice to the lower races [i.e., animals], we must get rid of the antiquated notion of a ‘great gulf’ fixed between them and mankind, and must recognize the common bond of humanity that unites all living beings in one universal brotherhood. 3
Perhaps the most prominent of the organizations that carried on the Concordium’s work after its closure were the Vegetarian Society and the Order of the Golden Age, both of which aimed to improve health and morals by introducing a lifestyle that was less cruel and more in harmony with the natural world, and to both of which Oldfield would make a significant contribution.
Oldfield joined the Vegetarian Society in the 1860s while he was a theological student at Oxford. The Society had been founded in 1847, primarily to promote vegetarianism on health grounds, but from the beginning it had political and religious overtones. Its membership, which was never more than a few hundred, included ex-members of the Concordium, doctrinally vegetarian Christians such as Cowherdites, and a handful of undergraduates prepared to sign up to a somewhat controversial cause. The Oxford branch served as a kind of club for left-leaning social crusaders, and joining it was a particularly provocative move for a theological student, since ethical vegetarianism seemed to run counter to the conventional Christian wisdom that animals had been placed on earth for the benefit of mankind. 4
Oldfield’s motivation, however, seems to have lain primarily in social concerns: he hoped that vegetarianism would combat poverty and ill health (by encouraging the poor to spend more on vegetables and less on strong drink 5 ), and that putting a stop to the cruel slaughter of animals would lead to a more peaceful and humane society. He carried his desire for social improvement into practice after finishing his theological studies, declining to take holy orders as expected and instead pursuing a career first in law and then in medicine, but he also did his best to relieve the sufferings of animals, publishing A Groaning Creation, a characteristic blend of logical argument and impassioned rhetoric, followed by A Tale of Shame and Cruelty, in which he described the torments to which animals were subjected as they were transported and slaughtered for food, and advocated vegetarianism, ‘a natural and humane diet’, as the way to avoid it. 6
Towards the end of the nineteenth century, Oldfield also joined the Order of the Golden Age, a Christian dietary reform movement founded in 1882 with four grades of membership: the lowest required members to believe in the Apostles’ Creed, rise early, dress soberly, and be ‘humane’, while the higher grades required progressive abstinence from meat, fish and alcohol. 7 The Order organized vegetarian banquets and lectures ‘for the furtherance of our propaganda’, 8 its stated aims being ‘[t]o proclaim a message of Peace and Happiness, Health and Purity, Life and Power’, and ‘[t]o hasten the coming of the Golden Age when Love and Righteousness shall reign upon earth… by proclaiming obedience to the laws of God’. 9
Membership was more controversial than it might appear, to the extent that the family of one early member suspected (wrongly, as it turned out) that her link with the Order had been the cause of her being committed to a lunatic asylum. 10 To the uninitiated, vegetarianism seemed an irrational practice, and the Order’s mission to live in peace and harmony with the animal kingdom, ridiculous: one newspaper suggested that mad dogs, runaway bulls and tigers should be allowed to join. 11 Those people who did enlist saw themselves as misunderstood pioneers, even revolutionaries, and hoped eventually to convert millions to the ‘simpler habits of life’, and so transform society by ending food shortages and ushering in a ‘Reign of Plenty’ that would put an end to war and disease. 12
As a lawyer, Oldfield accepted that animals had some rights, such as ‘the inherent right of the non-human races to be exempted from the infliction of pain…’, 13 and he campaigned actively for human rights, founding the Society for the Abolition of Capital Punishment, touring India to study the workings of its legal system, and publishing Hanging for Murder (1908) in a bid to get the law on judicial execution changed. It is significant, therefore, that he never called for legislation to protect laboratory animals, presumably because he expected to end vivisection not in the courts, but by bringing about a cultural change that would restore humankind to a more natural and compassionate relationship with the animal world—a cause to which he would devote his life.
The Oriolet Vegetarian Hospital
Having abandoned law for medicine, and while still a medical student, Oldfield set himself up as ‘warden’ of a pioneering vegetarian hospital that proved popular with patients, though it did not escape the controversy that consistently dogged his endeavours. The Oriolet Hospital, a converted villa with spacious gardens in Loughton on the Eastern outskirts of London, opened in 1895 with an endorsement from the Order of the Golden Age. 14 With the assistance of a visiting medical officer, Oldfield admitted a total of 190 patients in its first year: men, women and children suffering from everything from eczema to varicose veins to paraplegia, all of whom received ‘dietetic treatment’. So optimistic was Oldfield that he could also cure carcinoma, sarcoma and epithelioma with a vegan diet that he advertised for patients with these conditions, who were to be admitted for free. 15
The meat- and alcohol-free diet was apparently well tolerated, as it was never found necessary to vary the rule that no ‘fish, flesh, or fowl’ was served. What started as the complaints book was soon filled with compliments from patients who showed a suspiciously good grasp of the hospital’s purpose: one saw it ‘as a proof of what the Vegetarian diet and Hygienic principles properly carried out, will do for suffering humanity’, while another hoped that vegetarianism would become ‘widely known and recommended… as I am sure it will be by all who have given it a fair trial’. Oldfield’s local appeals for his ‘pioneer hospital in humane dietetics’ attracted gifts of everything from fruit and vegetables to framed Bible verses, but the hospital relied for financial support primarily on its chairman, the shipbuilder Arnold Frank Hills (1857–1927), himself an ardent vegetarian and teetotaller, who kept the it afloat by contributing hundreds of pounds a year. 16
The medical profession of the time generally disapproved of dietary therapy, and though Oldfield graduated LRCP, MRCS in 1897 and was duly entered in the medical register, he was not welcomed into the fold. According to a critical piece in the BMJ, aimed at the Oriolet, hospitals that relied on ‘some special fad or other as to diet…’ tended to do well only because they attracted likeminded patients who had faith in the treatments they received there, but they were actually a kind of ‘medical sack racing’, because patients got better in spite of the restrictions rather than because of them. The British Medical Association (BMA), which published the BMJ, was essentially a trade union, whose defence of its members’ interests included opposing ‘faddism’ wherever they found it: ‘Abstinence from animal food is one of these fads, abstinence from alcohol is another. We have not yet heard of a hospital founded on the principle of abstaining from the use of opium…’. They admitted that the results from the Oriolet seemed ‘perfectly good’, but concluded that ‘[a]ll these one-legged institutions are tarred with the same brush in this respect, that the patient in choosing his hospital chooses his treatment, which is ethically wrong’. 17
The same might have been said of any hospital, but vegetarianism troubled the BMA because they thought doctors were recommending it on religious or socio-political grounds rather than medical ones. Whether a regime worked in practice was immaterial if it was chosen for the wrong reasons: what the BMA was opposed to was ideological medicine, insisting that the individual patient’s best interests must be addressed disinterestedly in every case. Of course, one could find many examples where mainstream medicine was as ideological as any of the alternatives, but the principle that doctors should not impose their own moral values on patients left vegetarians and anti-vivisectionists vulnerable to accusations that they were pushing their own ethical agenda. The Master of the Rolls (Chief Justice of the Court of Appeal) did, however, dismiss an objection from the profession’s leaders that a vegetarian hospital should not operate as a charity because its primary purpose was ‘the propagation of a fad’ rather than the treatment of the sick, though the courts later came to the opposite conclusion with regard to anti-vivisection charities, with dire consequences for their funding. 18
The Hospital of St Francis
In commemoration of the Queen’s Jubilee, the anti-vivisectionists of this country and the Continent have decided to found a hospital on what they call purely humanitarian lines. It is meant to be a protest against ‘all forms of cruelty and especially of vivisection’. It is proposed to call it ‘The Hospital of St. Francis’, in memory of Saint Francis of Assissi [sic]. It will be built in the south of London, where the need for a general hospital is very pressing. 19
Although he was, at the time, a member of the Executive Committee of the Victoria Street Society, and despite the lofty allusion to international anti-vivisectionists, St Francis’s was Oldfield’s personal initiative. As such, the plan was characteristically both idealistic and shrewd: a South London Hospital would fly the flag for anti-vivisection at the same time as helping the poor who, in a district desperately short of hospital beds, would gladly accept any treatment offered to them. In such a deprived area, suitable (or, as it turned out, unsuitable) premises could be acquired relatively cheaply, and as St Francis’s was the only anti-vivisection hospital in Britain, there would be no alternative for donors who wished to support a hospital while being certain they were not funding vivisection.
Oldfield was a persuasive and determined fundraiser who cast his nets widely. Public feeling against ‘vivisecting hospitals’ was running high after a pamphlet campaign against them by the leading anti-vivisectionist Stephen Coleridge (1854–1936), and Oldfield appealed to potential donors’ religious fervour, exhorting them to ‘… rise in your millions and pour into the crucible of healing your golden rings…’, in order to ‘… build a fair and beauteous temple of healing’. 20 This was a time when devout ladies were known to give up their jewels to adorn the sacred vessels in Anglo-Catholic churches, and St Francis’s, as its name proclaimed, was manifestly a Christian institution, ‘an aspiration after the gentleness of the divine’ that could ‘brook no delay’ because those who supported it were ‘On the King’s [i.e., Jesus Christ’s] business’.
Let no demand for ‘material’ [as teaching hospitals sometimes tactlessly described their patients] ever sully the beauty of [the Hospital’s] teaching. Let every patient be looked upon as a casket of priceless worth…. Let no shadow of inflicted pain upon compulsory victims shut out the sunlight of God’s grace… the dying hours shall be sacred, and the body, though the gentle spirit has passed on, shall still be a thing of reverence.
For potential donors, the alternative was stark: money given to the Prince of Wales’s Fund (later the King’s Fund), the principal charity that distributed money to London’s voluntary hospitals, would, according to Oldfield, ‘go to strengthen the state that exists and to perpetuate things as they are’. 22
This did not endear him to the charity fraternity, and as early as 1898, before his hospital had even opened, the Charity Organization Society (COS), a semi-official watchdog, stepped into investigate his fundraising efforts. Their inspector, Charles Carthew, was unimpressed by Oldfield’s London office, where his representative, ‘a young man got up á la Bohemian’, seemed to know little about the proposed hospital, even mixing up anti-vivisection with anti-vaccination (the two were not yet linked, though they would become so). 23 When Carthew finally met Oldfield he came away with the impression, as many others did, that he was ‘not altogether straight’, though his investigations discovered only that Oldfield was a barrister with chambers in Mitre Court, resident medical officer to the Oriolet Hospital in Loughton, and the author of monographs on ‘Tuberculosis’ and ‘Starch as a food in nature’. 24 The COS concluded he was acting in ‘good faith’, but advised donors not to support his hospital on the grounds that it was likely to prove of scant public benefit. 25 More candidly, they told Walter Vaughan Morgan (1831–1916), a potential donor who would later become a committee member of the National Anti-Vivisection Hospital (as well as Lord Mayor of London and a baronet), that St Francis’s was being set up for Oldfield’s ‘private purposes’, and that he had a bank account jointly in his own name and that of the hospital. This disclosure cost Oldfield Vaughan Morgan’s support, and the COS presumably gave similarly discouraging replies to other enquirers. 26
That the hospital would be of little public benefit was true in so far as it had too few beds to make an appreciable difference to the sick of South London, but Oldfield intended it primarily as propaganda for the anti-vivisection cause, and even a small but flourishing hospital would have sufficed to show that cruelty-free medicine was a viable prospect. Regrettably, the official opening of the hospital, in April 1898, went almost unnoticed, and when the COS inspector arrived unannounced shortly afterwards, he found there were no patients. 27 Oldfield was still busy seeking sponsors, having already persuaded Stephen Coleridge to become the hospital’s chairman, and having recruited an impressive number of vice-presidents, including the Duke of Beaufort, Lords Llangattock (1837–1912) and Harberton, and the Dowager Countess of Portsmouth (1834–1906).
The number and quality of the hospital’s patrons, most of whom probably never even visited it, was conspicuously disproportionate to its facilities: after it had been open for two years there were still only eleven beds, amply served by three medical officers in addition to Oldfield, and overseen by a matron. 28 The medical officers were obliged to forswear vivisection but the converted town house in which the hospital was located—an unimposing, narrow, redbrick building next door to a bicycle factory—possessed no laboratories; the purpose of the pledge was to demonstrate their humane principles. 29 There was barely enough money to keep the tiny anti-vivisection hospital open, but it could claim the distinction of being Britain’s first.
Unfortunately, the haste with which St Francis’s was set up probably did its cause more harm than good. The wards were cramped and shabby, a failing not lost on its critics, foremost among whom was the financier and doyen of the voluntary hospital system, Sir Henry Burdett (1847–1920), who published a damning report in his journal, The Hospital, which described St Francis’s as a ‘wretched, grubby little house’ with fittings of a ‘poverty-stricken character’. It was obvious to him that this ‘curious excrescence on London charity’ was run ‘not for the benefit of the patients’ but so that ‘the possibility of treating disease on a non-meaty diet might be demonstrated’. 30 Burdett seems to have confused it with the Oriolet, an understandable mistake since Oldfield was best known as a vegetarian, a rare thing for a doctor at the time, though the staff of St Francis’s were, as Burdett himself noted, permitted to order meat if their patients wanted it. It is difficult to dissent from Burdett’s judgement that: ‘… the prospects of the institution have been sacrificed to the ambition of those in power on its council to be able to say that there is at least one hospital in London which definitely excludes vivisection’, but it is telling that, although only dedicated anti-vivisectionists would have been likely to give to St Francis’s, Burdett, London’s greatest hospital fundraiser, was concerned about the precedent that might be set by diverting even this tiny amount of charity from the many hospitals that came under his financial control.
Burdett’s attack on a hospital with fewer than a dozen beds was as disproportionate as the support the hospital attracted: its ten vice-presidents and thirteen patronesses lent their aristocratic names rather than their money, but their social cachet helped draw attention to Oldfield’s project. If donations from philanthropists opposed to vivisection could fully support this one, independent, cruelty-free hospital, then there might be scope for more, and the voluntary hospitals would begin to find themselves poorer. The signs were worrisome for the orthodox: the vicar of St John’s church in Westminster, a supporter of the anti-vivisection cause, held his usual collection for the Hospital Sunday Fund, which went to London’s voluntary hospitals, followed by a separate collection just for the Hospital of St Francis, which raised over five times as much. 31 The OGA’s periodical, The Herald of the Golden Age , probably the most widely circulated vegetarian magazine in the English-speaking world, urged its readers to ‘let your church collection plate pass by if you are doubtful whether they are sound on vivisection’. 32 It did not matter that most hospitals that received money from the Sunday Fund did not experiment on animals and had no facilities to do so, in the eyes of the scrupulous they were all tarred with the same brush.
Oldfield sent out begging letters to everyone from Dukes to Aldermen, some of whom passed them on to the COS, whose inspector concluded that ‘On the whole I do not think there is anything very definite that can be said against Dr Oldfield…. He is a qualified Doctor and the mere fact that he is a rabid vegetarian is not in itself to his discredit’, thought the COS did its best to discourage donors, advising them to ‘…leave Dr Oldfield and all his works entirely alone’. Between them, Burdett and the COS succeeded in stifling Oldfield’s struggling venture; in 1904 he announced a last-ditch plan to relocate the hospital to Camberwell Green, but the £2000 needed for the move was not forthcoming and it closed, the remaining funds being transferred to the newly opened National Anti-Vivisection Hospital in Battersea. 33 According to a press report, St Francis’s had treated over 100,000 out-patients and 428 in-patients in just under six years. 34
Back to Nature
Oldfield next turned his attentions to creating a hospital in the country where patients could receive dietary treatment in healthy natural surroundings. The Lady Margaret Hospital in Kent offered fresh air and ‘dainty fruitarian meals’, but the more esoteric aspects of its programme began to arouse suspicions. 35 Oldfield’s links with the Order of the Golden Age were well known, and an anonymous correspondent, perhaps confusing it with the esoteric Order of the Golden Dawn, told the COS that Oldfield had connections with Swami Laura and Theodore Horos, a husband and wife team of serial fraudsters whose Theocratic Unity Temple had been the subject of a financial and sexual scandal two years earlier. 36 In search of evidence, the COS approached the Medical Defence Union, a mutual insurance society for medical practitioners, of which Oldfield does not seem to have been a member. Nevertheless, their representative, Dr Bateman, had apparently heard of him by reputation and was more than happy to pass on a torrent of gossip: Oldfield was married but his wife refused to live with him because he was a ‘crank’ and a ‘sexual pervert [in this context, a womaniser]’, and in Kent he had ‘got hold of a lot of silly, foolish women and could do just what he liked with them’. For good measure, Bateman told the COS: ‘You can’t trust a fellow who lives on nuts … it only makes them more and more earthly’. 37
By this time, Oldfield had antagonised the medical profession not only by using a meat-free diet as therapy and campaigning against vivisection, but also by flouting professional and social standards. The Lancet complained that he arranged for favourable news stories about himself to appear in popular newspapers such as the Daily Mirror and Penny Magazine in order to publicise his hospitals, which was almost, but not quite, the cardinal medical sin of self-advertising. 38 It appears, however, that Oldfield, as one might expect of a barrister, was adept at sailing close to the wind. That he was never reported to the General Medical Council (GMC), still less investigated by them, despite his unpopularity with some sections of the profession and their paymasters, who were presumably watching hawk-like for him to slip up, surely indicates that there was no substance to the rumours of misconduct. As the GMC would not have ignored complaints from Oldfield’s patients, it can be confidently stated that they made none.
Lady Margaret’s was scarcely a hospital in the medical sense at all, since its regime relied mostly on healthy living rather than therapeutics. Though it retained a link to the more conventional Margaret dispensary in London, by 1908, the 400-acre site was known as Margaret Lodge Colony, and its proprietor not as ‘Dr Oldfield’ but ‘Mr Warden’. A representative from the COS found ‘bareness, cleanliness & want of comfort’. Though there was a farm that kept residents supplied with fresh milk, butter and eggs, the spartan, meatless regime came as a surprise to some new residents: one described the communal accommodation as a ‘cowshed’ (it was actually a former oast house), and another found the food ‘very nasty’. 39 Children brought from the London slums to spend a summer helping on the farm left with their health apparently improved by clean air and fresh food, though it did not always appear so, since after roaming freely in the fields and woods for months they arrived home more ragged than ever. 40
Heralding the Golden Age
Oldfield’s work in promoting vegetarianism, anti-vivisection, and health reform was all part of his commitment to bringing in a golden age, to which all these other causes contributed. Vegetarianism and anti-vivisection in particular were close allies: when, in 1880, the anti-vivisection campaigner Anna Kingsford (1846–1888) submitted her thesis for a Paris medical degree (which she had scrupulously completed without recourse to vivisection), she chose to write it on vegetarianism, a less inflammatory choice than anti-vivisection, though still sufficiently controversial for her to be refused the customary public defence of her work. As Vyvyan observed, Kingsford probably intended her anti-vivisection message to be read between the lines of her argument for vegetarianism, since the objections to vivisection and meat-eating (cruel, brutalising, spiritually coarsening) were essentially the same. 41 When it came to fundraising, anti-vivisectionists and vegetarians often worked together: the committee appointed by the VSS to raise funds for an anti-vivisection hospital included the President of the Vegetarian Society, Ernest Bell (1851–1933).
According to one disgruntled Medical Officer of Health, writing in 1902, there was a distinctive personality type, which he called ‘the anti’, that was common to, among others, anti-vivisectionists, vegetarians, teetotallers and advocates of artificial contraception: ‘[he] is frequently a nonconformist in religion, usually a supporter of the Opposition in politics, and his chief recreations are crusading and the smashing of idols’. 42 The ‘anti’ was not confined to a particular social group—he, or she, was as likely to be found among the aristocracy as the working classes—but most were radicals in the true sense of the word, that is to say, they believed that human priorities needed to be re-evaluated and reformed from the ground up. The ‘antis’ included socialists, feminists, pacifists, and others disenchanted with a culture of industrialisation, urbanisation, and capitalism, whose calls for a return to a more natural way of living—the inspiration for the twentieth century back-to-nature movement—included a boycott of vivisection and meat-eating, not merely because these things were harmful to animals, but because a society preoccupied with the flesh—whether consuming it for food or vivisecting it in search of answers—was thought unlikely to grow spiritually, which the reformers thought an essential prerequisite for the desired social transformation.
Is it any wonder that our spirituality is at such a low ebb; that we are floundering in a slough of materialistic agnosticism and nescience; that we are in bondage to disease and the fear of death; that the barrier which separates us from the spiritual world is an opaque wall rather than a transparent veil; that the angels and ministering spirits of the higher spheres, either cannot, or will not, commune with such a carnal race of beings; that genuine spiritual experience and conscious realization of the Divine Presence and Influence, are so rare amongst us that such things are scarcely ever mentioned in our Churches … 46
The Herald of the Golden Age tried to mobilise opposition to medical vivisection, publishing a condemnation by the surgeon Robert Howell Perks (1855–1929), who wrote that it should be ‘regarded as a criminal offense upon Earth—as it already is in Heaven’, and an editorial which said that the reported ‘indifference’ and ‘laughter’ of students at University College was proof that vivisection demonstrations led to ‘hardening of heart and searing of sensitive feeling’. 47 Its suggestion for stemming animal experiments was ‘closer inquisition into the [disposition of the] hospital funds’. 48
The OGA’s opposition to vivisection alone would have been enough to earn it the disapprobation of the medical profession, had they not already been hostile to its vegetarianism . To members of the OGA, it was necessary, in order to reach the higher spiritual levels, to abjure the flesh-eating habits of wild animals and primitive men. 49 The orthodox medical view, however, was that meat eating was essential to sustain physical health, and that vegetarianism was a dangerous trend. In 1853, the Lancet had reported the ‘recovery’ of a vegetarian opium-eater (‘a little, withered creature’) after the restoration of an animal diet. 50 Over 50 years later, that journal still considered vegetarianism incompatible with vigorous health, suggesting in an editorial that its prevalence among ‘oriental’ peoples, a point often positively adverted to by its supporters, might explain ‘the marked superiority of the European’, and the fact that ‘men have often to be employed in India for work that women will do in England…’. 51
The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice’ den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea. 53
This divinely-mandated state could only be relaized after an extensive programme of social reform had swept away vivisection, meat-eating and human conflict. At present, the labourers were few, but the work was God’s will; as Oldfield wrote in a flyer for his anti-vivisection hospital: ‘The whole creation is groaning and travailing in anguish, and praying to be delivered from the body of death…. Now is the epoch moment to stamp the coming century for Humanity’. 54
Harmony with Nature
In common with the wider new age movement of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century, the OGA’s goal was to restore the pre-eminence of the spiritual in all aspects of life. With regard to science, this meant not protesting against it but working towards a closer union between scientific and spiritual thought. Medical science in particular, they felt, had become too wedded to materialism; its practitioners might follow a personal religion, but their faith and their experiments occupied different worlds; they were, to borrow a modern phrase, ‘non-overlapping magisteria’. There was a crucial distinction to be made between ‘so-called’ science, practised mostly in the laboratory and constrained within narrow parameters, and ‘true science’, which understood the world holistically by combining observation and experiment, faith and feeling. 55
Darwin’s theory of species change, for example, had helped many people to understand what transcendentalists and others claimed to have known intuitively: that ‘all life is one’. This principle was central to the OGA’s mission, and one way for its Christian membership to affirm it without compromising their status as adoptive children of God was to reconceptualize non-human animals as ‘living souls’ with their own hopes, joys and sorrows, ‘similar to our own’, and a similar capacity for virtue: according to one contributor to the Herald , a dog that licked the hand of a vivisector was as good a moral exemplar as any of the ‘imaginary saints’. 56
The higher science … is always reverent in the presence of the mystery of life…. The higher the man the more nearly he approaches to those heights of scientia and gnosis, which are the crowning stamp of the true scientist, the more reverence he has for his fellow traveller – a true brother in the eyes of science – on the same spiral pathway of vitality, towards a perfection of evolution. 57
The key question was how to acquire this profound understanding: the Golden Age was gnostic in the sense that the deeper knowledge that Oldfield and others laid claim to could not be grasped by all, at least not in the current state of the world, but was achievable only after long study and reflexion, and with the benefit of spiritual insight. One way to obtain the latter was to study other spiritual and religious traditions, and in practice the OGA’s theology tended towards syncretism, with some of its members anticipating that the future would see the establishment of a ‘world religion’. 58 These theological developments had possible benefits for animals: it was suggested that the failure of Christians to recognise that animals had souls that survived death placed them ‘on a lower spiritual plane’ than Buddhists, and that by making a leap of faith and accepting the possibility of human and animal reincarnation, Christians could begin to strive for a better life for all creatures on Earth, rather than selfishly working towards their own salvation. 59
The influence of Eastern philosophy and religion was also mediated through theosophy, which was closely linked with anti-vivisection. The Theosophical Society and the Victoria Street Society were founded in the same year, and had common purposes and supporters to the extent that, according to Vyvyan, they were practically sister movements. The anti-vivisection and vegetarian doctor Anna Kingsford was instrumental in converting the prominent theosophist Annie Besant to the humane movement, and in turn was herself converted to theosophy, becoming president of the Theosophical Society’s London branch in 1883, and launching a psychic war against the vivisectionists Paul Bert (1833–86), Claude Bernard and Louis Pasteur, a campaign in which she claimed some success. 60
Many other prominent vegetarians were active theosophists, including the Vegetarian Society’s London secretary (and ex Concordium member), George Dornbusch (1819–1873); Constance Wachtmeister (1838–1910, a close friend of Blavatsky), and the homoeopath Dr Leopold Salzer (d. 1907), author of The Psychic Aspect of Vegetarianism. 61 Vyvyan quotes Kingsford’s 1883 speech welcoming the author and theosophist A.P. Sinnett from India: ‘Some of us have dreamed that our English Branch of the Theosophical Society is destined to become the ford across the stream which so long has separated the East from the West, religion from science, heart from mind, and love from learning…’. 62 The same objectives were shared by the Order of the Golden Age and the anti-vivisection movement.
Theosophical, vegetarian and anti-vivisection societies tended, like the OGA, to attract people who had become disenchanted with materialism and scientific ‘progress’—it is difficult to imagine them flourishing in pre-industrial Britain—but they were more than just refuges for intellectual refuseniks who yearned for a bucolic utopia that had never existed. They preached a gospel of peace, compassion and spiritual awareness that they hoped would make the new century the beginning of a new age, an age inspired by the Old Testament prophecy of the Messianic Kingdom, and foretold by astrologers as the Age of Aquarius, which was the ‘Sign of the Son of Man’. 63 In the years leading up to the Great War, it seemed that the OGA’s conciliatory and harmonious ideals might prevail: minor royals, members of the nobility and senior army officers all attended its fundraising concerts, which had a pastoral theme, and enjoyed music and readings extolling the glories of creation, even if they were not sufficiently moved by them to give up meat eating. 64 An unlikely late enthusiast for the Order’s objectives of combating ‘physical deterioration, disease, and intemperance’ was Edward VII, who sent them a message of support as he lay dying in Buckingham Palace. 65
New Age Politics
Vegetarianism and anti-vivisection did not, of course, fulfil their promise to convert humanity to a more peaceful way of life. The Golden Age never dawned, and the dreams of a peaceable kingdom were shattered by the Great War. Materialism and patriotism became the default positions, and advocates of holistic science, natural living, and international peace were relegated to a marginal counterculture along with dress reformers, naturists, homoeopaths, occultists and sexual liberators, most of whom were linked in the public mind with the politics of Liberalism, Socialism, or even Anarchism, and were thought of at best as eccentrics, and at worst as traitors to their country. 66 According to the Lancet , the typical vegetarian was a seditious malcontent who ‘…cultivates a number of what may be called anti-isms. He is anti-alcoholist, anti-vivisectionist, anti-vaccinationist, anti-capitalist, anti-bellumist, anti-patriotist. He is anti-penalist, and … anti-restraintist, and would abolish all lunatic asylums, rightly from his own point of view, for so he would escape the risk of losing his own liberty’. 67 This was 1916, and a psychiatrist was publicly stating in a leading medical journal that vegetarians and anti-vivisectionists were lunatics who deserved to be locked up.
During the Great War, Oldfield (a pacifist, of course) temporarily abandoned his hospitals to command a casualty clearing station, a service for which he was promoted Lieutenant Colonel and mentioned in dispatches. 68 He was said never to have had a day’s illness, but was invalided out of the army in 1918 after being thrown from his horse. 69 He then purchased Margaret Manor near Sittingbourne, which he set up as a fruitarian colony with cottages for adults and communal accommodation for children. According to the advertising, girls were taught fruitarian cookery, and boys, farming, but the children sent there from the slums were left largely unsupervised to roam, and sometimes get lost, in the surrounding countryside. 70 There was little use of medicines: ‘epileptics’ and ‘mental cases’ were the commonest types of patients treated there, and those with infectious diseases were banned. Oldfield did, however, take up obstetrics with some success, and acquired an orchard by the characteristically shrewd strategy of inviting all new parents to pay for the planting of a commemorative tree. 71 On Sundays, he would attend divine service in the Manor’s private chapel, where Sister Francesca, the mother of his illegitimate daughter, played the organ. 72 In the three years from 1920, Margaret Manor received just £190 in subscriptions, most of which were spent on postage stamps for further charity appeals, but it now had enough long-term residents, who paid up to three guineas a week, to enable Oldfield to close his other establishments and concentrate on running the Manor as a new age retreat. 73
The OGA attracted fewer members after the First World War, and survived on legacies as ageing spiritualists and animal-loving widows died off—in 1927, for example, Edith Annie Douglas-Hamilton (1871–1927) left £25,000 to the Theosophical Society, £10,000 to anti-vivisection and £5000 to the OGA. 74 By this time, Margaret Manor was far from being the only option for people who wished to pursue a more natural lifestyle. Popular outdoor organizations such as the Scout Movement, the Order of Woodcraft Chivalry, and the Kibbo Kift (archaic Cheshire dialect for ‘proof of great strength’) all encouraged their members to spend time living in, learning about, and respecting nature. Though this fondness for outdoor pursuits, folkloric traditions and clean living seemed (and sometimes was) the epitome of pastoral innocence, it was not a great step from respecting nature to worshipping it (the rituals of Woodcraft Chivalry and Kibbo Kift influenced those of modern Wicca), or from escaping from capitalist society to rebelling against it.
In 1932, the Kibbo Kift allied itself with the Social Credit movement, a scheme for redistributing wealth, whose founder Major C.H. Douglas (1879–1952) blamed Britain’s economic problems on ‘international Jewry’ and hoped to solve them by paying the British poor for not working. The result was the Green Shirt Movement for Social Credit, an anti-capitalist, anti-government and anti-Semitic group whose aggressive greenness fortunately went no further than minor acts of civil disobedience such as throwing green-painted bricks through government windows. 75 Had things gone their way, they might have started a radical back-to-nature movement in Britain, but no right wing, or green, party ever came close to power. The only European regime officially to endorse natural living, promote spiritual harmony with nature, and ban vivisection, was National Socialist Germany. 76
For British fascists, hoping to bring in an age of national prosperity by breaking the power of ‘international financiers’ (for which, read ‘Jews’), a ‘natural’ mode of living was that which corresponded to their own ideology. Even their promise that a natural lifestyle would improve physical and mental health had a dark side, which was that a multitude of problems afflicting the British people, from cancer to criminality, and idiocy to unemployment, could be blamed on malign, and implicitly unnatural, influences such as meat eating, alcohol drinking, and moral and physical degeneracy. 77 In his old age, Oldfield became increasingly concerned that fresh air and cruelty-free living would not be enough to reverse the problem of human degeneration, which could only be confronted by enforcing standards of racial health and purity. In 1944, he wrote in Healing and the Conquest of Pain, that ‘…the crossing of a negro with a white woman is fraught with many curious genetic problems…’, and advocated euthanasia for ‘idiots’. 78
While interest in back-to-nature living on the part of British fascists temporarily boosted recruitment, and legacies, to the OGA (one Herbert Jones of Liverpool divided his estate between, among others, the OGA, the RSPCA, the Vegetarian Society, the Malthusian League, and the British Fascisti), it went into terminal decline following the death of Beard in 1938. In Britain on the eve of war, the Order’s fascist links were a humiliating liability, and it decamped to South Africa, where it survived until 1959. 79 The continuation of the humane movement in the post-war period will be the subject of chapter seven, but we will first consider the successor to Oldfield’s anti-vivisection hospital, and the medical profession’s response to it.
J. Howard Moore, ‘Universal kinship’, Herald of the Golden Age, 11 (1906), 38–42 (Moore 1906).
Vegetarian Advocate, March 1850, cited in Kathryn Gleadle, ‘“The age of physiological reformers:” rethinking gender and domesticity in the age of reform’, in Arthur Burns and Joanna Innes (eds) Rethinking the Age of Reform: Britain 1780–1850 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 213. Vegetarianism based on Hinduism had been promoted in print as long ago as 1791, in John Oswald’s The Cry of Nature. Some early vegetarians eschewed all animal products and others, ‘fruitarians’, avoided killing living things (Gleadle 2003).
Henry Stephens Salt, Animals’ Rights Considered in Relation to Social Progress (New York, Macmillan, 1894), 8 (Salt 1894).
Stuart, Bloodless Revolution, 422–423. In 1850, 16 of 478 Vegetarian Society members were medics: Julia Twigg, The Vegetarian Movement in England: 1847–1981: A Study in the Structure of its Ideology. PhD, London School of Economics (1981), 87 (Twigg 1981).
Dellar, Josiah Oldfield, 19.
Josiah Oldfield. A Groaning Creation (London: Ideal Publishing Union, n.d.); A Tale of Shame and Cruelty (Paignton: Order of the Golden Age, n.d.) (Oldfield n.d.; A Tale of Shame and Cruelty n.d.).
‘A new guild’, Dundee Courier, 27 July 1882, 3 (A New Guild 1882).
‘Vegetarian banquet’, Bristol Mercury, 30 March 1883, 6; editorial, Herald of the Golden Age, 12 (1908), 12 (Vegetarian Banquet 1883).
Herald of the Golden Age, 10 (1903), inside front cover.
‘General News’, Derby Daily Telegraph, 27 January 1883, 4 (General News 1883).
Editorial, Aberdeen Evening Express, 17 November 1883, 2 (Editorial 1883).
Josef Francis Charles Craven, Redskins in Epping Forest: John Hargrave, the Kibbo Kift and the woodcraft experience. PhD, University College London (1998), 13; The Order of the Golden Age [flyer], n.p., , 2, http://www.ordergoldenage.co.uk/page34.html, viewed 20 June 2016 (Craven 1998).
Josiah Oldfield, The Claims of Common Life, or, The Scientific Relations of Humans and non-Humans (London: Ideal Publishing Union, 1898), 17 (Oldfield 1898).
‘A vegetarian hospital’, Herald of the Golden Age, 1 (1896), 150 (A Vegetarian Hospital 1896).
The Order of the Golden Age taught that cancer was curable by a vegan diet: ‘A dietetic cure of cancer’ (editorial), Herald of the Golden Age, 8 (1903), 114 (A Dietetic Cure of Cancer 1903).
Oriolet Hospital, Annual Report (1896), 9–11.
‘A medical sack race’, BMJ, 2 (1897), 1115–1116.
‘Ireland’, Times, 29 January 1898, 12 (Ireland 1898).
London Metropolitan Archives (hereinafter LMA) A/FWA/C/D330/1; Morning Star, 23 March 1897.
Flyer appealing for ‘Hospital of St. Francis’, April 1897, LMA A/FWA/C/D330/1.
A Tale of Shame, back cover.
‘Hospital of St. Francis’, LMA A/FWA/C/D330/1. Anti-vivisectionists made much of the supposed link between vivisection and experiments on the poor: see, for example, Mark Thornhill, Experiments on Hospital Patients (London: Hatchards, 1889) (Thornhill 1889).
Statement by Charles Carthew, 21 February 1898, LMA A/FWA/C/D330/1.
Oldfield was born at Ryton, Shropshire, on 28 February 1863 and graduated BA in theology in 1885. He then trained as a barrister at Lincoln’s Inn and practised on the Oxford circuit. For a fascinating history of his life, see Rosemary Dellar, Josiah Oldfield: Eminent Fruitarian (Raynham: Rainmore Books, 2008) (Dellar 2008).
Letter, COS to Rev’d A.G. Deedes, 20 May 1898, LMA A/FWA/C/D330/1.
Letter, W. Vaughan Morgan to COS, 8 December 1898, LMA A/FWA/C/D330/1.
COS report, 25 April 1898, LMA A/FWA/C/D330/1.
Medical Directory (1900), 459.
Dellar, Josiah Oldfield, 97 (2008) (Dellar 2008).
‘The institutional workshop: the Hospital of St Francis’, The Hospital, 32 (1902), 296–7.
‘Hospital Sunday Fund’, Times, 17 June 1902, 8 (Hospital Sunday Fund 1902).
Dellar, Josiah Oldfield, 96.
COS memorandum, 7 April 1904, LMA A/FWA/C/D330/1.
Flyer for Lady Margaret Hospital, reprinted in South London Press, 29 August 1904, LMA A/FWA/C/D330/1 (Flyer for Lady Margaret Hospital 1904).
‘Brother pain and his crown’ (editorial), Herald of the Golden Age, 11 (1906), 14; Anon., letter to COS, n.d., LMA A/FWA/C/D330/1 (Brother Pain and His Crown 1906).
Note by Hugh Fickling, 25 April 1910, LMA A/FWA/C/D330/1.
Anon., ‘The Lady Margaret Hospital, Bromley’, Lancet, 1 (1906), 1088. He was equally controversial in promoting his legal practice: Dellar, Josiah Oldfield, 55–56 (Anon 1906).
Letter, M. Michael to E.S. Kemp, 13 August 1913; COS notes on Margaret Manor, LMA A/FWA/C/D330/1.
COS notes, 22 April 1908, LMA A/FWA/C/D330/1.
Vyvyan, In Pity, 133–134 (Vyvyan 1969).
Killick Millard, ‘The rôle of the “anti”: an apology and an appeal’, Public Health, 15 (1902), 212–222 (Millard 1902).
Anon., The Order of the Golden Age: Its Aims, Its Objects and Its Rules (n.p., 1904), 1 (Anon 1904).
Sidney H. Beard, ‘The festival of the Christians’, Herald of the Golden Age, 8 (1903), 133–134 (Beard 1903).
Josiah Oldfield, ‘The Christmas feast: an indictment’, Evening News, 11 December 1912 (Oldfield 1912).
Beard, ‘The festival of the Christians’. The moral opposition of flesh and spirit was influenced by Pauline theology, e.g., Romans 8.
Robert H. Perks, Why I Condemn Vivisection (Paignton: OGA, 1992) (Perks 1992).
‘The vivisection libel suit’, Herald of the Golden Age, 8 (1903), 190: ‘funds’ refers to state-controled charities such as the King’s Fund (The Vivisection Libel Suit 1903).
Herald of the Golden Age, passim, inside back cover.
S.L. Gill, ‘Case of an opium-eater and vegetarian becoming bedridden: recovery on taking animal food’, Lancet, 2 (1853), 95 (Gill 1853).
‘Vegetarianism and physique’ (editorial), Lancet, 2 (1908), 1537.
Craven, Redskins in Epping Forest, 113 (1998) (Craven 1998).
Isaiah 11: 6–9.
Flyer for Hospital of St Francis, 1897, LMA A/FWA/C/D330/1.
Josiah Oldfield, Claims of Common Life, 7–13.
‘From “Realization”’, Herald of the Golden Age, 8 (1903), 119; Moore, ‘Universal kinship’.
Oldfield, Claims of Common Life, 49, 51, 54, 70–72.
Edward E. Lond, ‘A world religion’, Herald of the Golden Age, 11 (1906), 20–221. Ecumenism had received a boost from the 1893 World’s Parliament of Religions in Chicago (Lond 1906).
Kate Cording, ‘A talk with the children’, Herald of the Golden Age, 8 (1903), 137; The Order of the Golden Age, 3; Sidney H. Beard, ‘Our national peril’, Herald of the Golden Age, 10 (1903), 108–111 (Cording 1903; Beard 1903).
She wrote, ‘I have killed Paul Bert, as I killed Claude Bernard; as I will kill Louis Pasteur, and after him the whole tribe of vivisectors … it is a magnificent power to have, and one that transcends all vulgar methods of dealing out justice to tyrants’: Alan Pert, Red Cactus: the Life of Anna Kingsford (Watsons Bay New South Wales: Books and Writers, 2007), 200 (Pert 2007).
James R.T.E. Gregory, ‘“A Lutheranism of the table”: religion and the Victorian vegetarians’, in Rachel Muers and David Grumett (eds), Eating and Believing: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Vegetarianism and Theology (London: T. and T. Clark, 2008), 135–151 (Gregory 2008).
Vyvyan, In Pity, 140, 145.
Nina A. Hutteman Hume, ‘The higher aspects of the simple life’, Herald of the Golden Age, 12 (1908), 6–9; Sidney H. Beard, ‘The prevention of pain’, Herald of the Golden Age, 12 (1908), 1–3 (Hume 1908; Beard 1908).
‘Order of the Golden Age’, Times, 1 November 1910, 16 (Order of the Golden Age 1910).
‘Court Circular’, Times, 5 May 1910, 13. A formal expression of support from the sovereign did not necessarily indicate personal interest, but it is significant that the OGA was deemed worthy of royal endorsement (Court Circular 1910).
Craven, Redskins in Epping Forest, 43–44 (1998) (Craven 1998).
Chas. Mercier, ‘Diet as a factor in the causation of mental disease’, Lancet, 1 (1916), 565 (Mercier 1916).
Virginia Smith, ‘Oldfield, Josiah (1863–1953)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/40999, viewed 20 June 2016 (Smith 2004).
‘Ashford’, Whitstable Times and Herne Bay Herald, 25 May 1918, 6 (Ashford 1918).
M.J. Ferrers to the COS, 19 November 1919, LMA FWA/C/D330/1.
Truth, 26 May 1926, cutting in LMA FWA/C/D330/1.
COS report, September 1913, LMA A/FWA/C/D330/1.
‘An obnoxious nursing home’ (editorial), Truth, 30 December 1925, 1221–1222. One resident was the editor of the Journal of the League for the Abolition of Cruel Sports, Henry Brown Amos (1869–1946) (An Obnoxious Nursing Home 1925).
‘Woman millionaire’s bequests’, Fife Free Press, 15 October 1927, 9 (Woman Millionaire’s Bequests 1927).
According to the Greenshirt newsletter, Attack!, published in the early 1930s, they aimed to break the power of ‘a handful of power-mad money lenders’: ‘We attack the bankers!’, Attack!, 9 (1933), 1.
On the links between environmentalism and Nazism, see Anna Bamwell, Blood and Soil: Richard Walter Darre and Hitler’s ‘Green Party’ (Buckinghamshire: Kensall Press, 1985); Ecology in the 20th Century: A History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989) and The Fading of the Greens (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994) (Bamwell 1985, 1989, 1994).
Alex Haag, ‘The true cause of physical degeneracy’, Herald of the Golden Age, 11 (1906), 73 (Haag 1906).
Dellar, Josiah Oldfield, 299–300. Oldfield continued to be active until well over the age of eighty. Though he unfortunately fell out of a rocking chair and broke his leg during a trip to the West Indies, he did not lose a chance to promote vegetarianism, telling the press that ‘Since all of nature’s common diseases to kill people off are powerless against fruitarianists, she takes a mean advantage of fruitarian veterans by increasing the fragility of old people’s bones, so that even a fruitarian runs a danger of a broken bone if he frolics on polished staircases or marble floors or goes mountain climbing’, and giving his age as 97: ‘Nature’s “mean trick” on oldest doctor’, Hull Daily Mail, 11 March 1950, 5.
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