In the 19th century a number of groups in Britain actively promoted and followed meat-free diets. Key groups involved in the formation of the Vegetarian Society were members of the Bible Christian Church, supporters of the Concordium, and readers of the Truth-Tester journal.
Bible Christian Church
The Bible Christian Church was founded in 1809 in Salford by Reverend William Cowherd after a split from the Swedenborgians. One distinctive feature of the Bible Christians was a belief in a meat-free diet, or ovo-lacto vegetarianism, as a form of temperance.
Concordium (Alcott House)
The Concordium was a boarding school near London on Ham Common, Richmond, Surrey, which opened in 1838. Pupils at the school followed a diet completely free of animal products, known today as a vegan diet. The Concordium was also called Alcott House, in honor of American education and food reform advocate Amos Bronson Alcott.
Truth-Tester and Physiological Conference, 1847
The Truth-Tester was a journal which published material supporting the temperance movement. In 1846 the editorship was taken over by William Horsell, operator of the Northwood Villa Hydropathic Institute in Ramsgate, Kent. Horsell gradually steered the Truth-Tester towards promotion of the 'Vegetable Diet'. In early 1847 a letter to the Truth-Tester proposed formation of a Vegetarian Society. In response to this letter, William Oldham held what he called a "physiological conference" July 1847 at Alcott House. Up to 130 attended, including Bible Christian James Simpson, who presented a speech. The conference passed a number of resolutions, including a resolution to reconvene at the end of September.
Ramsgate Conference, 1847
On 30 September 1847 the meeting which had been planned at the Physiological Conference took place at Northwood Villa Hydropathic Institute in Ramgate. Joseph Brotherton, Member of Parliament for Salford, and a Bible Christian chaired. Bible Christian James Simpson was elected president of the society, Concordist William Oldham elected treasurer, and Truth-Tester editor William Horsell elected secretary. The name 'Vegetarian Society' was chosen for the new organization by a unanimous vote.
During the 20th century, the Society's work focused primarily on public education. In fulfilling this mission, the Society worked with other community groups to educate the public about the benefits of eating healthily. The Vegetarian Society also participated in political events, as a pressure group with the aim of influencing food producers to remove non-vegetarian ingredients such as gelatine or cheese produced using animal rennet from their products. They sought manufacturers to become accredited and marked food products with the Society's trademarked seedling symbol.  This accreditation includes the use of free range eggs, which other V symbols may not include. Their campaign was opposed to the labeling of products as vegetarian that contained fish. This action particularly affected restaurants. They also highlighted celebrities who claimed to be vegetarian but ate fish. As part of this campaign, in 1995, the Society produced the documentary Devour the Earth, written by Tony Wardle and narrated by Paul McCartney.
- Vegetarian Society. The Vegetarian Society of the United Kingdom Limited. 27 July 2011. http://www.vegsoc.org
- Davis, John (28 July 2011). "The Origins of the "Vegetarians"". International Vegetarian Union.
- Twigg, Julia. (1981). THE VEGETARIAN MOVEMENT IN ENGLAND, 1847-1981 : A STUDY IN THE STRUCTURE OF ITS IDEOLOGY. (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from http://www.ivu.org/history/thesis/index.html.
- John Davis. "A History of Veganism from 1806". International Vegetarian Union.
- 'History of the Vegetarian Society - early history.' Vegetarian Society. The Vegetarian Society of the United Kingdom Limited. 27 July 2011. http://www.vegsoc.org/page.aspx?pid=827
- Spencer, Colin. Vegetarianism: A History. Four Walls Eight Windows, 2000. p. 238-246.
- Keith Thomas (1984) Man and the natural world changing attitudes in England 1500-1800, p. 297.
- Official website
- The Cordon Vert School
- The Vegetarian Society of the United Kingdom Limited, Registered Charity no. 259358 at the Charity Commission
- James Gregory, Of Victorians and vegetarians: the vegetarian movement in nineteenth-century Britain. London: Tauris Academic Studies, 2006. ISBN 978-1-84511-379-7