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Vegetarian Roots: The Extraordinary Tale of William Cowherd
By Karen Millington   |  Dec 18, 2012

The Beefsteak chapel hardly sounds like a place where vegetarians would be welcome, but more than 200 years ago, this tiny chapel in Salford was the British birthplace of the meat-free diet.

In an even greater twist, the cleric who preached the moral virtues of vegetarianism was the Reverend William Cowherd. His Beefsteak Chapel was the country’s first vegetarian church.

Cowherd, born almost 250 years ago on Sunday 16 December, demanded his congregation eat a meat free diet.

At this time the poor would eat the cheapest meat. This meant a diet featuring a great deal of offal – sometimes stomach or intestines.

Cowherd believed that God inhabited every animal and as such it was a sin to eat meat. His followers – aptly named Cowherdites – went on to form the Vegetarian Society.

The health effects of a meat-free diet were unknown and many feared they would be catastrophic. A fellow minister of Cowherd, Robert Hindmarsh, blamed deaths among Cowherd’s followers on their meat-free diet.

Cowherd’s civic duties made him popular with the public. He provided free medical services, a lending library and free vegetable soup.

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