from The Vegetarian June 1992
Vegetarianism has been running in the Beurle family for the last six generations.
Beverley Pink visited the fifth and sixth generation vegetarian father and daughter
of this remarkable family.
If asked to trace our vegetarian roots, most of us would not have to think further
back than ourselves or our parents. But an exceptional family like the Beurles
from London would have to think back a lot further than that.
For the Beurles certainly believe in keeping it in the family: vegetarianism is
not just their way of life, it's a family tradition. For six generations vegetarianism
has been handed down from parents to children: from George Dornbusch in the nineteenth
century, to eight-year-old Angharad Beurle-Williams today.
A family of hoarders, the Beurles have, over the years, built up a fascinating
collection of letters and diaries recording the lives of now long-dead relatives.
Sifting through the family archives proved to be an enlightening exercise for
Kevin Beurle, the fifth generation veggie in the family and Angharad's father.
Anyone bold enough to look up their family tree risks making some nasty discoveries
about past relatives' unsavoury deeds. But this wasn't the case for Kevin. He
discovered that he comes from a line of worthy individuals who invested much of
their lives standing up for humanitarian causes. Years ahead of their time they
were fighting for things which have shaped society today such as women's suffrage
and abolition of capital punishment.
The family archives also clearly indicate that the Beurles were actively involved
with the early days of the vegetarian movement in this country. It came as a pleasant
shock to Kevin to discover just how far his family's vegetarian roots went back.
"I was certainly aware of my grandfather's close connection with the Vegetarian
Cycling and Athletic Club, but I hadn't really realised consciously how far the
vegetarianism went back. It was only recently, when looking back through old family
papers, that it dawned on me."
One letter indicates that George Dornbusch, Kevin's great-great-grandfather was
a vegetarian, possibly a vegan, by the 1840s. He was also an active member of
The Vegetarian Society in its earliest form. A notice which appeared in The Times
newspaper on 2 August 1851, shows that George Dornbusch, was one of the organisers
of a Vegetarian soire which took place in London that year. His address appears
as Vegetarian Cottage, Dalston.
This enthusiastic involvement with the vegetarian movement carried on through
George Dornbusch's daughter Ada, and her husband William Louis Beurle who brought
about a fundamental change in the structure of The Vegetarian Society. In 1888
he seconded a vote that brought about the breakaway of the London Vegetarian Society
from The Vegetarian Society (Manchester). It was to be eighty years before the
two organisations merged again properly.
Later Beurle relatives became members of the Vegetarian Cycling and Athletic Club.
The club, which enjoyed much success, was one of the first cycling organisations
to organise scientifically researched diets. Many of its members broke cycling
records and did much to prove that vegetarian athletes can break as many records
as meat-eaters. Kevin's grandfather, Harold Dornbusch Beurle, was renowned for
his dedication to the vegetarian cause and the cycling club. His keen efficiency
which aided the smooth running of a cycling event prompted another member to write:
"He always seemed to have the right thing at the right moment, and what no
doubt made him carry out his work so well was that he had his heart in the job."
Harold, who was just 16 at the time, competed and also used to organise food for
the cyclists who were on special diets to enhance their performance. Cyclists
would fill out cards stating what they wanted at feeding stations and Harold would
ensure it was waiting for them.
Although six generations of Beurles have inherited vegetarianism, not all have
sustained this lifestyle for the same reasons. Attitudes have been coloured by
the society they were living in at the time, although the fundamental belief that
animals should not be killed for food carries consistently through right up to
In Victorian times, for instance, factory farming, was not an issue. Yet both
Kevin and Angharad, typical of many 1990s vegetarians, say they do not eat meat
because of the way animals are treated and slaughtered.
But just as today, some people in the past saw vegetarianism as the healthier
option. Kevin thinks that his Victorian relatives were more likely to have been
vegetarian for health reasons. "With me, my father and Angharad the reasons
for being vegetarian are to do with animals. But I suspect with relatives going
further back it was more likely to have been for health reason."
Just a glance around Anghorad's bedroom tells you why she is a vegetarian. It
is full of books about animals which she clearly loves. "If I were a meat
eater I would be afraid that I might eat one of my favourite animals." When
asked what her favourite animal is, she sharply replies: "I haven't got one
favourite, I've got millions."
Whatever their reasons, Kevin's relatives were well ahead of their time in their
thoughts and actions. It is only over the last few years that vegetarianism has
been accepted as a normal way of life. But even between Kevin's childhood and
Angharad's, attitudes towards vegetarians varied greatly. Kevin, who was born
and brought up in Swansea, remembers being the only vegetarian in his school and
experiencing some hostility as a result. "It was thought unusual. It wasn't
a problem at primary school - they seemed to accept it there. But at secondary
school there were children who felt threatened by it and who were quite agressive
about anything which challenged meat. Most of the time it would take the form
of posing me various unlikely situations such as 'if you were on a desert island
what would you do?' I think probably the reason was these people were rather unsure
about what they were doing themselves and did perhaps feel some misgivings about
Angharad, however, can readily think of friends, a next door neighbour and a teacher
who are vegetarians. Her meat-eating friends seem to accept her the way she is
without much fuss. "They don't seem to mind it. They don't take any notice
of it really."
However, she did experience some difficulties with the older generation when she
used to have school dinners. At one point, dinner ladies even tried to persuade
her to eat a fish dish by saying that fish is not meat and is therefore suitable
Not only does Angharad not eat fish, she checks labels for any suspect substances
such as gelatine. Kevin thinks this represents quite a modern approach to vegetarianism.
"Vegetarians scrutinise labels more than they used to. People are much better
informed these days and know what to look out for," Another improvement Kevin
has noticed in his own lifetime and definitely since the days of some of his own
ancestors is the wider availability of vegetarian food. He noticed it is much
easier to get vegetarian food now than when he was a child. He remembers family
trips where much time was spent circling a town looking for somewhere suitable
to eat. "These days you can find something vegetarian to eat in any town,
and street." Vegetarian cooking at home has also been made easier by the
wide range of vegetables and vegetarian foods in the shops.
With such a strong vegetarian tradition running through the family you would expect
Kevin to have inherited plenty of family recipes . But Kevin insists that whenever
he tries to recreate old family favourites they never taste the way he remembers
them. Recalling a recipe his father used to make Kevin says: "It never works
even though I'm using the same ingredients. It's strange - it's the same recipe
but three different generations get three different results."
Thinking back to childhood mealtimes Kevin remembers good wholesome home cooking
with vegetarian casseroles, baked potatoes and cheese dishes, although his mother
never really came to terms with lentils.
Cooking now for himself and Angharad, Kevin relies heavily on quick and easy meals,
such as pasta with sauces, and convenience foods such as veggie burgers which
tend to be a hit with young children. Even to meat eaters these foods would seem
pretty normal - in fact many of them have caught on with meat eaters in a big
way. But in the days of Kevin's great-great-grandparents the vegetarian diet seem
a peculiar one. The author of a letter recalling a visit to Kevin's great-great-grandfather
writes: "We dined together on Graham bread and pears, a strange diet to me
but I did not care."
It would be all too easy for critics of vegetarians to point the finger at a family
like the Beurles and say they have had vegetarianism drummed into them fram birth
and as children had no choice. But Kevin does not feel his father pressurised
him into being a vegetarian at all: rather he believes it was a natural development.
"I was never taken to one side and lectured to by my father. I think vegetarianism
was just something that was there. I never felt the need to eat meat; since I
was a child I've known I could quite happily exist without it. I formed my own
opinions on how I felt about it."
Nor does Kevin believe in imposing his views on his daughter. "I deal with
her pretty much the way my father dealt with me. I feel that what I am doing is
right, but I wouldn't impose this. I don't say to her you must not go out and
eat meat.' When she's had questions about it, I've answered them. I've been honest
with her about what various types of diet involve in terms of suffering to animals
and all that. I think she's been aware for a long time, of that contradiction
between cuddly live animals and a steaming bowl of food made of dead animals.'
That's a contradiction that children who are not brought up as vegetarian will
have to face sooner or later. But if she wanted to experiment with meat I wouldn't
try and stop her. I wouldn't come the heavy father."
Not that Angharad has any intentions so far of abandoning her heritage and reverting
to eating meat. Not only has she the present encouragement of her father in her
vegetarianisim, but she also feels support from past generations too. "I
think it's very good that members of my family before me were vegetarian, because
I feel now as if I have company in being vegetarian." she explains.
Whether vegetarianism will carry on into a seventh generation of Beurles depends
on what the future holds for Angharad. But at least the family tradition seems
safe in her hands for now.