Alcott House from the Wilderspin papers

Alcott House in Ham, Surrey (now in the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames), was the home of a utopian spiritual community and progressive school which lasted from 1838 to 1848.[1][2] Supporters of Alcott House, or the Concordium, were a key group involved in the formation of the Vegetarian Society in 1847.[3]

History and ideology

The prime mover behind the community was "sacred socialist" and mystic James Pierrepont Greaves, who was influenced by American transcendentalist Amos Bronson Alcott, and Swiss educational reformer Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi.[4] Together with his followers, who included Charles Lane – and with the help of wealthy sponsors, Sophia and Georgiana Chichester – he founded Alcott House on Ham Common in Surrey in 1838. The Ham Common Concordium, as it came to be known, consisted of a working mixed cooperative community and a progressive school for children. The headmaster of Alcott House was Henry Gardiner Wright.[5]

The community was dedicated to a regime of spiritual development and purification – in the words of Greaves, aiming to produce the "most loveful, intelligent and efficient conditions for divine progress in humanity". To this end the members submitted to an austere regime of early rising, strict vegetarianism (usually raw food), no stimulants, celibacy, and simple living, and experimented with various practices such as astrology, hydrotherapy, mesmerism and phrenology.[6] The men grew their hair and beards long and wore loose-fitting clothes, while the women defied convention by not wearing the traditional, restrictive corset.

The community at Alcott House promoted a strict vegan diet, all meals were served cold apart from hot potatoes.[7] Alcott House rejected all animal source foods including meat, butter, cheese, eggs and all stimulants such as chocolate, coffee, tea as well as mustard, salt, vinegar and spices.[7]

Alcott House school was open to children from both inside and outside the community – the latter usually from radical parents who sympathised with its progressive educational stance. The curriculum emphasised moral education and the development of the child's innate spiritual gifts, teaching practical skills such as gardening and cookery as well as book learning. Punishment was frowned upon and education aimed to produce "integral men and women", able to live in a truly cooperative society and not simply playing traditional roles.

In 1848, the community came to an end and the house was purchased in 1849 by John Minter Morgan to provide an orphanage for 70 children, the National Orphan Home for Girls,[8] though still run along vegetarian lines.

South Lodge

In 1856 the foundation stone was laid for the present building, South Lodge, opened in 1862, which could accommodate 200 children. The orphanage closed in 1924.[9] South Lodge has been converted to flats and the grounds have been developed as Bishops Close.

British and Foreign Society for the Promotion of Humanity and Abstinence from Animal Food

The British and Foreign Society for the Promotion of Humanity and Abstinence from Animal Food was formed at Alcott House by a group of vegetarians in 1843.[10] Unlike other organizations during this time, the Society had an open membership for women and let them hold office.[11] The Society has been described as a forerunner to the Vegetarian Society.[12] Its President was Sophia Chichester.[10]

See also


  1. ^ "Latham, J.E.M. Search for a New Eden etc". (Review of J. E. M. Latham's book at
  2. ^ Twigg, Julia (1981). The vegetarian movement in England, 1847–1981: A study in the structure of its ideology (PhD thesis). LSE. Retrieved 6 July 2020.
  3. ^ Davis, John (28 July 2011). The Origins of the 'Vegetarians'. International Vegetarian Union. Retrieved 6 July 2020.
  4. ^ Silver-Isenstadt, Jean L. (2002). Shameless: The Visionary Life of Mary Gove Nichols. Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 63. ISBN 9780801868481
  5. ^ Francis, Richard. (2018). Transcendental Utopias: Individual and Community at Brook Farm, Fruitlands, and Walden. Cornell University Press. pp. 201-202. ISBN 9781501724190
  6. ^ "The Vegetarian Movement in England 1847-1981". Retrieved 2 January 2022.
  7. ^ a b Latham, J. E. M. (1999). Search for a New Eden: James Pierrepont Greaves (1777-1842), the Sacred Socialist and His Followers. Fairleigh Dickinson University Press. pp. 171-172. ISBN 9780838638095
  8. ^ Green, James; Greenwood, Silvia (1980). Ham and Petersham As It Was. Hendon Publishing. ISBN 0860670570. OCLC 16604168. Retrieved 6 July 2020. (number 18)
  9. ^ Higginbotham, Peter. "The National Orphan Home for girls, Richmond, Surrey". Children's Homes. Retrieved 4 July 2023.
  10. ^ a b "Vegetarian Societies in the United Kingdom". Retrieved 16 October 2022.
  11. ^ Gleadle, Kathryn; Richardson, Sarah. (2000). Women in British Politics, 1780-1860: The Power of the Petticoat. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 139. ISBN 9781349629893
  12. ^ Emel, Jody; Neo, Harvey. (2015). Political Ecologies of Meat. Taylor & Francis. p. 237. ISBN 9781317816416


Further reading

51°26′11″N 0°18′21″W / 51.436457°N 0.305813°W / 51.436457; -0.305813