The Humanitarian League’s Publications No. V

  “Behind the Scenes in Slaughterhouses”. 

             By H.F. Lester. London 1892.

In this publication, by The Humanitarian League from 1892, we are taken on an unseemly excursion around a London slaughterhouse which does not hold back on its vivid description of blood, gore, pain and horror present in those strange establishments.

It is without doubt that today’s Vegans should possess a strong stomach whilst reading this publication, just in order to endure all the repugnance one naturally feels at the lurid descriptions of the horrific goings-on and unsafe justifications by the author for the existence of these meat producing factories.

For instance, there is a very horrific description, by Lester, of the “smell and sight of blood dripping into the gutters through the hoofs [sic]of animals waiting to be slaughtered at the Deptford abattoir…produces all the symptoms of panic fear”.

The author continues to talk of the perception by meat eaters, who say that no cruelty is acted upon to the animals whose flesh they are consuming, purely because they have not had the misfortune to visit an abattoir and watch what goes on for the sake of meat dishes.

In addition, Lester mentions a very incisive observation when he states that; because of the medical authorities and their promotion of meat eating as essential for human health to avoid eating meat altogether is akin to suicide.

The best anyone, concerned with animal cruelty, can do is to look to reform the method of animal slaughter (for food) adopted in the UK.

The Author then talks of what type of worker would even choose to work in these dreadful places and is very unflattering when he calls these workers as “from the dregs of the population” and as such, we suppose, without any sentiment of pity for the animals they kill etc. 

The Author’s contempt for the abattoir’s workers and their demoralisation at working in these places (lugentes campi) he feels is not a good enough reason for keeping slaughterhouses, and thus puts forward his own argument against abattoirs viz,.

“If, meat is not only not necessary, but actually injurious, standing in the same relation to wholesome food as brandy to wholesome drinks, then, directly that is acknowledged, the shambles could at once cease to be used, and could be purified and disinfected, and converted into wholesome receptacles for grains and fruit”

The writer then moves on to his own experiences of inspecting various London slaughterhouses, the need for sanitation and humane principals before talking of local slaughterhouses which the reader (in those times) may know.

The subsequent descriptions of these local abattoirs are the hardest part of the publication to read since they dwell on the cruel processes acted within these “dens of cruelty”.

Horrific methods of killing are described including; the striking with mallets, poleaxes, a strange mask, small pistols, spears, electricity and narcotics.

Moving on, the writer concludes his observations by calling for the introduction of public abattoirs* and leaves us with his final thought which is:  “the ultimate object to be aimed at is the gradual education of public opinion up to the point of looking on both butcher’s shops and slaughterhouses as relics of barbarism”.


This early publication reflects the times when the public love of meat was almost universal and unchallenged, especially in the production of meat.

It acts as an accurate historical record of barbaric meat production methods which vegans and meat eaters, for different reasons, seldom get to explore in greater detail.

The writer is to be congratulated for his prescience in writing about animal cruelty in the production of meat, but the whole publication is compromised by the shock tactics of describing methods of killing and not the health benefits of abstaining from meat.

*Footnote:  it is well worth noting that the Humanitarian League’s manifesto mentions the following; in respect of abattoirs: 

“Furthermore, in view of the increasing evidence of the sufficiency of a non-flesh diet, the Humanitarian League will aim at the prevention of the terrible sufferings to which countless numbers of highly-organised animal are yearly subjected through the habit of flesh-eating, which is directly responsible for the barbarities of the cattle-traffic and the shambles, and will advocate, as an initial measure, the abolition of private slaughter-houses, the presence of which in our large centres is admitted to be a cause of widespread demoralisation