Down the road from the old pork butcher’s in Mexborough, a plaque to the first vegan – and it wasn’t Gwyneth Paltrow

Donald Watson in later life
Donald Watson in later life
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In a Yorkshire town better known for coal than cuisine, the points on the gastronomic compass could hardly be further apart.

They are marked out by a trail of blue plaques tracing those whose fame or fortune was made there. At one end is the old pork butcher’s on Hope Street. At the other, the classroom of the inventor of modern-day veganism.

Donald Watson

Donald Watson

The butcher was Fred Green, who mrged his business with Associated Dairies and helped convert it into Asda. But Mexbrorough’s other influence on the national diet has been even more pervasive.

Donald Watson, whose plaque is to be unveiled on Saturday, was a cabinet maker and health enthusiast who dreamed of a planet free of butcher’s shops.

His founding of the Vegan Society in 1944, on the grounds that vegetarianism alone was “inconsistent”, was the germ of an industry and a way of life that has since been embraced by millions.

Hollywood types such as Ariana Grande, Joaquin Phoenix and, most famously, Gwyneth Paltrow are among the vegan evangelists to have taken up the crusade that took root in Mexborough.

And while Ms Paltrow was reported to have said earlier this year that “veganism would be nothing without me”, the claim belongs legitimately to Mr Watson, who is acknowledged by the Oxford English Dictionary as having coined the word.

“All vegans owe a huge debt of gratitude to Donald Watson and the pioneering early members,” said Samantha Calvert, at the Vegan Society.

Mr Watson died in 2005, at 95, but his history was documented by his late brother, Norman, a founder member of the Mexborough Heritage Society, which is behind the trail of blue plaques.

“For many years, vegetarians had been accused of inconsistency because although they did not eat fish, flesh or fowl they did consume such animal products as milk, butter and cheese,” Norman wrote.

His brother, he added, “believed it was time to move forward”.

A split from the Vegetarian Society, of which Mr Watson was by then the Leicester branch secretary, resulted.

But not everyone saw it that way, and when the founding meeting of the Vegan Society was held in Holborn, London, just six people, out of a total membership of 25, turrned up.

Mr Watson said in his memoirs that his resolve had been formed at school in Mexborough. “A van would arrive at the pork butchers, with two or three pigs they needed those for the day’s supply,” he said. “They were pulled out, with their tails, squealing.”

The playground from where he saw it, then Doncaster Road Juniors and now New Pastures Primary, is the location for the plaque.

“This will be the first time that we are aware of that any of our founders has been honoured in this way,” said Ms Calvert.

“We are delighted that the Heritage Society is paying tribute to one of the sons of Mexborough who has done so much to make the world a more compassionate place.”