Johnstone man Dugald Semple pioneered the vegan diet

In recent years, an increasing number of people have given up meat and dairy in favor of a vegan diet.

Restaurants and takeaways have sprung up to meet the new passion for healthy eating.

Even fast food giants such as Greggs and McDonald’s have their own lineup.

However, a Johnstone man pioneered a vegan diet over a century ago – long before the term was even coined.

Dugald Semple, born in 1884, was also one of the first exponents of vegetarianism and communion with nature.

In his case, that meant living rough and off the land, in a style that modern-day adventurers such as Bear Grylls would surely admire.

Today, a leading scholar, Dr Steven Sutcliffe, is preparing a book about Semple’s life and calls on readers of The Gazette to share their memories of him.

Dr Sutcliffe, 61, says that, like many Scots, Semple is more celebrated abroad than at home.

Dr Steven Sutcliffe can’t wait for more people to know about Semple’s less ordinary life

At one time he could count Indian leader Mahatma Ghandi, whom he met in London in 1931, as a close friend.

Later, Semple went on speaking tours in the United States, Canada, India and Europe to promote his best-selling lifestyle books and even had his own radio show.

Dr Sutcliffe, who teaches at the University of Edinburgh’s School of Divinity, said: “Dugald Semple deserves to be much better known and I would love to hear from anyone who remembers him.

“He was a controversial figure in his time. He was one of the founders of the Vegan Society in 1944, but he was a vegan long before the term was coined.

“Dugald was also a prolific journalist, photographer, conscientious objector, and an early exponent of simpler living and whole foods.

“In his day he was very well known, both in Scotland and abroad, but has been largely forgotten in recent years.”

Semple’s upbringing could not have been more traditional.

His father, Robert, owned a tailor’s shop in Johnstone’s High Street and was a High Kirk elder.

The Gazette: Semple's books have become hugely popularSemple’s books have become extremely popular

After leaving Paisley Grammar School, Semple worked as a technical draftsman, but soon found he didn’t like the job.

Her childhood had been spent roaming the Bluebell Woods and studying the flowers and wildlife on the banks of the Brandy Burn between Foxbar and Elderslie.

His urge to live a simple life was so strong that in 1907 he pitched a tent on Linwood Moss and cooked his meals on a pot suspended from three poles over a fire.

Linwood Moss, which later became the site of the ill-fated Hillman Imp factory, was then a natural paradise.

Nicknamed by the press “the hermit of Linwood Moss”, he drew large crowds of tourists to his tent.

Semple then bought an old horse-drawn bus, converted it into a caravan, and moved to Bridge of Weir, near the River Gryfe.

He worked as a journalist for much of his life, publishing in various newspapers, including The Gazette, and often accompanying his columns on the natural world with his own photos.

In 1912, Semple stated that he did not believe that milk and eggs were natural foods for humans, adding: “Eggs were intended to produce chickens and not omelettes; and cow’s milk is a perfect food for a calf but certainly not for an adult human being.

The Gazette: Mahatma Ghandi has become a close friendMahatma Ghandi became a close friend

His writings and popular public lectures promoted the idea that simple living and healthy eating were the paths to happiness.

Semple gave up meat and dairy in his early 20s, limiting his diet to vegetables, grains, nuts, fruits and potatoes.

He believed that raw foods were the natural diet for human beings and was one of the first to link increased meat consumption to cancer, kidney and liver disease, and poor mental health.

In 1916, Semple was drafted to fight in the First World War but, being a pacifist, he refused and risked prison.

However, the authorities decided they could make better use of his unique skills.

At the time, there were massive shortages of goods, especially fresh meat. So Semple was tasked with lecturing housewives on food saving and how to cook delicious meals from vegetables.

Between 1930 and 1950 he lived in a cottage in Beith, Ayrshire, growing fruit and studying nature, and was also an outspoken critic of tea and alcohol.

He later became president of the Scottish Vegetarian Society and is credited with co-founding the vegan movement.

The Gazette: Semple's grave at Lochwinnoch CemeterySemple’s grave at Lochwinnoch Cemetery

Semple was often called a crank but always responded by saying that the crank was the most important part of any machine.

He died in a care home in Fairlie, Ayrshire, in 1964, aged 79.

Semple’s wife, Cathie Amos, had died of heart failure in 1941.

They had no children, although Cathie had a son, Ian, who was killed in the First World War.

The graves of Semple and his wife are in Lochwinnoch Cemetery.

Dr Sutcliffe added: “Dugald’s ideas of a simpler life still hold true.

“He wanted people to be able to eat healthily and ethically in a way that they could afford and for the greater good of society.”

If you have any information about Semple that you would like to share, email [email protected]