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Monkey Behind Bars

Our history

The BUAV has a long and inspiring history. From humble beginnings, we have developed a reputation as one of the world’s leading authorities in the fight against experimentation on animals.

The organisation began life as the ‘British Union’ when it was founded at a public meeting in Bristol on June 14th 1898 by Frances Power Cobbe (1822 to 1904), a formidable women’s rights campaigner and philanthropist.

Frances Power Cobbe first came into contact with the suffering of animals during scientific experiments in 1863 when she was travelling around Europe. Deeply affected by what she saw, she began to write articles and speak at public meetings advocating that the good of mankind does not justify the ‘torture’ of animals.

She wasn’t alone in this attitude. Indeed, Queen Victoria herself declared vivisection to be, “a disgrace to Christianity and humanity". Experiments on animals became a major issue in the late 19th century and an organised opposition movement emerged made up of so-called ‘anti-vivisection societies’. Five such societies came together in 1898 as the British Union. By 1940, the Union had no fewer than 154 branches – including six in Australia and one in New Zealand.

The Union’s Mission: ‘To keep unalterably before its members and the public the fundamental principle of their warfare with scientific cruelty, namely, that it is a great Sin – which can only be opposed effectively when opposed absolutely, and without attempts at delusive comprises of any kind.’

After a lifetime of campaigning, Frances Power Cobbe died of heart failure in 1904 at the age of 81. She was succeeded as head of the British Union by the famous anti-vivisectionist Dr Walter Hadwen.

The Dr Hadwen Trust was founded much later in 1970 – the brainchild of the BUAV’s general secretary at that time, Sidney Hicks. 

The Modern BUAV

By the turn of the 20th century the British Union had achieved widespread recognition as a professional pressure group with an established voice in the political arena, in both Britain and Europe.

In 1947 the legal status of all anti-vivisectionist organisations suffered a severe blow when the courts ruled that they were no longer to be regarded as charitable. It was argued that the advantages of the continuation of vivisection outweighed its abolition and an anti-vivisectionist stance was against public interest and therefore not charitable. The loss of tax benefits seriously impacted the income of the Union. Fundraising activities were stepped up to offset the loss of income.

Since 1949, the organisation has been known as the BUAV – the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, to avoid confusion with similarly-named organisations.

The BUAV’s campaigning activities continue to grow with the use of more sophisticated campaigning techniques, such as investigations to expose the reality of animal suffering in laboratories, high profile legal challenges, using scientific expertise to find alternatives to animal testing and monitor research practices and supporting cruelty-free companies and retailers.