Vivarium and Aquarium Keeping for Amateurs. A.E. Hodge. 1923

Screen Shot 2014-11-26 at 14.27.18This post is on a book on keeping reptiles and amphibians from the 1920s, Vivarium and Aquarium Keeping for Amateurs, first published by H.F. & G Witherby in 1923 by A.E. Hodge.

Albert Ernest Hodge was founding editor of The Aquarist which was first published in 1924. He was born in London in 1877, the son of Samuel Hodge, an insurance agent, and his wife Mary. In the 1881 and 1891 censuses the address of the family was Norfolk Terrace, Kensington (now part of Paddington). He married Henrietta Virginia Milverton in 1896 in Paddington, and in the 1901 census they were living at 28 Angel Road, South Hammersmith with their two daughters. AEH is described as a Shorthand Typist. Henrietta was born in The Curragh Camp near Dublin; her father is shown in the 1891 census as an army pensioner, a former Staff Sergeant; she was a dressmaker.

By the 1911 Census the family were living at 14 Astonville Street, Southfields in south-west London. He was then a Reporter. Information on journalists shows that he was a reporter for the Press Association. He joined the National Union of Journalists in 1916 and his membership lapsed in 1924 (the year he started The Aquarist). He is shown in The Entomologist’s Monthly magazine in 1920 at the same address as in 1911.

He was still living at the same address when he died on 19 September 1936; his wife, who was five years older, died on 1 March 1938. He left £201.11s.3d, the equivalent in terms of retail prices of £12,000 today. His unmarried daughters were executors of the two wills. He was 59.

Besides Vivarium and Aquarium Keeping for Amateurs, Hodge wrote the following books: The Young Collector’s Guide to Butterfly and Moth Collecting, 1919; Tropical Aquarium Fishes, 1924 and 1927; Goldfish Culture for Amateurs (with Arthur Derham), 1926 and 1931; Peeps at the Zoo Aquarium, 1927; Garden Ponds and Pools, 1933. The book title page shows him as President of the British Aquarists’ Federation and Adviser on Reptiles and Fish to the British Empire Naturalists’ Association (now the British Naturalists’ Association).

In the book, Hodge sticks mainly to the species that can be kept outdoors in southern England. His major exception is the Mississippi Alligator. He describes and shows photographs of the very simple cages he built in his garden, mainly of wood, wire netting and concrete and incorporated into flower beds. The frontispiece shows his small alligator being hand fed. It is from The Daily Mirror which suggests that Hodge was using his connexions as a journalist to the full.

The book must have proved popular since there was a second impression in 1923. A second edition appeared in 1927 with a fourth impression in 1934. This is the version on the Downloads page and here. I do not know if there were any later impressions.

From 1924 until he died he was the editor and driving force of The Aquarist; in the 1930s that was being published every two months. There will be more on A.E. Hodge and The Aquarist later.


Keeping Reptiles and Amphibians. Alfred Leutscher. 1976

Screen Shot 2014-11-20 at 14.54.35 copyThis is the book that many wished Alfred Leutscher’s earlier Vivarium Life, in its two editions, could have been. It is a description of how to keep these animals. Unfortunately, by the time it came out, it was dated. Some of the vivarium designs, which I think he had used, date back to Bateman in the 19th Century; some are bizarre; others are downright dangerous or unhygienic. For example, nobody who had kept properly-fed young crocodilians would employ the arrangement of a tank he showed for more than a week. By 1976, the revolution in keeping and breeding reptiles was well under way and Leutscher by then was off the pace. There is also the curious omission, repeated from Vivarium Life, of mealworms as a food item. I think the general feeling was regret that he had not produced this book in 1952 instead of Vivarium Life. Potential reptile and amphibian keepers during the 1950s would have had much greater knowledge of the state of the art, at least in Britain, if he had done so.

I was asked the other week if I had ever met Alfred Leutscher and the answer was no. I first went to a British Herpetological Society meeting in summer 1961 during the school holidays. All those attending sat round a large table somewhere upstairs in Burlington House as live specimens were passed round. Since Alfred Leutscher had been the Secretary I thought he would be there. However, George Boyce told me that he had not been seen there for some time.

The most memorable part of that meeting was speaking to the lady sitting next to me. She had a number of large Australian skinks. ‘Where did you get them’, I asked. ‘Oh, my husband is a BOAC pilot and he picked them up from the ground as he walked across the tarmac to the aircraft at Sydney’. Can anybody remember who she was?

You can see the book on the Download page above or here.

The Way of a Serpent. T.H. Gillespie. 1937

Screen Shot 2014-11-20 at 14.15.50In the 1930s in Britain there was little in the way of books published for the amateur herpetologist. There were however, the monthly magazine The Aquarist and Pondkeeper (incorporating The Reptilian Review) and the weekly Water Life (incorporating Aquaria News) about which I shall be writing much more later.

Until David Blatchford showed me the book, I had not realised that Thomas Gillespie, founder of Edinburgh Zoo, had written a book about snakes in the 1930s that incorporated advice on the keeping of these reptiles. The Way of a Serpent was published in London by Herbert Jenkins in 1937. Nearly all the photographs, including one of an Indian python in process of laying its eggs, and a frontispiece in colour of a Green Tree Boa, were taken by Mrs Gillespie, née Mary Elizabeth Gamble.

Thomas Haining Gillespie (1876-1967) a graduate of the University of Edinburgh and originally a solicitor, founded and ran Edinburgh Zoo from 1913 to 1950. He and a group of enthusiasts whipped up support to establish the Zoo with support from Edinburgh City Council (imagine trying to do that a hundred years later). The whole story is told in Geoffrey Schomberg’s British Zoos (Alan Wingate, London, 1957). Edinburgh became famous for breeding King Penguins. This success was achieved because the whaling firm, Christian Salvesen, regularly brought back batches from South Georgia.


The photograph Schomberg used in British Zoos

The photograph Schomberg used in British Zoos

Gillespie wrote a number of books and magazine articles about the zoo. He also gave talks on Children’s Hour on BBC radio. I have found four such broadcasts in the BBC’s Genome Project. The first was on Glasgow’s 5SC on 22 July 1929 and entitle, When summer comes to the zoo’; the second on a regional programme of 18 August 1932 was ‘Uncle Tom describes the Scottish snakes and lizards’; the third on the Home Service on 4 September 1942 was entitled, ‘The Scottish Zoological Gardens in wartime. The fourth, also on the Home Service, was on 13 September 1943 and entitled, ‘Round the Scottish Zoological Gardens, Edinburgh, with the Scottish Zoo Man. BBC’s ‘Zoo Man’ at the time would have been David Seth-Smith.

Gillespie clearly knew a lot about snakes and they were an important part of the Zoo’s collection. North Britain is not exactly rich in reptile life and the citizens of Edinburgh probably learnt a lot about reptiles from their introduction to them at the zoo. I suspect Gillespie would be shocked to learn that Edinburgh Zoo no longer has a reptile house.

You can download the book from the Downloads page or from here.

Living with Reptiles. Kathleen Pickard Smith. 1961

PS ReptilesApart from what she said in her book, I knew nothing about Kathleen Pickard Smith until I found her obituary in The Independent written by the gardening writer, Barbara Abbs. The book inspired many in the early 1960s, when the book was in print, to keep reptiles since it described the highs and lows of keeping these animals in and around the house and garden. Many of her observations were fascinating insights into the range of behaviours demonstrated by her animals. For example, her outdoor reptiliary was far from escape proof but the lizards often returned there after spending time in other parts of the garden. Her tortoises, like those of Audrey Noël Hume’s, often spent winter by the fire in what must have been a bitterly cold house.

Her house, ‘Harveys’ is in Glynde, East Sussex. It had been bought by her father, Tom Pickard (‘the Old ‘Un’ in the book), agent to the Glynde Estate, in 1922. He bought two cottages and knocked them into one, having turned the tenants out. It seems that Harveys dates from about 1500 and has a half-acre garden. Mrs Pickard Smith had room for her reptiles but not, I suspect, much spare cash to spend on them. According to Abbs, Tom Pickard, an autocrat, terrified the children of the village.

Harveys, the house at Glynde

Harveys, the house at Glynde

Kathleen Nora I Pickard was born at the home farm of the Glynde Estate on 25 March 1902. Her only sibling died in the influenza epidemic after the First World War. She was Principal of the Brighton School of Music, where she had studied, during the 1930s but then looked after her ageing father. She had a great interest in gardening, particularly alpine plants, and wild flowers. She had articles on the latter in magazines.

Sussex Agricultural Express 9 December 1938

Sussex Agricultural Express 9 December 1938

There are photographs in the book of her husband, Frank. He was of a North American appearance and it came as no surprise to learn that he was Canadian. Frank Smith, an officer in the Canadian Army, was billeted in the area. According to her obituary they married when she was 43 in 1945. Abbs wrote: At the age of 43 she married him, much to the annoyance of her father, who commented, “If I had known you wanted to get married I would have fixed you up before”. However, records show that they married in 1952 (when she was 50) in Chelsea, so something does not quite add up. She took the surname Pickard Smith on her marriage. Her father died in 1955.

Abbs recounts:

One friend once discovered Pickard Smith in the ladies’ washroom at the Royal Horticultural Society Halls in Vincent Square on show day standing over a basin full of baby terrapins all swimming about happily. She took them out, dried them and put them back one by one inside her bra, and went back to the show to look at the plants. They had not long been hatched, she said, and she could not leave them behind all day.

Her book, Living with Reptiles, was published by Thomas Nelson & Sons, Edinburgh in 1961 (the book itself is undated). Some of the photographs illustrating it appear to have come from publications which had articles on her and her reptiles (Brighton Evening Argus and She); others are by Bob Bustard which also appear in his articles from that era in The Aquarist and Water Life.

She took part in a BBC Home Service radio programme on 13 November 1961, For Your Bookshelf, to talk about her book.

Here obituary states that her husband, Frank E Smith, had died over 25 years ago, i.e. before 1973, and that she ‘grew more eccentric and did not mellow with the years’. She died on 23 November 1998.

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You can download the book from the Downloads page or from here.


Tortoises, Terrapins and Turtles. Ivor and Audrey Noël Hume. 1954

Tort 1This 112-page book in the Foyles Handbooks series was published in 1954 when Audrey and Ivor Noël Hume were both 27. Over the preceding few years the mass importation of tortoises for the pet trade had started up after the foreign currency restrictions that were introduced to protect the £ Sterling after the second world war were eased. There was concern even then that the trade was unsustainable from the point of view of conservation as well as a major problem in terms of animal welfare. Nevertheless, tortoises were extremely common as pets, the only reptile in fact that could be classified in that category. Keepers for whatever reason of other reptiles and amphibians were few and far between. Tortoises were usually the first and indeed the only reptile that members of the British public would get close to and be able to study and learn from. Letters to newspapers in the early 1950s from experienced tortoise keepers tried to instil the key elements of husbandry to those who had picked up a tortoise from a market stall for a few pence or who had been given one as a fairground or fete prize. Printed information was expensive (the average book cost about twenty times the price of a tortoise) and difficult to find. That’s why the Noël Humes’ book was so valuable and why it stayed in print for so long. It hit the market at the right time; it was authoritative (considering the state of knowledge at the time) but not overly prescriptive. It also included chapters on the tortoise in history, the natural history of the giant tortoises as well as turtles. It also included information on the care of the truly tropical tortoises that as far as I know was not available in any other publication in Britain until years later. The authors did not mince their words when it came to describing the iniquities of the tortoise trade from capture in North Africa to sale in the streets of London (or disposal of unsold stock in the autumn by abandonment on bomb sites). Owners often failed to provide suitable conditions for successful hibernation and most deaths (a huge percentage of the hundreds of thousands imported year) occurred in the first winter but for those who did get this right, a well-fed tortoise would live for years. My mother-in-law’s ‘Anzac’ appears in family photographs from the 1920s and 30s. My great-grandfather and his fourth wife had a tortoise, ‘Timothy’, and I was mightily impressed by it. They had kept it in their garden since before the war. It had a palatial pen. A considerable part of the garden was occupied by permanent cold frames, the bases of which were built from large blocks of what was probably sandstone. The glass lids were simply dropped on these stone bases. Timothy had one of these long cold frames to himself and he trundled around amongst the plants that remained. When his owners appeared with food he came quickly to the end to see what was being offered. Great-grandfather was a fierce choirmaster and organist and obsessive gardener (we still have some of his plant pots) who must by then have retired from being an engine driver for the Midland, and then the L.M.S., Railway. He was also very proud of Timothy. My grandfather had half of the old man’s garden for his own use and when I went there with him in the summer my job was to collect dandelions and sow thistles for the tortoise while avoiding being pinched on the cheek by great-grandfather, the common greeting inflicted on children by old men at that time. I have no recollection of knowing what happened to the tortoise after he died in 1950. I do not even know which species Timothy was. However, the impression from what I recall of his appearance is that he was a Hermann’s (Testudo hermanni) rather than Mediterranean Spur-thighed (Testudo graeca). Hermann’s were far less common in the pet shops and market stalls of the 1950s and were always reckoned to be hardier than the T. graeca which were imported from North Africa. The Noël Humes also described breeding and care of the young. A number of tortoise keepers have described having tortoises that produced eggs and then asking a zoo what they should do. From the 1920s until the early 1960s at least, zoos gave gave a standard spiel that the eggs were unlikely to be fertile and success was so unlikely that doing nothing was advised. That line was shown to be wrong and, as I noted in the previous post, the Noël Humes generated considerable publicity when they successfully incubated eggs and the young hatched. Thus, the Light Programme’s (now BBC Radio 2) Woman’s Hour on 24 March 1952 contained a talk, ‘The Tortoise that had a Baby in 1951’ described as follows: in this country the successful hatching of tortoise eggs is unusual. Ivor Noël-[sic]Hume tells the story of the tortoise he bought that on arrival home settled down to produce a family. On 9 June at 5.50 pm he gave a talk on the Home Service (now BBC Radio 4) entitled ‘Home for a Tortoise’. Tortoises, Terrapins and Turtles was reprinted a number of times, the final date I have been able to find is 1980 with revisions by J. Blossom. As with a number of the Foyles Handbooks, the cover design was changed several times over the 26 years or so the book was available. For some years after buying the book in the late 1950s I was never able to understand why Audrey and Ivor Noël Hume were not still active in reptile circles in Britain. Only later did I learn that they then lived and worked in the USA (I.N.H. still does*) and only much later of their distinction in what has come to be known as historical archaeology.


Tort 2 Tort 3

The book can be downloaded here or from the Downloads page above.


*Ivor Noël Hume died 4 February 2017.

Audrey Noël-Hume had articles in Water Life and Aquaria World. You can find copies on the Downloads page.

Hatching and rearing Spur-thighed tortoises (Testudo graeca). Water Life and Aquaria World 8 (No 1, February-March 1953)(New issue), 18-19.

Estimating the age of tortoises. Letter. Water Life and Aquaria World 8 (No 3, June-July 1953)(New issue), 156.

Brazilian Giant Tortoise (Testudo denticulata). Water Life and Aquaria World 9 (No 2, April-May 1954)(New issue), 78-79.

Care of Leopard tortoises (Testudo pardalis). Water Life and Aquaria World 10 (No 2, April-May 1955)(New issue), 76-77.

Carolina Box Tortoises. Water Life and Aquaria World 10 (No 6, December 1955-January 1956)(New issue), 284-285.

African hinged tortoises. Water Life and Aquaria World 11, (No 6, December 1956-January 1957)(New issue), 286-287.