Margaret Shaw co-author of Animals as Friends and How to Keep Them

I found this photograph of Margaret Shaw, co-author, with James Fisher, of Animals as Friends and How to Keep Them (see my post of 10 May 2015). I have been unable to find any further information on Margaret Shaw. There is no mention of her in the index of former journalists on the website Scoop.

The photograph is from the December 1938 issue of Animal and Zoo Magazine.



Water Life and Aquaria World, April-May 1950. Addition to Download

I have added an article on herpetology from Volume 5, No 2 of the post-war series of Water Life and Aquaria World from April-May 1950 to the downloadable extracts.

The article is by Robert Jackson, then a well-known dealer who went on to found the Welsh Mountain Zoo (more on him later). It is on Australian lizards which were then bring imported. His advertisement from the same issue is also included.

When were crickets first available as reptile food?

In the 1950s, 60s and much of the 70s, the only commercially available insect live food in Britain was the mealworm, imported from Holland. Even then supplies could be spasmodic. They were also expensive and so most reptile keepers kept a culture. Earthworms were the great natural standby. A few people obtained locusts and bred them but they were not available commercially.

While reading through old copies of the Aquarist, I came across this advertisement from Xenopus Ltd. Crickets arrived in June 1976.



Writers as ‘Experts’, or Experts as Writers

Anyone who knows what was written on keeping reptiles, amphibians, fish or mammals over the past century will realise that writers copied information—and often misinformation—from earlier authors. The keeping of all forms of livestock is, therefore, confused by perpetuated myths and legends. The views of ‘writers’ of books were often disparaged rightly or wrongly by keepers or self-appointed ‘experts’ who grumbled in the background but who did not or could not write.

To illustrate what was happening, I reproduce below a copy of a letter to the Aquarist in the November 1975 issue:

Clarification Requested

     In the September issue of The Aquarist Mr. Whiteside quotes a letter from a Mr. Bave of Hammersmith in which he states that a friend of his in the publishing business told him “of two ‘experts’ who had written a book on tropical fishes and who at the time of writing the book had not kept a single fish between them.”
     As Mr. Bave goes on to say that he started the hobby some 20 years ago, a number of people have drawn the conclusion that his reference to two experts who had written about tropical fishes without having kept a single fish between them, and had obtained their information from the books of others, is a reference to the undersigned, because during the last 20 years or so they are the only two experts—at all events in this country—who have collaborated in writing books about aquarium fishes.
     The facts are that G.F.H. kept fish before the war, during the war and right up to some 15 years ago when he remarried; and that J.H., except for the war years when he served with the Royal Army Pay Corps, has kept fish ever since he was a boy and still keeps them though he is not far short of retirement age.
    They deprecate what Mr. Bave has written because it is likely to prove damaging to their books that are now on the market, namely: The Goldfish (Faber and Faber) and a Guide to Freshwater Aquarium Fishes (Hamlyn) published in England; the Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Freshwater Fishes published by Doubleday in the U.S.A. and Zoetwater Aquarium-vissen published in Belgium and Holland.
     These being the facts, they think it proper to ask Mr. Bave to make the amende honorable by asking Mr. Whiteside to make it clear that the passage quoted from his article, “What is Your Opinion?”, in the September issue is not a reference to either of them.

George F. Hervey Bagshot, Surrey and
Jack Hems, Leicester.

I am not surprised that Harvey and Hems complained about the What is Your Opinion? article. Such articles based on letters from readers giving their opinion on topics raised by a Mr Billy Whiteside appeared in every issue of the Aquarist. They were an early manifestation of uninformed opinion being taken as seriously as informed opinion; the comments on the BBC News website are a current example of how to debase a source of informed and reliable information. It was lazy populist publishing then and it is lazy populist publishing now.  Thus were Myths, legends and mischief born and perpetuated.

Lionel E. Day. Photographer of Amphibians and Reptiles

The photographs in the books and magazines from the 1940s and 50s I have covered so far usually contained photographs of amphibians, reptiles and fish by Lionel E. Day. However, I have been unable to find anything about him from internet searches despite his being a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society. Then in the Silver Jubilee issue of the Aquarist (May 1949) there is a brief biography and a photograph.

Day Aq

A short time ago I came across this article in Water Life (September-October 1952):

Day header

I have put it through text recognition software and this is the full version:

Looking back over the years there are probably few aquatic insects or types of fish that Mr. Lionel Day has not had in his possession. In addition he has had the usual assortment of pets nearest to a boy’s heart including mice, owls, squirrels and amphibians, not forgetting numerous varieties of both native and tropical lepidoptera. Nevertheless the accent has always been aquatic life.

As a small boy of seven or eight he would wander over Leigh marshes, which in those days were a naturalist’s paradise, to return many hours later probably very tired but clutching a couple of jam-jars and a torn fishing-net. His goal had been achieved, and he had brought back a varied assortment of tadpoles, newts, Sticklebacks, water-beetles and other creatures. These were so valuable to him that all the angry words of an irate and intolerant father, and an extremely worried mother, could not dampen his enthusiasm. Always eager to acquire more knowledge.books were borrowed or bought, and greater success was met in keeping and breeding the specimens.

Fortunately, Mrs. Day has similar interests and she would probably shame many men in her excellent handling of the unusual specimens frequently added to their collection. Her encouragement has done much to help Mr. Day to achieve success in a highly-specialised field of photography.

The back of their house faces east and about 15 years ago it was decided to convert a lean-to structure into a fishhouse. It opens out of the dining-room by french doors, while facing it is another door leading down three red brick steps into an attractive sunken garden surrounding a pond. The fishhouse is 26 ft. long and 7 ft. wide thereby giving plenty of room for the numerous tanks and cages at one end, and for a photographic studio at the other. In fact the first impression of it now is a fishhouse cum laboratory cum photographic studio.

The wall facing outwards is constructed of glass, set in a framework of cedar sash bars and this is erected on a 9 in. thick brick wall, 18 in. high. Steel was used for the glass roof and the whole of the framework was treated with two coats of Kill-rust and one coat of aluminium paint. The inside wall, which is also the wall of the house, received two coats of white distemper.

Wooden racks, consisting of 2 in x 2 in. uprights with 2 in. x 1 in. slats screwed to them, run down the sides of the fishhouse to hold the tanks, and to form a bench. A local firm of engineers made the eighteen tanks which are glazed with plate-glass and have covers of glass or perforated zinc. Their ends have been painted black to cut out excess light. The largest is 30 x 28 x 18 in., and is occupied by a number of Tree-frogs which have lived there quite happily for the last two or three years. Four 12 x 24 in. tanks contain lizards, including Slow-worms, and snakes, five 30 x 15 in. ones have salamanders in various stages of development, whilst yet a further two have Yellow and Fire-bellied toads. Newts and Catfish are kept in three 20 x 10 in. tanks and Clawed Frogs swim in another 22 x 15 in. one; apart from these there are two tanks, 18 x 12 in., devoted to tropical fish.

In addition, there is a tropical moth breeding cage, 42 x 17 x 60 in., and about twenty cylindrical larva; breeding containers with which success has been achieved. Owing to its position this building is extremely cold in the winter and two kilowatt heaters are used to keep the temperature stable, while blinds are pulled across the roof during the heat of the summer except when photography is in progress—then all the available light is utilized.

Because Mr. Day is a photographer of aquatic and amphibious subjects, various adaptations have been made from a normal fish breeder’s house, and specially constructed glass tanks have been built to aid him in his work. A conglomeration of tree trunks, branches, rocks, sand and earth are arrayed at the far end to form backgrounds approximating to the habitats of amphibians and reptiles.

A square-bellow, half-plate camera, adapted for quarter plates, is mounted on a massive oak studio stand, and has been the means of producing some unique pictures. Sarah, a pet toad, was kept in the fishhouse for about four years, but unfortunately a hedgehog brought her life to a very rapid end, with the result that he was most unpopular for a very long time as Sarah had become an extremely willing and accomplished model. Another larger toad has now been installed but, according to Mrs. Day, Sarah’s ghost still walks!

The attractive pond in the centre of the sunken garden is 11 ft. long, 5 ft. wide and 3 ft. deep and is planted with several varieties of Water-lilies, rushes, Yellow Iris, Kingcups and the usual submerged aquatic plants. Its occupant in summer months, is Timothy, the alligator. During the winter he is kept in a heated tank in the fishhouse and lives on a diet of fish and horse-meat.

From this account it will not be difficult to realise that photography together with livestock keep Mr. Day fully occupied, and the small boy with a thirst for knowledge concerning aquatic life has become a highly successful photographer of these same creatures.

day house

I also found my only internet clue: his appearance at a meeting of the Southend, Leigh & District Aquarist Society in 1949. Using genealogical searches I was able to find a little more. He was Lionel Edward Hedley Day; he was born in 1900 in Essex, married in 1924 to Ivy M Hall in Romford, Essex, and died in 1968 at Southend-on-Sea, also in Essex. He served, as the note in the Aquarist stated, in the Royal Navy in the First World War. He received the British War Medal as an Ordinary Seaman; he must, given his age, have seen service in the war’s closing stages. He was the son of Albert Edward and Lydia Isabel Day; Albert is noted in the 1901 and 1911 Censuses as ‘living on his own means’ and ‘private income’; in other words, he did not have to work for a living.

Another Mr Day, H.A. Day also wrote for the Aquarist on water gardening. I do not know if he was related to Lionel.

In addition to the books on reptile, amphibian and fish keeping, he also provided the photographs for Pond Life by Richard L.E. Ford.

He appears to have been a professional photographer since the Associateship of the Institute of British Photographers was reserved for professionals. The note in the Aquarist reads as if he was a photographer with wider interests but I have found no mention of him elsewhere. I wonder if any of his original prints or negatives survive.

A E Hodge, Editor of the Aquarist, and his book ‘Peeps at the” Zoo” Aquarium’. The ‘Peeps at Nature’ Series

The latest issue of Archives of Natural History, the journal of the Society for the History of Natural History, has a great deal of information on the ‘Peeps at Nature’ 17-volume series published between 1911 and 1932 and its editor and principal author, the Reverend Charles A Hall (1872-1965)*. The whole series was aimed at stimulating the interest of young naturalists.

The author of the paper, PG Moore writes:

Albert Ernest Hodge’s volume Peeps at the “Zoo” Aquarium (1927), based on the aquarium at London Zoo, seems the most eccentric contribution to Hall’s series. Hodge, a Fellow of the Zoological Society of London, went on to write more on aquarist theme (for example, Hodge and Derham, 1931) and had previously written on collecting Lepidoptera (Hodge, 1919).

Also getting a mention is W. Harold Cotton (William Harold Cotton, 1906-1987) from King’s Heath Birmingham who wrote Aquaria and Garden Ponds in the ‘Peeps at Nature’ series. Cotton was a regular contributor to the Aquarist and advertised his services as an ‘icthyonotomist’ which I think meant that he would examine an aquarist’s dead fish to see what parasites they had carried and to identify the cause of death.

This cutting is from the the Aquarist’s Silver Jubillee issue of May 1949:



*Moore PG. 2015. Peeping at nature with the Reverend Charles A Hall FRMS (1872-1965). Archives of Natural History 42, 10-22.

Strange Cargo. A 1952 Film

In my post on Audrey Noël Hume of 21 October 2014, I described a film made in the early 1950s which showed her tortoises as they hatched. According to Ivor, her husband, it was shown alongside African Queen in British cinemas. Thanks to the June-July 1952 issue of Water Life, I now know that it was entitled Strange Cargo.

This was the report in Water Life:

It would be interesting to know the number of our readers who saw that unusual documentary film “Strange Cargo”, the commentary for which was written and given by Richard Dimbleby. How many, I wonder, recognised Mr. Chas. Schiller who “starred” with his two baby alligators in the well-appointed lounge of his London flat. It was Mr. Schiller’s fish, including the Harlequins and Black-line Tetras, which appeared on the screen.

Perhaps, like me, many of you thought it strange to have eight and ten-feet alligators as pets. The woman who owns them shuns publicity, and would not let her name or address be given. She seems quite at home manhandling the Saurians [sic] which wallow in tiled baths and, occasionally, take exercise about the house. Four-year-old Pen Densham, the producer’s son, does not consider it unusual to enjoy riding round on the back of one of them.

To my mind, the most interesting feature was that of the young tortoises hatching out in a warm linen cupboard. The cameraman had to spend over twelve patient hours to get the excellent pictures of the eggs breaking and the youngsters scrambling out into a brave new world, unusually bright in outlook since in order to get good results on the film arc lights were in play.

The finished reels which represent only the best sections of thousands of feet of film are of absorbing interest. The film is the work of Ray Densham a free-lance producer and part-time cameraman with the B.B.C. Television newsreels.

We know who Charles Schiller was and of Audrey Noël Hume. But was was the publicity-shunning keeper of the large alligators? Is there anyone left who can remember?

Water Life and Aquaria World 1950-53: Part 17. Some History and a Download of Extracts of Articles on Herpetology

Water Life CoverA few weeks ago I bought some copies of Water Life and Aquaria World, the post-war incarnation of Water Life under the publishers of Cage Birds, Poultry World and Farmer & Stockbreeder. There were two issues from 1950, one from 1951, four from 1952 and two from 1953;  the magazine was then published every two months. Only when I scanned the cover did I notice who had been the original owner. The newsagent had marked some ‘Hemms’ but another had the name J V Hems written across the top. Clearly, they had belonged to Jack Victor Hems, one of the major British writers on keeping fish as well co-author of a book on keeping reptiles and amphibians I have covered previously.


I cannot determine who the editor was at this stage. The name of Leslie W Ashdown who was clearly the editor when the magazine folded in 1958 looms large but so does that of Walter J Page; the latter was editor of Cage Birds later in the 1950s.

The articles on herpetology from the nine issues I have are extracted and available from the Downloads page. Most are by Alfred Leutscher who at this time also had his book Vivarium Life published. There is an interesting article on the use of larvae of a species of Alphitobius for feeding amphibians and reptiles, years I think before they became commercially available as ‘buffalo worms’ or ‘lesser mealworms’. Audrey Noël Hume had an article on hatching and rearing Spur-thighed Tortoises (Testudo graeca); the Noël Humes’ classic book on tortoises appeared about a year later. If I can get further issues from these years I will add extracts to the download.

Finally, I found a photograph of Alfred Leutscher in the January-February 1952 issue. I have also added it to my original post on Vivarium Life.

Alfred Leutscher

Alfred Leutscher