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.

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