The business of L. Cura and Sons loomed large in the history of keeping reptiles and amphibians in Britain, particularly in the years before the 1939-45 War. The trade in ornamental fish was very closely linked to the much smaller trade in reptiles and amphibians, and Curas was, I think, better known as a wholesaler than retailer.
I discovered, to my amazement, that the company is still in existence at its out of London location, Water End, near Hemel Hempstead in Hertfordshire. It is listed now as a fish hatchery.
The business was started by Luigi Cura who came to London with his parents from Italy. His father was listed in the 1861 Census as an ‘Image Maker’ i.e. making plaster figures. Luigi, who was born ca 1851, is shown, at the age of 10, as an ‘Image Seller’, presumably working on a market or going from door to door. In 1881, Luigi is a ‘General Dealer’; in 1991 an ‘Ice Cream Vendor’ but in the 1901 Census is a ‘Gold and Silver Fish Importer’. In the 1911 Census he is listed as ‘Naturalist’, a term often used then to describe dealers in animals.
During the 1914-18 War, The company was advertising to buy stock. This is from the Kent & Sussex Courier of 10 August 1917: Goldfish, Carp, Tench wanted; alive; good prices; ponds and ornamental waters netted by experienced workmen. Particulars to L. Cura and Sons, Bath Court, Warner Street, London, E.C.1.
The Falkirk Herald of 28 April 1923 contained this interesting and presumably syndicated snippet:
TRADING IN GOLDFISH.—It is said that the goldfish trade in this country began by a lucky chance. The firm which claims to have introduced the business is that of L.Cura and Sons and the principal has a romantic story of the origin and growth of goldfish importing. “sixty years ago”, Mr Cura said, “a relative in Paris sent a can of little fish to my uncle, who had no idea what to do with them. But my father, as an experiment, took the can round to various dealers, and soon disposed of the goldfish. He realised the possibilities of the situation, and set up business as an importer. He began in quite a small way, with his offices and shop in a basement. That is how goldfish first came to this country in a commercial way. Today we import 500,000 every year from Italy, and the trend is still growing.”
The Era (a weekly paper) (30 March 1927) contained this advertisement: Snakes, 1ft. to 15ft., Goldfish, Rare Fish, Tropical Fish, Catalogue of Aquaria and Vivaria 3d. Cura’s Bath Court, London E.C.1.
Luigi died on 29 April 1927 leaving £140; his address was 28 and 29 Great Bath Street, Clerkenwell and the executors of his will were his sons, Lazzero and Felice both described as naturalists.
Lazzero and Felice were two of nine children (seven of whom were shown as being alive at the 1911 Census). Lazzero was born in 1884 and Felice in 1892. Both are shown in the 1911 Census as ‘Assisting in Business’ of their father; the family was living at 6 Vine Street E.C. Felice died on 6 February 1939.
In addition to trading premises in London (Charles Booth in his surveys of poverty in the late 19th Century noted that the Great Bath Street area housed many Italian families), the family firm acquired the premises at Water End, I read, in 1928 on one website or in 1919 in Water Life (see below).
In the 1930s, the London shop was at Baynes Court, Rosebery Avenue in Clerkenwell (see below). L. Cura and Sons was listed as wholesalers and retailers for pretty well everything to do with aquaria together with reptiles and amphibians.
The weekly magazine Water Life reported on a visit to Water End in 1937:
Seventy-eight years ago the founder of the firm started by hawking common Goldfish round the streets; now there is practically nothing in the fish, reptile, and amphibian line which the firm does not touch; in fact, they are famous for their reptiles all over the world.
In 1919 business increased to such an extent that it became necessary to acquire larger premises, and accordingly the farm at Hemel Hempstead was established…The grounds cover 70 acres of beautiful country, with a mill stream at one side, and they include many ponds of various sizes…
The greatest attraction, however, is the heated fish house. Along the centre of this are a number of large enclosures containing various strange reptiles, and strangers unused to the place are frequently much alarmed by the queer hissings and bangings which come from these quarters. They are usually peopled by lively young Alligators, various species of Dragons, and sometimes a few large snakes. But Mr. Cura assures us that they are perfectly all right, and certainly he does not seem afraid to handle them. At the moment he has some very beautiful large Painted Terrapins; these are truly marvellous creatures with bright carmine markings on shell and neck.
…On the other side of the pathway which runs alongside the aquariums is a series of large cages containing all sorts of lizards and frogs, and on a sunny day literally hundreds of lizards are to be seen crowding together in the hottest place thoroughly enjoying the warmth.
It was at this time that the Cura premises and Lazzero featured on British Pathé News under the title, Dragons in England! You can see it here.
The 17 October issue of Water Life contained the following:
The premises at Baynes-court, E.C.1, which have been the London office of Messrs. L. Cura & Sons since 1859, have been purchased by the London County Council. Mr. Cura tells us that he is carrying on at his country address…Deliveries are being made two or three times a week to London, so that customers will suffer no inconvenience by this new arrangement. This firm, which is one of the oldest established in the trade, carries large stocks of tropical and coldwater fish, reptiles and amphibians at the Water End premises, which have recently been greatly enlarged and improved.
Was the withdrawal from London connected to the death of Lazzero’s brother and partner, Felice earlier in 1939?
The final piece of information I have is from the Aquarist of March 1954: