Ivor Noël Hume

Ivor Noël Hume, author with his first wife Audrey (1927-1993) of Tortoises, Terrapins and Turtles published 1954 (see earlier posts), died on 4 February 2017. He was born on 30 September 1927. His obituary under the sub-title ‘Wilfully eccentric British archaeologist renowned for his work on excavating America’s early colonial history’ was in The Times on 17 March 2017. The latter called a tortoise a ‘turtle’. I don’t think he would have approved.

 

Updated Posts

A reminder that when I find more information I update existing posts rather than create a new one.

Yesterday for example I added photographs found in Water Life magazine. Today, to the post of 7 October 2015 (Early 1950s Dealers in Reptiles in U.K.) I have added advertisements from the Alan Robertson Organisation from 1956 which show that Alfred Leutscher wrote leaflets for this company and that it published a magazine. Have any copies survived?

More herpetology extracts from Water Life Magazine

Another recently acquired batch of Water Life magazines has yielded more articles on herpetology from that period; the can be found on the Download page.

Again, they are mainly by Alfred Leutscher but Professor Clifford Emmens (much better known as a fishkeeper) has an article on keeping Australian frogs. There is another article by Audrey Noël-Hume, this time on Carolina Box Tortoises.

Haig’s Aquatic Farm at Beam Brook, Newdigate, Surrey. Aquatic and Reptile Dealers in the 20th Century

Beam Brook Aquatic Farm at Newdigate in Surrey, U.K. was renowned during the early decades of the 20th Century as suppliers of reptiles and amphibians as well as of fish, aquatic plants and invertebrates. They are equally famous—or infamous depending on your views on the introduction of non-native animals—for the number of reptiles and amphibians which escaped and formed breeding colonies or hybridised with native forms, some of which apparently still survive.

A clear misinterpretation of the history of the company has occurred in recent literature, a later owner being reported as being the founder. I will return to this point later.

Water Life on 27 April 1937 contained the following account:

The photograph in Water Life

The photograph in Water Life

The Haig Fish Farm is situated in delightful surroundings about two miles from the village of Newdigate, which is about seven miles south of Dorking, Surrey. The farm consists of over 100 pounds, as well as large enclosures, covering about 18 acres, and the water is obtained from the Dean Oak Brook, a fast-flowing stream, which marks one boundary of the farm.
     The history of the farm is quite interesting. In 1903 Mr L. Haig attempted to set up a market garden on the site, but owing to the unsuitable clay soil and transport difficulties, the project was abandoned. The suggestion was made to utilize the place for growing and selling aquatic creatures and plants, in spite of the almost insignificant demand. He had already dug one pond, and discovered it held water without any more trouble than “puddling” the solid clay bottom. This, and two or three additional ponds, were the nucleus of what is today one of the largest fish farms in England. During the [1914-18] War the farm was more or less deserted, but since 1919 business has steadily improved, and now a large staff is employed all the year round, and now a large staff is employed all the year round, and a London branch has been opened…
     Some foreign species have become thoroughly settled down, and particularly the Edible Frog breeds in large numbers. The big enclosures for the reptiles and amphibians are especially interesting, and full of activity on a sunny day.
     The “local” names on the farm are the cause of some amusement. The British fish live in the “graves” which are ponds of proportions one can easily picture. The lizards and snakes inhabit the “mountains” which are the large mounds of earth resulting from the excavation of the ponds. These have been enclosed with “unscalable” fences of cement sheeting, which is buried to a considerable depth in the ground; but, even so, rats burrow under, making holes through which many lizards and snakes have escaped…
     Visitors are welcome…and a delightful afternoon can be spent wandering around the farm watching the lizards sunning themselves, the snakes gliding through the grass, the frogs practising diving from the edge of the pond, and the fish basking in the water, seeing the beautiful cultivated water plants, and many species of unusual wild flowers, and listening to the birds singing in the surrounding woods. In fact, the Haig fish farm is a veritable animal sanctuary.

The name of the company was L. Haig & Co Ltd and the farm was usually known as Beam Brook Aquatic Nurseries or Haig’s Aquatic Farm. So who was Mr Haig?

Thomas Livingstone Haig was born in 1866 in Harborne, Warwickshire. He was the son of Major-General Felix Thackeray Haig (1827-1901) of the Royal Engineers, author as well as very-well-travelled soldier; he wrote: Notes on the River Navigations of North America (1863); Report of a Journey to the Red Sea Ports, Somali-Land, and Southern and Eastern Arabia (1887); Tentative Grammar of the Beidawi Language Spoken by the Tribes of the North-Eastern Soudan (1895); Daybreak in North Africa: An Account of Work for Christ begun in Morocco, Algeria, Tunis and Tripoli (1890), and an autobiography, Memories of the Life of General F.T. Haig, published posthumously in 1902 with his wife as co-author. General Haig (as a Lieutenant-Colonel) was also the first holder of the world water speed record. In 1873, he took a new 87-foot steamboat designed for the canals in Bengal, Sir Arthur Cotton, out on to the River Thames. On two runs, with and against the tide, it made an average speed of 24.61 mph. The Times called her the “fastest steamer in the world”†

At the 1871 Census, Thomas Livingstone Haig was living with his mother (his father was away) in Cheltenham with his siblings (his older brothers had been born in India and Ireland) with a household establishment befitting the model of a modern Major-General. By 1901 he was married with sons, two of whom had been born in Canada, and working as a mechanical engineer. The 1911 Census shows his change in occupation and address: pisciculturist and Beam Brook, Newdigate. His first wife, Katherine Maria née Grey died in 1917 and in 1921 he married Edith Jessie Bailey.

Articles and advertisements in newspapers give some idea of the activities of L. Haig & Co in the early to mid-20th Century. He was advertising in the Manchester Courier in June 1905:

Interesting Aquaria.—2s. 6d. and 5s. Collections include Fish, Tortoise*, Newts, Beetles, Larvae, Snails, Mussel, Plants, &c.; Aquarium to order; ponds stocked — Haig, Newdigate, Surrey.

An Aeronautical Diversion

Flying was of great public interest and aspiration in the 1930s, and the Surrey Mirror and County Post of Friday 3 April 1931 reported:

The tremendous advance which daily takes place in air travel is well exemplified, even in sleepy country districts like Newdigate, by the advent of an aeroplane landing and taking off without any more noise or bother than an ordinary motor-car. This occurred last Saturday, when Mr. Kenneth G. Greenacre, a resident owner pilot of the Surrey Aero Club, flew over from Gatwick Aerodrome to buy some goldfish from Mr L. Haig, the well-known naturalist and pisciculturist, of Beam Brook, Cudworth, Newdigate, for stocking the Lily Pond at the Surrey Aero Club’s headquarters. Mr Greenacre, a former pupil at Gatwick, has recently purchased a Sports Avian machine from the Home Counties Air Services, Ltd., and is at present putting in a great deal of time on cross-country flying under Mr. R.B. Waters, the chief instructor at Gatwick. The landing by Mr. Greenacre at Newdigate reflects the greatest credit upon his instructor, who was actually in the passenger’s cockpit at the time. After inspecting the unique layout of Mr. Haig’s fishery, a number of golden orfe and goldfish were purchased and now are happily settled in their quarters, none the worse for their journey from Newdigate, back to Gatwick…

It is worth pointing out that the distance from Gatwick to Newdigate is about 5 miles!

Gatwick Aerodrome is now, of course, Gatwick Airport. At the time Ronald Waters, manager of Home Counties Air Services, owned Gatwick Aerodrome. The aircraft was Avro 616 Avian IVM with the registration G-ABIW. Kenneth Greenacre bought the plane in February; the Certificate of Airworthiness was issued on 3 March, so when it arrived at Newdigate in late March, it had only been flying for three weeks or so. Greenacre was a South African and he attempted to fly from Gatwick to Durban via Constantinople (Istanbul) and Cairo with Ronald Waters but the flight was abandoned. He sold the plane on in 1935.

After the Second World War

Mr Haig (why the L. rather than T.L. in the name of the company?) continued in business after the 1939-1945 war. In 1947, the Surrey Mirror reported his talk, ‘Inhabitants of wayside hedges’ , at a meeting of South Park Women’s Institute. The farm was advertising to buy stock in 1948 (import restrictions to protect Sterling were in place) also in the Surrey Mirror:

Goldfish, Orfe and other pond fish wtd. to purchase; all arrangements undertaken for netting ponds and collection of fish—Owners please send details to Haig’s Aquatic Farm, Newdigate.

Thomas Livingstone Haig died on 11 April 1950 at Worthing in Sussex. It is possible that he had retired to Worthing and had already sold the business. Whatever the timing, it is clear that at some stage in the late 1940s or early 1950s, the business passed to Thomas Brushfield U. Rothwell. In a sale of military medals, those of Captain T.B.U. Rothwell of the Rifle Brigade from the World War II were sold in 2010 for £90. The medals were sold in a box addressed to him at ‘Beam Brook, Newdigate, Nr. Dorking, Surrey’. I have not been able to find when World War II medals were finally distributed. My recollection is that it was done in the early 1950s. He was also awarded the Efficiency Medal for service in the Territorial Army (London Gazette 6 February 1947).

The foundation of Haig’s Aquatic Farm was attributed to Rothwell by E.G. Brede, R.S. Thorpe, J.W. Arntzen and T.E.S. Langton in their paper aimed at assessing the effect of hybridisation with the escaped Italian Crested Newt on the local Great Crested Newts, A morphometric study of a hybrid newt population (Triturus cristatus/T. carnifex): Beam Brook Nurseries, Surrey, U.K., published in Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 70, 685-695 in 2000. They wrote:

The Italian crested newt (Triturus carnifex, Laurenti) has only been documented as breeding at one site, the Beam Brook nurseries site in Surrey (Lever, 1980). The site has been associated with the importation/breeding of alien species since being established in 1903 by T. B. Rothwell.

The authors did not provide a reference for this statement which has been repeated on websites. Richard Fitter discussed the introduced Wall Lizards at the site and its then owner in the 1950s, Mr Rothwell in his book‡ on introduced animals in Britain. Mr Rothwell, the son of a stockbroker, would have been very able indeed to have founded Haig’s Aquatic Farm in 1903 since he was not born until 3 December 1907.

Haig’s continued to advertise during the 1950s; this one is from the Aquarist of March 1952:

Haig Ad 1954

I do not know what proportion of Haig’s trade was wholesale; in a list of dealers who had paid to be listed in Water Life in 1938, Haig’s appears only as a retailer of reptiles and amphibians and of aquatic life and goods. My impression is that Haig’s concentrated to an increasingly great extent on the biological supplies trade. They company appears in the Materials and Methods sections of many scientific papers as the supplier of frogs, newts, axolotls, snails, water beetles, etc. Here is a letter from J.B.S. Haldane’s department at University College, London, ordering newts for Helen Spurway in 1953:

Haig Spurway

Eventually, in the 1970s I read, the company merged with T. Gerrard, a major supplier of dissected preparations, skeletons and microscope slides to schools, to form Gerrard & Haig Ltd; the address changed but there is some indication that the Beam Brook site was still used. Fisons Scientific then took over Gerrard & Haig until it too was sold off in various deals.

The Beam Brook site continues to fascinate. It is now partly occupied by a plant hire company but on Google Earth the ponds can still be seen. In 2006 it was reported that Alpine Newts, Italian Crested Newts, Pool Frogs, Edible Frogs and snakes (possible hybrids between Natrix species) were still present together with Red-eared Terrapins in the adjacent brook. Fire Salamanders, European Tree Frogs, Marbled Newts, Wall Lizards and European Terrapins appeared to have died out. Victorian varieties of water lily were still flowering in the ponds.

—————

*The singular tortoise was often used in the plural sense as in ‘There are twenty tortoise’. That and the pronunciation ‘tortoyze’ used to drive one of my primary teachers to distraction. After his squirms of discomfiture arising this assault on the English language, he would say : ‘Just remember this: he taught us to say tortoise’.

†Calley, Roy. 2014. The World Water Speed Record: The Fast and the Forgotten. Amberley.

‡Fitter, R.S.R. 1959. The Ark in Our Midst. London: Collins.

1960s-70s Dealers in Reptiles in U.K.

The 1960s saw a marked increase in the number of reptile dealers in Britain, but that was nothing like the explosion in the later decades of the 20th century as interest in keeping and breeding increased enormously while moving down market at the same time.

In the 1960s, new dealers arose. Some were trying to turn a deep interest into a full-time occupation. Others, like some established dealers in birds, simply expanded as the saw an emerging markets. Many survived for a very short time; some for longer.

It is difficult to assess the extent of the trade at that time because local pet shops, a few of which might buy in a few reptiles from a wholesaler from time to time, tended not to advertise nationally. The weekly Cage Birds would see an expansion in advertisements for reptiles while the monthly Aquarist tended to have generic ones, just indicating that a dealer was around. There was no real point in advertising stock in the Aquarist; the lead time to publication was too long and a list was completely out of date by the time an issue appeared in the shops.

There is though no doubt that the importation of reptiles and amphibians increased massively in the 1960s. Small birds for the foreign bird fancier were already arriving in huge numbers and gradually the numbers of reptiles also increased. However, interest was still fairly limited and dealers found it very easy to overload the market. That restriction by limited demand did not apply to reptiles that could be sold as cute pets: there was mass importation of terrapins from the U.S.A.; baby Spectacled Caymans from South America, via the U.S.A. and the trade in tortoises continued unabated. Tyseley Pet Stores (see below) hit the headlines in 1967 following the arrival of 15,000 tortoises at London docks from Morocco.

Amongst the bird and mammal and reptile dealers Cage Birds would contain advertisements from the likes of Tyseley Pet Stores in Birmingham (selling everything from elephants downwards in size), Ravensden in Bedforshire, Fitzgibbon of Romford, Essex and David Taylor of Clay Cross, Derbyshire. Bleak Hall Bird Farm moved to Luton in 1964 and began to stock reptiles as well as birds. Palmers of Camden Town rarely advertised but the business was in full flow at the time. Wilsons of Glasgow, once a huge ‘pet’ business advertised occasionally.

September 1964

September 1964

Image0014

I once visited David Taylor’s Newmarket Aviaries at Clay Cross (he had no reptiles then). He imported huge numbers of common and not so common birds and mammals. I walked along a row of aviaries, each about the size of a room and each containing a large dead bush. As I approached, the bush exploded with life as hundreds of Indian Silverbills took both fright and flight. Another ‘aviary’ was bursting to the seams with one of the species of Palm Squirrel from India. As you will see from his advertisements, he even offered ‘easy’ payment terms to spread the cost of buying from him. I see that he died in 2011, having retired from his business in 2008.

Image0008 Image0010

The following are some of the advertisers in the Aquarist in the 1960s, in addition to the very occasional appearance of South Western Aquarists (George Boyce); he did not need to advertise.

David Barker of Chatteris, Cambridgeshire
O’Neill Blackburn with stock from ’S Africa, Europe, Far East etc’

September 1964:
Conrad A Dowding, Pet Shop, Lewes, Sussex

June 1967
Brixham Biological Supplies

Image0004

February 1968
J&D Naturalists, Liverpool

J&D Aqu Sept 64

May 1968
David G Brownlees, Newcastle upon Tyne ‘Specialist in the supply of specimens from Ceylon, Mexico and the American South West’

September 1969
Zoological Supplies, Bradford
Anglian Aquatics, Barton, Cambridge

Image0006

The trend continued in the early 1970s

January 1972
B&B Reptile Supplies

February 72
Robert Baltrock at Saffron Walden

March 1972
Southern Zoological Centre, Ilfracombe

November 1972
Robert Baltrock at Herpetological Centre, Pontypool

January 1974
King Cobra Reptiles, Manchester

John Greatwood (JG Reptiles) at Streatham was operating from the early 1970s

June 1975
Derek G Porter Herpetologist West Derby Liverpool
Pet Farm, Attlebridge, Norwich

1976
Xenopus Ltd

Bio-Pet – Leeds and then Sunbury, Middx

1950s Dealers in Reptiles and Amphibians 1. Robert Jackson

Dealers in reptiles and amphibians are an important part of the history of herpetology in Britain. Some animal dealers were known for their less than honest dealings, selling half-dead animals from even more dishonest exporters to unsuspecting amateur purchasers by mail order. Others though added to knowledge of how to keep reptiles; after all it was in the dealer’s interest to know how to treat animals on arrival and care for them and even try to breed them until they were sold to amateurs, the many zoological collections and aquaria that were springing up in the post-war years and laboratories.

In the mid-1950s there were only a few dealers. Some had come and gone in the early 1950s; others had not appeared on the scene. Clin Keeling in his Unusual Pets of 1957 listed just three. One of these, Robert Jackson, I will consider in this post.

Robert Jackson is well known as the founder in 1963 of The Welsh Mountain Zoo in Colwyn Bay which is still run by members of his family. He died in 1969 hit by a falling tree while fishing. He belongs to that group of amateurs who turned their abiding interest in animals into a job by whatever means possible whether it was dealing, collecting or founding zoos. Some were successful and others were not but it is the group of individuals that include George Mottershead, Gerald Durrell, Ken Smith, Len Simmons and Clinton Keeling.

Until 1963 he was a well-known dealer, mainly in reptiles and amphibians but in other animals as well. A few years ago I found an article on a local history website from Altrincham in Cheshire that now seems to be defunct . This is what it had to say (the locations are in Cheshire):

Robert Jackson was born in Knutsford in 1915. Following a childhood as an enthusiast for anything to do with animals and early training in water garden management, he set up his first business breeding and selling tropical fish in Ashley. As the business expanded he moved first in 1946 to Park Avenue, Timperley and then in 1952 to Holly Bank on the corner of Grove Lane and Delahays Road, Hale. Holly Bank had been used to house Belgian refugees during the war and had been two cottages. By this time the business, Robert Jackson (Naturalists) Ltd, had developed to include not just the large scale breeding of tropical fish but also the importation of a wide variety of animals for the increasing number of zoos throughout the British Isles. The outbuildings and grounds of Holly Bank were adapted for their new purpose. Outdoor pools for coldwater fish and greenhouses for the breeding of tropical fish were built. Locals soon became accustomed to the chirping of frogs or even the occasional lizard that had escaped to their garden. A second business, Zoological Exhibitions, also had its base at Holly Bank. Whilst initially this concentrated on running small seasonal aquaria in various parts of Britain it did form the foundation for the fulfilment of Robert Jackson’s lifelong ambition, to own and run a zoo. In 1962 this dream came to fruition when in November of that year he moved with his wife and three sons to Colwyn Bay, North Wales…

Alongside his dealing business, his other company Zoological Exhibitions Ltd, of which George Cansdale was a director, ran small seaside aquaria (which often had a few terrestrial inhabitants) around the coast of England and Wales, for example, Southsea, Margate, Rhyl and Swanage. The two were also involved in the establishment of Marineland in Morecambe in 1964 billed as ‘Europe’s First Oceanarium’. It had a few dolphins, sealions as well as an indoor aquarium. At that time the local authorities and traders of seaside resorts were desperate to attract visitors to their towns; dolphins were seen as major assets to attract visitors. This one apparently soon got into financial difficulties, and the local council took it over and ran it until it was passed on to commercial operators. It closed in 1990.

This post, though, is really about Robert Jackson the importer of reptiles and amphibians in the 1950s and 60s. Robert Jackson (Naturalists) Ltd was incorporated in 1948. This is a letter to J.B.S. Haldane’s department at University College London explaining why an order for mealworms cannot be fulfilled, showing the letterhead:

Haldane letterHe wrote an article for Water Life in April 1950 on Australian lizards (he had just imported some)(the full version can be found on the Download page):

Screen Shot 2015-09-03 at 10.38.58

These are some of his advertisements from the Aquarist and Water Life magazines.

Water Life April-May 1950

Water Life April-May 1950

Water Life August 1950

Water Life August 1950

Aquarist June 1952

Aquarist June 1952

Aquarist February 1953

Aquarist February 1953

5 Aquarist undated

Aquarist April 1953

Aquarist April 1953

Fishkeeping and Water Life June 1958

Fishkeeping and Water Life June 1958

These are from Cage Birds, the weekly paper and the main market for all forms of wild animals in the 1950s and 60s.

Cage Birds 20 November 1952

Cage Birds 20 November 1952

Cage Birds 26 March 1953

Cage Birds 26 March 1953

Cage Birds 7 May 1953

Cage Birds 7 May 1953

Cage Birds 1 October 1953

Cage Birds 1 October 1953

Finally, this film from British Pathé in 1965 shows Robert Jackson uncrating newly-arrived Mississippi Alligators at the Welsh Mountain Zoo.

And really finally, my Aesculapian Snake (Zamenis longissimus, previously Elaphe longissima) soon after it arrived from Robert Jackson, circa 1960. It thrived and lived for many years and, I hope, convinced many a schoolchild and adult that snakes are not nasty slimy things (although one school secretary fled in horror).

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Once upon a time there were no crickets or even mealworms to feed reptiles and amphibians

In Britain in the 1950s and 60s, the only commercially available live foods for insectivorous reptiles, amphibians and birds were mealworms and gentles (maggots of flies). The latter were only available in the fishing season and were not favoured by many reptile keepers. The word was about that they would chew their way into the gut wall after being swallowed. While this was probably not true for animals in good condition, the worry was always in the back of the mind. They were often the main source of food (but only in season) as hatched flies for chamaeleons and tree-frogs. Mealworms as well as being expensive were all I recall imported from the Netherlands and supplies and did not in arrive months. Home cultures were soon exhausted.

So what was used as livefood? The answer was earthworms. They could be dug for most of the year (hard frost as in the early months of 1963 was a problem) and in those days back gardens were big, not the pocket handkerchief-sized ones attached to new houses now). All my European lizards in the late 1950s and early 1960s were fed mainly on earthworms. They were kept in an outdoor reptiliary all summer and indoors in the winter.

Earthworms compare very favourably with mealworms and other insect livefoods; the protein content is similar, fat tends to be lower. I suspect that depending on the type of soil, earthworms were much better than insect foods because of the calcium in the soil that was traversing their gut when they were eaten. It is likely that Vitamin D would have been in short supply but being kept outdoors in the sun during the summer probably took care of that.