Friday, 27 March 2015

Aquarists and Fish-keeping in the 20th Century. Part 4: Eric Hardy

This article from the Golden Jubilee (October 1974) edition of The Aquarist and Pondkeeper by Eric Hardy (1912-2002) covers the activities of amateur aquarists as field naturalists and microscopists in the early to middle decades of the 20th Century. The Editor, Laurence E. Perkins, added the note on Eric Hardy which is also reproduced here. I have added further information to that note.

Eric Hardy when leading a
Field Study Group in
North Wales
Fifty Years On. Memories of Progress in the Water World by Eric Hardy, President of the Merseyside A.S.

The golden jubilee of The Aquarist is a milestone in publishing history. In 1924, the hobby was truly for the "Amateur" Aquarist. Those of us whose parents didn't hold shares in wartime aircraft industries had little spare cash. It was a time of cold-water and marine aquaria before the advent of electrically-heated tropicals. More tanks were stocked then to study the natural history of native species than for anything like modern fish-shows. There wasn't a foreign fish in Liverpool Museum's public aquarium whereas they dominate its present aquarium. I never knew of the old M.A.S. holding a single pre-war fish show.
     The microscope was still in its heyday as a toy. From Manchester and Birmingham more people went pond-dipping, not for Daphnia to feed their fish, but for rotifers and diatoms to set up on slides to amuse their winter evenings. Only 4 years younger than the Quekett, Liverpool Microscopical Society then had 150 members: nowadays its surviving few meet around one table. It was still two years before Merseyside's first Aquarium Society was formed by the late Fred Jefferies, an Aquarist referee on pond-plants. It was a year after I represented my school at a special lecture in the British Association's meeting in Liverpool. I well remember the fascinating discourse, on the common snail, illustrated with a microscope-slide of its radula, or ribbon-tongue, projected on the screen in the old Picton Hall.
     A striking change has been many more women sharing the hobby of fish-keeping. Societies were full of lonely old maids, particularly hopeful teachers, who seldom took office. What old fogies they were (and the men!). No field-meetings were permitted on Sundays. The toll of the 1914-18 war left an appreciable gap of young men between 20 and 40, unlike the aftermath of the last war. From his home in Astonville Street, Southfields, A. E. Hodge built up The Aquarist at 1/- a quarter to attract the more far-seeing naturalists rather than these worshippers of tradition out of touch with the future. It was quoted widely in scientific works on botany and entomology as well as freshwater fishes.
     There were a few lady pioneers. In 1918, Miss Annie Dixon began her watery life collecting protozoa from the green, peaty pools on Lindlow common, near Wilsmlow, now a built-up Manchester dormitory. In recent years, the M.A.S. has held field-trips to Anglesey and Birmingham water-plant nurseries whereas in 1931 the old M.A.S. went collecting no further than for pond-beetles and water-crickets by the Manchester Ship Canal at Warrington, stocking their tanks with minnows, roach and perch from now polluted Padeswood Lake at Buckley in North Wales, Liverpool's nearest haunt of palmated newts. Or collecting bullheads and nine-spined sticklebacks, and sweeping netfuls of dragonfly-larvae, pond-skaters and Planorbis shells from the now filled-in brackish pool behind Leasowe Embankment, by the Wirral sea. The latter pool was famous for water-spiders, which fed on the swarms of Gammarus.
     I wrote an article that year on Jefferies' current efforts to start his public aquarium at New Brighton. I still have lots of his notes and letters. Captain W. O. Hopewell's liner was then bringing "swops" from New York Aquarium, like a short-nosed bony garfish, rarely seen in British aquaria. There were no trade shipments arriving from Singapore like nowadays. In 1931-2, members put in 2,285 working hours, an average of 44 per week, reminiscent of the present society's band of workers for their annual fish-feat, always the best amateur exhibit in Liverpool Show. The old aquarium reared 150 young from a hatch of the apuana variety of alpine newt, the only stock then in the country.
     People who wished to delve in ditchwateristics before Jefferies started his aquarium society had to join a rather expensive and aloof Biological Society, meeting at the university. It has since withered away. It pioneered in marine biology to the neglect of freshwater life, a position the university reversed in recent years.
     By the mid-30s, however, things were very different. Though without the present jobs for the new boys, conservationists were active enough to get the 1937 export of Chinese white cloud mountain-minnows banned. Then the Malayan government limited the export of harlequin fish to bona fide dealers under quota. Breeding and showing tropical fish was extensive. Pre-blitz Brighton Aquarium attracted the trippers in at the standard public aquarium charge of 6d a time, while Liverpool Museum aquarium extended its exhibits to sub-tropical reptiles and an alligator-tank. Worksop transported Mr. Sutcliffe's aquarium from Grimsby to Memorial Avenue park, as a public venture. East London A.S. fish-show was one of the annual events, doubling its size to 34 classes opened by the Mayor of Barking. In his Richmond, Surrey, garden, my friend the late L. G. Payne had probably the first amateur open air vivarium outside Whipsnade's walled and moated rockery of snakes and lizards. He was in a bank.
     The biggest changes since 1924, apart from tropical imports, have been in our native water-life and our access to ponds and waters. These have been filled in by speculative urban building estates and drained by improved rural farming, to the loss of much aquatic plantlife (especially in Cambridgeshire). In the March 1937 edition of The Aquarist I mentioned finding natterjack toads from the Solway marshes to the West Lancashire dunes below Southport, Leasowe and Hilbre in Cheshire and to Prestatyn. The latter haunt has gone and vigorous efforts are now being made to save the remnants at the others. In March 1940, I wrote of water-beetles. By 1960 DDT sprays had reduced them from many old haunts. The Severn has been occupied by barbel and the chub exterminated from the Dee. Little ringed plovers have come to nest by many gravel-pits and inland pools, and creeping New Zealand willowherb has travelled alongside mountain streams.
     It is in the interests of fish-keeping and freshwater biology that The Aquarist should survive the next half-century. It is one of the few good links between amateur and professional aquarists. There is still much useful work done by life-long amateurs with a great background of field-experience or tank-work in a special area or subject. Professionals only too readily admit this when they find how much time-consuming work there is in field-work, and seek the amateur's time and experience to fill-in their grant-aided surveys and theses. If all the people working on natterjack toads, from biology to conservation, in south-west Lancashire alone would sit around a table and discuss their studies and problems amicably, there would be less suspicion and jealousy behind the scenes.
     Such a medium brings the fish-keeper to appreciate the ecologist's approach to the subject and the, perhaps a little snobbish and aloof, university student, or Ph.D., to tolerate the fish-show. After all, the late Dr. Francis Manning, from Cheshire, began, before he got his B.A. and Ph.D., as an enthusiastic pre-war member of Belle Vue Aquarium Society, where I first met him going to its shows and eagerly awaiting each new issue of The Aquarist. Fortunately, it has never descended to the wise-cracking almost illiterates of some North American pet-keeping magazines. Our only fear is the steeply-rising cost of printing and publishing specialist magazines, which can never hope to be a profitable venture. I would finally add that I am grateful that writing since pre-war in The Aquarist (and now defunct Water Life) brought me many new friends, but not, I hope, any enemies! I have brought home some of the interests and pleasures of my visits to the ponds and rivers, which I exchanged for the laboratory many years ago, and shared them with the readers of my notes. My typewriter has not always been such a tripewriter as proclaimed by critics of my stubborn stand for the right of every amateur, to study natural history in the countryside.

The Editor added: 

It is 54 years of fieldwork since Eric Hardy wrote the nature notes in his junior school magazine in Liverpool and over 40 since he began contributing to The Aquarist. The printed 1933-34 report of the council of the old pre-war Merseyside Aquarists' Association thanked him by name for his practical help. He has taken an active part in many natural history societies since pre-war and was among the handful of Lancashire naturalists who met in a room in Manchester University in February, 1962, and decided to call an inaugural meeting to form the Lancashire Naturalists' Trust, though he took no office in it. He has normally never taken more than a working position with societies, except when he accepted an honorary membership of Liverpool University Biological Society in 1940, and presidency of the post-war Merseyside Aquarist Society in 1959 and again in 1973-74. For two years he was honorary secretary of the Jerusalem Naturalists' Club and for over 21 years a Ministry-appointed member of Lancashire & Western Sea Fisheries Committee. Since 1935 he has been an annual tutor in natural history for the W.E.A. in Lancashire, Cheshire, etc.; he is also a part-time tutor for Liverpool University Institute of Extension Studies, and has been a past tutor for Oxford University department of extra mural studies. First broadcasting in 1936, he now gives a twice weekly "Countryside" programme on B.B.C. Radio Merseyside. Author of a number of books, his latest is "The Naturalist in Lakeland" (David & Charles, 1973). He formerly edited "Nature Lover" and other nature magazines, has written for a number of newspapers and magazines since pre-war, often in controversial vein, believing strongly in the right of all conservationists and serious fieldworkers to participate in natural history and is an opponent of class distinction and privilege in natural history. He is on the Lancashire executive of the C.P.R.E. A Royal Signals officer (Army Pigeon Service) in the last war, he organised a scheme for army naturalists serving in the Middle East to collect specimens for the British Museum and Jerusalem University, and to participate in field expeditions. His wide interest in life sciences ranges from freshwater and marine fishes, especially British, to aquatic plants (he writes the weekly garden feature in Manchester Evening News), birds, reptiles and amphibians. In 1949 he addressed the Federation of Northern Aquarium Societies' assembly at Manchester Belle Vue, on his studies of the fishes and aquatic life of the Jordan and Dead Sea waters. He formed the Merseyside Naturalists' Association in 1938 and has been its honorary secretary ever since. He has lectured to numerous schools and societies all over the country. He is a Life Governor of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund.

I have to confess that I was not a fan of Eric Hardy’s series in the Aquarist. He was very widely read and had an enormous knowledge of the natural world. But the articles mainly contained just snippets and jumped from topic to topic without taking breath; my overwhelming thought on reading them was either ‘And…?’ or ‘So What?’. Some of his views I disagreed with and my impression then, and not knowing what I do know of his extremely valuable activities to promote the study of the natural world, was that he was immensely knowledgable and gifted amateur naturalist but one who carried a very large chip on his shoulder. Unfair or not, that view seemed to be reinforced with every copy of the Aquarist that I read.

There was a similar series of articles published in Water Life in the 1950s by a writer using the pseudonym 'Aquaticus'. I am completely convinced that Hardy was the author of these articles.

There has been some activity since Eric Hardy’s death to celebrate his achievements as a field naturalist in the the Liverpool area. In the Footsteps of Eric Hardy, a book published in 2008 containing Hardy’s articles and edited by David Bryant is available from Amazon. The book, together with some photographs, is described on the website of the Merseyside Naturalists’ Association, an organisation founded by Hardy in 1938. You can hear one of his radio programmes on the Knutsford Ornithological Society’s website. He has a nature trail in Merseyside named after him.