William Alford Lloyd part 1.
Life before Aquaruims

     image of william alford lloyd        
William Alford Lloyd. 1824-1880

Childhood Memories - Work and Marriage - Regent's Park - First Aquariums - Microscopic delights - Letter in Zoologist.


For all of the records and papers in museums and archives, few relate to the everyday lives of ordinary working people of the early 19th century; that is apart from the church registers where their very existence might simply be recorded by their birth, marriage or death. Thankfully some, as Dickens characters, achieve a station far above the expectation of their contemporary's and in doing so are able to give us a tantalising glimpse of the plight of their everyday life. Such a person was William Alford Lloyd the firstborn child of William and Martha Lloyd, who married on Christmas day in the year of 1822, at St Leonard's church, Shoreditch, London. All that is know of the couple is he was from North Wales and she from Tisbury, Wiltshire, both being born around 1796.

On the 8th of August 1824, living at 6 Bush Lane, Cannon Street, their son William Alford Lloyd was born. The baptism register of St Antholine's church, in Budge Row reveals William Lloyd was then a warehouseman, and the family had moved to Castle Court, Budge Row in the borough of Southwalk, within the City of London & Westminster; where their second child, Mary Field Lloyd was born on the 21st May 1827. However, the register also reveals the children were baptised together, William Alford then being nearly 3years of age, whilst his sister was just a few weeks old.

Being a weak and sickly child, at the age of five, probably around the time of the birth of his brother Andrew Horace on the 19th October 1829, William Alford was dispatched from London to live in North Wales. Here he stayed in a farmhouse built close to the top of the hill overlooking the valley of the river Alwen, then occupied by Mary Lloyd, a widow aged 59, her son John aged 36, and his wife Mary, whom I assume were his close relatives. As then, the house is accessed by a narrow lane, which zigzags down the hillside, past another farm, to adjoin the road to the village of Betws Gwerfil Goch, between the Chapel and the bridge over the river. Although the experience of being removed from his home was to have a lasting effect upon him, it was by no means an un-common occurrence, but a practice often carried out until the turn of the century; children removed from the dirt and grime of the city where disease was rife, to stay with relations who lived in healthier surroundings who could perhaps better afford to bring them up, or at worst needed some cheap menial help.

With only a child's smattering of English when he arrived, William Alford Lloyd would have soon fallen into the ways of Welsh village life, learning the language, making friends, and probably playing and fishing on banks of the River Alwen, where he would gain a lasting admiration of the Pike. About this period of his life he related three instances that forever remained in his memory.

Childhood Memories.   top

"When a very small child I was, for the improvement of my health (and to get rid of me), sent by my parents from London to North Wales, where I lived at a farmhouse named Llwynlleia, in Merionethshire, close to three villages called Bettwsygwerfilgoch, Cerrigydruidion, and Llanfihangel. I believe that the quickness with which I learnt these and all other outlandish Welsh words, and strung them together into sentences, and pronounced them volubly - though to strangers they must have sounded like what musicians call "passages of enormous difficulty."

"In the year 1834 there was brought to Llwynlleia a large dead crab. Such an animal, at such a place, and at such a date, was a rare thing to see, and I remember taking special notice of it. I was particularly curious in observing the complicated apparatus on its under side, or, as I should now term them, the "pedipalps," and other appendages of the "buccal orifice" of the creature. The crab was beginning to get "high," and as the weather was hot, it was decided not to cook and eat it, so I smuggled it to school to get the schoolmaster, Humphrey, the learned man of the place, to tell me all about it. He was a little thin old man, with a yellow shrunken face, yellow teeth, and yellow finger-nails, was dressed in a black velvet coat, waistcoat, and knee breeches, with black stockings and huge shoes. He knew no English; and at intervals throughout the day smoked very coarse tobacco from a short black pipe in the schoolroom, which was the dissenting chapel of the place. There were no writing desks or tables of any kind, but the scholars knelt on the rubble floor, and used as desks the deal forms on which the congregation sat on Sundays. Humphrey's scholastic fees were all paid in kind: some of the lads brought corn, or oatmeal, or flour, or wool, or bacon; and I remember trying once to carry on my head my payment, a big square lump of coal; but it was too heavy, and another boy kindly let me carry his payment of a lump of butter, and he, being stronger, conveyed my coal. Cheese was a luxury known only to the rich: money was seldom seen in the form of coin, and farthings never. I did not take my crab to school as a matter of payment, nor yet for play or idle curiosity, but really and truly to learn something about it from the only person whom I thought could give me help, and his reply was, "Ah William, Bach, only learned men in London can give information on such things!" and he smoked his pipe vigorously, and gave me permission to put the crab away during school-time in the chapel pulpit, to be out of reach of the other boys. After school, Humphrey and I had it down again, and again examined it, he with much smoking, the other boys, in the usual village-school fashion having rushed out at the moment of dismissal."

"How powerful are odours in bringing back memories! Thus, whenever I scent the particular character of tobacco smoke which issues from a stale pipe, this first and ineffaceable effort to gain natural history knowledge is brought before me - a big, high-smelling, limp-legged crab, a wise-looking spectacled old man in shabby black velvet, and a troop of ragged, barefooted, and uncombed urchins, standing wondering around or scampering away."

Work and Marriage.   top

Returning to the care of his parents in London at the age of 11 years in 1835, with only his father able to speak to him in what was now his native tongue, Lloyd struggled to learn the English language and soon developed a stutter; but visits to the Regent's Park Zoological Gardens with parents sustained his interest in animals and natural history. From these visits he determined to become an avid reader, particularly those books that had been denied to him in the Welsh language. Leaving school at the age of 14 he obtained the post of errand boy at Messrs' Ponlifex & Wood; engineers at Shoe Lane; then he was apprenticed to Messrs' Remnant and Edmonds, the bookbinders, in Lorell's Court. During this period he also made the acquaintance of Charles Roach-Smith, regularly visiting him at his Chemists shop in Liverpool Street. Roach-Smith was a founding member of the British Archaeological Society, who kept a display of roman coins and archaeological artefacts in two rooms behind the shop where Lloyd met a number of other prominent visitors, with whom he would later correspond; joining the Association in 1847.

On Christmas day of 1848, aged 24 years, he married Amelia Alford, in the parish church of East Knoyle, Wiltshire. Although marrying on the same day as his father, to a girl with the same surname as his mother, Lloyd's bride Amelia was born in Portsmouth and only after her birth did her family move to Wiltshire. There the family settled in East Knoyle, a small village a few miles to the east of his mother's village of Tidsbury; Alford being a common name in that part of Wiltshire which borders on North Dorset. Some years later however, his younger brother Andrew Horace would marry the younger sister of William Alfords wife.

After his marriage visits to the Zoological Gardens became a regular event, seeing the new Reptile house in 1849 and again in 1850 to behold the then great wonder, the Hippopotamus. After the birth of his daughter Martha Amelia in the May of 1851, domestic life was by then overtaking his other interests, but taking a job at W. Browns second-hand bookshop allowed him the opportunity of indulging his reading habit, and to earn enough money to rent the upstairs rooms of 56 St John's Square, Clerkenwell.

Regent's Park.   top

"On the morning of Wednesday the 15th of September, 1852, London learnt that the Duke of Wellington had died the previous day. The instant I heard of it I told myself that I should have a whole day's holiday when he was buried. The remarkable fewness of my holidays is shown by that fact, and indeed my hours of work were from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m."

"The well-remembered day of the funeral at last came, Thursday, November 18th, 1852, and my entire holiday came with it, and in the morning it was discussed whether it should be spent in standing in the London streets to see the funeral procession, or to go to the Zoological Gardens to "see the wild beasts" if they would be open, and an appeal to the Times showed that they would be."
"The Gardens and not the crowded streets were decided upon, and that decision eventually turned the current of all my remaining life. There was nothing but walking there from St. John's Square (No. 56, second floor) and back, as not only was the Gardens' admission money all that I could spare, but no vehicles were on that day allowed in the streets."

"On arriving there, I found near the side entrance a building I had never seen before, and which had risen since my last visit - a conservatory-looking glass erection of not large dimensions, standing on a low wall. The door was fastened, and I could see no one inside, and on my asking a passing attendant what the place was for, he said it was "a Fish House, though some people called it an aquarium," and that it was destined to contain fish and other such things, even sea-fishes and lobsters, and that it was intended to be opened in the following spring. He added his disbelief in the success of it, and an expression of his sense of the impropriety of its introduction in a zoological garden."

"He regarded it evidently as an innovation on the customary inhabitants of such a place, which he defined as "beasts, birds, and reptiles." I was impressed by the novelty of the idea, however, and went away (after again trying to get in) to see Mr. Gould's collection of stuffed humming-birds, shown in the other (northern) side of the Garden, in what is now the Parrot House. They were exhibited in multi-angular glass cases (octagonal or hexangular), and I was told that each side of each case represented a genus of the birds, and I was informed that a genus was a collective name for a group of species, or for one species, and that was a new bit of information gained in an interesting manner, and never forgotten."

"So after looking longingly at the Sixpenny Garden Guide Books on sale in the same room, and wishing I could afford to buy one, I went back to the Fish House, and passed round to its rear, and there to my great astonishment, I saw through the glass side of the building a glass tank containing perfectly clear water, with some aquatic plants growing in it (I have since learnt to call the plant Vallisneria), and, wonder of wonders, a living pike!"

"I wish I could write what I then felt; I wish I could now feel as I then felt, but such freshness of wonder comes to one not more than perhaps half a dozen times in a life. I could not get away from the place (it was at the extreme north-east corner of the building, and the tank has been years ago converted into a marine one), but I went to it again, and remained there till it began to grow dusk, and it was time to get home."

"In returning, I thought of all the odds and ends I had read of fish against my will, of the "Vesica piscis" of Moule, of Lucy, and of Crooked Lane, and on reaching St. John's Square I made a compound meal of dinner, tea, and supper in one, consisting of eggs and bacon and potatoes and tea. But it was not eggs and bacon and potatoes and tea - it was Pike and Vallisneria and water! I HAD SEEN AN AQUARIUM, AND THAT WAS ENOUGH. I never felt unkindly towards the old archæological pursuits, but here was something fresh, and green, and living, without any Dr. Dryasdust character about it; and I had seen amidst living vegetation a living pike, with his gorgeous livery of mottled green and gold."

First Aquariums.   top

The new fish house opened on Saturday, May 28th, 1853, but much to his frustration, working twelve hours a day, six days a week at Brown's bookshop, he was unable to visit the Zoological Gardens to see the new attraction. In desperation, on June 6th1854, without introduction, he wrote to the eminent Professor Richard Owen requesting a complimentary Sunday ticket, explaining that this was the only day he had off work and that on his meagre salary he could not afford to pay the extra Sunday premium. Much to his delight the ticket arrived and he was at last able to satisfy his burning curiosity and visit the new exhibition; later discovering, to his surprise, Professor Owen had also informed the gardens Secretary, Mr D. W. Mitchell of his intention and interest. Such was his enthusiasm after viewing the aquarium exhibition, and with little knowledge of the principles involved other than what he had gleaned from Mitchell; upon returning home he determined to set up his own aquariums. Disregarding the cost, in the August of that year, Lloyd purchased a new fish globe to begin his own freshwater aquarium experiments.

"The fish-globe of about three gallons capacity was set up at 56, St. John's Square, second floor, second window from Red Lion Street, in August 1853, as nearly as I can remember. I put some washed pebbles or shingle and sand in the bottom, and planted in that some Valisneria spiralis the inevitable of course it must have been that or nothing in those days. I got the recommendation to use it from Dr. Lankester's article "Aquavivarium" in the "English Cyclopaedia" published June, 1853, and begged a couple of the plants themselves from a microscopist."

"I purposely chose the globe of a tall form and narrow towards the mouth, because St. John's Square was a terribly smoky hole, and none of Warington's "thin muslin" would prevent the London blacks from getting through it, and into the water, so I resolved to cover the mouth with a disc of glass (kept a little space from the globe to admit air) and of course the smaller the mouth the less expensive the glass disc and the smaller the chances of blacks entering."

"Then I did not know, that though Warington used a vessel of about the same proportions as mine, he only half filled it - perhaps by chance -whereas I, to gain all the water space I could, almost quite filled mine, as shown."
"I left the water to settle clear for a few days, and then got my live stock - six small minnows, price three-pence for the lot - at a fishing-tackle shop in St. John Street Road, at the corner by Sadler's Wells Theatre. "

"All being perfectly translucent, I put in my half dozen fish, and for a few hours they swam about happily enough. Gradually, however, they rose to the surface, and there remained with their noses at the top of the water, gulping in air. I could not understand it. I took out some of the water and put in more, and yet the fishes died, I then let all be for a few days, and got more minnows, and they behaved like the first. I thought the fault lay with the fish, so I took them, and, to save their lives, dropped them into the New River, opposite the theatre."

"I bought another lot of minnows, and they did the same as the first, but I did not part with these, but in a fit of mad extravagance, I purchased another globe. I got the money, I remember, from some I earned in an extra way, arising out of my explaining to some one a proverb about a lark's-foot having no heel, and thought that what was gained by natural history might be spent in it. I had no definite object in thus getting a second globe, I simply got it, and I arranged the bottom with some shingle and sand, and introduced no Valisneria, because I had none, and could get none. I placed it on the window-sill beside my first globe, and, with a cup, dipped from globe number one half the water into number two and to my great wonder the fishes in number one altered their demeanour, and, instead of gasping at the surface, briskly swam about below it."

"Thinking, however, that as I had diminished the quantity of water in number one by one half I should also diminish the number of fishes, I put half of them into each globe. They continued all right, and in such health as I had never before seen them, in number one, and the others in number two, were at first in good condition, but gradually came to the surface and gulped air, and so continued for some days. The season was late in the spring, growing into summer and warmth, and, by accident such sunlight as came into the window fell across globe two. After a while the fishes ceased to swallow air at the water's surface, and swam about freely in its midst. Here, then, I had arrived at something without knowing why. First, I had conformed to the required conditions of so much water, so much vegetation, and so much of animal life, and I had had no success. Secondly, I reduced the quantity of water, without diminishing the number of fish, and yet the fishes at once became more healthy, which seemed paradoxical. Thirdly, I dispensed with the vegetation (as I thought), and the vessel and water in which it was seemingly not present, became, after a short period, fully as capable of maintaining animal life without change of water, as the vessel in which there was quite a forest."

Microscopic delights.   top

"Naturally I was greatly puzzled about it, and no one I knew could give me any explanation of what seemed so contradictory. About this time I had a small compound microscope given me by the late Doctor C. D. Badham, author of a series of papers in Fraser's Magazine, entitled "Prose Halieutics." When these essays were afterwards collected into a volume, the Doctor (who was by the way not a D.D. but an MD.) recommended me to the publisher to compile an index to the volume. I did so; and the money the bookseller paid me was the first I ever earned by my pen in a literary manner, and very proud I was of it, and Badham was so pleased that he gave me the microscope. It was a small affair, made by Chevallier, of Paris, drawing out of a wooden box, and the body screwed on its lid. The object-glasses were three little button-like affairs, screwing on to the lower part of the tube, separately or together, and so changing the powers."

"Immensely pleased as I was at the possession of such a treasure, I yet very soon got tired of using it as a toy, and I wanted to do some work with it, for I could not satisfy myself by merely amplifying the dimensions of minute objects with it, or by only looking at the prettiness of things, only because they were pretty, I wanted to see the elegance flow naturally from the utility of the objects I saw with the aid of my newly-acquired instrument."

"For all that, my wishes were not then put in these words, or in any words at all, I merely had a vague feeling of desiring to do something serviceable with the instrument."
"I had not long to wait, for one sunshiny Sunday morning, as I sat by the window watching my aquaria, and wondering why one of them flourished as well without vegetation as the other one did with it, I looked up and saw that in the water-glass in the cage of a goldfinch in the room on which the sun was shining a little irregular stream of minute bubbles rose from one corner of the glass, which, because of its narrowness, had escaped cleaning. I took it down, and placed it in the sun on the windowsill for more easy examination, and the bubbles again rose in a column, and broke on the surface of the water, after gathering there a little. Searching more minutely for the cause, I perceived a small ragged spot of green downiness attached to the glass where the bubbles rose from. With one of the detached lenses of the eye-piece of my microscope held in my fingers, I magnified this where it was, without disturbance, and discovered some filaments, attached to the glass by their lower ends, the upper ends being free. So I resolved to have some of them out and examine them under the microscope and shaping a little stick of white wood to a point, with it I scraped away and removed a little of the green stuff, and put it, with a drop of the water, between two slips of glass, a thick one underneath and a thin one (a mere film) to cover it, on the stage of the microscope. When I looked down upon it, through the instrument, I saw that the green matter had resolved itself into objects of definite form, of the nature of which I had no idea. But, as the morning wore on, I perceived bubbles also rising from similar green places in my globe number two. Then I saw more attached to and coming from the surface of the Valisneria in globe one, and examining that, I found that the bubbles came, not from the Valisneria itself, but from green stuff growing upon it parasitically, which I magnified, and, taking sketches of it as seen under the microscope, I the next evening, after work, rushed to the library of the London Institution, Finsbury Circus, and there, consulting Dr. A. H. Hassall's book on fresh-water algæ (to which I had been recommended), I saw at once that that which grew in my vases and bird-cage glass was no other than a low form of alga, or vegetation, spontaneously appearing, emitting bubbles of oxygen, and evidently serving all the purpose of the higher vegetation which I had with such trouble obtained and planted."

Letter in Zoologist.   top

By the end of 1853, Lloyd was confident enough to submit two papers to the Zoologist concerning his observations and experiments in his freshwater aquariums and must have felt very proud when one, concerning his experiments with a large freshwater snail, was duly published in the March edition. Unknown to him until the following year was the interest his papers had stimulated in the editor of the magazine, Edward Newman. It is most probable that it was Lloyd's address that aroused Newman's interest, as Lloyd lived on the boundary of one of London's notorious slums.


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