Carpenter and Moss, freshwater textbook giants


Ward&WhippleIn the introduction to her Ph. D (1925) on the impact of metal mine pollution on Cardiganshire river ecosystems, Kathleen Carpenter wrote:
“The writer knows of no British treatise which surveys the conditions and grouping of life in fresh-waters in the method adopted, for example, in the appropriate section of Shelford’s Animal Communities in Temperate America (Chicago, 1912), or in the chapters of general scope in Ward and Whipple’s Fresh-Water Biology (New York, 1918), and of no British enterprise to be compared with the scheme of thorough and detailed survey of a freshwater lake-system from the ecological standpoint at present being carried out by the Biological Department of the Canadian University of Toronto. “………

“The most that British zoologists can show are a few studies of the plankton of English, Scotch or Irish lakes…..”

Kathleen Carpenter realised that the lack of a British freshwater textbook was a career defining opportunity for her. It is evident that her Ph.D. thesis at Aberystwyth University formed the basis of her seminal textbook, Life in Inland Waters.  It opened the door to an international career for her in North America. She first travelled there in 1924 for a meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in Toronto, and presumably during this visit she visited the Biological Department of Toronto University.

She returned to Britain for her final professional appointment as a lecturer at Liverpool University just before the outbreak of World War II.  Today the 5th edition of one of the most universally popular freshwater textbooks, Ecology of Freshwaters by the late, great Prof. Brian Moss, also of Liverpool University, is going through the final stages before publication.

Kathleen Carpenter and Brian Moss shared a passion for the biodiversity of aquatic ecosystems. Together these two freshwater giants have secured an ever lasting place on the academic textbook stage – inspiring generations of students.


Kathleen Carpenter at Old Bank House, Aberystwyth



Old Bank House, Aberystwyth.

The paired doorway characterises Old Bank House, a historic building, on Bridge Street, Aberystwyth.  The 6 panel split door on the left must have been opened wide for bank customers. While the young assistant lecturer Kathleen Carpenter would have looked down past the edge of her skirt to step up to the right-hand door leading to her accommodation. She would have had a short walk through the sheltered back streets to the library and science laboratories in Old College.


Plaque on Old Bank House.

Old Bank House, a late Georgian building, was the first bank in Aberystwyth, and possibly in Wales. It opened in 1760 and was established to serve the local maritime community.  It was eventually taken over by the North and South Wales Bank which in 1870 moved to another site. The house was subsequently divided up as University accommodation.


Record of Kathleen Carpenter’s address and salary in Aberystwyth University Archives.

Shortly before Kathleen Carpenter lived there the  building had been a temporary Red Cross Hospital for recuperating World War One soldiers before it was moved to a larger building, The Cambria, opposite the pier.  The influx of soldiers must have changed the character of the town for its residents, and especially its young women. By December 1914 there were almost 9,000 troops in and around the town, and a substantial number of refugees.   The convalescing soldiers, many of them gas victims, recovered by taking the sea air and funds were raised to buy a rowing boat for their recreation. There were numerous fund raising events to support the hospital and war efforts, including football matches, concerts and Christmas fancy dress parties. Romances blossomed between the soldiers and local girls.

But here were also war time tensions.  In August 1914 a German lecturer at Aberystwyth University was given 24 hours to leave to the town by a large mob which gathered in front of his house.  Three months later Kathleen changed her German surname from Zimmerman to Carpenter.  In 1917 Dr. Fleure invited the patient soldiers to visit the Museum in Old College. It would have been an opportunity for Kathleen Carpenter to be on hand to explain some of the exhibits but did she do so?  The Spanish Flu epidemic reached Aberystwyth in the autumn of 1918, with the remaining convalescing soldiers not allowed to visit private homes and some local businesses closed due to lack of staff.

Kathleen Carpenter would have seen the world change around her when she lived at Old Bank House. As a young woman she would have realised the opportunity to contribute to society in new fields opening to women, including science.  At Aberystwyth University women students were in the majority during World War One, with men returning to dominate after the war.  With a German born father she would have been acutely aware of the politics; and perhaps have felt vulnerable but relatively safe in Aberystwyth? I would also like to think she enjoyed some of the social occasions.

I am grateful to Julie Archer, Records Manager at Aberystwyth University Archives, for the record linking Kathleen Carpenter to Old Bank House.  Thank you Julie!

Main sources:
Ellis, E.L (1972).  The University College of Wales, Aberystwyth, 1872-1972. University of Wales Press.
Troughton, W. (2015). Aberystwyth and the Great War. Amberley Publishing.