In Clarence's Time - motor bus on the Tende road 1910

Written by Helen Blanc-Francard on .

1906 street scene stdalmas1910 below stdalmas1910 miniera di tende1910 perilous journey stdalmas1910 stdalmas busMany thanks to Helen Blanc-Francard, Clarence Bicknell Association researcher and committee member, for these great photos from around 1910. Clarence would have come up the Roya valley by horse-drawn diligence for many years, from, say, 1880 to 1910. It is possible that these photos of the motor charabanc were taken in the first days of its work up this mountainous road to

Clarence would have come up the Roya valley by horse-drawn diligence for many years, from, say, 1880 to 1910. It is possible that these photos, mostly dated 1910, of the motor charabanc were taken in the first days of its work up this mountainous road to Tende and the Vallée des Merveilles.

I found the third pic, les Minieres, a silver-lead and zinc mine, very interesting. Those of you who have driven up to Casterino will know how it looks now (very different)...

"Au dessus de Saint Dalmas-de-Tende, à l'entrée de la célèbre Vallée des Merveilles, une mine de plomb argentifère et de zinc a été exploitée depuis l'Antiquité et a donné naissance à un hameau : " La Minière de Vallauria ". Après avoir perdu sa vocation initiale, ce hameau fut restauré et réaménagé pour de multiples activités culturelles et sportives. "




Posted by Marcus for Helen

In Clarence's Time - Will Arnold-Forster's garden in Bordighera

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

will arnold-forster Jane Winter, writing the biography of Will Arnold-Forster, writes to us as follows:

"Will’s brother Christopher (actually Hugh Christopher, but known in the family as Kit) was married to Marcia Buddicom.  I’ve recently made contact with her daughter, Jennifer Hamilton, and grandson, Jonathan Hamilton.  Apparently, the Buddicom family owned a house called La Capella in Bordighera during the early 1910s, when Will was in Italy. The house was taken over by the Germans during WW2, and the gardener, name unknown, saved some pastel portraits of the family from them.  Will was famous for using pastels and was a great portraitist.

"Will’s brother Christopher (actually Hugh Christopher, but known in the family as Kit) was married to Marcia Buddicom.  I’ve recently made contact with her daughter, Jennifer Hamilton, and grandson, Jonathan Hamilton.  Apparently, the Buddicom family owned a house called La Capella in Bordighera during the early 1910s, when Will was in Italy. The house was taken over by the Germans during WW2, and the gardener, name unknown, saved some pastel portraits of the family from them.  Will was famous for using pastels and was a great portraitist.

"If any of this rings a bell, or you are in a position to make enquiries about it, I should be eternally grateful."

Is there evidence he met Clarence Bicknell?

In Clarence's Time - The Railway

Written by Helen Blanc-Francard on .

Musing to the music of the Riviera railway - by Helen Blanc-Francardthe riviera express 1907

Swaying along the curving bays of the coast with the dazzlingly blue Mediterranean glittering just below the track, busy Bordighera station was the first glimpse of the town that all those eager, newly rich tourists had as they arrived to stay in its renowned hotels and pensiones. It was the same for those friends and family members who came occasionally from gloomy England to visit Clarence Bicknell or the many guests en route for the lively next door MacDonald household. Unlike Clarence's guests though these, often 'artistic' types, would have been filled with excitement at the prospect of new encounters and theatrical fun.

Image, right: The Riviera Express in 1907.

For the ex-pat residents of Bordighera the train was their life-line: the reason they were there in the first place and their line of escape when life got too tedious or scandal threatened. Gamblers, courtesans, musicians and entertainers must have disembarked with the hope of returning richer than when they set out and all those weary invalids, arriving for the winter season in expectation of recovering their health, must have sighed with relief as the train drew in. Whilst the passengers stepped down from their carriages, packages, boxes and baskets of luxury goods from all over Europe clattered onto the platform to stock the fashionable shops in Via Vitorio Emmanuele and to supply the grand hotels and splendid villas with lavish and delicious foodstuffs, decorative objects and modern paraphernalia. The train going back up the line, and on their way to the markets in Paris, London and Berlin, was loaded high with crates of freshly cut roses, carnations and mimosa brought down from the hills above Bordighera - how fragrant the journey must have been! Piles of elaborately plaited palm leaves destined for the Vatican went by the same route at Easter time. 

bordighera station 1897Even the body of the old Queen of Italy was sent off in great style from the station in a black-draped, garland-swagged train in 1926 on her last voyage to the Pantheon in Rome: Clarence and Luigi would have know the bustling station particularly well because it was the first leg of many a long journey that connected them to ports and railway hubs for their onward travels abroad. When they returned with their suitcases and cabin trunks slightly heavier than when they set out - weighed down with new sketchbooks and watercolours, recently gathered botanical samples and Esperanto literature, how pleasing to know that Villa Rosa was so close to the station and they would soon be home. Bordighera's railway station was made in 1873 (left, a postcard image from 1897).

Watch a few seconds of the historically-important early film made in 1895 by Les Frères Lumière, viewable on YouTube:

When, in small theatres, the film was first shown to the public it was reported that the audience flung themselves off their seats convinced that the train rushing towards them was going to run them over! This fact was later denied.

I came across another fait divers that I have not had time to verify - that it was Raphael Bischoffsheim who initially arranged for the express train to stop in Bordighera. This info would make some sense because he resided briefly in that gorgeous villa we know about built by Charles Garnier. Apparently he had an influential role in the railroad system of Northern Italy. The book Bordighera and The Western Riviera, published in 1883, advertises hotels, their attractions and the many English goods that were for sale in Bordighera or in nearby towns. Clarence would have been able to purchase all the 'home comforts' his heart desired if he so wished (which he almost certainly didn't!).  John Pemble says in his book The Mediterranean Passion: Victorians and Edwardians in the South, “The facilities on the train itself were very comfortable and the service regular and rapid”.

The railway network contributed greatly to the development of the Riviera. Here here is an extract from:

" La construction du chemin de fer eut une importance décisive sur les effets de la valorisation touristique du littoral régional. Construite pour des choix politiques précis qui caractérisèrent tout le système ferroviaire italien, cette voie fut installée parallèlement au littoral, exerçant une attraction orientée vers une succession plus dense de centres qui, à leur tour, étaient reliés aux grands centres, ceux-ci l'étant ensuite aux métropoles intérieures qui géraient l'économie du pays. La construction d'un trace côtier fut dominée, dans son dessin d'ensemble et dans ses solutions particulières, par les impératifs de la morphologie régionale. A cause de celle-ci, la voie ferrée trouvait le long de la côte un parcours plus facile. Au niveau local, les effets de la construction du réseau ferroviaire furent immédiats bien qu'irrégulièrement distribués: ceux-ci donnèrent une notable impulsion à la croissance des centres côtiers, principalement ceux en liaison avec les gares destinées à desservir les centres immédiatement voisins, principalement sur les hauteurs. De 1871 à 1901, les villes de la Riviera enregistrèrent un très fort accroissement de la population; pour la seule ville de San Remo, il fut de 93,5 (un quasi-doublement en trente ans), déterminé de façon prépondérante par une dépopulation progressive des villages de l'arrière-pays. L'économie touristique concentrée de façon particulière dans quelques zones de la Riviera, comme San Remo, Bordighera, Ospedaletti, fournissait, pendant la période hivernale, des occasions de travail pour de nombreux habitants des villages de l'intérieur qui, durant cette saison froide, ne pouvaient continuer à cultiver leurs champs puisque l'agriculture et les activités connexes étaient les seules occupations offertes par ces zones. Comme nous l'avons déjà noté précédemment, de nouveaux quartiers de plus en plus étendus s'individualisèrent. Bordighera s'étendit à l'ouest, le long de la voie romaine, Ospedaletti, le long de la voie aurélienne. San Remo vit s'établir à l'ouest le quartier de la Foce Berigo et à l'est celui de Saint-Martin. Ainsi est née une orientation touristique de l'espace s'appuyant: principalement sur la proximité de la route et de la voie ferrée, ainsi que sur la déclivité limitée de la zone côtière, par rapport à l'espace de l'intérieur. Il se créa en outre de nouvelles zones commerciales et financières qui, pour la plupart, s'installèrent à proximité des gares, des hôtels les plus importants et des maisons de jeu. L'arrivée du chemin de fer dans la ville en 1872 lui donna une impulsion pour installer des mécanismes de rente foncière et immobilière. A partir de cette date, on assiste à la réalisation de structures réceptrices pour le tourisme. Dans la seule ville de San Remo, les hôtels passent de quatre en 18651 à trente deux en 1905 et les villas enregistrent de 1374 à 1906 un accroissement de 190 sur un total de 2342. Il faut également noter, dans le secteur hôtelier, la formation de chaînes hôtelières qui associent des stations estivales. D'ailleurs, cet aspect était amplement souligne par la publicité de l'époque. Un facteur faisant enfin apparaître la transformation de la ville dans un sens plus nettement touristique fut en outre le développement d'un grand réseau routier dans les zones de collines de la région côtière, en vue de rendre constructibles des terrains qui ne l'étaient pas faute d'accès. En ce qui concerne les caractéristiques des investissements touristiques, on note l'essor important de cette tendance précédemment relevée qui voit la présence de capitaux étrangers. Parlant de Bordighera, un auteur de l'époque notait: "Les banques, les hôtels,bordighera postcard 1918 les grands immeubles, les meilleures propriétés (sans parler même de l'industrie du gaz, des tramways, de l'énergie électrique, des ciments, des tissus, des établissements de bain, de jeux, de la poste, tous ou presque sont exploités, sont propriétés d'étrangers. Les terrains tout au long du littoral, dans les sites les plus agréables, tout est vendu, tout est complet, tout est à des étrangers". (Martinelli V., La Riviera e l'industrialo italiano, Bordighera, 1910).

Lastly, here is rather a wonderful and unusual post card I think! It really could be a snap of Clarence - taken on a calm spring day as he walked along the sea front in Bordighera in the last year of his life - the date is 1918. But, as I have mentioned before, a big white beard and a moustache makes a lot of men look similar in their later years.

In Clarence's Time - Charles Lowe and the Casa Rosa

Written by Susie Bicknell on .

Susie Bicknell writes...Charles-Lowe-24996

I was looking through this website on famous people connected with Bordighera and came across this on Charles Lowe 1828-1909:
Born in Gibraltar in 1828, he dedicated to international trade with South America and managed to accumulate a considerable fortune. He moved to Bordighera along with the British colony who chose to stay in our city. In Bordighera he bought the 'Casa Rosa' (Pink House), a villa that had a small chapel.In October 1878 after having bought a land near the Anglican church he built the first tennis court in Italy, and founded the Lawn Tennis Club. In 1902, Lowe gave the City a land of 6,000 meters with the charge for common to operate in perpetuity of the land so donated to public gardens. Lowe, generous benefactor of the Anglican Church, gave the city land would arise where the Victoria Hall, the bowling and Tennis Club, he died on Easter day of 1909, to 81 years.

“Charles Lowe followed his father into the shipping trade, and such was his business acumen that he managed to amass enough of a fortune to enable him to retire from business life at the age of 48. It was 1876, and by this time the English had already  discovered the Italian Riviera and migrated there in large numbers. The idea of escaping the rigours of the English weather was appealing to Lowe, whose health was by no means robust, and he decided to join his compatriots in what was by now a sizeable ‘expat’ colony. He bought an unpretentious property called 'Casa Rosa', which contemporary reports describe as 'hardly more than a cottage'. However, he also bought a considerable area of land to go with it, most of which, in a spirit of pure philanthropy, he gave away to the local community over the following decades.”

So I presume Lowe sold the Casa Rosa to Rev Charles Fanshawe Walker.  It sounds as if he would have got on with Clarence :

“Charles Lowe had also given the land for a public garden in the centre of the town. This is known to this day as 'Giardini Lowe', and so many townsfolk have such happy childhood memories of playing there that it has its own Facebook page. It is the only example of his name being attached to one of his good works: this self-effacing man held no public office other than that of churchwarden at the church in Bordighera. His lifestyle was austere in comparison to that of those around him - he travelled second class rather than spend large sums on his own comfort. He treated his servants as friends and often referred to them as his 'faithful stewards', even arranging for his Bordighera gardener to come to England so that he could say farewell to him from his deathbed. It is no wonder then that his obituary in the Devizes & Wiltshire Gazette of 15th April 1909 describes him as 'an admirable type of man in the true sense of the word.' “

I don’t think so far any letters between Lowe and Clarence.

Cheers Susie


See also the posting here in the blog from February 2015..

NEWS - Italian natural history museums on the verge of collapse

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

A leading Italian academic forum has highlighted the sorry state of Italian natural history museums. They are facing a critical situation, due to the progressive loss of scientific relevance, decreasing economic investments, and scarcity of personnel. This is extremely alarming, especially for ensuring the long-term preservation of the precious collections they host. Moreover, a commitment in fieldwork to increase scientific collections and concurrent taxonomic research are rarely considered priorities, while most of the activities are addressed to public events with political payoffs, such as exhibits, didactic meetings, expositions, and talks. This is possibly due to the absence of a national museum that would have better steered research activities and overall concepts for collection management. We here propose that Italian natural history museums collaborate to instate a “metamuseum”, by establishing a reciprocal interaction network aimed at sharing budgetary and technical resources, which would assure better coordination of common long-term goals and scientific activities.

Read the rest of the article at

With thanks to Helen Blanc-Francard for alerting us to this.

In Clarence's Time - Pietro Zeni, the tenor sponsored by Bicknell

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

pietrozeniI had never seen details of the singer whom Clarence sponsored. I stumbled across this article in by accident...

"Un giorno del 1888 lo studioso inglese Clarence Bicknell sente per caso il giovane cantare, mentre è impegnato nel cantiere di lavoro; colpito dalla bellezza della voce dello Zeni, Bicknell lo fa studiare, a proprie spese, da privatista a Milano ove si diploma a pieni voti presso il Conservatorio. Il giovane tenore Pietro Zeni debutta con successo alla Scala e inizia una brillante carriera che lo porterà a calcare i palcoscenici dei più importanti e celebri teatri d'Italia e all'estero, in particolare in Spagna e in America, con Caruso e grande come Caruso."

which I translate as...

"One day in 1888, the English scholar Clarence Bicknell overheard the young man singing, while engaged in the work site (for the tunnels of the Pisa-Genova-Ventimiglia railway); struck by the beauty of the Zeni's voice, Bicknell helped him with his expenses for private tuition in Milan  where he went on to graduate with honors from the Conservatory. The young tenor Peter Zeni made a successful debut at La Scala and started a brilliant career that led him to tread the boards of the most important and famous theatres in Italy and abroad, particularly in Spain and America, with Caruso - and as great as Caruso."

Zeni was 18 when discovered. Imagine him wielding a pickaxe at full song!!!   I thought of Zeni today because I came across his page in The Book of Guests at the Casa Fontanalba in Esperanto, the small illustrated album where Clarence writes a few words in Esperanto about the people (and dogs) in his life. Clarence's dedication for Pietro Zeni reads...

"Pietro Zeni de Bordighera, iris al Milano, kie li studis musikon, kaj poste dum multaj jaroj Kantis, Kiel tenoro, en la cefurboj Italaj, ankaw en Hispanujo, Portogalujo, Rusujo k.t.p. sed, post bonega sed tro mallonga kariero, pro malsano de la kordoj gorguj, li devigis forlasi siari profesion."

which translates as

"Pietro Zeni of Bordighera, went to Milan, where he studied music, and then for many years sang, as a tenor, in the Italian capitals, yet it also in Spain, Portugal, Russia and so on but, after a great but too short career, due to illness of the vocal chords, he was forced to leave his profession."


4th January 2017

Andrew Sly writes on Facebook where I posted this article...

Andrew Sly "Here is a "cleaned up" version of the Esperanto transcription: "Pietro Zeni de Bordighera, iris al Milano, kie li studis muzikon, kaj poste dum multaj jaroj kantis, kiel tenoro, en la ĉefurboj Italaj, ankaŭ en Hispanujo, Portugalujo, Rusujo k.t.p. sed, post bonega sed tro mallonga kariero, pro malsano de la kordoj gorĝaj, li devigis forlasi sian profesion.""

Clarence Bicknell Association
I replied...
Clarence Bicknell Association Andrew, thank you. The Esperanto words given by me in the posting of 3rd January were taken letter-for-letter from Clarence's hand-writing in his Book of Guests. So any errors are errors in Clarence's grasp of Esperanto. An imperfect science at the time? Or maybe Clarence was still learning.
Valerie Lester writes...
"Yes, I did know about Zeni and have quite a lot of information about him. He was actually a bricklayer, so I think he was more likely to have been wielding a trowel than a pickaxe!!! But I didn’t know he had problems with his vocal cords later on. So great that you have that Book of Guests and can read Espeanto!"
Marcus Bicknell 4th January 2017

In Clarence's Time - Esperanto as a means to universal understanding

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

clarence c1905 esperanto starIt seems sad to read in Olga Kerziouk’s European Studies blog on the British Library website and in Ulrich Lins’ book Dangerous Language that from the earliest days of Esperanto, governments were quick to see potential dangers to their authority in the message spread by Esperanto. For Clarence Bicknell (1842-1918), Esperanto was a universal language which was not only an expression of peace but also a mean to furthering peace. Imagine the torment he suffered when the world went to war in 1914… he died in the mountains above Bordighera on the Italian-French border in 1918, in the last weeks of the war.

At Olga's invitation I wrote an article for her blog about European Studies on the British Library web site. It summarises Clarence's dedication to Esperanto late in his life and the extent to which he worked on the universal language as a way of improving the chances of human understanding subjugating man’s addiction to war. The photo, right, from the Bicknell Family Collection in my stewardship and never published before, Clarence is wearing his Esperanto badge on his lapel, probably 1906 to 1910. Is he also wearing his "not so optimistic face"? Was he already thinking of the need to promote Esperanto as a means of avoiding war?

Download the article here.

In Clarence's Time - Praise for Clarence Bicknell's techniques

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

Here is some unsolicited praise, from an expert, of Clarence Bicknell's techniques in taxonomy and classifcation of the rock engravings round the Mont Bego. In her article Cartography in the Prehistoric Period in the Old World: Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa, Catherine Delano Smith shows her appreciation of Clarence Bicknell’s classification techniques. She discusses the way in which rock engravings are interpreted by archaeologist and other researchers, and criticises their “unsystematic approach” such as ignoring the “contemporaneity, scale, or appropriate geometry”. Her most telling indictment of typical archaeologists is “What fits is included; what does not fit is conveniently disregarded”. She goes on to praise Bicknell’s taxonomical and empirical approach in words which complement and strengthen the praise of Bicknell’s techniques by Christopher Chippindale, the Bicknell specialist from Cambridge University.

My three page article shows the excerpts from her paper... download here.

Happy New Year!  from Marcus

NEWS - the biography of Clarence - 2016 was a year of progress

Written by Valerie Lester on .

Valerie Lester, Clarence's biographer, writes this wonderful year-end letter which I think all those interested in Clarence Bicknell and the upcoming biography would want to read.

Dear Friends,

As usual at this time of year, I give thanks for my great circle of friends, and I send you warmest wishes for Christmas and great happiness in the New Year.

My year has been much taken up with writing the Clarence Bicknell biography — wonderfully interesting work. Having Team Bicknell help me with the research, and my cousins Marcus and Susie Bicknell egging me on, I have not been condemned to the lonely life of the average biographer (myself included, in the past). I’m having a grand time.

In September, Bodoni interfered with the Bicknell flow when I had to give five talks about Bodoni in the space of two weeks, in places as various as the Caxton Club in Chicago, the rare book division at Columbia, and the Library of Congress. There’s a webcast of the talk at the Library of Congress if you happen to have a free hour, when the weather outside is frightful, to listen to my droning . . .

andy and jasperMy family is thriving. My daughter Alison, her husband Andy, and their dog Jasper moved from Singapore to England in June, since when Alison has been sewing jackets for Jasper. After spending his life in Singapore, he’s feels the cold. Here he is, color-coordinated with Andy.

Alison’s kids are both in New York, Kiri finishing at NYU and Linus on a gap year, working on his music and an internship with Vice Media, which isn’t as bad as it sounds. Alison's new book, Yuki Means Happiness, is coming out in England in the summer, and she has another in the works.

My son Toby is a freelance editor with tons of work. He also teaches an editing course at Boston college. His wife Catherine still works at the Harvard Law School, which in my unbiased opinion, is lucky to have her. Emma, their eldest, has taken well to Cornell, while Kate and Sage lead busy lives in Belmont. Here’s Sage showing off her tonsils, with her sisters on either side of her, and Kiri with her boyfriend Daniel in the back row.

That’s enough of family matters . . . Now let’s get back to Clarence Bicknell. (I’m nothing if not obsessive.) Last Saturday I went to a choral concert whose central theme was the animals we associate with Christmas, the donkey being chief among them. I was delighted about this since donkeys were already much on my mind because of the frequency with which they show up in Clarence Bicknell’s diary of his Cooks’ tour to Egypt, written and illustrated between 4 December 1889 and 30 January 1890.

Apart from the steamer in which he traveled up the Nile, donkeys were the principal means of transport. Here he describes his first ride of the trip:

donkeys cairo“At 9 with a dragoman we all started on donkeys, such strong good little donkeys! But mine set off galloping, I couldn’t stop him, my stirrup broke and I thought every moment I would be pitched over his head or tumble off, but I clung on like grim death and survived.”

He had better luck on the donkey he rode to Karnak:

“We started for Karnak along an excellent road, and on truly noble donkeys. I felt as safe on mine as on a granite sphinx; he never stumbled, walked at a marvelous pace, was No. 11 and called George Washington.”

Even on Christmas day, the last day in Cairo before the group embarked  for the voyage up the Nile, Clarence rode a donkey: "After a grand Xmas luncheon beginning with mince pies, we all took donkeys & went out to our favourite tombs of the Khalifs & across the desert to the Red mountains, which we ascended for the magnificent view; the day was simply perfect, with the clouds casting deep purple shadows over the sand, the city bathed in light. A long Xmas dinner finished up the day, and nearly finished us up also.”

luxor moonlightWhat has struck me most forcibly about Clarence in reading his diary is his open mind towards the religions of others. Originally an Anglo-Catholic priest, he began to question his faith, and eventually turned away from organized religion, even as he maintained a great interest in the varieties of religious experience. Here he reflects on the coming New Year:

"It is the last day of the year. May the cold winds go with it, & the new year bring us pleasanter weather. Yes, and to others as well as ourselves many other & better things. The last day of the year brings many thoughts with it, and more than ever here one keeps wondering over the story of the byegone years & centuries & ages, & thinking of the lives of the early Egyptian architects & sculptors & painters, suddenly coming out the the unknown, with all their developed powers & then of the Israelites in Egypt, and many another race who sailed he Nile & lived on its banks. And then the suppression by force of the religion of the country by Christian emperors, and the desert peoples with the monks & ascetics, soon to be swept away by Islam. What changes have taken place here in those 6000 years & now one rushes quickly by in a steamer & passes ruined cities and empty caves, and abandoned churches & decaying mosques & wonders what will come next? A better religion? Who can say?”

How wonderfully apt his words are today! I join with Clarence in wishing you all “pleasanter weather” in a world where tolerance and compassion can regain their foothold.

Peace and love to you all.

from Valerie Lester

writing from Hingham, MA., near Boston, USA

In Clarence's Time - Ellen Willmott at the Boccanegra Gardens

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

ellen willmott photoellen willmott borderCarolyn Hanbury (who lives at the top of the Hanbury Gardens at la Mortola near Ventimiglia) and Ursula Salghetti Drioli Piacenza (whose Boccanegra house and gardens are in Ventimiglia, nearby) informed Susie and Marcus Bicknell about a collection of letters from Clarence Bicknell to Ellen Willmott (photo, right) who created the Boccanegra gardens. The 20 letters are found in the archive of Berkeley Castle near Stroud in Gloucestershire ( On 30 November 2016, Susie Bicknell travelled to Berkeley Castle and was able to examine the letters and photograph all of them. We have transcribed some of the more interesting ones, most of them being about seed, bulbs and plants which Clarence could supply to Ellen Willmott.

Ursula has provided some useful comments and corrections and has approved our publishing it. Susie's assessment of the letters is now a paper on the downloads page of our web site and you can download it directly at

A spreadsheet of a list of the letters with details, or copies of the photos of each, are available on demand.

Update 19 September 2017 Marcus Bicknell

One of our researchers, Graham Avery, found 680 letters in Geneva, Conservatoire et Jardin Botaniques, Switzerland, from Clarence Bicknell to the eminent botanist Emile Burnat. I sent to Ursula on 18 September 2017 a new transcript of some of them which sheds light on Bicknell's connection with her garden, the Boccanegra:

"8 Decembre 1912 Bordighera (from Clarence Bicknell to Emile Burnat)
Cher Monsieur, encore une lettre! Melle Willmott, la renommée jardinière Anglaise, qui a je crois le plus merveilleux jardin en Angleterre, et qui a une connaissance extraordinaire des plantes m’a prêté les épreuves de l’introduction de son grand œuvre The Genus Rosa écrit par elle et M. Baker. Elle m’a demandé si je trouve quelque chose à ajouter ou corriger. Je trouve cette introduction bien intéressante, et j’en ai appris beaucoup..."   etc
Ursula was delighted and replied to me 18 Sept 2017
"Thank you very much for let me know about the correspondence between Bicknell and Burnat; the letter of 12 December 1912 gave me great joy:  Clarence Bicknell did visit Boccanegra with Ellen Willmott. This is what I wanted to know from many years, and also the time of the visit shows that Ellen Willmott stayed at Boccanegra also in winter."

News - screening in Florence

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

florenceClarence in Florence! The word is spreading. The British Institute of Florence will screen The Marvels of Clarence Bicknell at a special event there on Wednesday 10 May 2017 at 17.00. A talk will be given by Graham Avery, vice-chairman of the Clarence Bicknell Association, with questions and answers afterwards. Susie and I hope to be there. Please pass this along to all your friends in the area, even if they have not heard of Clarence.
If you have cultural contacts in other parts of the world please encourage them to organise a screening too.

News - 38 unseen watercolours by Clarence Bicknell

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

img 1211c mosque 19dec1889img 1284c finalmarinaimg 1247 breglio 1882

I completed on 7 November 2016 photographing and cataloguing the large watercolours by Clarence which I had not looked at since 2010. There are 38 watercolours of excellent quality, many of them identified with place and date, of sizes between 200x300mm and 300x400mm. I have photographed each of them on my Canon EOS 5D MkII at 21 megapixels, edited each and catalogued them individually (numbers 140-177). A table of the catalogue entries (shortened) is below and 3 sample pictures are above (a mosque in Cairo, Finalmarina on the Ligurian coast and the village which is now Breil-sur-Roya).

Among the 38 are two pictures done in 1917 in a new technique - Sanguine Pastel - recounted by my uncle Peter Bicknell in his short account of Clarence's life, which Clarence experimented with at the end of his life.

These 38 watercolours are different from the small watercolours in the 6x4 inch sketch pads which have been known from the family collection for a long time, so this article is about new material underpinning what we know about Clarence. One of the more interested readers here is Valerie Lester who is writing the biography of Clarence Bicknell.

6 further high quality watercolours, five of mountains in Norway and one in Scotland, are judged by me to be by my grandmother Phillis Bicknell née Lovibond, not by Clarence. They are photographed and I will ask Susie, Valerie and other visitors here their confirmation (or not) of my assessment.

There are also 22 rough watercolours by Clarence, 700x500mm, of flowers, each with their name, presumably for teaching botany. They are of poor quality so I have not photographed them and they are catalogued just with one catalogue number, 178.

I have updated the detailed chronology where a date is given and the master catalogue. Both are available from me to scholars and researchers on demand (both in tabs on one spreadsheet), passworded, as they are not available to the public on the website.

The table below shows the date, country, subject and catalogue number of each watercolour:

1880 Italy Finalmarina 173
1880 Italy Finalmarina tunnel 175
1880 Italy Finalmarina town steps 176
1882 Italy Breil-sur-Roya 159
1889 Egypt Mosque in Egypt 143
1889 Egypt Sphinx in Egypt 144
1889 Egypt Cairo city view 145
1889 Egypt Mosque in Cairo 146
1900 Italy Bordighera rocks 155
1902 Italy Val Casterino 170
1903 Italy Safira Macugnaga 166
1903 Italy Val Casterino 171
1904 Italy Cortina d'Ampezzo 142
1904 Italy Cortina d'Ampezzo 157
1904 Italy Cortina d'Ampezzo 169
1905 Italy San Biagio chapel 164
1905 Italy Boschi di Tenda 167
1906 Italy Val Sasso 154
1906 Italy Val Casterino 165
1908 Italy Cima Berry 174
1909 Italy Vallecrosia 156
1910 Italy Val Borghetto 177
1913 Italy Val Casterino 160
1914 Italy Val Casterino 149
1915 Italy Monte Caggio 162
1915 Italy Orchard 163
1916 Italy Val Casterino 147
1916 Italy Val Casterino 148
1916 Italy Val Casterino 150
1917 Italy Val Casterino 140
1917 Italy Val Casterino 141
undated Italy Val Roya 151
undated Italy Val Casterino 152
undated Italy Lake and mountains 153
undated Italy S Giacomo 158
undated Italy Camporosso 161
undated Italy Val Castegno 168
undated Italy Val Nervia 172

In Clarence's Time - Edward Lear in San Remo

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

edward lear and fossEdward Lear (1812-1888) was not an exact contemporary of Clarence Bicknell (1842-1918) but he was comparable to Clarence; a skilled artist, a bachelor, he settled on Riviera and had that Victorian parlour humour. Lear is fashionable with biographers at the moment; David Attenborough has just published his book “The Natural History of Edward Lear” (Oct 2016), saying how there was so much more to him than nonsense verse.

To provide you with some context about Edward Lear on the Riviera, we have the pleasure of publishing here, for the first time, an article about Edward Lear by Michael Nelson, author and Riviera expert. This piece started off as a presentation with the images on slides.

Download Michael Nelson's article here.


Michael Nelson was General Manager of Reuters (, the international news organisation having joined them as a journalist in 1952. Since he retired from Reuters in 1989 he has written four books - War of the Black Heavens: The Battles of Western Broadcasting in the Cold War (Syracuse University Press and Brasseys, London, 1997); Queen Victoria and the Discovery of the Riviera, (I.B. Tauris, 2001); Americans and the Making of the Riviera (McFarland, 2007) and Castro and Stockmaster: A Life in Reuters (Matador, 2011). Michael, who lives in Notting Hill, London, and Opio, France, is married to the former Helga den Ouden and they have two sons and one daughter. Contact via

In Clarence's Time - postcard to Francesco Ferraironi

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

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Nicolas Ventugol was so kind as to send us photos of an old postcard written by Clarence Bicknell in 1913 which he had purchased at Tende. Thank you Nicolas...

ventugol triora-ferraironi-1914Graham Avery writes:  In this postcard of 1913 from Casterino, Clarence Bicknell thanks Padre Francesco Ferraironi for sending him a copy of  'La Storia del Santuario di Loreto' (The History of the Sanctuary of Loreto) and says that when he returns to Bordighera he will make a donation to help the publication of 'Cenni Storici' (Historical Notes). An internet search suggests that Francesco Ferraironi was a priest at or near the mountain village of Triora in Liguria, and later in Rome. He published a number of books on local history including in 1913 'Triora e il suo Santuario di Loreto' (Triora and its Sanctuary of Loreto) and in 1914 'Cenni storici sopra Triora' (Historical Notes on Triora).

We show the an image of the cover of the first of these two books, the one he sent to Clarence: presumably because of their mutual interest in the local history of Liguria.

In Clarence's Time - Esperanto, the Great War and the film

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

1907-lingva-komitatoAmong the plaudits and detailed comments about our new film "The Marvels of Clarence Bicknell", many were from specialists asking for more coverage of one of his interests or another. The Esperantists have been among the most vocal. This fascinating letter from Anna Lowenstein who saw the film is of interest to readers of this blog and I reproduce it (and my reply) here.

Photo right "1907-lingva-komitato".
Is this the Bordighera Esperanto group?

From: "lowenstein, anna" <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.;
To: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Date: Thu, 20 Oct 2016 12:05:51 +0100
Subject: Clarence Bicknell and Esperanto
Dear Marcus,

I enjoyed the film, which was beautiful to look at and also to listen to. It ended rather suddenly in 1918, which made me wonder what had happened during the important preceding four years.

I was disappointed however that so little was said about Bicknell's interest in Esperanto, which must have been far more important to him than was suggested in the film. People who are involved in Esperanto usually get very, very involved and very enthusiastic, and this must certainly have been the case for Clarence Bicknell who travelled to Boulogne for the first World Congress, founded the Esperanto groups of Milan and Bordighera, wrote and translated poetry, and financed various Esperanto initiatives. He also collaborated with a Czech woman called Rosa Junck who was co-founder of the Esperanto group in Milan, and later came to live in Bordighera.

I think it is most probable that during this period of his life Esperanto would have been a consuming passion, at the same level as his interest in the local flora and rock engravings. I hope that Valerie Lester will give due attention to this aspect of his life and activities in her biography. Information on him should be available in the library at UEA in Rotterdam, for instance it would be easy to find publications in which his poems appeared, information about his participation in the early congresses etc. The Esperanto Association of Britain also has an excellent library at its headquarters in Barlaston near Stoke-on-Trent.

It would not be difficult to add a voice-over to the film in Esperanto, and this certainly means that Esperanto speakers would listen to the film - in fact you might well find this was your largest and most interested audience. But they will expect to hear a great deal more about his Esperanto activities, since he played an important role particularly in the Italian Esperanto movement.

Best wishes,
-- Anna Lowenstein


My reply of today reads...

Dear Anna

We were so pleased to see you at the projection last week and I thank you for this email. We were so pleased that many people told us or have written that the film makes one wish for more information about Bicknell, which justifies our contention that there is material for a full-scale documentary. I use "full-scale" because it could be one hour or two hours, depending on the broadcasters' appetites. Unsurprisingly, different people want more coverage of different topics. The botanist and the archaeologists have been vocal. Many thought we had abridged his pre-Bordighera life too much. And the Esperantists certainly felt short-changed...a couple of earthenware umbrella pots and a sentence of narration. I apologise!

You'd be interested to know that Dr Daniela Gandolfi, director of the Istituto Internazionale di Studi Liguri which owns the Museo Bicknell, proposed a much more significant Esperanto section as follows:

Narrator: Clarence Bicknell was a pioneer of Esperanto, the universal language invented to encourage international understanding: the word ‘Esperanto’ means ‘hopeful’. He went to Esperanto conventions round Europe, and organised one at his museum in Bordighera. . His Casa Fontanalba had proverbs in Esperanto on the shutters and over the doors. 

Text suggested by Daniela Gandolfi: Clarence Bicknell had become part of the Esperanto movement in 1897, and in 1905 he participated at the first World Congress of Esperanto in Boulogne-sur-mer, where he was elected, along with Rosa Junck, in the top six "Italian" in " Lingva Komitato ". The Italian Federation of Esperanto was founded in Florence March 21, 1910 and the same year, on October 25, Clarence Bicknell formed at the Museum Bicknell the Esperanto group "Antauen". 

Then of course the financial and time requirements chipped in and we had to cut swathes throughout the film. There again, this bodes well for a longer documentary.

So I agree with you that Esperanto was a consuming passion for Bicknell and took up a lot of his time, except maybe in the summer when, in the same 15 year period, he was up in the mountains at the Casa Fontanalba or on the rocks. The language was part of his pacifist, altruist and universalist philosophy and for many years Esperanto was his most important and most practical outlet. His pacifism leads me to comment on your mentioning the World War I years; he writes very little about his feelings. The most significant quotes in the research on our website are in letters to the archaeologist Cartailhac (use the little search box top right to bring these up).

32. - De Clarence Bicknell à Emile Cartailhac     Lettre de quatre pages, en français.
/ Val Casterino. S. Dalmazzo di Tenda. 20 Août 1917

Cher Monsieur, cher Professeur et cher allié,
Votre belle lettre du 14 Août, reçu hier soir, quoi que bien triste et pleine de tristes nouvelles, m’a fait le plus grand plaisir, parceque depuis longtemps je ne savais rien de vous, et nos amis chaque jour disparaissent. Je viens de perdre un cher frère 38 (fin de juin) le dernier de 4 frères, et à présent je reste  le dernier de ma famille. J’espèrais tant, comme lui, qu’il arriverait à voir la fin de la guerre - mais non - et à présent à cause de la défection de la Russie , la guerre se prolongera beaucoup, et je crains que moi aussi ne verrai pas le triomphe de la justice et de la liberté - C’est bien terrible, mais c’est très glorieux ce temps. Nous perdons nos chers parents et amis, mais jamais il n’y avait tant de sympathie et d’amitié entre les nations. Depuis 4 ans je nai pas vu ma patrie, et à présent je ne puis pas y aller. On ne donne pas la permission de quitter l’Italie, et même passer la frontière pour passer quelques heures à Menton ou Nice est très difficile. Il faut aller à S. Remo au sous prefet, puis visiter le consul à Vintimille, etc. etc. et puis si on arrive en France, on perd toute la journée pour avoir la permission de retourner

Even in the Baroness von Taube letters ( there is not a lot about his feelings as war approached. I have copied Valerie Lester on this email because she is nearing the end of her first run at writing the biography of Bicknell and she might already have some new source material on this. Bicknell spent time with the Italian soldiers camped at Casterino. He had a brother and two nephews killed in the trenches. But I think he stayed studiously (and with great sorrow) "out of it".

Thinking of the biography, do feel free to feed to us any new information about Bicknell's Esperanto activities. Much of what we know is on our website at > Esperanto and in the blog at >News & Views.

We are on course to make an Esperanto voice over of "The Marvels of Clarence Bicknell" in the next 6 weeks (although it's a secret as I have not yet asked Rémy if he would do it!). Humphrey Tonkin and Michela Lipari are coordinating the voices and the recordings; if you would like to be one of the voices do please get in touch with them. It will not be possible to change the video component but it is not impossible that we could increase the amount of narration about Esperanto in the Esperanto version if there is a clear indication where the extra narration goes in the film. I'm thinking aloud here and have not discussed this with Humphrey and Michela.Your input is much valued and I have put this exchange on the blog (but can take it off if you prefer!)

Please spread the word about the film. The film has now been released on the internet, free of charge and in high definition. Arm yourself with a big computer screen, nice speakers, a drink of your choice and 18 minutes to have a fascinating cinematographic experience…  and linked from the home page of If you prefer YouTube then try (making sure you get the HD version: the configuration icon – a cogwheel – 3rd from the right at the bottom of the screen, should be tagged with a red HD symbol. 

Warmest regards and thanks

Marcus Bicknell

Event - PROIEZIONE IN PRIMA ASSOLUTA - Giovedì 29 settembre 2016

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

bicknell poster2mb gd1 genoa2016 c


Le Meraviglie di Clarence Bicknell

Giovedì 29 settembre 2016 alle ore 17  (ingresso libero fino ad esaurimento posti)

Museo Civico di Storia Naturale “G. Doria”,  Via Brigata Liguria 9 - Genova

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