NEWS - reprint of his Guide to the Prehistoric Rock Engravings

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

rock engravings cup cover feb2016The re-publication of a work by Clarence Bicknell is an event to celebrate... and a moment to reach for Amazon or an enlightened book-seller to get yourself a copy.
"A Guide to the Prehistoric Rock Engravings in the Italian Maritime Alps" (originally published in 1913, probably the 3rd edition of his excellent book of 1902) has been reprinted and published by the Cambridge University Press in the Cambridge Library Collection - Archaeology (Paperback – 19 Feb 2016 - ISBN-13: 978-1108082587). It's nicely printed and is priced at £18.18 on Amazon UK today. There is a surprising amount of text on the situation, methodology, botany and day-to-day issues in addition to the account of the principal rock engravings.

In Clarence's Time - how to get botanical samples down the mountain

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

Susie and I are delighted to have acquired this delightful-looking vasculum... a tin cylinder with a shoulder strap in which to put botanical samples for transport back home at the end of a day's foraging. It can also be called a "botanical box" or in French "une boite à herboriser". Helen Blanc-francard pointed this one out on eBay France and we snapped it up. Do you think Clarence had one like this? Let's keep our eyes open for photos of him on botanical expeditions and mentions in his correspondence.

A web search reveals one like ours,vasculum bicknell c described as follows. "English. Early 20C. Hinged lid impressed with bas relief of stable scene with horses and hunting dogs. Painted on reverse with green and gold design. L 125 inches (31.6cms) x W 4.6 inches (11.7cms) x H 3 inches (7.5cms). These were used commonly by plant collectors. The specimens collected in the wild would not be squashed until the collector is ready to arrange and ‘press’ them between newspaper to dry them prior to mounting on herbarium sheets. Many found items are in tin japanned in black and are Edwardian. Students of Botany in the UK, up until the 1960’s or so were expected to make a herbarium of pressed and dried wild plants. They would collect their specimens in a vasculum and then treat them as I indicated earlier. They were being manufactured as late as the early 60’s. Professionals and plant hunters (the latter often being country gentlemen and ladies) would do the same, but in earlier times in Africa, the Far East and elsewhere, the vasculum was the standard method of ‘preserving’ parts of plants until they could be pressed. The time difference between collection and pressing would vary between a few hours and no more than a couple of days. Thus the vasculum is only for temporary holding of plant material. In order to preserve plants to return them to Europe to grow, the usual methods would be to collect seeds, bulbs, tuber, corms or other organs that go though a cycle of growth and die-back. I doubt that the vasculum would be used for this. Paper bags would do. A risky way to ship whole plants, on the whole small ones, was to keep them in tea chests, but even then the time scale is rather short, because the plant material will rot. With one of the plants with which I have worked, a cutting in a polythene bag for 2 weeks is just about the limit. I could get the cutting to root and so establish a plant. With bulbs, corms and tubers, there is no real problem."

Wikipedia gives similar and useful information...

A vasculum or a botanical box is a stiff container used by botanists to keep field samples viable for transportation. The main purpose of the valsculum is to transport plants without crushing them and by maintaining a cool, humid environment.

Vascula are cylinders typically made from tinned and sometimes lacquered iron, though wooden examples are known. The box was carried horizontally on a strap so that plant specimens lie flat and lined with moistened cloth.[1] Traditionally, British and American vascula were somewhat flat and valise-like with a single room, while continental examples were more cylindrical and often longer, sometimes with two separate compartments.[2] Access to the interior is through one (sometimes two) large lids in the side, allowing plants to be put in and taken out without bending or distorting them unnecessarily. This is particularly important with wildflowers, that are often fragile. Some early 20th century specimen are made from sheet aluminium rather than tin, but otherwise follow the 19th century pattern. The exterior is usually left rough, or lacquered green.

The roots of the vasculum is lost in time, but may have evolved from the 17th century tin candle-box of similar construction. Linnaeus called it as a vasculum dilletanum, from Latin vasculum - small container and dilletanum, referring to J.J. Dillenius, Linnaeus' friend and colleague at Oxford Botanic Garden. With rise of botany as a scientific field the mid 18th century, the vasculum became an indispensable part of the botanists equipment. Together with the

screw down plant press, the vasculum was popularized in Britain by naturalist William Withering around 1770. The shortened term "vasculum" appear to have become the common name applied to them around 1830. Being a hallmark of field botany, the vascula were in common use until the 2nd World War. Another vasculumWith post-war emphasis on systematics rather than alpha taxonomy and new species often collected in far-away places, field botany and the vascula with it went into decline.Aluminium vascula are still made and in use, though zipper bags and clear plastic folders are today cheaper and more common in use.

"The newsletter of the Society of Herbarium Curators is named "The Vasculum"."


William Waterfield, whose celebrated garden in Menton is a wonder, wrote in response, 4th April 2016, "Dear Marcus, a vasculum as depicted was current when I was a student in the 60s."


News - Bicknell Museum Group established

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

I was pleased to be at the Museo Bicknell in Bordighera on Monday to attend the third meeting of the Bicknell Museum Group under the guidance of Marc Blessington, Marina Hollinshead, Gulshan Antivalle, Jacqueline Parietti. I am so happy to have an English speaking forum in favour of the Museo Bicknell, whose financial situation is so poor; I speak no Italian (although I can understand some) so working with the Italian-speaking protagonists (especially the excellent Amici del Museo Clarence Bicknell with whom close links will be maintained) has been less easy for me personally. The meeting was enhanced by the presence of Carolyn Hanbury and Daniela Gondolfi. I was able to make commitments to help the new group and I wish them every success. This web-site will carry links to their forum and news items when available.

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

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

will arnold-forster Ho una richiesta di informazioni da Jane Winter. Forse Will Arnold-Forster [1886-1951]  aiuto progettazione Il Gardiano Lowe a Bordighera?

Jane Winter si sta occupando la biografia di e [1886-1951] e sua moglie Ka Cox [1887-1938]. Will iniziato la sua vita adulta come artista, e ha vissuto in Toscana dal 1911 fino al 1914. E 'rimasto a Monte Fiano, sopra Fiesole, che era una vecchia casa di riposo monastica in collina, circondato da vigneti e con una grande cantina dove il vino sono stati mantenuti botti. Aveva molti amici inglesi nella zona, tra cui Emily Hobhouse, Flora Priestley, Vernon Lee (Violet Paget), e AW Benn (1843-1915), il filosofo, e di sua moglie. Vivevano sulle colline sottostanti Fiesole, in una zona chiamata Maiano, in via del Palmerino a Villia Il Ciliegio, accanto a Vernon Lee. Aveva anche molti visitatori, tra cui il poeta e alpinista Geoffrey Winthrop Young e suo fratello George, George Mallory, Hilton giovani, gli artisti Muirhead Bone e Elliott Seabrooke, il musicista Ferdinando Speyer, e George e Charles Trevelyan.Will Arnold-Forster era probabilmente a Bordighera subito dopo WW1 (possibile nel 1920, 21 o 22), ma è più probabile che sia stato lì per un certo periodo di tempo tra il 1911 e il 1914.

Qualsiasi informazione sarebbe apprezzata. Posso mettere in contatto con Jane Winter (il cui sito è al Grazie. Marcus

I have a request for information from Jane Winter, below. Did Will Arnold-Forster [1886 to 1951] help lay out Il Gardiano Lowe in Bordighera? Jane Winter is researching the biography of  and [1886 to 1951] and his wife Ka Cox [1887 – 1938].  Will started out his adult life as an artist, and lived in Tuscany from 1911 until 1914.  He stayed at Monte Fiano, above Fiesole, which was an old monastic rest house up in the hills, surrounded by vineyards and with a large cellar where wine casks were kept. He had many English friends in the area, including Emily Hobhouse, Flora Preistey, Vernon Lee (Violet Paget), and A.W. Benn (1843-1915), the philosopher, and his wife. They lived on the hills below Fiesole, in an area called Maiano, on via del Palmerino at the Villia Il Ciliegio, next door to Vernon Lee. He also had many visitors, including the poet and mountaineer Geoffrey Winthrop Young and his brother George, George Mallory, Hilton Young, the artists Muirhead Bone and Elliott Seabrooke, the musician Ferdinand Speyer, and George and Charles Trevelyan.Will Arnold-Forster was probably in Bordighera just after WW1 (possible in 1920, 21 or 22), but he is most likely to have been there for any length of time between 1911 and 1914. Any information would be appreciated. I can put you in touch with Jane Winter (whose web site is at Thank you. Marcus

NEWS - Bicknell researchers at Oxford University Herbaria

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

Oxford herbaria Jan2016Researchers into the botanist and polymath Clarence Bicknell (1842-1918) were guests of the Fielding-Druce Herbarium in the Oxford University Herbaria on Monday 11 January 2016. One of the researchers, Graham Avery of St Antony’s College, Oxford University, had discovered two years ago that the Herbarium has many botanical specimens originating from Clarence Bicknell. 

Now Clarence Bicknell is the subject of a biography being written by Boston-based Valerie Browne Lester whose previous books include Phiz – The Man Who Drew Dickens and Giambattista Bodoni - The prince of typographers - His Life and His World. Valerie is supported in her research by a team of which four were present, Graham Avery (above), Marcus Bicknell (Chairman of the Clarence Bicknell Association), Helen Blanc-Francard (garden and plant expert) and Susie Bicknell (researcher on socio-cultural issues). The visit was one of several organised for and by Valerie including to the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge (Bicknell’s botanical drawings and fantasy albums), the Museo Bicknell in Bordighera, Italy (archaeological relics, stone age rock engravings, books and photos), the Musée des Merveilles in Tende, France (stone age rock engravings), the Museo Civico, Bordighera, Genoa University, the Shropshire Archive, Shrewsbury, the East Sussex Archives at The Keep, Brighton, and the Botanical Museum Geneva, which house over 30,000 drawings, rock art rubbings and artefacts collected or created by Bicknell in his lifetime. The biography will be published in time for 2018, the centenary of Bicknell’s death.

pimpinella bicknellii sampleSerena Marner, Manager of the Herbarium, brought out for the researchers many of the Bicknell specimens, whose entry in An Account of the Herbaria… by H.N. Clokie (1964) states that he collected on the Riviera and Corfu. Many of the specimens here were contributed by other correspondents, and the network of researcher/collectors across Europe and elsewhere was a significant feature of the explosion of interest in science and nature in the second half of the 19th century. Bicknell himself corresponded with scores of botanists and archaeologists in English, French, Italian and Esperanto and he was a dedicated European 150 years before the Union we know today.

Serena Marner has been kind enough to supply this excellent photo (reproduced on the left) of one of the Bicknell specimens. This is one name after him, Pimpinella bicknellii, which Clarence Bicknell and his helper Luigi Pollini found on Majorca in 1897. This  plant, endemic  to  Majorca,  was named after Bicknell in 1898 by John Briquet, Director of the    Botanical    Garden    of    Geneva.    The specimen   has   a   label   of   the   Herbarium Normale of Ignaz Dörfler stating (in botanical Latin)   that   it   was   "collected   by   Clarence Bicknell  and  Luigi  Pollini  in  May  1899  on Majorca at a height of 4-500 metres on rocky slopes on the northern side of the hills between the two farms of Ariant (near Pollenza) and the sea, the locus classicus where Bicknell first discovered it in 1897".

More details of Bicknell and the Oxford University Herbaria can be found in Graham Avery’s short paper which can be downloaded at  


NEWS - Clarence Bicknell - rock engraving slab sent to the British Museum

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

Valerie Lester, Clarence Bicknell’s biographer, continuAN00790984 001 les to work through the Bicknell family collection near London. A file provided by Dr Christopher Chippindale shows much of the research he did into Clarence Bicknell which led to his publications including in Antiquity Magazine in 1984 and his High Way to Heaven in 1998. Among them is Clarence's letter to the British Museum in London offering them an engraving on a stone stone which indeed they accepted and which is on display to this day in the museum, exhibit 1897,1229.1. Details at


Letter from Clarence Bicknell to the British Museum


Bordighera, Italy
1st  September 1897

Dear Sir,

I have been spending he summer in a valley of the Maritime Alps, about 4 hours walk from Tenda. In and above the Fontanalba, at 2 hours walk from us, the rocks are covered with figures, similar to the well-known ones by the neighbouring Laghi delle Meraviglie. The former, however, seem hardly known, and as far as I am aware, the late Prof. E. Celesia  of Genoa is the only person who has published some description of them in a “Bollettino del Ministero della Istruzione Pubblica, maggio 1886”, which I have not yet read.

I have spent so far 11 long days up there, exploring and making some drawings and rubbings, and yesterday I and my servant managed to bring home a piece of rock, detached from a large rock surface on which we counted about 308 figures, with a figure on it of which I will send you a rubbing.

I write to ask you if you care to have this for the B. Museum? If so, as soon as I return to Bordighera, I will send it off.  The thing, whatever it be, figured on the rock, is one of the commonest types. It has always been taken for granted by the numerous writers (I do not know what M. Emile Rivière  says) that they are heads of sheep, goats, cows, chamois, ibex, deer, elks &c &c. Perhaps some may be, but I am inclined to think they more probably represent insects. I could send you copies of my drawings taken on a small scale, merely to show the variety of designs – or a few photos of some of the rocks, if they would be of any use or value to you.

I am , dear Sir,

Yours faithfully

Clarence Bicknell (long-form sbritish museum logoignature)

If you accept my offer, I beg that you will let me know after its arrival what you have paid for carriage &C., as I do not think it possible from Bordighera to pay the whole amount. The piece of rock is about ½ metre long and 20 c. wide, and is pretty heavy, as we found out yesterday in bringing it down the mountain sides.

NEWS - Margaret Berry letters to Mrs Fanshawe-Walker

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

Valerie Lester, Clarence Bicknell’s biographer, transcribed in December 2015 the parts of Margaret’s letters to Mrs. Fanshawe Walker that are of interest to us. The letters were deep in the files of the Bicknell family collection at Marcus’s house, where Valerie has been staying over Christmas. The transcripts help to shed light on life in the Casa Fontanalba and up in the mountains seeking out the botany and the archaeology.Clarence Bicknell, left, Edward Berry standing and his wife Margaret Berry with the cane. At the Casa Fontanalba c.1910

"The Uncle is very well and fat and sunburnt and distinctly “good” as you call it. He seems thoroughly happy here, and enjoys every minute of the days, always “so busy there is not a minute to spare” and “no time to read.”

Read more by clicking here to download the 3-page pdf of the new transcripts.

The photo shows Clarence Bicknell, left, Edward Berry standing and his wife Margaret Berry with the cane. At the Casa Fontanalba c.1910

NEWS - Discovery of Clarence's brother's archive

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

We are pleased to inform researchers and others interested in Clarence Bicknell that we have been made aware of a significant archive created by Algernon Sidney Bicknell (1832-1911), one of Clarence's elder brothers.algernon sidney bicknell

These papers of Algernon Sidney Bicknell are deposited at the East Sussex Record Office at The Keep, Brighton under the reference ACC 8490. The core of the archive is two hand-written bound volumes of Algernon Sidney's autobiography. They were uncovered and partly transcribed recently by researcher and writer Martyn Webster of Brighton Sussex whom we thank. His interest has been the village of Barcombe, near Lewes, East Sussex, and he found that Algernon Sidney lived for many years in an imposing mansion there, Barcombe House. He wrote three articles for the Sussex Family Historian under the title The Bicknells of Barcombe and alerted us to the find in September 2015.

Valerie Browne Lester, working hard on researching and writing the first biography of Clarence Bicknell, and I went to The Keep on 18th December 2015 for a day's work. We scanned and transcribed further material not covered by Mr Webster. Our interest of course was the light the archive sheds on Clarence's early life, especially the way in which the elder siblings treat the 13th and last of the children... Clarence was 10 years younger than Algernon Sidney. It is fair to say that Valerie and I were otherwise disappointed with our day because we could find no evidence that Clarence went to the same school in Brighton as Algernon Sidney, Dr Laing's School at 10 (later 11) Sussex Square. Algernon Sidney hardly mentions Clarence in his autobiography all, such was, at best, the difference in age or, at worst, his disdain for Clarence. When Clarence visits him, Algernon Sidney complains that the visits are not more frequent but he makes no effort to visit him in Bordighera... in fact he travels to Bordighera 1907, does not look Clarence up and criticises the place bitterly. Elsewhere in the writings, Algernon Sidney criticises Clarence's role in the church, then criticises him for leaving it and finishes by damning him for doing nothing in his life but "hunt for local wild flowers". But the joys of Clarence's family and their impact on him must wait until Valerie publishes the biography which will be out well in time for the 2018 centenary of Clarence's death.

The Bicknell family collection, which I presently look after, contains two sizeable hand-written works by Algernon Sidney Bicknell. The first is his notes for Excerpta Biconyllea ("A Forgotten Chancellor and a Forgotten Knight. Notes for a history of the Somersetshire family of Biconylle"), 1895 revised 1900, his published history of the Bicknell family, some essential elements of which have since proved to be untrue (see The second is his notes for a second volume of Excerpta Biconyllea which, some might say luckily, never got pubished.

I complied the three articles, including his excerpts, by Martyn Webster into one, edited and illustrated it, with his permission, on 19th December 2015 and you can download it here (13 pages in pdf).

Update 2 January 2016. In the 10 days since this posting has been online here, 56 people have downloaded the Martyn Webster document. We're delighted with the interest.

Those excerpts transcribed by Valerie and me are also available for download here (18 pages in pdf)


News - Seeking TV producer for Clarence Bicknell documentary

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

clarence on tvI have started the prospection for a TV production company or broadcaster to take on the creation of a documentary or mini-series on Clarence Bicknell for release in 2018 in France, Germany, Italy, the UK and worldwide. Phone calls with Paris, London and Munich today. The biography by Clarence's great great grand niece Valerie Browne Lester could also be part of the deal for coordinated release. I am approaching producers associated with similar cultural programmes on RAI, TF1, Antenne 2, ARTE, ZDF, ARD, RTL, BBC, Channel 4 etc. But you might know someone with other contacts in the industry and we would be very pleased to hear from anyone who can help. Email us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for an info pack. Thanks in advance. All the best. Marcus Bicknell

In Clarence's Time - early postcard of the Casa Fontanalba

Written by Helen Blanc-Francard on .

casa fontalba postcard aug1908From Helen Blanc-Francard on 13th August 2015

This post card was up for sale on eBay this week - a misty view of Clarence's recently built villa closed up for the winter with the surrounding slopes freshly cleared of vegetation. Amusingly it was sent exactly one hundred and seven years ago, on 13th August 1908. 

One can imagine that Clarence would have been in residence the day the sender of the card travelled up to Casterino to escape the stifling summer heat of the coast.

On the same day, in newspaper offices in England, France and America two items of sensational news were coming in that would change people's lives for ever - but few may have realised it at the time!  

french postcard wright flightFour days earlier, at a horse race track near Le Mans in France, the Wright Brothers had flown their new Model A flying machine for the first time in public to prove to sceptical european aviators that they had indeed conquered the skies.  Their fragile aircraft had taken flight with Wilbur at the controls and was airborn for only one minute and 45 seconds but Wilbur's ability to effortlessly make banking turns and fly a circle amazed and stunned onlookers, among them Louis Bleriot.  By the 12th August the French public were flocking to the field by the thousands as Wilbur flew a series of technically challenging flights, including figure-of-eights, demonstrating his skills as a pilot and the capability of his flying machine, which far surpassed those of all other pioneering aircraft and pilots of the day. The brothers instantly became world-famous.

ford-model-t-assembly-lineOver the ocean in Detroit, another ambition was being realized as the first production model of Henry Ford's Model T automobile rolled off the line on August 12th, 1908. Its maker had announced  "I will build a car for the great multitude. It will be large enough for the family, but small enough for the individual to run and care for. It will be constructed of the best materials, by the best men to be hired, after the simplest designs that modern engineering can devise. But it will be so low in price that no man making a good salary will be unable to own one – and enjoy with his family the blessing of hours of pleasure in God's great open spaces".  He also famously remarked that the Model T was available in any colour you wanted – as long as it was black.

In Clarence's Time - Last Train from Liguria

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

last-train-from-liguriaIf you are fascinated by Bordighera, it's history and the influence of the foreigners, you would enjoy reading Last Train from Liguria by Christine Dwyer Hickey. It's fiction, and it's set in the 1930s i.e. some 20 years after Clarence's time, but the backdrop of Bordighera feels similar to that experienced by Bicknell.

The book is captivating. Joseph O'Connor's review says "This is a big, bold, remarkably assured narrative that roams between 1930s London and Celtic Tiger-era Dublin, cleverly shifting its balance of perspectives and characterisations so that both those places lead inevitably to the fascist-era Italy that is really the novel's main setting. In 1933, Bella Stuart, the introspective daughter of a London surgeon, sets out for the country where Mr Mussolini is busy making the trains run on time. The plan is for her to be tutor to the son of the aristocratic Lami family - "there's a villa in Sicily and a summer house on the Italian riviera", and there is "some German connection, so you'll probably be popping off to Berlin". Fateful words for the whole of Europe, perhaps. Signora Lami turns out to be younger than Bella, her husband much older, a man who has "a face that is ready to die". There is a scene of Tolstoyan poignancy and unearthly beauty where Bella glimpses them bathing. This is a household as strange as it is crustily sumptuous. Its mistress refers to the servants as "frightful primitives". Even the sound made by the crickets seems different, somehow: "harsher and slightly neurotic"."


NEWS - Clarence and the sketch of Turner by the Count d'Orsay in his father's house

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

engraving of Turner by d'Orsay, property of Marcus BicknellI have been researching further the apocryphal story, recounted in the family,  that Clarence would have observed Turner, Landseer, Stansfield, Roberts, Ruskin and other notable artists and writers of the time when they visited Elhanan's home, Carlton House in Herne Hill, now the site of Danecroft Road. A very useful summary of Turner and Elhanan Bicknell is in the Dulwich Society paper by Brian Green of 2014 which I put online (and linked to my last blog posting here) at

This paper is brim full of other useful stories about Elhanan's world and is worth another read. For example "Turner, frequently dined at his father’s house, and objected to having his portrait taken. At one such dinner around Christmas 1845, Count D’Orsay and Sir Edwin Landseer, devised a little plot to defeat the result of this antipathy. Whilst Turner unsuspiciously chatted with a guest over a cup of tea in the drawing-room, D’Orsay placed himself as a screen beside him to hide, when necessary, Landseer, sketching him at full length in pencil on the back of an envelope. Landseer gave what he had done to D’Orsay, who after re-drawing it at home and enlarged the figure to eight inches in height, sold it to J Hogarth, printseller in the Haymarket, for twenty guineas”. Sixteen copies of this print were included in the Bicknell sale at Christie’s in 1863 after Bicknell’s death and I show an image of one of them, above.

When d'Orsay secretly sketched Turner sipping coffee in Elhanan's drawing room in 1845 Clarence was only 3, so if any children observed this little deception they would have been Clarence's elder siblings. He was the youngest of 13 children of Elhanan. I am continuing to hunt down the source of any anecdote about Clarence and the artists in the house especially as they would be useful to Clarence's biographer Valerie Browne Lester.

The Tate Gallery in London lists the d'Orsay engraving, and gives further details, at 

In Clarence's Time - George MacDonald in Bordighera

Written by Susie Bicknell on .

macdonald sitting 1862Clarence Bicknell and George Macdonald:
Figureheads of Society in Bordighera

By Susie Bicknell, February 2015, updated December 2019

Since the publication of Susie Bicknell's paper here in February 2015, new facts came to light during her research for Valerie Lester's book MARVELS: The Life of Clarence Bicknell. The most interesting revelation was that Bicknell had in fact influenced the MacDonalds to come to Bordighera... "In 1879, Clarence had met George and Louisa Macdonald at the religious retreats organised by the influential Lord and Lady Mount Temple at their Broadlands home in Hampshire, England. Clarence corresponded with Louisa and he encouraged and helped them to come to Bordighera."

The 2015 paper can be downloaded in pdf form here.

The 2019 update can be downloaded here.


George MacDonald and Clarence Bicknell both settled in Bordighera in 1878.  George was already an established literary personality with a large family and little money.  Clarence was unknown with no particular vocation except as a priest, a bachelor (which he remained) and with enough private means to support himself.  Within a few years, they had established themselves as pivots of society in Bordighera.  However, it is strange not to know how much contact they had with each other, considering how much they had in common as stalwarts of Bordighera.

They both had stints as priests.  Reacting possibly to his Unitarian upbringing, Clarence, when he left Cambridge, favoured a return to a more Catholic orientated Anglican Church. Ordained in 1866, Clarence was a curate in a tough parish in Walworth, Surrey and then from 1873 spent six years on and off at Stoke on Tern with the rather mysterious “Brotherhood of the Holy Spirit” created by Rowland Corbet which pursued High Church Anglo-Catholicism. But by the late 70s, the Brotherhood must have lost its allure for Clarence, and he travelled considerably, going as far afield as Morocco and possibly New Zealand.  He ended up in Bordighera in 1878 invited by the Fanshawe family and became chaplain to the Anglican church there.

Eighteen years older than Clarence, Scotsman George MacDonald also started with a religious calling. He left Aberdeen to study Congregationalism at Highbury Independent Theological College.  After three years, he became pastor in 1850 at a Congregational Church in Arundel, Sussex.  However, three years later, he was forced to resign, accused of heresy as his sermons became more and more imbued with mysticism.  His parishioners liked him though, for his sincere pastoral care.  He was a striking man, tall with blue eyes, long dark hair, and a long dark beard, who continued to impress with his preaching in Manchester and Bolton.

This work did not provide enough funds to support George’s ever-growing family.  In true Victorian tradition, his adored wife Louisa produced a child nearly every year during the 1850s and they eventually ended up with eleven children, four of whom died. He resigned from the Independent ministry and became a lay member of the Church of England and decided to pursue his literary vocation.  He had started with two poetry books but in 1858, he published “The Phantastes” which was his first success and the first of many fantasy and fairy-tale novels.  He said "I write, not for children, but for the child-like, whether they be of five, or fifty, or seventy-five."  Throughout his life, he also published volumes of sermons and wrote non-fantasy realistic novels on Scottish life.

MacDonald’s reputation became such that he moved in the top literary circles, acquainted with Tennyson, Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Trollope, Ruskin, Lewes, and Thackeray .  A photo exists of MacDonald with this group.  Maybe the photo was taken by Lewis Carroll, a well-known photographer as well as writer of the Alice books.  MacDonald’s children were so enthusiastic when the Alice books were read to them that Carroll was encouraged to present them for publication. What a good decision that was. macdonald family 1872

Image, right: The Macdonald family with Lewis Carroll

MacDonald’s rise to top literary circles had been helped in 1856 when Lady Byron became a patron.  In 1867 he moved into the large house known as “The Retreat” in Hammersmith (later to belong to William Morris after MacDonald’s move to Bordighera). And in 1872 he went on a lecture tour in the States.  He was an influence on Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.

But health-wise, things were not so good in MacDonald’s large family.  The “family attendant” – as MacDonald called tuberculosis - was hovering over them and the decision was taken to find a home on the Italian Riviera.  Queen Victoria, having enjoyed reading his books to her children, had accorded MacDonald a Civil List pension in 1877, and friends clubbed round to help him build a very large house in Bordighera.  While this was being built, a year or two were spent in Nervi (a popular sea resort suburb of Genoa) and Portofino.So in 1878, just as Clarence arrived also, the MacDonalds installed themselves in Bordighera where they spent the winter season for the next 20 years.  The curative powers of the local air were not enough to prevent MacDonald’s second eldest daughter dying the year they arrived.  Another three were to die, the last was Lilia in 1891, Macdonald’s first born and favourite daughter.

Clarence did not last long as the Anglican Chaplain.  Within a year he had resigned. He gave up active participation in church matters. He asked not to be referred to as “The Rev.” He ceased to wear a dog collar. He was later to say in a letter to a friend, “I fear I have become rather narrow about all church things, having become convinced that the churches do more harm than good & hinder human progress, & look upon the pope, the clergy & the doctrines as a fraud, though not an intentional one.”  But he decided to stay in Bordighera and bought the “Villa Rosa” from the Fanshawe-Walkers.  This large house (for a bachelor) remained his home till he died. It is right next door to the Church (no longer consecrated) and now divided into flats. We do not know if Clarence decorated the Villa’s interior walls as profusely as he did his house in Casterino or if he received as many visitors there as he did at the Casa Fontanalba.  

In the 10 years between 1907 and 1917 that Clarence had visitors to the Casa Fontanalba, over 250 people made their way up the twisty mountain road from St Dalmas de Tende to Casterino. Clarence was usually only there from June till September so having from 15 to as much as over 40 visitors in a season must have kept him and his helpers the Pollinis pretty busy!  Sometimes large families of 5 or 6 would come.  Clarence still fitted in his work on the engravings and regular botanical studies.  Decorating the house itself must have taken some time: would it have been finished for the 19 visitors who came in 1907?  And would visitors have been expected to follow his strict schedule and his vegetarian diet? And did some of them stay the night?

But back in 1880 and no longer occupied by his chaplaincy, Clarence – besides his botanical and archaeological interests – devoted himself to philanthropic projects for the local Italians and animating the British community.

Clarence had literary aspirations too, though of a lighter variety than MacDonald’s. As Peter Bicknell writes: “His delight in playful fantasy has much in common with the nonsense of Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll. He loved puzzles, riddles, jokes, puns and parlour games. For Margaret Berry he made a botanical version of the popular Victorian game of happy Families.”

And Clarence’s fantastical works were wonderfully illustrated. He did a series of albums, one a year, dedicated to his nephew Edward Berry’s wife, Margaret. Peter Bicknell describes one of these albums as follows:

“The last dated 1914 is an elaborate fantasy, The Triumph of the Dandelion in which the flowers compete for the crown of the Beauty Queen of Fontanalba. Page by page each flower presents her claim in enchanting drawings, supported by descriptions of her charms (sometimes medicinal) in prose and in verse (often facetious)”

The “Museo Bicknell” is his great creation. It was opened in 1888 to provide a cultural centre for local history.  Concerts, plays and exhibitions were held there, many of them fund-raisers for local charities. Later an additional library was built.  (For more detail see With a British population in this period of between 5000 and 7000, there was no shortage of potential audiences.

Meanwhile, MacDonald’s large home became a cultural centre in itself. This excerpt from Angela R. Barone’s 1990 PhD thesis “The Oak Tree and the Olive Tree:  The True Dream of Eva Gore-Booth” gives a vivid description of life there:
“Casa Coraggio, the name given to the construction in Bordighera, was linked with the family motto: "Corage! God mend all" (the imperfect spelling is deliberate, as the motto is an anagram of George MacDonald). The house was fenced by a thick row of trees and bushes, its outside walls were covered with ivy and evergreen creepers. Inside, there were numerous large rooms, furnished with disparate items and with the walls painted in vivid colours. In the large and luminous kitchen Louisa (his wife) used to cook in large quantity for her numerous family and guests - the door of Casa Coraggio was constantly open to the local villagers as well as to friends, acquaintances, unknown guests coming from Northern Europe to meet the artist philanthropist or to recover their health in the sunny Italian weather and to avail of the generosity of George MacDonald.

“In a large store-room one could find all sorts of costumes, theatrical props and disparate objects. In the sitting-room of over 130 square metres, the MacDonalds organised concerts, mainly directed by Louisa, lectures and oratorios, held by George, tableaux vivants and plays, staged and acted by the whole family, and fancy-dress balls and charity parties for the local community. George and Louisa, with their children, lived their most happy days in Casa Coraggio: they made an ecumenical meeting-point of their own house in Italy, sharing with the others whatever was in their possession and doing everything in their power to help the villagers who had so generously accepted them in their community.”

macdonald living room
Image, right. A part of the MacDonald’s enormous living room where plays, lectures and all manner of activities took place.


On Wednesday afternoons MacDonald gave readings of Shakespeare and Dante.  A local fisherman or florist might find himself next to an English aristocrat such as Lord Mount-Temple who wrote in his memoires;

“That house, Coraggio, is the very heart of Bordighera, the rich core of it, always raying out to all around, and gathering them to itself”.  
Some of the English community were apparently a bit shocked by the goings-on at this house with lots of Italian children around over Christmas and the eclectic gatherings that took place.

In 1896 Eva Gore-Booth and Gertrude Roper, both in their mid-twenties and from widely different backgrounds, met and fell in love at the Casa Coraggio.  They went on to live together, Eva abandoning her aristocratic upbringing, and  became well-known campaigners for vegetarianism, the abolition of capital punishment,  antivivisection, women’s’ suffrage and pacifism.

The last great event held at the MacDonald’s home was their 50th Wedding Anniversary in 1901.  Louisa died (exhausted one imagines) the next year.  George by then was in a wheelchair and returned to live in Haslemere with his son Greville where he died in 1905.So we wonder if Bicknell and Macdonald frequented each other’s gatherings and events? After all, they lived only 100 yards from each other. They certainly had some similarities: very welcoming, open and caring.  Both helped after the bad 1887 earthquake. MacDonald’s huge living room became an emergency hospital. In 1917, Clarence’s Museum was used for war victims, as was the Casino.  Clarence remarks in a letter to Pelloux in the same year “What a good thing it is to see useless or mischievous places being turned to good account”.

George and Clarence may both have been pivots of Bordighera society, but both also had passionate and time-consuming interests. They were not dilettante ex-pats just wintering on the Riviera. Clarence concentrated on botany, archaeology and Esperanto, MacDonald on his writing (he wrote 20 books while in Bordighera).

But as far as we know, they were not great friends, or even very well acquainted. Why not? Clarence used Robert Falconer MacDonald, one of George’s sons and an architect, to design the Casa Fontanalba, but so far that is the only sign of contact between them. Perhaps it was simply that Clarence was an outdoor person and George an indoor person.


This paper prepared as a research paper for the Clarence Bicknell Association website where many other papers can be found on the downloads page.

The 2015 paper can be downloaded in pdf form here.

The 2019 update can be downloaded here.


© Susie Bicknell 2015 and 2019 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

In Clarence's Time - Esperanto Conference 1906

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

immagine160cClarence struggles to get in to the group photo at the 2nd International Esperantist Conference in Geneva, 1906. In the detailed photo he is craning his head round the gentleman with the white collar and formal dark jacket, who in turn is leaning to get out from under the lady's wedding cake hat.

With thanks to Bruna Paoli for the photo.immagine161

NEWS - Clarence's Pendants

Written by Valerie Lester on .

Valerie Browne Lester, author and relation of Clarence Bicknell, is in the Museo Bicknell in Bordighera researching her biography of Clarence Bicknell. This is one of her dispatches from the front line.

strap sancti spiritusA series of large plastic boxes and a bookcase contain Marcus Bicknell's fine collection of works by and about Clarence Bicknell, photographs, and other memorabilia. The strangest item is a leather strap which from which hang the silver medallion of the Societas Sancti Spiritus (the brotherhood to which Clarence belonged when he was at Stoke-on-Tern) and two green pendants. Is it a keychain? Is it a watchchain?

The note written by Margaret Berry that accompanies the strap declares that Clarence brought the jade pendants back from Ceylon, but there's something funny about this. The stones are typical Maori pendants, made from New Zealand greenstone. I double-checked with a New Zealand friend about this and here is what he said:  "No question at all, at least not in regard to the one on the left; it's a classic shape (a slightly stylized war-club in fact). The one on the right isn't familiar to me, but the pendant style and colour of the stone is. Even though I don't recognize the shape, I wouldn't have hesitated to call it greenstone rather than jade."

The pendants are, thus far, the first chip of hard evidence that points to Clarence's legendary trip to the Antipodes. Time and again, those who write about Clarence, including Marcus's uncle Peter Bicknell, mention his trip to New Zealand but do not provide any proof. If he did indeed go there, he must have gone at some point during his year of travels, his lost year, the hiatus between his time in Stoke-on-Trent and his arrival in Bordighera in 1878.

Another tiny clue about a visit by Clarence to the Antipodes surfaced the other day in a letter that Marcus received from Dr. Peter McQuillan of the School of Geography & Environmental Studies at the University of Tasmania. McQuillan says: "I stumbled upon your excellent website on Clarence Bicknell in my attempts to discover something of how his name became attached to one of the most common and conspicuous ants in south eastern Australia: Iridomyrmex bicknelli. . . Do you have any evidence that he may have visited Tasmania? Because this is where the original ant specimens were apparently collected, and it is a common ant to this day in the vicinity of the port at Hobart, the capital city of Tasmania." strap paola bruni

The mind boggles but is not stunned with surprise, at the thought of a large Tasmanian ant named after Clarence Bicknell!

Back to the keychain. The other evening in Bordighera when I was having dinner at the home of the amazingly kind Dr. Bruna Da Paoli, who works in the Museo Bicknell, I happened to notice an item on a small table in her entryway. I took a photo, and I think you'll agree that Bruna's key strap bears a remarkable resemblance to the photo at the top of this page.


Added by Marcus Bicknell 11 September 2017: the following email from Dougal Austin, an expert in this field in New Zealand, confirms that the pendants are from New Zealdn not Ceylon. But we still have no evidence, in 2017, that Clarence went to new Zealand.

"Tēnā koe Marcus, Thank you for your inquiry. The two jade pendants take the shape of typical Māori artefacts: the patu (hand held weapon) and the kapeu (bent ear pendant). The kapeu may have been an actual ear pendant, whereas the patu has been reduced significantly in size in order to make a pendant. The gold attachment at the top of the patu pendant is interesting, the combination of gold and pounamu ‘New Zealand Jade’ pointing to late 19th-early 20th century origin.   I consider both have probably been made by European settler lapidary workshops in the late 19-ealy 20th century, probably mainly for the tourist market, though Māori also sometimes bought and used pendants such as these too. Traditional working of pounamu by Māori had ceased in most areas by 1900AD, so they acquired copies of cultural artefacts from Pākehā or European settler retailers at that time.     The stone is very probably pounamu, commonly called greenstone in New Zealand, and geologically known as nephrite jade. The vivid green of the kapeu pendant is very typical of New Zealand nephrite, though we also get darker colours such as has been used for the patu. I hope this is helpful. 

Heoi anō – Yours Sincerely 

Dougal Austin - Kāti Māmoe,Kāi TahuCurator, Taonga Tūturu 19-20th Century
Museum of New Zealand |Te Papa Tongarewa
Cable Street | PO Box 467 | Wellington 64-4-381 7118 (ddi | ext)
64-4-381 7080 (fax) This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it."

In Clarence's Time - Charles Lowe and Bordighera Tennis

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

Charles Lowe - The philanthropist of BordigheraCharles-Lowe-24996

Charles Lowe lived in Wiltshire for many years but he also spent much of his retirement on the Italian Riviera, where he was just as generous with his donations to good causes - including providing funds for Italy's first tennis courts.

A rare portrait of the self-effacing Lowe hangs to this day in the Bordighera council office.

Few visitors to the little UK village of Rowde, a couple of miles northwest of the Wiltshire town of Devizes, can have any inkling that it has a strong connection with the Italian Riviera. For it was here, in the seaside town of Bordighera, that Charles Henry Lowe, the owner of Rowde Hall, spent the winter months for more than 30 years, largely for the benefit of his health. Such was his gratitude that he poured large amounts of his considerable wealth into projects to improve the amenities in the town. These included a public garden, an Anglican church and its accompanying parsonage, a theatre, land for a cemetery and, remarkably enough, the first set of tennis courts ever to be built in Italy.

Young entrepreneur

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 Rossa', 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.

One year after Wimbledon

One of his first donations was land for the Bordighera Lawn Tennis Club. The game had only taken off in England in 1877, which was when the courts at Wimbledon were opened; the very next year saw the opening of those at Bordighera. Most of the original members were English, and tennis was seen as little more than a way of passing the time until tea at five o'clock. However, the game soon became to be taken more seriously, especially after the First World War, by which time the British population in the town had risen to three thousand and the number of courts used by the Club to 15.

Competitions had previously only been at a social level, but in the 1920s the Club inaugurated two international events: the Vera Cup (for ladies) and the Long Cup, which remained one of the classic Italian tennis events right up to the start of World War Two, although it was not until 1933 that it was won by an Italian, Federico Billour, subsequently a world-famous maker of tennis rackets.

Heyday in the 30s

In the 1930s, the Bordighera Tennis Club was known to be the strongest on the Riviera, even beating clubs as powerful as Monaco.

The international greats of the time came to play there - such stars as Bill Tilden, René Lacoste, Harry Hopman and Henri Cochet. But the golden age ended with the advent of World War Two: the British players who had started it all left forever, the town was repeatedly bombed, and the clubhouse resounded not to the joyful sounds of drives and volleys but to the heavy jackboot tramp, tramp of the occupying Nazis.

War fatigue

A post-war return to the days of glory proved almost impossible. The local council was only able to buy three of the courts, and much of the rest was used for building development.

But the 1960s saw a rebirth, with the construction of a new clubhouse containing all the necessary facilities and an injection of energy into youth coaching. The club organised the Italian Student Championships in 1966, bringing to the fore such future Italian stars as Paolo Bertolucci, Corrado Barazutti, Nicola Pietrangeli and Adriano Pannatta.

Facebook fame

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.'

A century on, Bordighera's website ( describes him as 'generoso benefattore'. He would have been flattered - but surely content.

Tony Burton-Page

Info re Charles Lowe from the Riviera Times, with thanks to Helen Blanc-Francard for bringing it to our attention.


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