In Clarence's Time - The Metamorphosis of Bordighera

Written by Helen Blanc-Francard on .

Researched and written by Helen Blanc-Francard

bordighera ieri agenzia berryClarence’s arrival and the time he spent in Bordighera coincided with the rapid and complete metamorphosis of the town.  In the matter of a few decades the slumbering, isolated fishing village it had been for past centuries was transformed into a thriving and cosmopolitan seaside resort of the Victorian era.  Along with its growth its international reputation developed and visitors flocked to enjoy its newly-built, luxurious and convivial hotels, splendid private villas, beneficially healthy climate and an environment lush with exotic palms, semi-tropical vegetation and carefully tended gardens.

The visually rich (sometimes erratic) montage of black-and-white postcards and photographs linked below illustrates just how extraordinary this pace of change was. The images show that, during the rare period of peace, prosperity and refined sensibilities of the Belle Époque, just why the glittering Mediterranean coast beyond the sweeping bay of Menton became famous across the world as the Riviera dei Fiori.

To enjoy some of the details that relate to Clarence’s time and to imagine the sights, sounds and even the smells of the hustling, bustling daily life in Bordighera - do watch the video montage in ‘full screen’ mode with its accompanying (and rather atmospheric) accompanying music. Here it is…

 bordighera british storesOnce upon a time in Bordighera -

Somewhere you might spot Clarence’s bicycle propped up against a roadside kerb when he dashes into a shop or visits a bank.  After all, the bank and travel agency (Agenzia Berry, photo top, with two dromedaries (the one-humped camel, C. dromedarius), established in 1881 by Edward Berry, his nephew, can also be seen opposite the rather grand "British Stores" (2nd photo, Via Vittorio Emanuele)  Clarence must often be out and about: you will glimpse his name painted boldly across the entrance of the 'Ambulatorio Municipale' (3rd photo).
The earliest images though show that a peasant lifestyle prevailed before the great building boom. The almost empty rocky coastal landscape is ribboned with meandering stone tracks and punctuated by clusters of huddled stone buildings.  At the centre of the town shadowy arched streets lead to sunlit squares and the tall facades of Romanesque churches. On the edge of town a lonely chapel stands on a seemingly remote headland, presumably to offer the population of local fishermen the chance to say an arriving prayer of thanks.

bordighera ambulatorio municipaleFollowing the invention of affordable, portable wooden and brass-lensed cameras, roaming itinerant photographers tended to photograph everything they saw. So we see clichés of newly widened roads being paved; a network of iron tramlines laid along streets; the construction of a fine station to welcome the arrival of transcontinental steam trains.  All this for the visitors and tourists pouring in to what is now ‘a destination’, a place designed for pleasure and amusement. Things are going so fast it is bound to end in tears and, indeed in another photo, a rather fine automobile has crash-landed onto the beach.

To cater to the demands of the European visitors, banks, shops, restaurants and cafés jostle for space along the Via Vittorio Emanuele.  New garages are built to fuel the new cars and policemen are needed to direct the traffic and even the occasional file of camels and Palm Sunday soldiers on bicycles.  Gas lamps and then electric lights are installed to light the main thoroughfares. Striding wooden telegraph poles indicate that a new era of connectivity has arrived.

The clash of the old and new is visible everywhere. Donkey carts can be seen navigating between smart horse-drawn carriages, early automobiles and articulated trams.  Look carefully and you can see that the long-cultivated olive groves, artichoke and flower fields in the very centre of town are fast disappearing to make way for splendidly ornate and turreted villas, magnificent, stucco-embellished hotels, theatres and municipal buildings. In a final confident surge of decadent opulence, a monumental casino, studded with electric light bulbs, is built on a rocky spur jutting into the sea.  This really is La Belle Époque.

Even municipal clocks are there to remind the townsfolk that time has taken on another significance.  You will see that a carriage driver, waiting for a client outside The Royal Hotel, hardly has time to slake his thirst at a nearby water trough whilst attendant beach servants on the shore clearly have to wait patiently for fully dressed and hatted bathers to finish their dip in the sea.

An epilogue? On the 12th February 1941, long after Clarence's death in 1918, Francisco Franco will wait for Benito Mussolini in the former residence of Queen Margherita of Savoy (opposite the Museo Bicknell) to discuss the formation of a Latin alliance to wage war against the allied forces in WW2. It was a waste of time because terms were never agreed.

Researched and written by Helen Blanc-Francard

NEWS - Video on Clarence Bicknell

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

trailer video linkTHERE IS NO GOD BUT NATURE - CLARENCE BICKNELL - the film. The 18 minute documentary biopic of Clarence Bicknell, in the evocative visual style of French director Rémy Masséglia, will be released at selective screenings in September/October 2016. For the time being, please enjoy the trailer by clicking on the image (right) or here.

  • Friday 30th September at the Musée des Merveilles, Tende, France - version in French (world premier) - sponsored by the Istituto Internazionale di Studi Liguri
  • Saturday 1st October at the Museo Bicknell, Bordighera, Italy - version in Italian (world premier) sponsored by Conseil Régional Provence Alpes Côtes d'Azur
  • Sunday 2nd October in Breil-sur-Roya, France (Masséglia's home town) - version in French
  • Monday 3rd October at the Museo Bicknell, Bordighera, Italy - version in English (world premier) sponsored by the Bicknell Museum Group
  • Tuesday 4th October at the Natural History Museum, Genoa, Italy - to be confirmed
  • Italian Cultural Institue in London - date to be confirmed
  • British School in Rome - date to be confirmed

The filming of the video, in Bordighera, Casterino and the Val Fontanalba, has been exciting and successful. Susie and Marcus Bicknell, Vanessa and Renchi Bicknell, Gwen and Rémy Masseglia were in Bordighera, Casterino and the Val Fontanalba in the week of 27 June to 1st July 2016.

The Italian press have been giving us coverage already. La Stampa of 30 June reports "The Museo Bicknell become a cinema set for the documentary about Clarence Bicknell in which he is played by his nephew Renchi Bicknell". You can see a scan of the article on Facebook at You can also see there some more photos taken during the shooting of the video.

My cousin Renchi's portrayal of his video title 1 2016great grand uncle has been remarkable both in his acting and in his likeness. Rémy Masseglia's direction and camera work are both to the point and very creative. A film to look forward to. We expect a trailer in mid-July and a release of a 20 minute video on a date in the autumn coordinated with events in Bordighera and Tende.

Following enquires from the media we put together in August 2016 a list of Frequently-Asked Questions and their answers which you can download here.

If you would like to read more about the shoot and see some behind-the-scenes pictures then you can download my June 2016 diary here.

Marcus Bicknell 4th July 2016

NEWS - Clarence Bicknell's 37,000 artefacts in 40 collections

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

As research by the Clarence Bicknell Association continues, led by Graham Avery with the support of Valerie Lester, Susie and Marcus Bicknell, Helen Blancfrancard, Christopher Chippindale and others, our analysis of the wealth of materials left by Clarence Bicknell becomes more apparent. Our database now lists over 37,000 botanical drawings, rubbing of rock engravings, pressed flowers, albums, letters, photos and more creations from his life’s work.

Graham Avery continues to find museums and institutions where scientists and researchers who corresponded with Bicknell have stored, in particular, pressed flowers ("herbaria") and letters. As the following list shows, there are 35 universities and museums with items from Bicknell's output, to which can be added 5 individuals (known to me) who have one or more item of Bicknell's. These institutions are in 10 different countries in Europe, plus the USA. The two biggest collections are the ones endowed by Bicknell late in his life, at the University of Genoa and the Istituto Internazionale di Studi Liguri which runs the Museo Bicknell which he built in Bordighera.

Berlin, Dahlem Botanischer Garten, Germany
Bordighera, IISL, Italy
genoa-university-logoBordighera, Museo Bicknell, Italy
Bordighera, Museo Civico, Italy
British Museum, London, UK
Cambridge Mass. Ames Herbarium, USA
Cambridge Mass. Gray Herbarium, USA
Cambridge University, Fitzwilliam Museum, UK
Cuneo, Museo Civico, Italy
Edinburgh, UK
Florence (Civic Museum), Italy
Florence University, Italy
Frankfurt, Herbarium Senckenbergianum, Germany
Geneva, Conservatoire et Jardin Botaniques, Switzerland
Genoa University "Legate Bicknell", Italy
Genoa University Botanical Dept, Italyiisl-logo
Genoa, Museo Civico (Natural History), Italy
Genoa, Museo Civico Archeologica, Italy
Genoa, Museum of Natural History, Italy
Göteborg Botaniska Trädgård, Sweden
La Mortola, Giardini Botanici Hanbury, Italy
Leiden, Hortus botanicus, Netherlands
London, Kew Gardens, UK
Meise Plantentuin, Belgium
Montpellier University, France
New York Botanical Garden, USA
Oxford University Herbaria, UK
Sassari University, Italy
Shrewsbury, Shropshire Archive, UK
St.Germain-en-Laye, Musée d'Archéologie Nationale, France
Stuttgart, Museum für Naturkunde, Germany
Tende, Musée des Merveilles, France
Torino, Superintendenza, Italy
Torino University, Italy
Vienna Naturhistorisches Museum, Austria

The complete database of artefacts is available in spreadsheet form to academics working on aspects of Bicknell's life and work but is kept confidential otherwise. Please email us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to express an interest.

NEWS - Clarence Bicknell and Stefano Sommier

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

‘Caro Dottore’ - Clarence Bicknell’s correspondence with Stefano Sommier 1903-1918

by Graham Avery 18th June 2016

The Botanical Library of the University of Florence (Biblioteca di scienze, sede Botanica, Universita'  degli Studi di Firenze) has in its archives a collection of letters and postcards written by the British botanist Clarence Bicknell (1842-1918) to the Italian botanist Stefano Sommier (1848-1922).

Sommier, born in Florencestefano sommier 7131 of French parents, was a founder member of the Società Botanica Italiana and its President from 1898 to 1902. An active collector of plants, he travelled to Crimea, the Caucasus, the Urals, Siberia, Scandinavia, Scotland, Ireland, France, Switzerland, the Balkans, and islands in the Mediterranean. His many botanical publications include floras of Siberia, the Caucasus, Malta, Pantelleria, the Isole Pelagie (between Malta and Tunisia) and the Isola del Giglio. He participated in botanical exchanges, donated his herbarium to the Central Herbarium in Florence, and contributed specimens to other herbaria in Italy.

Sommier’s botanical correspondence (10,000 documents relating to 500 correspondents) is conserved in the Botanical Library of Florence University; a catalogue compiled in 2006 is at

In June 2016, with the kind assistance of Cristina Scarcella and Sig. Renzo Nelli of the Botanical Library, I examined Bicknell’s correspondence with Sommier. It consists of 31 documents (19 letters and 12 postcards) sent by Bicknell mostly from his home in Bordighera (but 2 from Val Casterino, 1 from Malta, 1 from England, 1 from Florence), mostly addressed to Sommier at his home in Florence (Lungarno Corsini 2) but some sent to him in Florence at the Museum of Natural History (Museo Storia Naturale) or the Società Botanica Italiana.

The earliest of the documents is dated 21 July 1903 and the latest 29 March 1918, a few months before Bicknell’s death. All are written in Italian, until 1914-18 when one letter and two postcards are in English. Some of them are undated, but after examining their contents I have guessed the dates of all but 3. My images of the documents are numbered in the order in which I found them in the archive; if I can establish all their dates, I may be able to renumber them in chronological order.

Although the main topic of the correspondence is botany, there are frequent references to Bicknell’s travels, to his interest in Esperanto, and his reflections on social and cultural matters: these include the popularity of the tango, the liturgy of the church of Santa Maria Novella, Florence, and the situation in Val Fontanalba during the 1914-18 war.

...To be continued

To be included:
In 1904 Sommier published in the Bullettino della Societa Botanica Italiana (pages 193-202) an article by Bicknell entitled Une Gita Primaverile in Sardegna (‘A Visit to Sardinia in Springtime’) which describes a botanical visit made by the author and his assistant Luigi Pollini in 1904 from 25 March to 8 April. After mentioning the places that they visited (Porto Torres, Sassari, Macomer, Cagliari, Golfo Aranci) and the excursions that they made, the article describes the flowering plants found in different parts of Sardinia and concludes with a complete list of plants found – a total of 223 species or subspecies. (See documents 27, 8, 7 for correspondence with Sommier about this article).

In 1907 Sommier named a botanical subspecies after Bicknell. Writing in the Bulletino della Societa Botanica Italiana, 1907, page 38, he explained that Clarence Bicknell, a fellow-member of the Societa, had sent him a new hybrid of Pedicularis (Lousewort in English); this specimen had been found on 8 July 1906 in the Maritime Alps, below Castello di Ciavraireu in Val Fontanalba, near Bicknell’s summer home at Casterino; to this new hybrid, a cross between Pedicularis incarnata and Pedicularis Allionii, Sommier gave the name Pedicularis Bicknelli. (See documents 12, 10, 17 for correspondence with Sommier about this plant).

The photo of Sommier is from

NEWS - Clarence Bicknell and Sir Thomas Hanbury

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

marcus carolyn hanbury IMG 6966cOn Monday 23rd May 2016, Marcus Bicknell (photo, left) hosted a dinner at the Garrick Club in London for Carolyn Hanbury (photo, right) and "L'Associazione Amici dei Giardini Botanici Hanbury", the Friends of the Hanbury Gardens in la Mortola on the Italian Riviera. 30 flower-seeking members were in London for visits to the Chelsea Flower Show, Kew Gardens, Sissinghurst and Savoy Gardens and graced the hallowed Milne Room of the Garrick for the evening.

The menu card announced the presence of the ghosts of Clarence Bicknell (1842-1918) and and Sir Thomas Hanbury (1832-1907) who knew each other, just 12 kilometres separating Clarence's Bordighera from Hanbury's La Mortola. Clarence worked with the Hanbury Gardens curator Alwin Berger on collecting and documenting flowers and plants of the area, as documented by Graham Avery for the Clarence Bicknell Association in his new paper just uploaded to our web site (click here to download the paper).

Carolyn Hanbury has been very supportive of our efforts to ensure a better knowledge of Clarence Bicknell (biography and video coming up in the next year) and we thank her and Alessandro Bartoli, Secretary of the "L'Associazione Amici dei Giardini Botanici Hanbury", for their enthusiastic cooperation in preparing the evening.

In the background of the first photo is the Temple of Balbec by David Roberts RA, for whom the Garrick was "his second home" and whose daughter Christine married one of Clarence's elder brothers, Henry Sanford Bicknell.

At the same event we took a photograph of an interesting encounter over the visitors book of the Casa Fontanalba, Clarence's summer house up in the mountains... 4 botanists reunited. Graham Avery, Vice-chairman of the Clarence Bicknell Association and author of several papers on Bicknell's avery ursula IMG 6963cinternational network of botanists ( >Downloads) is with Ursula Salghetti Drioli Piacenza, delegate of the Friends to the main board of the Hanbury Gardens and whose Boccanegra Garden is next to the Hanbury Garden at La Mortola on the Italian Riviera west of Ventimiglia. She is holding one of the treasures of the Clarence Bicknell collection held by Marcus Bicknell... it is the visitors book of the Casa Fontanalba. The signatures of guests on the left hand pages are complimented by a stunning water-colour of a botanical specimen from the area, painted by Clarence. This page shows the signature of Reginald Farrer, botanist of the Victorian age, whom Graham has documented (click here to download the paper) for example. Farrer visited Bicknell on 19th July 1910. When Marcus had transcribed every name from this book onto the web in 2005, Graham had been searching the net for Farrer and came across this entry. From that moment Graham became an ardent follower of Bicknell and works tirelessly for the Clarence Bicknell Association. So, my 4 botanists are Graham and Ursula with, skipping 106 years, Clarence Bicknell and Reginald Farrer.

Interested in knowing more about the Hanbury Gardens? Check out their web site (in Italian and English languages) and the excellent video about their citrus collection narrated rather expertly by Carolyn Hanbury herself: Then go to visit it when you are next in the region!

NEWS - 50 volunteers at the Museo Bicknell

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

collage1La “Giornata di cittadinanza attiva” organizzata dagli “Amici del Museo Bicknell” e dal “Group Bicknell”, gli amici di lingua inglese del Museo, ha riportato un notevole successo con la partecipazione di oltre 50 persone che si sono fatte carico della pulizia del Giardino, cui hanno man mano restituito il decoro e il fascino originario, condividendo una giornata di impegno, cultura e amicizia. La collaborazione prestata da molte Istituzioni ed Enti è stata una dimostrazione tangibile della vicinanza con cui sono seguite le sorti del Museo Bicknell, del suo Giardino, oggi esaltato dal glicine in fiore, e dell’Istituto Internazionale di Studi Liguri, istituto culturale riconosciuto di interesse nazionale dal Ministero dei beni e delle attività culturali e del turismo. L’Istituto Internazionale di Studi Liguri-Museo Bicknell ringrazia per la generosa collaborazione l’Amministrazione Comunale di Bordighera, la Filiale di Bordighera della Banca CARIGE, i Giardini Esotici Pallanca, l’Università della Terza Età Intemelia, la Cooperativa San Lorenzo di Vallecrosia, i Vivai Pirotelli, i Vivai Piante e Giardini Antonio Laganà, Romolo aMAREa, La Cicala, la Ditta Matteo Anfosso di Camporosso. Un grazie particolare alla senatrice Donatella Albano per la sua visita ai lavori. Con l'invito a partecipare sempre più numerosi alle iniziative promosse per la valorizzazione del Museo, vi aspettiamo al prossimo incontro mensile, venerdì 6 maggio ore 10 presso il Museo Bicknell. > per gli Amici del Museo-Biblioteca Clarence Bicknell > Claudia Roggero Felici > contatti > 335 437068 > ufficio 0184 267028 Collage fotografico della giornata foto P. Raneri

NEWS - Miles Burkitt, archaeologist, at the Casa Fontanalba in 1929

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

breakfast at casa fontanalba mile burkitt 1929Helen Blancfrancard sends us two photos by Miles Burkitt in the archives of the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Cambridge.

The intro given there is "In the summer of 1929, Miles and Margaret Burkitt, Aileen Henderson (later Aileen Fox) and her father Walter Henderson, spent a month recording the Bronze Age rock art in the Italian Maritime Alps above Fontanalba".

Caption, first photo - Margaret Burkitt, Walter Henderson and Eileen Henderson sitting at the breakfast table at Casa Fontanalba 1929.  Helen remarks "This photo makes me feel rather sad to see other people are in CB's handmade house - I hope that they appreciated its unique character!". The Casa Fontanalba was administered after Clarence Bicknell's death, by Edward and Margaret Berry (Edward was Clarence's nephew). They even maintained the visitor's book and over-night guests continued to sign it. In 1929 about 20 people signed the book, but the names of the Hendersons and the Burkitts are not among them. I would normally assume that they did not spend the night, but this certainly looks like breakfast and the photographer, Miles Burkitt himself claims it's breakfast in the title of the photo.

The misspelling of Aileen's first name (pronounced like a capital A), "Eileen" by Miles Burkitt, above, is a common error because "Eileen" is the normal spelling in English (pronounced like a capital I or eye).

Caption, second photo - Via Sacra. Here is Burkitt's team up in the Val Fontanalba, Clarence's favorite research area. I cannot be certain in identifying the indivudals, but if Burkitt took the photo again then the reclining gent would be Walter Henderson (Aileen's fvia sacra miles burkitt july 1929ather). The two figures with their backs to the camera, would be Aileen, doing what she liked best and which she had done there for two previous summers, and Margaret Burkitt. 

Helen comments "What prickles my curiosity, is that in the second photograph do you think that it is Luigi Pollini who is acting as the mountain guide on a hot summer's day?". I can't answer that, but if any reader can help us compare that image to others of Pollini we would be grateful.

These photos are relevant to the paper that our Vice-Chairman Graham Avery wrote in June 2014 about Aileen Fox (born Aileen Henderson) which is on the downloads page of or interest to me, Marcus Bicknell, is the family link. Graham ends his piece "Although Aileen never revisited Casa Fontanalba, she later acquired an important link to Clarence Bicknell: in 1936 her sister Mari married Clarence’s great-nephew Peter Bicknell". Peter was my uncle and bequeathed me the Clarence collection from which much data has been published on and from which more is available for researchers. Aunt Mari (née Henderson) was a great character and I'm sure Aileen was as well.
Postscript, 12th April 2016
On seeing these photos and this posting, Graham Avery writes as follows

I was very interested to see the photos by Miles Burkitt. Here are some comments, based on my research for my piece on Aileen Fox published at

In her autobiography (quoted in my piece) Aileen wrote

  • “When the Berrys came to England that winter it was arranged that they would lend Casa Fontanalba to us and the Burkitts for a month the following summer, complete with their servants, Giuseppe and his wife, Matilde, to run the house and cook for us. We had Clarence Bicknell’s illustrated book Prehistoric Rock Engravings (1913), as well as Giuseppe to be our guide”
This gives a clue to the question who the 'guide' in the second photo may have been - but see below for another possibility.

There is also the question of the date of the photos. In your piece headed ‘Casa Fontanalba in 1929’ you cite ‘the summer of 1929’ from the 'intro'. But I’m sure that is incorrect. Aileen’s autobiography indicates that her visit with the Burkitts took place in 1928: her phrase ‘that winter’ refers to 1927, so ‘the following summer’ must refer to 1928, and therefore I inserted ‘[1928]’ in my piece after ‘the following summer’. This date is confirmed by other evidence:

  • Aileen wrote in her autobiography (page 45) that after staying at Casa Fontanalba ‘I went back to Cambridge for my final year’: we know that she graduated at Cambridge in 1929, so she must have stayed at Casa Fontanalba in the preceding year.
  • Miles Burkitt’s article ‘Rock Carvings in the Italian Alps’, inspired by his stay at Casa Fontanalba, appeared in Antiquity, Volume  3, Issue 10, 1929; we know that Issue 10 was published in June 1929, so his article must have been written before then.
It’s not difficult to guess why Burkitt’s visit has been attributed to 1929: that was the year of publication of his article ‘Rock Carvings in the Italian Alps’, frequently cited since then as ‘Burkitt (1929)’. So people have supposed that his visit was made in that year. For example, Christopher Chipperfield mentions 1929 in relation to Burkitt in his piece at .

I wonder if you are aware that on Flickr there are altogether 14 photos (see my note attached) from the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Cambridge, with the caption ‘Photograph by Miles Burkitt, July 1929’. Various persons appear in six of these photos, including a group with Carlo Conti, who may have acted as guide.

Finally, for information on Miles and Margaret Burkitt, with a photo of Miles, see


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

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