NEWS - Clarence's world

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

Helen Blanc-Francard, committee member and garden expert (photo, below right) has been with us at meetings in Bordighera, Tende, Castellaras and Paris in the last two months. I reproduce here the evocative outpouring I got from her by email last night.

A brief moment then of time travel and musing about the changing face of Bordighera and the people Clarence may have met whilst living there ... 

For Clarence leaving behind the grey dampness of England it is easy to imagine how delightful he must have found the unspoiled beauty of the coastal town of Bordighera when he first set eyes on it in 1877. 

The luminosity of cloudless skies, the sound of the lapping Mediterranean and the soft citrus-scented air would have been enchanting. The rocky shoreline with its rustling palms, lush, semi-tropical trees and indigenous vegetation would have offered him a tantalising opportunity for further study.

However, along with the spiritual upheaval he was about to experience, his arrival coincided the start of a technological and cultural revolution when many social and economical factors combined to create an environment which was ripe for invention and experimentation. The physical world around him was about  to change and would never stop in his lifetime.  helen training a falcon

He would have watched as glittering new promenades, planted with trees and flowering shrubs, swiftly spread along the sea front with their attendant restaurants, shops, galleries and cafés. Behind them new villas, magnificent white-fronted mansions, splendid and luxurious hotels topped with cupolas and ornate carvings, adorned with balconies and intricate ironwork were built along what would later develop into long shady streets and avenues.  

With the constructions came wealth: royalty, statesmen, businessmen and newly rich industrialists.  Every year as the winter season began in northern and eastern Europe the rich visitors arrived by boat and train with their staff and retinues accompanying them. Well-to-do families came with their children, nannies and governesses to set up residence. They would have been impressed by the showy new buildings, many built in the neo-classical style, and excited at the prospect of meeting friends and attending concerts, dances and social events. Their arrival on the scene certainly added an extra gloss of glamour to what was becoming a most fashionable destination.  

Artists, such as Renoir, Cézanne, Monet, Matisse and Signac, with radical new styles of painting that broke earlier conventions, were eager to discover this newly accessible destination. They travelled down with the aspiration of capturing on canvas the vibrant intensity of the light and the vitality of local life that contrasted so poignantly with the languor and sophistication of the visitors. Arriving initially for the restorative health benefits that the southern climate provided, the troubled Van Gogh from Holland, the melancholy Edvard Munch from Norway and the fiercely driven German artist Lovis Corinth found themselves impelled to paint. The Italian impressionist painter Pompeo Mariani eventually chose to live in Bordighera.

Writers, poets, philosophers, world famous scientists, creative innovators came to the coast to rest, to meet generous benefactors, to recover from illness or to find a place for peaceful reflection. Some arrived simply to join in the social scene and to enjoy the conviviality and nightlife of this now lively resort.  (To be further researched!)  

There was the lure of a comfortable and often hedonistic lifestyle on offer in lavishly furnished residences equipped with all the latest technological inventions - electricity, lifts and modern plumbing. An efficient postal service and the development of telephone and radio networks ensured communication with the rest of the world. The railways, roads and first motorised vehicles meant that travel was faster and easier than it had ever been before.   

It really was a bright new world of optimism and confidence:  in less than twenty five years the Bordighera Clarence had first discovered was completely transformed.  Early photographs record its extraordinary transition from a remote coastal village to a cosmopolitan and prosperous sea site resort.   (Archived data to be added)

For several months of the year however Clarence  turned his back on what he might well have considered this theatrical 'mise en scène' and travelled over fifty kilometers up steep valleys and difficult terrain to a remote Alpine site.  There he enjoyed an existance of singular integrity that was spartan, physically demanding, rich in intellectual stimulation and that privileged rigour, generosity, kindness and human communication.

A lifestyle and a quest that seems to have provided him with great personal fulfillment. 

When he returned to Bordighera, apart from some notable locals we know he met, one wonders if he came into contact with any of the famous visitors who came to stay during the winter season?

Presented by Richard E. Grant, here is a Youtube extract from a BBC TV programme to enjoy about some of the artists associated with La Côte d’Azur :  A History in Pictures

In the course of my research I noted that, James Henry Bennet, (creator of Menton as a therapeutic centre) "a reçu dans sa propriété le tout Riviera: R.L. Stevenson, Thomas Carlysle, Hare, Moggridge, Andrews, John Green, Hanbury, Thuret et Alphonse Karr" -

The Mairie of Bordighera has put together a list of the notable people associated with the town  -

NEWS - Clarence's pressed flowers and his legacy

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .


Helen Blanc-Francard writes...
    I found this 2011 document on the web the other day concerning a study of herbaria: I've just re-read it and find it very interesting on several counts.
    Firstly, it puts CB's plant hunting work into a historical context by cataloging the data left by the surprisingly large number of trained botanists and passionate amateurs who over the centuries, often without the benefit of collaboration, assiduously studied and recorded the extraordinarily diverse Alpes Maritime region.  (CB does get a brief mention but I reckon that he passed below the radar screen of this particular study because the main body of his work is conserved outside France).
    Secondly, whilst acknowledging that the individual contributions are important for scientific study by bearing witness to the world's rapidly degenerating environmental conditions and for their potential in the development of future landscape conservation practices, it also flags up the fact that many of the now fragile and dispersed herbarium specimens (dried flowers) are themselves at risk of being lost for posterity in a cash-strapped France where governmental institutions are unable to provide funding for the construction of special storage facilities nor for engaging skilled technicians and conservation staff.
    As part of Europe's heritage of hardy, independent and passionate explorers, all the more reason then to ensure that CB is positioned firmly on the map for his contribution to botanical (and of course archaeological) knowledge. As a man concerned about communication, one could even hope that all his efforts, his records, illustrations and precious specimens, will be accessible for conservation focussed research and for greater public awareness of this pressing issue. This would really be a fitting legacy for a man of conviction. 
Helen Blanc-Francard is a journalist, researcher, writer and garden expert living near Paris.
She was elected to the committee of the Clarence Bicknell Association in May 2014.

 See also the June 2014 report from Graham Avery on Clarence Bicknell's pressed flowersin the Oxford University Herbarium   here

NEWS - “Riviera Nature Notes” by Comerford Casey (1903)

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

 I have recently been able to acquire a second edition of the book by Comerford Casey comerford caseycalled “Nature Notes on Riviera” (1903) thanks to the recommendation by Dr Robert Hearn of Genoa University. In the index, there is the reference “Bicknell, C., often cited”. So I scanned through the book and found 10 references, any of which might be useful to a researcher...

Page 93 – Euphorbias
   “Mr C. Bicknell has given me the following note about the distribution of this characteristic plant. “I don’t think that E. dendroides likes such a modern formation as the tertiary sandstones and marls of the Bordighera district. It flourishes on the older rocks. There is a little of it in the Roya valley near Ventimiglia on the conglomerate, but only a little: thence eastward it does not reappear till Alassio.”

Page 94 – Euphorbias
    Casey quotes from C Bicknell’s “Flora of Bordighera”

Page 142 – Poisonous plants
    “The veteran naturalist Bruyat told me that he had often found these [Deilephila Nerii] larvae on the Oleander bushes in town; I have not been so fortunate. Mr. Bicknell says that quantities of them may be collected in the Nervia valley.”

Page 200 – Wayside Weeds
    “Mr. C. Bicknell informs me that in Italy the popular name Richetta is applied to Eruca sativa Lamk.

Page 203– Wayside Weeds
    “Mr. Bicknell (“Flora of Bordighera”) confirms my statement the O. cernua is naturalised here.” (and following two sentences)

Page 211 – The Judgement of Paris
   No mention of Clarence but some text on Saxifrage Florulenta, “a mythical plant” which Clarence and others prized highly.

Page 219 – The Judgement of Paris
    “Although Orchis provincialis is rare near Nice, it is given by Mr. Bicknell as very abundant under the chestnuts in certain districts of the Italian Riviera.”

Page 239 – Dry Fruits
    “Mr. Bicknell informs me that these rosaries [sold at the corner of the Place Massena] are made of Trapa verbanensis, a species known only in the Lago Maggiore, opposite Arona, in the bay of Angera.”

Don’t miss the effects of the Tarantula bite on Page 365.

Page 390 – Appendix II – Books Useful for the Study of the Flora
    “Bicknell’s “Flora of Bordighera and San Remo” is an admirable piece of work, but I venture to suggest that many botanists will find it difficult to reconcile themselves to the disappearance of such familiar generic names as Calamint and Muscari. I wish that this accomplished botanist would extend the book so as to include the whole Riviera, and add short characters.
“Moggridge’s “Contributions to the Flora of Mentone” and Bicknell’s “Flowering Plants and Ferns of the Riviera” are two beautiful collections of coloured pictures.”

Page 391 – Appendix III: Sights worth seeing
    “Bordighera: Mr. Bicknell’s Botanical Pictures, Herbarium, Riviera Fossils, and Drawings of Rock Engravings.”

    Review from Amazon: "The spread of the towns, the disforesting of the hills, and other causes are conspiring to destroy many of the conditions which made the Riviera of former days so happy a resort for the lovers of nature. But there will always be much to observe and much to study in so favored a region." Quirky, erudite and eminently readable, the fifty-four essays comprising "Riviera Nature Notes give an astonishingly clear picture of plant and animal life in the South of France at the turn of the twentieth century--not to mention a fascinating insight into the social mores of the time. A hundred years later the book is as fresh, topical and inviting as when it was first published. Preferring to remain anonymous as a naturalist, not only out of modesty but to guard the integrity of his liturgical writings, its clergyman author speaks of olives and pines, myrtles and figs, mosquitoes and rare butterflies--to name but a few of his subjects--with such passion and verve as to bring the land from the Ligurian coastline to the Maritime Alps vividly alive. With an engaging, sometimes acerbic voice speaking effortlessly across the years, this book will once again garner admirers among nature lovers, gardeners and travellers alike.”


NEWS - Margaret Berry diary

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

I have just finished transcribing Margaret Berry's diary of her clarence group casterino c1914 lofirst trip to Clarence's Casa Fontanalba. In fact she and Edward her husband were the first visitors. It is very useful to researchers because it gives detail of not only her daily life but also of Clarence Bicknell and his helper in the mountains, Luigi Pollini. The photo on the right, taken in about 1914 on the terrace of the Casa Fontanalba, shows Clarence left, Edward Berry standing, and Margaret Berry to his right with a cane in her hand. Download the 11 page diary transcript here.

NEWS - Seminars and association meeting 16 and 17 May, Bordighera and Tende

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

Friday 16th May 2014  18h00: Seminar, Valerie Lester, Musée des Merveilles, Tende, Alpes-Maritimes, France

Saturday 17th May 2014  16h00: Seminar, Valerie Lester,Museo Bicknell, Bordighera, Liguria, Italy, and at 17h30 the first meeting of the Clarence Bicknell Association *2

We are delighted to inform all admirers of Clarence Bicknell of two important dates to which you are invited. Both will feature a seminar with a presentation on “Clarence Bicknell and his cousin Phiz, illustrator of Charles Dickens, the Bicknells and the Brownes” by Valerie Browne Lester *1, Phiz's great-granddaughter. There will also be news on the Europe-wide project to commemorate the 2018 centenary of Clarence Bicknell's death, including a new book and an travelling exhibition round Europe. The second date, in Bordighera, will also feature the the inaugural meeting of the Clarence Bicknell Association.

Siamo lieti di informare tutti i membri dell'Associazione Clarence Bicknell circa due importanti date aperte a voi. Entrambe prevedono un seminario con una presentazione su "Clarence Bicknell e suo cugino Phiz, illustratore di Charles Dickens, I Bicknell e I Browne" di Valerie Browne Lester, pronipote di Phiz. Valerie e Marcus Bicknell sono collegati attraverso la madre di Clarence, Lucinda, la zia di Phiz e la quarta moglie di Elhanan Bicknell. Ci saranno anche I primi annunci pubblici del progetto a livello europeo per commemorare nel 2018 il centenario della morte di Clarence Bicknell , tra cui un nuovo libro e una mostra itinerante  in Europa.

Nous sommes ravis d'informer tous les membres de l'Association Clarence Bicknell de deux dates importantes. Tous les deux présentent d'un séminaire sur "Clarence Bicknell et son cousin Phiz, illustrateur de Charles Dickens, le Bicknell et la Brownes" par Valerie Browne Lester * 1, arrière petite-fille de Phiz. Valérie et Marcus Bicknell sont liés par la mère de Clarence Lucinda, la tante de Phiz et quatrième épouse d'Elhanan Bicknell. Il y aura aussi les premieres annonces en public du projet européen pour commémorer en 2018 le centenaire de la mort de Clarence Bicknell, y compris un nouveau livre et une exposition itinérante autour de l'Europe.

*1: Valerie Browne Lester (researcher, scholar, author and translator living near Boston is descended from Clarence Bicknell’s maternal grandfather and from Clarence’s cousin, Hablot Knight Browne , known as "Phiz". Phiz , artist and designer , is known for his many illustrations to the books by Charles Dickens. Valerie Browne Lester wrote the book "Phiz : The Man Who Drew Dickens " published by Random House in 2006 in which Valerie revealed hitherto unknown aspects of the origins of Phiz . She wrote the stratospheric best seller "Fasten Your Seat Belts! History and Heroism in the Pan Am Cabin"in 1995 about the cabin crew of the PanAm airline. Her new biography of Giambattista Bodoni (1740-1813) Italian typographer, composer , printer and publisher will be published in 2014. Valerie will present mostly in Englihs but her Italian and French are good enough for you to expect a polyglot evening. Valerie and Marcus Bicknell are related through Clarence's mother Lucinda, Phiz's aunt and Elhanan Bicknell's fourth wife.

*2: In Bordighera, in the Museum which Clarence created, we shall hold the founding general meeting of the Clarence Bicknell Association. This will take the form of election of officers (for which I shall post here and email details and nomination process) and objectives of the association presented by Marcus Bicknell and colleagues.

* 1 : Valerie Browne Lester ( chercheur, scientifique , auteur et traducteur vivant près de Boston ) est descendu du grand-père maternel de Clarence Bicknell et de la cousine de Clarence , chevalier de Hablot Browne , connu sous le nom " Phiz " . Phiz , artiste et designer , est connu pour ses nombreuses illustrations pour les livres de Charles Dickens . Valerie Browne Lester a écrit le livre " Phiz : The Man Who Drew Dickens " publié par Random House en 2006 qui a révélé Valerie aspects jusqu'ici inconnus sur les origines de Phiz . Elle a écrit le best-seller stratosphérique " Attachez vos ceintures ! Histoire et d'héroïsme dans la cabine Pan Am " en 1995 sur le personnel de cabine de la compagnie aérienne PanAm . Sa nouvelle biographie de Giambattista Bodoni (1740-1813) typographe italien , compositeur , imprimeur et éditeur sera publié en 2014 . Valerie présentera principalement en anglais , mais son italien et son français sont assez copieux pour que vous puissiez prévoir une soirée polyglotte .

* 2 : En Bordighera , dans le musée qui Clarence créé , nous allons tenir l'assemblée générale de fondation de l' Association Clarence Bicknell . Cela prendra la forme d' élection des dirigeants ( dont je serai poster ici et les détails de l' email et le processus de nomination ) et les objectifs de l'association présentée par Marcus Bicknell et collègues.

* 1 : Valerie Browne Lester  (ricercatore, studioso, autore e traduttore, vive nei pressi di Boston - ) discende dal nonno materno di Clarence Bicknell e da suo cugino Hablot Knight Browne, noto come Phiz. Questo artista e designer e famoso per le sue numerose  illustrazioni sui libri di Charles Dickens.     Valerie Browne Lester ha scritto il libro "Phiz: L'Uomo Che Disegnó Dickens", pubblicato da Random House nel 2006, in cui Valerie rivela aspetti finora sconosciuti sulle origini di Phiz. Ha scritto il grande best seller “Allacciate le cinture di sicurezza! Storia ed eroismo nel Pan Am Cabin” nel 1995 dell'equipaggio di cabina della suddetta Compagnia. La sua nuova biografia di Gianbattista Bodoni (1740-1813), tipografo italiano, compositore , stampatore e editore, sarà pubblicata nel 2014. Valerie parlerà soprattutto in inglese ma il suo italiano ed  il suo francese sono abbastanza fluenti da pronosticare una serata poliglotta.

* 2 : A Bordighera , nel museo che Clarence Bicknell ha creato, si terrá l'assemblea generale di fondazione del Associazione Clarence Bicknell. Ciò prenderà la forma di elezione dei dirigenti (motivo per il quale io spediro'e mandero 'tramite e mail  i dettagli e i procedimenti delle varie nomine ) e gli obbiettivi dell'Associazione  presentati da Marcus Bicknell e dai suoi colleghi.

NEWS - Vallée des Merveilles in the Alpine Journal

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

alpine club logoThis article by Johanna Merz appeared in the Alpine Journal of 16 Jul 2010. We have not referred to it previously in Clarence Bicknell web pages so I thought it would be interesting for members to see the article in full. You can download the pdf here. What's the link with the Alpine Club other than the Merveilles being in the Alps? I quote from this article... "Back in London I discovered that Clarence Bicknell came from a family of mountain lovers. His brother, Raymond, a keen mountaineer, was Vice-President ofthe Alpine Club from 1926 until his death in a climbing accident the following year. Some of us will remember Raymond Bicknell's son Peter, whose application for AC membership was backed by famous names like Claude Elliott and E L Strutt. Peter and his brother Claud were taken on holiday to Grindelwald by their father in 1924 and both became prominent mountaineers. Peter wrote several articles for the Alpine Journal, such as 'Wordsworth and the Alps' with Janet Adam Smith in the 1992 volume." All true except a minor detail. My grand-father Raymond was Clarence's nephew; Raymond (1875-1927) was one of many children of Percy Bicknell (1836-1911), Clarence's brother.

NEWS - Clarence letters to Abbot Antonio Carestia 1903

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

Abbot CarestiaWe are not aware of extensive collections of Clarence Bicknell's outgoing letters, so the emails from Giuseppe Sitzia in Grignasco in the Italian Alps have been most welcome. He has unearthed in the Calderini Museum of Varallo seven letters from Clarence Bicknell to the Abbot and botanist Antonio Carestia 1825-1908 in Riva Valdobbia in Valsesia. The letters are mostly about the exchange of botanical samples; both men were very excited about the rare species which could be found in the Alps.

Clarence wrote these letters in Italian; his winter home in Bordighera and his summer house in Val Casterino were both in Italy at the time, so his Italian was probably quite good. His hand-writing is a bit scrawly, so the transcripts are missing a word here and there. But they do shed some light on the habit at the time of collecting samples in the wild (frowned on today) and his friendship with another ardent collector.

You can download a pdf of the letters in Italian or in rough English

NEWS - Clarence Bicknell in France magazine

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

France magazine 44 2013-08-06Great article featuring Clarence Bicknell in France magazine this month. If you are interested in France or in Clarence then you could buy a single copy at The article is called Walking in the Mercantour and is on page 22. The writer Ray Kershaw was in touch with us when writing it and I think he's done a nice job. "In blistering heat and violent storms, Bicknell combed the valley with his assistant".

NEWS - Clarence Bicknell web site launched

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

"Après moi le deluge". Should we be expecting thousands of botany, archaeology and art fans to be poring over the new Clarence Bicknell web site? It was launched today, 14th July 2013.LEZ 3032c

This website was conceived in spring 2013 by Marcus Bicknell, Clarence’s great-great-nephew and finished with the help of family and friends plus web authors Rémy and Zelda of Lez'Art Creation in Breil, just a few miles from the Vallée des Merveilles. Special thanks to Susie my wife and Graham Avery for their writing and proof-reading skills, and Alice my daughter for the Clarence Bicknell Association logo. Italian translations are under way by Angela de Toma who works at the Musée des Merveille and Francoise Villain for the French. Esperanto translations are in place and Spanish ones on the cards for later. Just click on the flags in the top left to see the laguage versions.

Our photo (right) shows Lez'Art boss Rémy Masséglia who did the brilliant background images and other creative aspects, Zelda Zein who provided the structure and technical aspects of the web software Joomla, and Marcus Bicknell on the right.

The site gives some insight into Clarence the man, his life and works and responds to an increasing demand from Clarence-lovers in many countries. You’ll find some images out of the family collection that have not been published anywhere before. It also gives information about the Clarence Bicknell Association and how you can join (click on >Association, >Membership above). We would be delighted to get your feedback including webmaster issues via email:testmail or via the Forum on this site for which you will need to be a member.

NEWS - Edward Berry conference, Bordighera, 1 June 2013

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

Marcus Bicknell, left, presents oil painting of Edward Berry to Daniela Gandolfi (right) of the Museo Bicknell, BordigheraJust back from the conference about my great grand unce Edward Elhanan Berry (1861-1931) and his wife Margaret in the Museo Clarence Bicknell, presided by Professor Dott. Daniela Gandolfi. I presented some original research on the Berrys drawn from family papers which I have, including the fact that the Berrys had a daughter - adopted - and that Edward had a little sister Clara of which we, before a recent UCL Bloomsbury project research, knew nothing. I was also honoured to be able to present this oil painting of Edward Berry by Herbert Arnould Olivier (1861 – 1952), apparently one of three in existence.

You can download and read my complete paper in English here. French and Italian available on request.

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