News - Clarence and Sir Thomas Hanbury conference report

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

hanbury bicknell 26jan2019 bannerThe conference at the Hanbury Gardens on 26 January 2019 was the last of the 40 events in eight countries marking the Clarence Bicknell 2018 Centenary, but by some measures one of the best. I had been keen for several years, since hosting the friends of the Hanbury Gardens in London in 2016 and hearing their presentations at the Italian Institute, to be able to have a Bicknell-Hanbury event at the famous Hanbury Gardens. At the initiative of Alessandro Bartoli, dynamic secretary of their association, we accepted a date of 26 January 2019... Carolyn Hanbury assisted him in selecting the classiest speakers and in disciplining them to submit papers in advance and sticking to ten minutes each (oh well, 20 minutes). Success.

Carolyn Hanbury started off by welcoming the 80 attendees and talked about what is know of Hanbury and Bicknell's contacts.

A rare and very valuable contribution by Professor Mauro Mariotti, head of the Distav and the University of Genova (therefore the de facto curator of a collection of some thirteen thousand Clarence Bicknell watercolours, rock engraving copies, field diaries and plant samples) attributes to Clarence Bicknell the moniker Field Scientist. Today’s experts appreciate the work of enlightened amateurs almost as much as salaried professionals; work done by the citizen scientists, just for the love of the subject, can be very useful. I think Clarence would have liked the idea of being a citizen scientist; with his network of like-minded collectors and researchers, his love of people and his work on the universal language Esperanto, he was certainly a citizen. He may have blanched at the idea of being called a scientist; he read mathematics at Cambridge and was grounded in the church so he continually stressed that he was there to record the facts in the field, archaeological and botanical, and to leave the professionals to interpret them. Mariotti described Bicknell ‘s network of other botanists, his contribution to academic botany, the works in his library, and the dozen plants named after him. Note that his University of Genoa is the administrator of the Hanbury Gardens; the director Luigi Minuti was not present on the day. It was a thrill to see Mariotti’s love for and knowledge of Bicknell pulled together in one paper and and I think will remain a valuable account for a long time.

Dssa. Daniela Gandolfi, head of the International Institute of Ligurian Studies and of the Museo Bicknell which it owns, was fully justified blowing the trumpet about their contribution to the 2018 Clarence Bicknell Centenary. Their efforts in putting together their exhibition, for which Daniela as director was supported over the preparation period of two years by a team of staff and volunteers such as (those I know and have mutually supported) Franca Porra, Elena Riscosso, Bruna Di Paoli, Dr Giovanni Russo, Claudio Roggero, Gisela Merello, and others. The exhibition, whose run has just been extended to the end of March 2019 and will then move on the Finale Ligure and maybe even Genoa. It includes classic material from the Museo, loan items from collections like the Bicknell Collection which I curate and new items (Lotto 2017) purchased by the IISL.

Claudio Littardi accompanied Daniela Gandolfi to talk about the garden of the Museo Bicknell and its rare plants.

The 18-minute film The Marvels of Clarence Bicknell was projected, after which proceedings were drawn to an end without there being time for questions. Pity. More important was wandering up the garden to Carolyn's house for lunch.

I have asked permission to reproduce here the papers from each of the speakers but have not received approval yet.

hanbury bicknell 26jan2019



In Clarence's Time - his relationship with Sir Thomas Hanbury

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

Thomas Hanbury from Hortus Mortolensis 1912clarence c1905 esperanto starThe conference of 26 January 2019 at the Hanbury Gardens has the title “Clarence Bicknell e Thomas Hanbury: due grandi vittoriani” (Clarence Bicknell and Thomas Hanbury: two great Victorians on the Riviera). These two, whose images are shown here, were men of dignity, science and benevolence, and we consider them both as “great” men. But does this tell the whole story? 

I have developed an increasing curiosity about Bicknell and Hanbury’s relationship, and the differences between their personalities. My research and conclusions are published today on this web site... Bicknell and Hanbury relationship in PDF

Valerie Lester in her book MARVELS: The Life of Clarence Bicknell describes the two men as friends . Clarence himself writes of “an old friend of the family”, a different concept, but it is not clear whether Clarence thinks of himself as a friend of the Hanbury family or Hanbury a friend of the Bicknells . I know of no meeting between Sir Thomas and other Bicknells, nor of Clarence and other Hanburys.

Graham Avery, student of Bicknell’s botany, and vice-chairman of the Clarence Bicknell Association, writes that Hanbury and Bicknell were not friends . My contribution in this paper is to argue that Clarence’s shyness and inferiority complex might have kept him at a distance from Sir Thomas. He might have felt his station was below that of Sir Thomas. Rather than being Hanbury’s friend, Clarence might have been in awe of him and of his construction of the Hanbury Gardens.

I discuss in my paper Clarence's speech impediment, his inclination to violent prejudices, his prejudice against the pompous, Bicknell family traits, and Clarence's friendship with Alwyn Berger. With with evidence in mind, I think Clarence would have felt ill at ease with Sir Thomas. It would not have been one of Clarence’s priorities to seek out Hanbury’s company; indeed he would have thought of a trip to la Mortola as being an opportunity to talk seeds with Berger. But the two men would have had immense respect for each other and their achievements.

NEWS - Clarence the landscape painter

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

clarence bicknell paesaggio di montagnaLeggi l'intero articolo in italiano e inglese e guarda i dipinti, nella versione pdf qui

I was honoured to visit on 30th October 2018 in Imperia, 45 kms east of Bordighera, the exhibition of art by Bicknell and his contemporaries on the Riviera. Landscapes by Nestel, van Kleudgen, Edward Lear and others, all familiar in Bordighera and Riviera circles, were exhibited alongside Bicknell’s in the Villa Faravelli up the hill from the town hall and owned by the community.

Organised in the summer and autumn of 2018 by a cooperative, and alongside the galleries of the Museo Arte Contemporanea Imperia, this exhibition Clarence Bicknell e lo Stupore Della Riviera is a perfectly-formed gem. The exhibition explored, according to the publicity, Bicknell’s influence on the circle of artists in the second half of the 19th century in Liguria. The influence might of course have been vice-versa.

Clarence Bicknell, mountain landscape

“Clarence Bicknell, Landscape Artist” is now a valid title, among many, for our favourite post-Darwinian polymath.


Read the whole article in Italian and English, and see the paintings, in the pdf version here

Leggi l'intero articolo in italiano e inglese e guarda i dipinti, nella versione pdf qui

NEWS - Saxifraga Florulenta named the symbol of Piedmont

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

saxifraga florulentaSaxifraga Florulenta named the symbol of Piedmont by 500 experts. Clarence would be pleased...
Elette le piante simbolo di ognuna delle 20 regioni italiane... Quella scelta per rappresentare il Piemonte è la nostra bella ed endemica sassifraga dell'Argentera (Saxifraga florulenta). L’iniziativa, promossa dalla Società Botanica Italiana, è stata coordinata da Lorenzo Peruzzi, professore di Botanica sistematica presso il Dipartimento di Biologia dell’Università di Pisa e Direttore dell’Orto e Museo Botanico. A votare sono stati oltre 500 appassionati ed esperti botanici da tutta Italia che hanno eletto le piante vincitrici a partire da una rosa di candidature, con un meccanismo per certi versi simile a quello delle primarie.
La pianta più votata in assoluto è stata la sassifraga dell’Argentera, pianta monocarpica (fruttifica una volta sola), rupicola, sopravvissuta alle glaciazioni, con stupendi fiori rosa, e caratteristica delle Alpi Marittime italiane e francese.
Elected the symbol plants of each of the 20 Italian regions... That choice to represent Piedmont is our beautiful and endemic saxifrage of the Argentera (Saxifraga florulenta). The initiative, promoted by the Italian Botanical Society, was coordinated by Lorenzo Peruzzi, professor of Systematic Botany at the Department of Biology of the University of Pisa and Director of the Garden and Botanical Museum. More than 500 enthusiasts and botanists from all over Italy voted to vote, choosing the winning plants starting from a shortlist of candidates, with a mechanism similar in some ways to the primaries.The most voted plant of all was the sassifraga dell'Argentera, monocarpica plant (fruit only once), rupicola, survivor of the glaciations, with beautiful pink flowers, and characteristic of the Italian and French Maritime Alps.
With thanks to Elisabetta Massardo who took the photo of Saxifraga Florulenta for MARVELS, page 116, for alerting us to this story.
To remind you of the importance of this plant to Clarence, permit me to quote from Valerie's MARVELS, page 117:
Clarence had one other complaint: the lack of interesting wildflowers in the area, and he confessed to Burnat that ‘botanically I have done very little. It is much less rich here than at Val Pesio, and even when I climb up to the lakes of Valmasca, d’Agnel, the Meraviglie, and M. Bégo (where nothing escapes the goats!) I always find the same old plants.’ And he had spent many fruitless, frustrating hours searching for the rare Saxifraga florulenta.
His persistence paid off. By the end of the summer he related to Burnat that he had finally found that elusive plant in bloom. Although Clarence does not describe the actual moment he saw it, the great plant collector Reginald Farrer (1880–1920) was extravagant in his description of his sighting of it in 1910 on the Col de Cerise:
‘Grey obscurity enveloped all the slope, swirling and shifting, lightening and darkening. And now the sharp zigzags of the track brought me up against the buttress of Mercantour. For an instant the mist dissolved into a pearly shade. And in that momentary rending of the veil I found myself looking straight into the face of Saxifraga florulenta. For a moment I could not believe my eyes; for another moment I felt convinced, insanely, that some botanist must have put the rosette there as a practical joke . . . Then, when my reason had ceased rocking on its seat, I rent the welkin with a cry of triumph.’
After his great yell, Farrer calmed down and ‘in awe-stricken silence contemplated for the first time the Ancient King of his race, the most wonderful plant in all the ranges of the Alps.
The Ancient King is a large and rare succulent with a small range, found exclusively within the central section of the Maritime Alps between Tende and Argentera. Fussy about its location, it finds its preferred home in crevices of acidic rock, often hiding in hard-to-reach spots. Year by year, over decades, its fleshy leaves multiply into a perfect rosette until it is mature enough to flower. Then (the eloquent Farrer again); ‘Up from its heart comes a stout glandular spike which develops into a stocky spire, of some eight or ten inches, very thickly set with nodding flowers of a purple rose, most wonderful to see.’ Its 40 or more bell-shaped flowers are impossible to miss. But that’s it; once having achieved its reproductive climax, it withers and dies. No wonder the Ancient King used to be the emblem of the modern-day Parc National du Mercantour, which includes the Vallée des Merveilles and the Val Fontanalba.

In Clarence's Time - Knitting, the First World War, Bordighera and Bicknell

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

By Helen Blanc-Francard and Marcus Bicknell

Research by Helen Blanc-Francard with additional material from Giselle Merello Folli

A cooperation of the Clarence Bicknell Association

Download this article with its pictures in pdf

Clarence arrived at the twilight of his active life, 76 years old in 1914 as the Great War tore up Europe. He was a pacifist who had devoted himself to Esperanto, the universal language, which he thought could bring peace to all peoples. As his deception grew and old age crept on, Clarence continued to help the wounded soldiers convalescing in Bordighera alongside his regular work helping the poor and aged of the town. Clarence liked doing things with his hands, and knitting was one of them. Maybe handiwork is the characteristic of a man who enjoyed helping others in practical ways, especially in times of crisis (read Valerie Lester’s chapter Terremoto on the earthquake of 1887), working with Padre Giacomo Viale for the poor and sick of Bordighera and during the Great War. Valerie Lester devotes a chapter of MARVELS – The Life of Clarence Bicknell to Good Deeds and the War Years. She writes

“Clarence busied himself with philanthropy and volunteer aid. He worked for the Red Cross; he rolled bandages and made slippers – and presumably caught up with his knitting; he collected medicinal and aromatic plants to sell in benefit of the Red Cross; he made little bags that he filled with sphagnum, a moss, to apply to wounds – apparently one of the best cures – but complained that no one wanted to collect the moss without payment; and he visited the sick and comforted the weary. He described to Edward, not without a certain macabre humour, one of his visits to the sick: ‘Mrs Bonsignore had [her] finger poisoned by a white-thorn spine (probably other poison getting into wound) till at last the finger was cut off & we talked nearly all the time of this cheerful subject, but washed it down with some good wine, while we gazed at the relic of her finger & bone carefully preserved in her purse.’

“He turned his museum over to convalescing soldiers, and noted to Alberto Pelloux that there were army horses in the public garden, and that the Victoria Hall and the Casino were full of the wounded. ‘What a good thing it is to see useless or mischievous places being turned to good account’, he said censoriously. Ever since his first visit to the casino in Monte Carlo, he had loathed gambling and the harm it did.

“‘We have over 500 refugees! What are we to do to help them to live and be clothed and work, which is the most important, if they are not to follow the example of the Bordighotti and become thieves? I really do not know if our unpatriotic town will do its duty or is worthy to have these people . . . We shall all be glad when this night is over and the day breaks, as it must some day.’ Clarence had no patience with the dolce far niente attitude of the locals. In his opinion, everyone, man, woman, and child should pitch in.” When Clarence first arrived in Bordighera, in 1878, he was already a confirmed knitter.

“He moved away from church matters in his entry for 18 October: ‘I finished a pair of woollen baby’s boots & gave them to Imperiale – he is such a dear fellow.’ Clarence took his knitting seriously. He then embarked on a kettle-holder for Imperiale with his monogram in the centre. It was not entirely successful: ‘A “work of heart”: that is all I can say about it, for the design is weak & the execution worse.’ Parrett too was working away, making ‘carpet fringe at a fine rate’ and the Fanshawe ladies ‘beat Kidderminster, Brussels &c &c hollow, by their pretty & comfortable mats & carpets.’ A few weeks later, Clarence took crochet lessons from a Miss Stubberd.”

So it is hardly surprising, given Clarence’s interest in knitting and handiwork, that two researcher-friends, Helen Blanc-Francard and Gisella Merello, in the circle of the Clarence Bicknell Association have come together at the same place.

Nursing the wounded soldiers in Bordighera – Helen Blanc-Francard

In supporting Valerie Lester’s book research in 2016, Helen Blanc-Francard unearthed articles by Ferruccio Poggi drawn from the Journal de Bordighera about the efforts made for wounded soldiers convalescing in Bordighera. We reproduce below in full the three articles by Ferruccio Poggi, of which a typical entry is…"Rilevò l'atto munifico del Signor Bicknell, che lascia gratuitamente all'associazione ed ai soldati convalescenti l'uso dello splendido locale ad uso museo sulla Strada Romana coll'attiguo incantevole giardino".“He noted the bountiful activities of Mr. Bicknell, who gives to the association and the convalescing soldiers, free of charge, the use of the splendid museum room on the Via Romana with its charming garden .”

Helen aBordighera camp 1916lso found an article by Dorothea Matilda Taylor on nursing the wounded in 1918 in several parts of Italy and the Riviera, which we reproduce in full in Appendix 4 below.

Image, right: Piccoli ospedali da campo furono attendati nell'area pianeggiante, ora occupata dai campi da tennis, e dietro la Casa Bianca.

As well as donations of items like sheets and bandages, war hospitals needed food supplies for the wounded soldiers. British Red Cross V.A.D. members worked as cooks in British Military Hospitals in places like Genoa, Bordighera, Cremona, Arquata Scrivia and Taranto. On average they prepared and served 40,000 meals per month. Dishes for the recovering soldiers included jellies, broth, custard and chicken soufflé.

Photos of convalescing military personnel in Cannes also confirm that if you didn’t actually die, the Cote d’Azur and Bordighera’s luxuriously equipped hotels were a great place to be sent to for re-booting after the horrors of battle and much better that some cold, dismal Scottish stately home. Helen also recorded information on the soldiers who did not make it and who are buried in the Bordighera British Cemetery, and we reproduce a complete list at The Italians entered the war on the Allied side, declaring war on Austria, in May 1915. Commonwealth forces were at the Italian front between November 1917 and November 1918, and rest camps and medical units were established at various locations in northern Italy behind the front, some of them remaining until 1919. From the Summer of 1917 until late 1918, the Mediterranean lines of communication for the British Salonika Force ran the length of Italy from Taranto in the south-east, to Turin in the north-west. The 62nd General Hospital was posted at Bordighera from January 1918 to January 1919, and the 66th from January to March 1918. The British cemetery is opposite the town cemetery and was used from November 1917 to January 1919. It contains 72 Commonwealth burials of the First World War, and 12 Austrian war graves.

You can download the complete list of personnel buried at Bordighera British Cemetery in Excel format

The Kitchener Stitch – Gisella Merello

Gisella Merello sent me a copy of the slides she had prepared for a presentation to school children in Bordighera on 4 December 2018. One of the slides caught my eye because of the autocratic moustachioed soldier. What’s he doing there?

To see the images referred to please download the pdf version.

Gisella’s caption reads “He knitted socks for the children of his friends, socks and bandages for the soldiers and the wounded”. Gisella sent me the quote which gave her the reason to include this soldier, who turns out to be Lord Kitchener, whose face dominated the British recruitment poster of 1914 “Your Country Needs You”.

Gisella writes

“Lord Kitchener era un appassionato di lavoro a maglia, si fece ritirare durante la guerra boera con in mano i ferri e un calzino in lavorazione (il ritratto (attualmente esposto alla National Portrait Gallery di Londra). Gli si attribuisce l'invenzione della chiusura a punto calza (in inglese Kitchener stitch)”

which translates as

“Lord Kitchener was a knitting enthusiast. He retired during the Boer war. Here he is holding irons and a sock being worked on (the portrait is currently on display at the London National Portrait Gallery). He is credited with the invention of the Kitchener stitch, a way of mending socks”. The Kitchener Stitch is a way of sewing together two pieces of knitting so that they look like a continuous piece of knitting without any seam at all, also called weaving and grafting.

I found more about Kitchener in articles about knitting:

As many knitters know, British, Canadian and American knitters were exhorted by their governments and officially sanctioned organizations such as the Red Cross to knit for the war effort during both World Wars, and the call was readily answered. Knitting was a way for those at home to feel they were actively and materially helping their loved ones at the front, and also helped to soothe the knitters’ anxieties over the dangers faced by their men at the front as well as cope with more generalized worries over the progress of the war.Not only did knitted socks play a role in World War I, but conversely, World War I has had a lasting impact on the knitted sock. Until World War I socks typically had seamed toes, and these seams caused great discomfort for soldiers on forced marches and in the wet and muddy trenches, where those seams rubbed the men’s toes raw, which in turn could result in dangerous infections. The British Secretary of State for War, Horatio Herbert Kitchener, associated himself with the Red Cross drive to urge women to knit “comforts” or items for the men in the military, particularly mittens, socks and scarves. He was concerned about the foot problems the sock seams caused and personally contributed a pattern for socks which included a seamless grafting technique that would come to be known as the “Kitchener stitch”.

The Kitchener stitch is still widely used today. has a tutorial on how to work the Kitchener stitch, and there are a number of YouTube videos that demonstrate it, such as this one. Lord Kitchener is credited with inventing this technique himself, but I’m skeptical as to whether he actually did. Apparently there is no real evidence of it, and I think it much more likely that, at most, he recognized the need for a seamless sock toe, asked a knitter of his acquaintance to figure out a way to create one, and then took the credit in order to use his famous (and, at the time, revered) name to promote it.

So it turns out that knitting was a vital part of the war effort, of activities in Bordighera and of Bicknell’s contribution.


Download this article with its pictures in pdf

NEWS - Fitzwilliam Museum: Clarence collection online

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

fitzwilliam collections explorer nov2018

The Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge, has now listed their complete collection of Clarence Bicknell watercolours, over 400 of them at,%20clarence&size=10&from=0

or and search for "bicknell, clarence"

PD.10 1980.f.58 201708 amt49 dc250 of the entries, both symmetrical images and his Victorian whimsy, have full colour picture and they are lovely to look through.

They are downloadable too!

NEWS - Museo Bicknell's Centenary Exhibition

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

lotto 2017 egypt sketches 1890 clarence bicknell"Clarence Bicknell – In the Past for the Future"centenary exhibitions

Exhibition at Istituto Internazionale di Studi Liguri & Museo Bicknell, Bordighera

Report by Graham Avery, Vice-Chairman of the Clarence Bicknell Association (the "written by" credit above is provided by default by our web structure Joomla: Marcus onlo uploaded Graham's piece).


This exhibition organised by the Istituto Internazionale di Studi Liguri and the Museo Bicknell in Bordighera was inaugurated on 18 July 2018, to celebrate the centenary of Clarence Bicknell’s death. The exhibition is presented in an impressive way, partly in the building of the IISL and partly in the Museo. It is an admirable tribute to the man who founded the Museo, and a ‘must’ for anyone interested in his life and work.

lotto 2017 luigi pollini oct 1900lotto 2017 egypt column 1890 clarence bicknelllotto 2017 mahdi photos 1904In a brief review it is not possible to describe all the interesting material displayed, and in this note I mention only some of the highlights. One of the outstanding features of the exhibition is the quantity of new material relating to Clarence (documents, photographs, books and other objects) which the Museo has recently acquired. This collection is described as ‘Lotto Bicknell 2017’, and since some of it evidently belonged to Clarence’s faithful assistant Luigi Pollini, one may guess that the collection was preserved by his family. There are some excellent photos of Pollini such as the one on the right.

Photos of Clarence's dog Mahdi in 1904

Ornate column in Egypt, watercolour by Clarence in 1890

Clarence’s faithful assistant Luigi Pollini in 1900

A fascinating display panel ‘Viaggi Esperantisti, Viaggi vicini e lontani’ (Esperanto Travels, Travels near and far’ shows how Clarence travelled to many countries in Europe and elsewhere, through his interest in Esperanto, botany, and archaeology. Valerie Lester’s biography Marvels: The Life of Clarence Bicknell recounts these travels in more detail: for example, Clarence went to Esperanto World Congresses in Boulogne, Geneva, Cambridge, Cracow and Paris; he did not, however, visit Tasmania or New Zealand.

lotto 2017 hanbury botanists meeting 1912Among the material from Lotto Bicknell 2017 are many photographs, including Album 5 with 172 photographs of Bordighera, the Maritime Alps, flora and soon, all in excellent condition. In this album, for example, is a photograph of Villa Garnier, Bordighera, around 1900, from which it can be seen that many of these photographs were annotated by Clarence Bicknell’s friend Fritz Mader, who was a prolific photographer as well as alpinist, botanist, speleologist, geographer and author.

A display panel ‘Bicknell e lo spirito esperantista’ shows a fascinating photograph of Clarence and others at the Esperanto World Congress in Cambridge in 1907.

A display panel ‘Bicknell’s world e Bicknell’s friends’ shows participants in a botanical congress at Hanbury Gardens, La Mortola, in 1912, including Clarence Bicknell and other botanists whom he knew such as Augusto Beguinot (Clarence’s first biographer), Fritz Mader, Alwyn Berger (Curator of Hanbury Gardens), Otto Penzig (Professor of Botany at Genova), as well as Eva Mameli (mother of the famous author Italo Calvino). Image right

Associated with this panel is a remarkable display of letters and documents from scholars and others entitled ‘Le lettere del mondo dei studiosi a Clarence Bicknell (Lotto Bicknell 2017)’ [Images 10-12]. The persons mentioned in this display are:

Antonio Magni 1844-1933, medico, archeologo e storico di Como
Gabriel Gustafson 1853-1933, archeologo, scopritore della nave di Osemberg
Burkhard Reber 1848-1926, archeologo, botanico e farmacista svizzero
Emile Carttailhac 1843-1921, studioso di preistoria francese
Henri Ferrand 1853-1926, avvocato, geografo e alpnisita francese
George Coffey 1857-1916, archeologo e nazionalista irlandese
Alberto Pelloux 1868-1918, mineralogista italiano
Antomio Taramelli 1863-1939, archeologo noto per i suoi studi in Sardegna, and
Luigi Pollini, braccio destro e amico di Clarence Bicknell.

It is to be hoped that these interesting letters, together with the rest of the important material acquired by the Museo, will be catalogued and made available to the research community.

Submitted by Graham Avery 25/07/2018

Note from Marcus Bicknell. The exhibition has had good reviews and a certain amount of publicity in the press and on television. Here are two stills from San Remo TV which reported in full on the exhibition and the Clarence Bicknell Centenary.


lotto 2017 daniela interview july 2018lotto 2017 tv cb bicycle

NEWS - Clarence in Nice exhibition Sept-Oct 2018

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

nice sommet 2018 info panel

Les Botanistes au Sommet

Exhibition by the Museum d’Histoire Naturelle de Nice

in the Bibliotheque Louis Nocera in Nice, Sept-Oct 2018

29 October 2018 Visit report by Marcus Bicknell

Olivier Gerriet showed me round on a Monday which is normally closed, which was kind. The exhibition has had good reactions from visitors and quite good numbers. We met an assistant director of the library who was sad it was closing so soon but there has to be an exhibition about the end of WWI still this year.There is interest from other local museums to show the exhibition; Gerriet is coordinating that with the Parc de Mercantour. I have told him they can keep the CB items; only the pocket nice sommet 2018 casesketch books are of any intrinsic value, i.e. irreplaceable. Gerriet did not confirm that they would keep them.

Each botanist has an individual roll-up poster display (Clarence’s pictured right) which Susie and I saw early in the process. We contributed to and corrected CB’s text. Much of the CB material we provided is displayed in a glass-topped cabinet, image, left; 2 pocket sketch books; 2 print proof pages from Flowering Ferns; wooden box of watercolour paints and brushes; 2 landscapes reproduced on framed canvas; photo prints of CB in the mountains; 3 reports of Fitzwilliam symmetrical patterns. A copy of Flowering Ferns of their own is displayed.

nice sommet 2018 cima bicknell c 
The period photo (left) of the Cime Bicknell is not immediately identifiable as the same as the photo we know; it’s a wide range, of which one is Bicknell 2600m, alongside Paracuerta (2385m) and Santa Maria (2739m)... the Massif du Gelas, photo taken from le Mont Claminejas (2919m) by Victor de Cessole in 1908.


nice sommet 2018 linneausHaving visited the Bodini Museum in Parma a few weeks ago I was interested in some original botanical books as early as the 17th century and an early edition of one of Linneaus’s Species Plantarum of 1799. One of the original lithograph stones, 80 mm thick, from which Barca’s book of drawings was printed is displayed alongside the print that comes from it.


The organisers’ description of the items in the exhibition are on the next pages.


We thank Olivier Gerriet and Jean-Félix Gandioli warmly for their work in favour of informing people about Clarence Bicknell and for the excellent exhibition.


You can download a copy of this article, with additional material such as the organisers' description of the contents of the exhibition here

NEWS - Clarence Bicknell in Parma, October 2018

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

The Meli Lupi Loop

Would Clarence Bicknell have been a rock guitarist?


The Meli Lupi Loop with Gallery of photos

How have rock music, a modern day Italian marquis, an 18th century typographer and the Victorian polymath become entwined in a rich flurry of culture in Parma this week?

The story starts in the Charlie Chaplin film lot in Hollywood, California, in February 1977... that was the head-quarters of one of the most dynamic private record labels of the 70s and 80s, A&M Records, master-minded by Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss. A&M’s underground rock band Supertramp is about to burst onto the international stage with Even in the Quietest Moments released in April 1977. Band members are around the offices meeting record company executives and promoting the new LP.

Fresh-faced Marcus Bicknell, 29 years old, was appointed to the new post of CEO, A&M Records Europe, in January 1977 and was spending induction time on the lot with the A&Mers to understand the company’s business ethics and to prepare the establishment of their new office in Paris. John Helliwell, Supertramp’s ingenious and characterful sax-player and front man, struck up a conversation with Marcus which has continued for nearly 42 years. As Supertramp’s massive hits rolled out across Europe, John was most frequently the Supertramper who travelled round the continent to promote upcoming records and concerts to the radio stations and journalists, Marcus pulling the strings. Their friendship and extra-mural activities flourished; in 1982 John and his wife Christine joined Marcus and his wife Susie on 1000cc Honda motorcycles in a tour of France, the four of them sporting white leathers provided by Patrice Blanc-Francard’s France Inter radio station and in-helmet CB radio walk-in-talkies.

Years later, as John’s music career develops into jazz with his Creme Anglaise and on tour round Germany with Excalibur he accepts the invitation from Italian guitarist Raimondo Meli Lupi to play in Parma. For October 2018, Raimondo has also invited Chris Thompson, the voice on Manfred Mann’s Blinded by the Light, to play both rock classics (including a couple of Supertramp’s hits from Quietest Moments) and some mellifluous jazz-influenced tunes.

John and Marcus get talking about the 2018 Clarence Bicknell centenary, which is already packed with 40 events - film projection, book launches and talks - in 5 countries. Hmm... John mentions his friend Raimondo who is at the core of Parma’s cultural firmament, involved not just in music but in the Meli Lupi Foundation, charities and sports promotion. What about a Clarence Bicknell event in Parma. Raimondo seizes the opportunity, contacts his friend Professor Marcello Tomaselli of the School of Botany at the Università degli Studi di Parma. A date is set for 10th October for the projection of the film about Clarence Bicknell, a botanist above all the elements of his career, and presentations by Gisella Merello, Giuseppe Bessone of Bordighera and me, Marcus Bicknell, always credited as Clarence’s nephew. Oh, and on the 12th and 13th October, John Helliwell, Chris Thompson, Raimondo Meli Lupi and his musician friends will play the concerts in Parma... we will all get to experience the music too.

This plan is too much for Valerie Lester back in Boston. The biographer of Clarence Bicknell is also the biographer of Parma’s greatest son, Giambattista Bodoni, the prince of typographers, a man who as printer to the royal court was the Rupert Murdoch and the Mark Zuckerberg of middle Italy in the 18th century, the man through whose printing presses all communication flowed. Valerie had spent many months on 5 visits to Parma’s archives between 2008 and 2013 and had fallen in love with the place. Her Bodoni was published in 2016. She was not able to travel to Bordighera and Tende for the July 2018 Clarence Bicknell celebrations so she booked the flights to Parma. We added her to the list of speakers and Parma cocked an ear.

By a remarkable alignment of the planets, Helliwell, Meli Lupi, Bicknell and Lester are united this week in Parma. As I write, we are revelling in the acclaim for the Clarence Bicknell film and seminar on Wednesday; our ears are still buzzing with the roof-raising music of the Friday night concert.

The City of Parma enjoyed the Bicknell event; the dynamic council member fo the Environment and Culture, Tiziana Benassi, came to the event and welcomed us all from the podium... “we have an obligation to preserve and promote culture”. In the meantime Il Marchese Raimondo Meli Lupi di Soragna (for, yes, it is he) has been spoiling us rotten with elegant dining at his country home (indeed, Parma ham) plus visits to Parmesan cheese factories and art galleries. Valerie took us to the Bodoni Museum where she spent so much time studying and where we saw the collection of type matrices and fonts, press, printing equipment and print samples, normally closed to the public. Next door, the Teatro Farnese is the world’s biggest theatre made entirely from wood, a mind-blowing space.

No, Clarence was never a rock guitarist. But the culture of the 21st century is as vibrant as that of the 19th century. We can look back on this week, as on Clarence’s life’s work, with pleasure and pride.

We also learn (thank you John Helliwell, Raimondo Meli Lupi, Professor Marcello Tomaselli, Tiziana Benassi, Giuseppe Bessone, Gisela Merello Folli and Valerie Lester) that one of the greatest privileges of life is the willingness to say “Yes”.

Marcus Bicknell 12 October 2018, Parma

RESEARCH - Clarence Bicknell and folklore

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

supernatural john kingWas Clarence a spiritualist in later life? It was so fashionable in Victorian parlours, was it not?  When he gave up his activities in the Anglican Church in 1879, on arrival in Bordighera, he continued to be passionate about religion in general; he had even preached about his eucumenical principles and the need to respect those who worship a different god. I quote from Valerie Lester's biography of Clarence... MARVELS... below.

Now a notebook written by Clarence in 1907 has come to light in the Bicknell collection. The motivation to publish it has come from my cousin Renchi Bicknell who feels many personal links with Clarence and is preparing to talk in Glastonbury on 15th November about Clarence's "other" beliefs. Did his interest in other beliefs extend to spiritualism, the supernatural and to "the other side". Well yes... Giovanni Russo of the Museo Bicknell in Bordighera, expert on Clarence's books, has noted several titles written by others, but on these very subjects. The complete list is on this web site (click on The Man, then on Bibliography) and I have listed a few of the more interesting ones below.

In the meantime I have scanned the notebook and am hoping that Renchi will transcribe it so that we can read it more easily on the internet. For the time being you can download the scan in pdf and have a look. Just 17 pages, in pencil; it looks like a notebook he would use when he could not think of anywhere else to write his experiences.

Download Clarence Bicknell Folklore in pdf here


Excerpt from Valerie Lester's MARVELS: The Life of Clarence Bicknell, page 48, on the moment when Clarence antagonised his congregation with talk of other faiths

"In May, Bordighera was in a frenzy of excitement over the celebration of St Ampelio’s day. (Clarence’s spelling of Ampelio/Ampeglio varies.) A week before the actual anniversary on the 14th, Clarence attended a service in the parish church where the parishioners ‘were keeping a Novena for S. Ampeglio, his arm bone being on the altar in a [case], surrounded by candles . . . a litany sung & hymns & then the kneeling congregation . . . were blessed by the relic . . . I thought it all very horrible & was glad to be out again.’ This revulsion did not dim Clarence’s enthusiasm for the saint. On the Sunday before the anniversary, he gave notice of the feast of S. Ampelio to the congregation of All Saints, ‘to the astonishment of Protestants & Anglicans who are so anti-Roman or so insular that they cannot understand how we can love to rejoice with them that do rejoice, & confess the unity of all without holding to strict doctrines of one kind or another.’

"On 14 May itself, a crucial day in Clarence’s religious journey, he wrote in his diary, ‘S. Ampelio – Hermit of the Thebaid, blacksmith by trade, wafted in his westward wanderings to the Italian shore, to Bordighera where in a cave on the shore he is said to have lived & taught & died – We had our Chapel decorated & H.C. at 8. when I said a few words about the festival & why we sd. keep it right joyously, in order to rejoice with those who rejoiced.’ The celebration of St Ampelio did not sit well with the conservative faction at All Saints."

Copyright © 2018 Valerie Lester. ISBN 978 1 7890 1494 5 hardback


Some books which belonged to Clarence Bicknell and which are now in the Biblioteca Civica Internazionale in Bordighera. With thanks to Giovanni Russo of the Museo Bicknell for his research and the list:

Rêve blanc / Henri Ardel. – Paris : Plon, 1895. – 281 p. ; 18 cm                                Coll. ARD., BIB 32807. C. Bicknell

The devil in Britain and America / by John Ashton. – York : Ward and Downey, 1896. – x, 363 p. ; 23 cm              Coll. 235 ASH, BIL 6809, 13639 barrato. C. Bicknell

The Hebrew prophet / by Loring W. Batten. – London : Methuen & co., 1905. – x, 351 p. ; 20 cm             Coll. 296 BAT, BIL 6880, 13734 barrato. C Bicknell 1907

A buddhist catechism : an outline of the doctrine of the Buddha Gotama in the form of question and answer / by Subhadra Bhikshu. – London : Redway, 1890. – 92 p. ; 18 cm                     Coll. 294 BHI, BIL 6952, 13766. C. Bicknell

Complications sentimentales / Paul Bourget. – Paris : Lemerre, 1898. – 358 p. ; 18 cm.                   Coll. F. BOU, 32791. C. Bicknell

The manners, customs and condition of the North American indians / by George Catlin. – London : published by the author, 1841. – 2 v. : ill. ; 26 cm                      572.9 CAT, BIL 1881-1881, 13747-13748 barrato. C. Bicknell

The supernatural : its origin, nature, and evolution / by John H. King. – London : Williams and Norgate ; New York : Putnam’s sons, 1892. – 2 v. : ill. ; 22 cm.                    Coll 133 KIN, BIL 6997-6998, barrato 13773-13774. – C Bicknell       Photo of the cover embedded in this article

Apparitions and thought-transference: an examination of the evidence for telepathy / by Frank Podmore. – London : Scott, 1894. – xiv, 395 p. ; 18 cm. – The contemporary science series ; 26                Coll. 133 POD, Bil 6869, 13724 barrato. C. Bicknell

Modern spiritualism : a history and criticism / by Frank Podmore. – London : Methuen & co., 1902. – 2 v. ; 23 cm                        Coll. 133 POD, BIL 1555-1556, 13614-13615 barrato. C. Bicknell 1907


NEWS - MARVELS reviewed in Venue magazine

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

venue review of marvels autumn 2018Delighted to say that Valerie Lester's MARVELS: the Life of Clarence Bicknell has had a review in another useful publication, VENUE magazine, Arts for the East of England based in Cambridge. The review will come out in their autumn edition. There are some really nice compliments in the revue.

For a pdf print copy of this image please click here.

By the way, I have professionally-printed copies of the A4 flyer for MARVELS with the revue in Country Life (August 15, 2018) on the back. If anyone would like a stock of these flyers for display or giving to friends then please let me know and I will mail them. I attach this flyer for your info, in two files, recto and verso.

NEWS - Ode to Clarence and Valerie in Hingham

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

valerie and flowers sept2018valerie hands clasped sept2018ode to clarence and valerie hingham sept2018The USA launch of MARVELS, as previewed in the Hingham Journal, took place in the Hingham Public Library on Wednesday 12th September.

Valerie Lester, the author, addressed her home crowd about the 5 year research and writing of MARVELS and introduced the film The Marvels of Clarence Bicknell. Susie and Marcus Bicknell then presented on Clarence's art. The question and answer session was particularly lively as several VIPs were there including Bruce Kennett (author, scholar on arts and crafts design especially W.A. Dwiggins), David Godine (owner and publisher, David Godine) and Sue Ramin who works for him.

Marcus Bicknell, the editor of this website and chairman of the Clarence Bicknell Association was moved to verse in honour of Valerie's triumph there. Download the Ode to Clarence and Valerie at Hingham in pdf here.

Events - Clarence Bicknell Centenary Talks in Bordighera

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

biblio bic oct 2018There will be three talks in the International Civic Library (Biblioteca Civica Internazionale) of Bordighera as part of the 2018 Clarence Bicknell Centenary:

6 October at 16:30. Clarence Bicknell Centenary Talk by Fulvio Cervini: Photographing the Ideal Landscape; Ezio Benigni's Liguria

13 October at 16:30. Clarence Bicknell Centenary Talk by Giovanni Russo: His personal collection at the Civic Library; the books of Clarence Bicknell

18 October at 16:30. Clarence Bicknell Centenary Talk by Gisella Merello: Clarence Bicknell's first encounter with Bordighera


NEWS - Exhibition in Ventimiglia open 8 September

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

guerzoni mar ventimiglia sept 2018 cOpening in Ventimiglia, Italy, this Saturday, an exhibition of drawings by Andrea Guerzoni inspired by the memory of Clarence Bicknell, in the splendid Museo Civico Archeologico "Girolamo Rossi" which runs till the end of September. See the flyer to the right for opening times.

Andrea Guerzoni's artwork and his exhibition at the Museo Civico Archeologico Girolamo Rossi, Ventimiglia, in September 2018 are a great tribute to Clarence Bicknell whose centenary has been celebrated round Europe in 2018. We find this a creative and exciting way to bring Clarence's botanical drawings and Andrea's work to life. We find it fascinating and we are grateful for the tribute he pays to Clarence.  The Bicknell family congratulates Andrea and our association is proud to be working together in any way.

We have translated the comments Andrea wrote about the exhibition and you can download it here

With thanks to Dssa. Daniela Gandolfi and the staff of the Museo Rossi for their efforts for the Clarence Bicknell 2018 Centenary.

NEWS - Revue L'Alpe covers Clarence and the Merveilles

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

les merveilles de clarence bicknell article lalpe screen grabWe are very pleased with the article Les Merveilles de Clarence Bicknell by Jean-Loup Fontana in the monthly magazine Revue L’Alpe numéro 81 of July 2018. You can see the whole magazine at

As the text is difficult to read online (they would like you to buy copies of the magazine) we are making available a pdf of this article alone, which you can download here:

Les Merveilles de Clarence Bicknell in pdf

This pdf version is not available to the public so please do not share it widely.

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