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