NEWS - Clarence and friends at the Casa Fontanalba in mid-winter

Skribita de Marcus Bicknell on .

casterino winterWorking with Valerie Lester on research for her biography on Clarence Bicknell is very rewarding. Valerie asked me yesterday "Right now I’m knee deep in the Casa Fontanalba Visitors’ Book, and I find something out of whack in 1906. You have P.D. Peche (spelling?) and Desiree Mary Leake signing their names in it on 27th December. This is hard to believe. Do you think they visited Clarence in Bordighera and so loved the book that they felt compelled to sign it? I can’t imagine that Clarence took them up to Casterino (at 1565 metres above sea level, under snow from October to April - Ed.) in deep winter . . ."

So I got the vellum-bound album out and had a look. I realised quickly that "P.D.Peche" was my misreading back in 2011 when I transcribed the vistitors' book. You can download that transcript from our web site at the "Documents" page. It is of course "P.D.Leake" who we know from other entries in the Visitors' Book, and from the Book of Guests in Esperanto, is Percy D. Leake, husband of Desirée Mary Leake. I could not find any mention of the Leakes on the internet in half an hour, so if you know anything about them please write to us.

Here's the page from the Visitors' Book (image below).   It's clear that they signed the book in late December because they wrote the dates out in full. Do we have any record of Clarence Bicknell going up the mountain in winter? I did not recollect such an expedition, which would have been arduous and perilous getting to St Dalmas by coach and aven more difficult getting from there up the trail to Casterino. But not impossible. If they were not in the Casa Fontanalba but visiting in Bordighera then a question mark would be posed about all signatories being guests in the Casa Fontanalba. Luckily, the Leakes are featured in the Book of Guests in which Clarence writes a short bio of people (and dogs) he liked (and/or who visited the Casa Fontanalba) in Esperanto...

"Percy D. Leake, rajtigita kalkulisto en London. Mi konatiĝis kun Gesinjoroj Leake sur la Pasejo de Monte Mora inter Saas kaj Macugnaga, kaj poste ni amikiĝis. Ili vizitis min in Bordighera Kristnaskan 1906 jaj pasigis tri tagojn en la neĝo."

and I did the translation...

"Percy D. Leake, a chartered accountant in London. I met Mr. and Mrs. Leake on the Monte Mora Pass between Saas and Macugnaga, and then we became friends. They visited me in Bordighera at Christmas 1906 and spent three days in the snow."

Our colleague researcher Graham Avery was right on the case too. With an hour he wrote back to Valerie and me "Look at the transcript of the Bicknell-Burnat correspondence for the period 1906-10 (available on that I sent to you and Valerie on 11 April 2017 and you will see that on 1 January 1907 Clarence wrote to Emile Burnat in Geneva:"

'J’ai passé, avec mes hôtes d’Angleterre, 2 nuits à Val Casterino. C’était un peu difficile d’y arriver à cause de la glace qui çà et là couvrait le sentier, et nous n’avions pas le pioche alpin pour couper les pas'.

'I spent, with my guests from England, 2 nights at Val Casterino. It was a bit difficult to get there because of the ice which covered the path, and we did not have an alpine pickaxe to cut steps.'

So there it is. Clarence and his mountaineering friends went to the Casa Fontanalba, brand new, in the depth of winter (pun intended).

 casa fontanalba visitors book p3


I wonder if G.D Peake is the botanist mentioned in ghe 1918 annual of The Botanical Society and Exchange Club, in which there is a short bio of CB: of Guests in Esperanto

Book of Guests in Esperanto by Clarence Bicknell:

p. 44 Percy D. Leake Writer on Accountancy, London 1906 Anemone alpina L.
p. 46 Desiree Mary Leake Wife of P.D.Leake 1906 Primula marginata Cust.

Clarence Bicknell visitors’ book at Casa Fontanalba:

p. 3 P.D. Leake 27 12 1906 29 12 1906
p. 3 Desiree Mary Leake 27 12 1906 29 12 1906
p. 6 Desiree Mary Leake 26 8 1908    
p. 6 Percy.D. Leake 26 8 1908 Signed P.D. Leake.

I have left the accent off Desirée in places because it goes wrong in so many email programmes.

Macugnaga is a mountain village at 1,327 metres elevation, in the province of Verbano-Cusio-Ossola, in the north of the Piedmont region of Italy. The Monte More Pass is east of Zermatt and south of Saas Fe, exactly on the Italian-Swiss border.

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