The Tour of Mont Blanc

The Tour du Mont Blanc 2008

Mont Blanc


The Tour du Mont Blanc (or TMB for short) is one of the finest long distance footpaths in Europe.
Depending upon exactly which route variants you take, it involves a distance of some 170km (105 miles) and an accumulated height gain and loss of some 10,000 m (about 33,000 ft).

TMB - Showing some variants
TMB - Showing some variants

From a low point of 1007m the Tour climbs several times to over 2500m and it is this constant ascent and descent which provide both the challenge and the reward of the ten days or so it takes to complete.
Elizabeth and I did the more conventional anticlockwise version, but instead of starting at Les Houches (as I have done four times previously), we waited for the pouring rain that greeted us on arrival at Geneva to subside and first spent a couple of enjoyable days in Chamonix.

Being a very enthusiastic photographer, Elizabeth was very quickly capturing the scenery, grandeur and character of the Alps.

It is with thanks to Elizabeth that I include the majority of photos in this account.

Visit her blog pages on

Getting there
We flew from Bristol to Geneva with Easyjet. An overnight in Geneva is pleasant, but not essential if you get the right timings.
Transport from Geneva to Chamonix is cheapest by train, but involves several changes.
Tour buses operated by SAT leave Geneva Gare Routier (Bus Station -just off Rue Mont Blanc, near the Lake outlet) at 08.30 daily. This is the fastest way to travel to Chamonix, but this year cost €36 each, one way.
Getting from Geneva Airport to the City Centre is easy and cheap. Either go by train, or more scenically, the Number 10 trolleybus at the upper level end of the Airport Concourse. The tricky bit is getting a ticket! The system relies mostly on trust and you need either 3 Swiss Francs or €2 to insert into the machine, but beware, they don’t give change !
A red button guides you to the easiest option – a time limited single ticket. You don’t have to show the driver the ticket or get it ‘composited’ in a machine, in fact it seems you only need to produce it for a spot check. Hotels offer free tickets for the duration of your stay, so clearly there is an emphasis on getting people to use public transport rather than optimising income !

Lake Geneva with the fountain in the background

Day 1 (click)


The faces of history – Elizabeth Plucknett

Elizabeth Plucknett, my great great grandmother was born in Devon in 1829 and died in Birmingham in 1888

Elizabeth Sternberg née Plucknett about 1880
Elizabeth Sternberg née Plucknett about 1880

Elizabeth Plucknett was the daughter of Thomas Loaring Plucknett and Harriet (née Tootell). She may have been born in Thorverton, but her mother Harriet was from Exeter and Elizabeth’s address at the time of her christening was Cowick Street, Exeter, in the parish of St Thomas the Apostle. She spent her early years in Thorverton, but her mother, Harriet died when Elizabeth was 12. Harriet had at least six children, but only Elizabeth and Emma (b 1832) survived beyond childhood.

Her father Thomas remarried a few months after Harriet’s death. His second wife was Emma Babbage and they had three further children. It may be that the relationship between the two older girls and their stepmother was not easy, since both Elizabeth and Emma left Thorverton. In 1851, Emma was in Bridgewater and Elizabeth in Bristol, living at 56 Wine Street, (Christ Church Parish) along with 11 other shop assistants; described as draper’s assistant, aged 21.

In the same year she met Francis George Sternberg, who wrote the Valentines day poem to his ‘Fairest Lizzy’.

They were married in Bristol Register Office on 6 February 1853. Her address at time of marriage was Peter Street, Bristol (Hospital Workhouse). Note that the marriage did not take place at Thorverton and that Lizzy’s father Thomas seems to have been absent, although a month later,when her sister Emma married William Clout in Thorverton, Thomas was a witness.

Franis George Sternberg's poem to 'Fairest Lizzy' 1851
Francis George Sternberg's poem to 'Fairest Lizzy' 1851

Francis George and Lizzy had no less than ten children between 1854 and 1870, but two died in infancy.

In 1860 the family was at Bradley Terrace in Wandsworth. Let my father’s words from 1993 tell a bit more of that story.

Another thread in the story concerns my gt.grandmother Elizabeth. She was married in Bristol in 1853 and four children (one of them my grandmother) were born there, but only two of them appeared in the 1861 census. There was a death in Bristol that tallied for one of them, but
the only name that fitted for the other was in 1860, in Wandsworth. My recent research on Thomas Loaring P. led me to think that this was not, after all, impossible, so I sent for the death certificate, and sure enough, there he was, son of  Francis George and Elizabeth Sternberg – at
1, Bradley Terrace! So all the family seem to have been together in 1860, (In the 1861 census the Sternbergs were in Birmingham, where their next son, then 2 months old, was born, and where they lived for the rest of their lives)

Sadly the rest of Francis George’s life was not that long, since he died in 1869 at the age of 40 at 155, Sherlock Street, Birmingham, leaving Lizzy pregnant with their tenth child, Charles.
Causes of death on FGS certificate are given as Alcohol and ‘Brain disease

By the time of the 1881 Census, Lizzy was in Summer Road, 2 Terrace,  Edgbaston (Birmingham), Warwickshire. A widow, living with four of her children. Her second daughter (my great grandmother) Alice was by this time married,  so Lizzy had several grandchildren. In fact, by the time she died she had nineteen,

Lizzy died at 175, Great Colmore Street, Birmingham in 1888;

Her death Certificate records that:

‘Death Certificate was received from H. Hawker, Coroner for Birmingham. Inquest, held 8th May 1888’. Coroner’s enquiry reveals (on the testimony of her daughter, Marion) that she had had a stroke nine years previously ‘which took the use of her left side, but she was able to get about the house daily and eat and drink well’. On Sunday 29th April she fell downstairs while on her way to bed. Her son, Francis George Sternberg, who had just retired to bed ‘ran downstairs and picked her up’. Dr Johnstone of Bath Row was sent for, came and attended to her until her death.

She died on Friday 4th May 1888.

Lizzy died intestate and a Grant of Administrationwas made on 20 June 1888. The value of her personal estate was £75, to William Sternberg, son.

Photo album dedication to Marion Sternberg from Lizzy about 1887
Photo album dedication to Marion Sternberg from Lizzy about 1887 "To My darling Marion, with her loving mothers prayers for her happiness, here and hereafter"

This is the dedication from Lizzy to her daughter Marion, probably for her 21st birthday in 1887.

Lizzy died the following year. It is from this lovingly compiled photo album that I copied many of the portraits that I have used in the ‘Faces of History’ series.

As an amateur family historian, I acknowledge with gratitude and thanks my Great Great Grandmother’s efforts.

The Faces of History-The German Sternbergs. Contributed by Stan Bruce.

Rathaus (Town Hall) Luneburg
Rathaus (Town Hall) Lüneburg (Photo S and G Bruce)

Stan and Gill Bruce have done a lot of original research on the Sternberg family and its connection with Lüneburg. I gratefully acknowledge this and thank Stan for his contribution to these pages.

There was a general assumption by those of us descended from the Sternbergs that the name was probably Jewish and that our ancestor had come to Britain as a refugee. Research by my father some years ago began to cast doubt on this theory and the subsequent discoveries by the Bruces, David Oulton and Basil Wood have established that the Sternbergs were rooted in the Christian faith three hundred years ago. I now believe that the origin of the name is derived from a place (cf  Sternberg and Lüneburg), but maybe future studies will reveal more.

John Winchurch

Family Tree - Heinrich to Francis George - Luneburg to Northampton
Family Tree - Heinrich to Francis George - Luneburg to Northampton

Hinrich (Heinrich) Frantz Sternberg

Hinrich was Musician at the Monastery School in Lüneburg from 1716 to 1734, and Town Musician (Ratsmusikant) from 1734 to 1757. J.S. Bach had been a choirboy at the Monastery School, enrolling in 1700, and graduating in 1702 after receiving a comprehensive musical education there. The Bach Week is staged in Lüneburg in his honour during the summer of each year, featuring performances of many of his works.

St Michaels Church Luneburg
St Michaels Church Lüneburg

Dr. Uta Reinhardt of the Lüneburg Town Archives says this: “In our archives…Hinrich Frantz Sternberg…was employed at St. Michael’s [Church] in Lüneburg from 1722 and became attached to the ‘Stadtmusikant’, Johann Ulrich Voigt, in 1728. In 1732 he followed him as musician of the Council, but from 1734 to 1749 incessantly quarrelled with his former colleagues at St. Michaelis about their rights (StadtA Lbg, AA M 1, Nr. 5 u. 6). In 1741 he tried to get additional employment as a watchman on the tower of St. Lamberti [Church] but was refused. In January 1757 he asked the Council for the appointment of his eldest son to help him with his task as musician. He argued that he was old and had bad eyes. We do not know anything about his life and whereabouts after 1757.”

Dr. Reinhardt explains the role of the Town Musician: “In Lüneburg, the Town Musician(s) had to be at the Council’s service. He or they were employed to make music when the Council arranged public or private celebrations, e.g. during the visit of the sovereign, at municipal festivities or the reception of legations of Hanse towns.”

We don’t as yet know where Hinrich was born, but Dr. Reinhardt says “As a register from St. Michaelis tells us (StadtA Lbg, Mich., R II, Nr. 66), he came from Hamburg. It is possible that he not only worked there before, but that he was born in this town”.

Marriage of Heirich Frantz Sternberg and Anna Catherina Otzmann
Marriage of Heirich Frantz Sternberg and Anna Catherina Otzmann

He married Anna Catharina Otzmann in St. Michael’s Church, Lüneburg on 14 November 1719. The marriage record tells us that she was a widow, having been previously married to Johann Müller. Hinrich and Anna had two sons and two daughters: Ernst Wilhelm, born 30 March 1721; Hartwig, born 7 February 1722/23; Sophia Amalia, born 17 March 1731/32; and Johanna Hinrietta Philippina, born 2 December 1733. One of Hinrietta’s godfathers named at her baptism in St Michael’s Church, Lüneburg on 3 December 1733 was “Capellmeister Telemann”, the famous composer.

Property records reveal that Hinrich bought No. 8  Kleine Backerstrasse from his father-in-law, Johann Otzmann, grain-seller, in 1720, and sold it in 1722. He bought No. 4  Stintmarkt, in the harbour by the fishmarket in 1735 and sold it in 1741.

Hartwig Sternberg

Hartwig was named after Hartwig von Toebing, Burgermeister who appears as his godfather at his baptism in St Michael’s Church on 7 February 1722/23. He succeeded his father as Town Musician in Lüneburg in 1757, a position which he held until his death on 11 June 1771, by which time he had become associated with St. John’s Church in Lüneburg, a Gothic church noted for its magnificent organ and its superb Baroque screen. At the time of his appointment as Town Musician, Hartwig was ‘hautboist’ [flautist] in the ‘Zandreische Infanterie-Regiment’.

St Johns Church Luneburg
St Johns Church Lüneburg

Hartwig married Dorothea Ilsabe Kurtzbauer (Spelling unclear – could be Kurtzhauern or Kurtzhauer) who died 30 May 1769. We have not been able to find a record of the marriage so far. They had only two children as far as we can tell: Rahel Sophie, born March 1760; and Francis George born 29 August 1761 and baptised in St. John’s Church, Lüneburg on 1 September 1761.

Baptism ofFrancis George Sternberg, Luneburg 1761
Baptism of Francis George Sternberg, Luneburg 1761

Footnote by John Winchurch

In 1961, at the age of eighteen, between school and university, a school friend and I cycled from the Hook of Holland across the Netherlands and North Germany to stay with his grandmother who had lived in the old part of Lüneburg since the end of the second world war. Germany was rising from the ashes of that war in 1961 and the new president of the USA, John F Kennedy was featured on TV and in newspapers. Two years later, Kennedy gave his famous ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’ speech.

Little did I know at this point of my life that I could say, with some historic justification ‘Ich bin ein Lüneburger’ !