Italians have lived in England from the time of the Roman Empire in 43AD, and the cultures of the two countries have been intertwined for centuries.
From the 15th to the 18th century, an influential community of merchants, bankers and artists arrived, living primarily in London or in coastal cities in the south.
In the 19th Century the Napoleonic Wars left parts of Italy devastated and prompted thousands to seek employment in England, coming primarily from the northern and central regions of the country. The majority came to London, inspiring ‘Little Italy’ in Clerkenwell, and a similar community sprung up in Ancoats in Manchester.
Much more recently the opportunities of post-war Britain brought many Italians to England, and now large communities exist all across the country. These communities have made and shaped hundreds of England’s historic buildings and places
Here are 8 places that help to tell the story of Italian England:
Lombard Street, London
A Roman road, Lombard Street in central London is the historic home of many financial institutions. It was named after Lombard Banking, which originated in the Lombardy region of northern Italy and from the year 1000 the street was home to a group of Italian merchants.
Roman Catholic Church of St Peter, Clerkenwell, London
Listed at Grade II* this remarkable building on Clerkenwell Road was designed by the Irish architect Sir John Miller-Bryson who modelled it on San Crisogono in Rome. It is at the heart of London’s ‘Little Italy’.
Next door is London’s oldest delicatessen, Terroni of Clerkenwell, established in 1878 to feed the growing number of Italians in the area.
The church houses a memorial plaque to the 470 Italian men who died aboard the SS Arandora Star, a British passenger ship, in 1940. The artist Eduardo Paolozzi lost his father, grandfather and uncle in the tragedy.
Tottenham Court Road and Pimlico Stations.
Born in Scotland to Italian immigrants, Eduardo Paolozzi moved to England in the 1950s. Often called the ‘godfather of Pop Art’ he created several iconic pieces of public art that are well known across London. Mosaics which line Tottenham Court Road station, a sculpture of Sir Isaac Newton, which is housed at the British Library, and a cast metal ventilation shaft cover at Pimlico, which is listed Grade II.
By 1910, 3000 Italians had made this industrial area of Manchester their home, rivalling London’s ‘Little Italy’. Many had left their rural homes in Italy to work in the North West’s cotton mills.
The Manchester Italian Catholic Society was formed in 1888 by local priest, Father Tynan. The society instigated Italian language classes and social events for the community, as well as the popular Madonna del Rosario procession, which is still led annually from Ancoats across Manchester city centre. The procession involves the carrying of religious emblems and wearing of the colourful regional dress of Italy.
You can see pictures of past processions and find out more about the society here.
As well as bringing highly skilled trades to England, such as mosaic laying and terrazzo tiling, Italians have also brought their knowledge of traditional Italian food and catering.
Rossi’s Ice Cream parlour, in Southend is a local favourite, serving traditional Italian ice cream. It was opened in 1932 by Pietro Rossi and until 2006 was still run by his descendants.
E Pellicci, Grade II listed
Founded in 1900, Priamo Pellicci named his café in East London after his wife, Elide Pellicci, in. 117 years on it’s still family owned, and was listed in 2005 for its pristine 1946 décor. This time capsule has exceptionally preserved the Art-Deco style panelled interior, designed by local carpenter Achille Capocci.
Excalibur Estate, Grade II listed
In 1941, the first Italian prisoners of war arrived in Britain – prior to this they had mostly been sent to the far reaches of the Empire. Between 1939 and 1948, 400,000 Germans, Italians and Ukrainians were imprisoned in Britain, some of who stayed on after the war. In 1945 many of them worked on the construction of a new temporary housing estate in South East London, some of which survives to this day and is Listed at Grade II.
Bedford Brick Works, Grade II listed
The county town of Bedford is home to one of England’s largest Italian populations: between 20 and 30% of the local community has Italian heritage. The community originated in the 1950s when the London Brick Company held an employment drive in southern Italy, due to post-war labour shortages. This prompted thousands of men to travel to England with their families, looking for work. The Italian community remains strong and the town has its own Italian Honorary Consulate.
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Links & Further Reading
- The Making of the North: 6 New Uses for Magnificent Mills