Italians have lived in England since the Roman Empire in 43 AD, and the cultures of the two countries have been intertwined for centuries.
Why did Italians migrate to Britain?
From the 15th to the 18th century, an influential community of merchants, bankers and artists arrived, living primarily in London or 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, primarily from the country’s northern and central regions. 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.
1. 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.
2. The Roman Catholic Church of St Peter in Clerkenwell, London
This remarkable church on Clerkenwell Road was designed by the Irish architect Sir John Miller-Bryson, who modelled it on San Crisogono in Rome. It’s 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.
3. Eduardo Paolozzi in London and Redditch, Worcestershire
Born in Scotland to Italian immigrants, artist 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.
Paolozzi’s mosaics at Tottenham Court Road Station are one of London’s most spectacular examples of public art. Completed in 1986, the glass mosaics feature prominently on the Northern and Central line platforms and an array of interconnecting spaces.
A 12-foot bronze statue of Sir Isaac Newton by Paolozzi stands in the piazza of the British Library.
The sculpture is based on a watercolour by William Blake, and Paolozzi was inspired to bring them together, with Newton representing science and Blake representing poetry, art and the imagination.
At Pimlico Station, Paolozzi designed a ventilation shaft cover between 1978 and 1982, cast by the Robert Taylor Foundry in Larbert, Scotland.
The sculpture may have a functional role in screening a ventilation shaft for an underground car park.
Outside of London, Paolozzi also designed a bright, bold series of tile murals at the Kingfisher Shopping Centre in Reddish, Worcestershire.
They commemorate the industrial history of Redditch, especially its place as a centre of needle manufacturing.
4. Ancoats in Manchester
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 a local priest, Father Tynan.
The society instigated Italian language classes and social events for the community and the popular Madonna del Rosario procession, still led annually from Ancoats across Manchester city centre. The procession involves carrying religious emblems and wearing 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.
5. Rossi’s in Southend, Essex
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.
6. E Pellicci in Bethnal Green, London
Founded in 1900, Priamo Pellicci named his café in East London after his wife, Elide Pellicci. 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.
7. The Excalibur Estate in Lewisham, London
In 1941, the first Italian prisoners of war arrived in Britain. Before this, they were mainly sent to the Empire’s far reaches.
Between 1939 and 1948, 400,000 Germans, Italians and Ukrainians were imprisoned in Britain, some of whom stayed on after the war.
In 1945, many of them worked on constructing a new temporary housing estate in South East London, some of which still survive.
8. Bedford Brick Works, Bedfordshire
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.