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'Ancoats: Manchester's Little Italy' - Letters

Many thanks to all those who took the time and wrote so positively regarding the booklet 'Ancoats: Manchester's Little Italy' since it was first published in 1988.

Below is a review from 'Manchester Region History Review':

Until very recently the only record of Manchester's important Italian community, numbering over 2,000 on the eve of World War Two, was Azeglio Valgimigi's dry and episodic La Colonia Italiana di Manchester, published in the 1920s and still untranslated. Now at last Anthony Rea, himself the grandchild of Italian immigrants, has provided a short but valuable, fascinating and highly readable guide to the history and culture of Italian Manchester.

Rea shows how the earliest Italian community evolved out of a floating population of peddlers and street musicians at the end of the eighteenth century into a society of respectable shopkeepers who by the 1830s sold precision instruments, artists' materials, picture frames, prints and plaster statuettes to the Manchester middle-classes. Already by the 1860s leading Manchester Italians had found acceptance within the ranks of the local bourgeoisie.

This 'first community', anglicised and influential, was largely displaced between 1865 and 1914 by the arrival of working-class immigrants seeking refuge from poverty and lack of opportunity in rural and urban Italy. With few skills and resources, and knowing no English, they found homes in the slums of Ancoats and eked out a meagre livelihood as ice- cream vendors and barrel organists. It was these poorer immigrants who by the 1890s had created a Little Italy in a network of mean, terraced streets near the junction of Great Ancoats Street and Oldham Road.

The core of Rea's book is a nostalgic portrait of the Little Italy of his parents and grandparents. Drawing on rich folk memories and superb family photographs, Rea paints a richly textured picture of a minority society dominated by the strength of its family bonds, the intensity of its many-sided devotion to Catholicism and an economy firmly centred on the ice-cream trade.

He shows also that while Little Italy remained predominantly a working- class society, there emerged within it from the 1880s a petit bourgeoisie of ice-cream merchants, restaurateurs, biscuit makers and manufacturers of barrel organs and pianos who gave a lead in the creation and funding of institutions designed to safeguard the collective interests and identity of the community. An Italian Society was founded in 1889 to co-ordinate the cultural life of Manchester Italians and organise their distinctive participation in the Whit Walks, an Italian Mutual Aid Society in 1900 for the relief of communal poverty.

During World War One, when Italy fought as Britain's ally, the repute of the Italian colony stood high. During the Second, with Italy on the side of the Axis, popular xenophobia and government panic conspired to undermine the standing and coherence of the community. Hundreds of leading Manchester Italians were interned as enemy aliens: many, including the beloved local priest. Father Gaetano Fracassi, died in the tragic sinking of the Arandora Star in 1940, on their way to re-internment in Canada.

Little Italy never recovered its former glory and vitality. Many families returned to Ancoats in 1945 and the ice-cream trade experienced a boom during the 1950s, but immigration from Italy had effectively ceased and some older-established residents had already begun to desert New Cross for a supposedly better life in suburban Manchester. Slum clearance completed this process of desertion during the 1960s. A Manchester Italian Society remains, descendants of Italian immigrants continue to gather for the Whit Walks, business people of Italian descent and in traditional Italian businesses remain eminent in Manchester society. But Little Italy is no more.

It is the great strength of Anthony Rea's book that he deploys oral, photographic and documentary evidence skillfully in re-creating it. He has also produced a marvelous source book for historians who in the future might seek a more analytical approach to the social, economic and institutional development of Little Italy in Manchester.

BILL WILLIAMS

(Mr. Bill Williams, historian and curator of the Jewish Museum, Cheetham Hill Manchester, documented the Italian community in the Seventies with a series of recorded interviews with members of various families).

   

 
Letter from the Italian Embassy, London
Letter from the President of the Italian Republic
Letter from Mr. Serafino Di Felice, President of The Italian Heritage Association (founded 1998).

Letter from Dr. John Dunleavy

Letter from Fr. Joe Carter, Parish Priest of St.Anthony of Padua Presbitary
Letter received fron Christine Wall after my talk at Manchester Central Library

Letter from Loretta Rosato

 

All text and images (unless marked *) Anthony Rea 2010
not to be used without permission. All rights reserved