A little about me - Louise ……. I have always felt that Bella Italia was in my blood. My maternal grandparents originated from Atina in the beautiful mountain community of the Val di Comino, overlooking the River Melfa and the Meta, Mainarde and Abruzzi mountains.
In Italy, at the beginning of the 1900’s, times were very hard, people toiled in miserable conditions, experienced severe hardship and poverty due to poor wages and food shortages. Thus my grandfather Benedetto Leonardi felt restless, as many Italian families departed for distant lands such as America, Argentina, France, Belgium, Scotland, and England. His elder brother and sister had already moved to live in London where they had set up small businesses in the Soho area, and Benedetto, longing for adventure, was also enticed by the prospect of emigration to a “new land of opportunity“. Thus my grandparents left behind their beloved Atina to make a new life in London.
In the Summer of 1911 my Italian grandparents first set foot on English soil, and made their way to the city of London, to “Il Quartiere Italiano” of Clerkenwell, the district known as “Little Italy” by the English and “The Hill” by the Italian residents. They rented a dilapidated Victorian house at the lower end of Little Saffron Hill which was to be their home for many years to come. My mother, Tina, was baptised in St Peter’s Italian Church in 1920 and married my father there in 1955. Then I was born and was also baptised at St Peter’s and I lived in Clerkenwell until, in 1957, we moved away to the countryside of Hertfordshire, away from the smogs of old London town.
My mother would, however, return every so often on a Sunday to attend Mass at St Peter’s and as I grew up, on entering the church, I was spellbound by the opulent gold and marble decorations, the statues of the saints, the stations of the cross, the flickering candles and the heady wafting fragrance of the incense.
We also came at special times of the year, such as for the Italian Procession in July, which I walked in on two occasions, just as my mother had done before me. We also enjoyed attending the Christmas Bazaar in St Peter’s School hall, Herbal Hill, where my mother had gone to school.
After church my mother would meet up with some of our family and her dearest friends. Her brother lived in Corporation Buildings in Farringdon Road, and her best friend Rita Malvermi lived nearby in Mount Pleasant. I can also vividly remember visiting the Italian provisions shops to buy salami, parmesan, provolone and caciocavalle cheese, and my tummy rumbling due to the tantalising array of delicious food and the all pervading tempting aromas.
Sadly I did not have the good fortune to get to know my maternal grandparents, as they had both died well before I came along. However, as I grew up I developed a true passion for Italy and all things Italian.
My mother would fondly recount stories of her childhood in Clerkenwell and I decided to write them down and record them for future generations to learn from and to enjoy, to preserve them them for posterity. I am so happy to be able to share them with you now.
Perhaps this might spark you into trying to find out more about your own Italian family’s colourful heritage and social history.
I have also created a Facebook Group by the name of Clerkenwell - Our Little Italy Please do feel welcome to join !!!
I have a true passion for family history and for discovering more about my Italian heritage
and in particular the special Italian district of “Little Italy” in London, where my family settled back in 1911.
I hope that others who share my interests may enjoy my new website
and I invite you all to feel free to contribute more historical information and photographs of “Il Quartiere Italiano”.
Perhaps you could write your own family stories of their time living in “Little Italy” and I could publish them here on this website
and I’d be more than pleased to add links to your own existing sites.
This web site and text © LM Shapcott
All rights Reserved 2015 - 2016
Photos © LM Shapcott
Except where photos have been rightfully accredited to the photographer / owner.
Images marked with * are in the Public Domain.
Photos marked with ● are believed to be in the Public Domain due of their age.
Last Updated : May 2016