Tina Leonardi’s Story of Growing up  

in “Little Italy”,  Clerkenwell, London

Then something quite unexpected happened as I had given up on any prospect of ever getting married, until by chance I met my husband-to-be, Hugh. When I was getting some small  improvements done at the old house in Herbal Hill (previously named Little Saffron Hill).  He had come to do some plumbing alterations.  Hugh can remember me standing, with my hand on my hip, and cheekily saying, “Well how much is this going to cost me?”  Later he would often quip - “..and I’ve been paying for it for the rest of my life !!!”


He was quite shy and was plagued by an embarrassing stutter, but one day he plucked up courage to invite me out.  We got on very well and soon started courting.  He had a passion for the opera and he would often take me to Covent Garden. and we would regularly visit the cinemas in the West End.   


Hugh and I were eventually married on the 23rd October 1955 at St. Peter's Italian Church, by Father Chiaponcelli.


My cousin Sarkis Zeronian walked me up the aisle.

Rita Malvermi & her sister Delia and Bruna were my bridesmaids

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We had a cheap little honeymoon at Bexhill-on-Sea, and I can remember I had a raging toothache for most of the time.  We planned to save up and go to Milan and Rome the following year.  We were overjoyed when we discovered I was expecting a child.  

We took our holiday to Italy in the summer of 1956 and we visited family in Milan before catching the train to Rome.  Whilst visiting St. Peter's and the Vatican we attended an audience of the pope and received his blessing.  The doctors were worried about my pregnancy because of my history of  health problems and I was admitted to St Bartholomew’s Hospital with high blood pressure and confined to bed rest towards the end of my pregnancy.  I was safely delivered of a baby girl who we named Louise Maria, as we chose our mothers’ Christian names.  Hugh and his brothers had lost his parents at a very young age.

The doctors gave our baby a BCG inoculation against Tuberculosis as soon as she was born and then I received the terrible news that I was not allowed to have any physical contact with my daughter for 6 weeks or more. In the hospital I was only allowed to look at her through a glass window.  The doctors and nurses wanted to send our baby to a care home, however Hugh said that there was someone on his side of the family who could look after me during those first couple of months.  This was Hugh’s grandmother who was well in her 70’s.  At first the doctor said she was far too old to look after a new born baby, however when it was explained that she had had 11 children of her own, who had all survived to adulthood, and that she had then taken on her daughters sons, when their father had died at the age of 36 and then their mother had died of Leukaemia aged 34, the doctors decided that perhaps this lady did indeed possess the right credentials after all.

So our daughter Louise spent the first weeks of her life being cared for in Ealing by Hugh’s Gran.  When the six weeks were up I was so excited that at last I could cuddle my own baby, however my hopes were swiftly dashed when the doctors said that I needed to wait another 2 weeks to be on the safe side to ensure the BCG injection had worked.  I was distraught, I was so very disappointed.  The whole world seemed against me.



For many years, London had been plagued with terrible smogs or “pea soupers” as became named because of their yellow / green colour.  They were particularly bad for people who suffered from respiratory problems, such as myself.  They were the result of severe air pollution caused by the smoke of the numerous coal fires that were used in London. The worst incidence was the great smog of  December 1952 which lasted for several days.  It was horrendous, the cars and busses couldn’t see where they were going, the smog even found its way into our homes.  It is estimated that over those few days about 12,000 died and many more were taken ill with acute respiratory problems.

Hugh therefore decided that we needed to get away from London, for the sake of my health and that of our little daughter.  We had the opportunity to move into a cottage in the countryside of Bell Bar in Hertfordshire.  At first I absolutely hated it, I cried for over a year and begged Hugh to take us back to London, I missed my friends and family so much.  However he held firm despite my protests.  I soon found that I was expecting another baby, but  there were complications at the end of my pregnancy and tragically the baby was still-born.  Another bitter blow - We were heartbroken but gave him a name - Christopher Hugh and he was buried at Kensal Green Cemetery with the rest of my family. This was followed by me having a couple of miscarriages.  My health was failing rapidly and we were told definitely not to try for any more children. Louise was about 3 years old by now.


However two weeks later the doctors gave the go ahead, and we finally went to collect our baby daughter. Hugh had to transport the huge pram we had bought (not with our baby inside I’d just like to add)  on the Tube) - he got some very strange looks from fellow underground passengers!  When we got Louise home to Herbal Hill (Little Saffron Hill), we were so nervous and we kept checking on her every few minutes to make sure she was breathing. However things soon settled down as we familiarised ourselves with parenthood and we gradually became more confident.

Louise Maria was baptised at St. Peter's Italian Church, my cousin John and his wife Nora were her godparents.  I hand made Louise’s christening dress out of my lace wedding dress.

I remained in hospital for 6 months after the surgery.  I was so glad to get home, however a month or so after I contracted pneumonia, so soon found myself back at Clare Hall for yet another 3 months. However, thanks to the wonderful staff there and the new treatments I received,  I made a good recovery and was told that my TB was in remission. I was just so happy that I could enjoy seeing my daughter growing up.

Yet again the T.B. had taken hold so I was sent to Clare Hall Hospital in South Mimms, which specialised in the treatment of Tuberculosis and thoracic surgery.  As my condition worsened I was informed that my only hope was to have one of my lungs removed.  This was a serious and risky operation in those days, but I quickly agreed to it. Meanwhile Louise was being cared for by various members of Hugh’s family, who, when I was strong enough, would bring her to see me at the hospital.

Next - Endnote

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St. Peter's Italian Church Clerkenwell         The Italian Procession of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and Sagra

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