the history of the italian community
The first major Italian settlement in Ancoats was documented in the early years of the nineteenth century. Most of these early arrivals were craftsmen and artisans although the major influx of settlers later in the century were less skilled.
However, the remains of the Roman fort at Castlefield, just a couple of miles from Castlefield, proves that Italians had established a presence in the Manchester area centuries before Ancoats became a favoured location.
Documents such as the various Manchester Directories list Italian names prominently before 1800 whilst the Manchester Chronicle of 11th April 1801 details the opening of the ice room at Mary Jozeph's Fruit and Italian Warehouse on Market Street.
Further newspaper reports are proof of a growing influx but it was the final third of the century which saw the most substantial movement of Italian people into the Manchester area. And they travelled from every region of their home country. From many rural villages in the south of Italy, and industrial cities like Turin and Milan, and scenic locations like Sorrento and Naples.
Poverty was the motivation for most emigrants and for
those settling around the many Roman Catholic churches in
Ancoats the standard of living, though meagre by modern
standards, was much better than they had been used to in Italy.
Areas like that around St.Michaels church in Ancoats
became home to a growing Italian colony which eventually out-numbered
the local population.
By the turn of the century an area of Ancoats was becoming known as Little Italy and the development of a local economy meant that many immigrants were not needing to work in the mills, which had been the standard form of employment. Instead little shops were being opened and there was a growing involvement in the making and selling of ice cream.
Often this was an activity which occupied the whole family working together in the cellars below their homes. Other businesses grew up in the area to support the growing ice cream industry and particularly important was the ice works in Blossom Street. Work, especially the ice cream industry, became a focus around which the community grew closer but even more important was the Church.
An Italian Society was formed by a local priest, Father Lyman and by the early years of the century was already active. The first involvement of the Italian community in the Manchester Whit Walks came in 1890 and was prompted by the Italian society. The Whit walks, local demonstrations of religious commitment, took place at Whitsuntide and were a major feature of the social life of Manchester for generations. Over the years the involvement of the Italians in the Whit Walks became more pronounced and the statue of Madonna and child was constantly the most visible and, for many, the most loved feature of the annual procession.
The twentieth century has seen massive changes in Ancoats and Little Italy. The two world wars had a dramatic effect on the Italian communities but perhaps even more devastating was the slum clearance policy of the 1960s. In many ways this caused the dissolution and break-up of the old community. Many of the first, second or third generation settlers had gone - either dead or moved out to greener, more prosperous areas. The demands of the Resettlement programme meant that the sad process of ending Little Italy was accelerated and completed. Ancoats now is a greyer and less happy place than when it was known as Little Italy but the joy and warmth of life in that area remains as a very fond memory in the minds of many people.
Our thanks to Serafino Di Felice of the Italian Society for permission to use the photographs (Copyright © Serafino Di Felice).