This article is a contribution from our recent collaboration with pupils at Cedar Mount Academy. 

There’s an area in Manchester called Ancoats, also known as ‘Little Italy’. Between 1891 and 1901, 24,382 Italians migrated to Manchester, most of them were found living in Holborn, Saffron Hill and Hatton Garden, but Italians were usually found everywhere in Britain like Glasgow, Edinburgh, Manchester and Birmingham.

Manchester’s population had grown massively after the migration of Italians. One of their biggest occupations was street vending, even after their stabilisation, ice cream vending was unsurprisingly one of the most well known occupations. They opened cafes, worked in catering, construction and flooring. They had a great impact on Manchester’s habitats and they were well integrated and respected. In 1932 other Italian groups started to arrive in Manchester and some of them spoke about their experiences in Italy which were quite great. They went to school in the evening and learnt about the Italian language, they also had long-term trips to Rome where they spent up to 4 weeks learning about the environment and expanding their knowledge about their capital city. 

Azeglio Valgimigli once said ‘The Italians abroad are a live part of the homeland’ (Manchester). From this we can assume that Italians were more than welcomed, maybe even considered as part of Manchester even though they weren’t born here.

But the main question is: “Why did Italians migrate to Ancoats?”

It mostly started during the Napoleonic wars: despite the fact that Italians did have awesome experiences in Italy, some of the population was immensely poor. The war left Italy destroyed causing people to be homeless, homes to break down and most importantly it had a huge impact on the lives of children and families. Some of the children even had to evacuate, and due to the war the country got into an economic struggle leading many men to sign up for the army. On the other hand, if you were wealthy it wasn’t difficult to get back on track after the war, but many Italians claimed that their family businesses were lost and in terms of identity, not many people liked Anglo-Italians (British-Italian).

Police arrested Anglo-Italian families because they were seen as a threat during World War Two and the cause of violent incidents in the pubs where they usually gathered. It could be argued that this was because of economic jealousy. They were kept in holding camps before they could be deported back to Italy and the conditions in the holding camps were atrocious. On deportation missions during World War Two 486 Italians died of starvation, 175 Germans were drowned and 49 men lost their lives because they were attacked. This situation brought a lot of anxiety to the rest of the families who were Anglo-Italians. Luckily, deportation of Italians was not permitted for long, but Italy enforced strict rules. For example, to visit and work in Italy you have to participate in social activities. I think this is because they didn’t want anyone secretly spying on them or even planning things that might lead to another war. Nevertheless, Italians were still held in suspicion and classified as “dangerous” and it was very obvious that not everyone liked to be seen as Anglo-Italian. 

This matters a lot to me because I’m also Italian and I live in Manchester and I came here a few years ago without expecting what could happen to me because I lived in a totally different country where things work another way.