Excerpted from the excellent: www.scotsitalian.com
"The business life
in the [Italian] community was based on trust, family loyalty
and personal knowledge, which were the essential factors for
economic success in a strange land." (T.M. Devine, 'The
Scots-Italians can trace their history
back to the mass migrations of the late 1800s when they fled
famine, corruption, a crippling economy and the disastrous agricultural
condition of their homeland in order to find a better life in
Scotland and generate income to support their families.
Most of the immigration was from six key
areas: Tuscany (mainly from he Province of Lucca - especially
Barga and Garfagnana); Lazio (mainly from the Province of Frosinone
- especially Picinisco); Molise (mainly from the Province of
Isernia); Ligure (mainly from the Province of La Spezia); Campania
(mainly post war period); Valdotaro and Borgotaro (mainly from
the Province of Parma).
The first settlers were mostly statue sellers
who had come up from London. Fresh off the boat they would sell
their wares in the ports (anything from humble statuettes to
blocks of ice.) Many remained in the
port cities of Glasgow, Greenock and Edinburgh, opening shops
and serving dairy ice cream to the working classes of Garnethill,
Paisley and the Grassmarket. In the beginning this was served
direct from the barrows with shouts of "Gelati, ecco un
poco". Consequently they became known as the 'Hokey Pokey'
The majority soon diversified. With dairy
produce and seafood in abundance it wasn't long before ice cream-serving
Fish 'n Chip shops began to sprout. These expanded into cafes,
with full meals, confectionery and cigarettes added to the menu.
Italian cafes subsequently sprang up all over Scotland.
Police records show the number of cafes in
Glasgow alone had doubled by 1904 with 336 ice cream shops open
Once the cafe's were fully operational,
it was expected that all family members chip in. The head of
the business would commonly recruit young Italians, often from
the home village. These Italians in turn would eventually start
their own businesses in time. In the households Italian was spoken,
Italian food was the staple diet with all the family dining together.
Religious festivals were observed. Long anti-social hours meant
little contact with people from outside the Italian community.
It wasn't until the First World War that
a sizeable Italian community - over 4,000 - began to emerge in
Scotland with Glasgow housing the third largest community in
Great Britain. Soon, the Italians diffused across the whole of
Scotland rather than focus on any particular area.
Their cafes became focal points and, especially
for the younger generation, an alternative to the pubs. Unlike
their English counterparts they also traded on Sundays. Cafes
did not sell alcohol and gained the sympathy of the Temperance
Movement but in the early 1900s many still viewed the establishments
as moral cesspits. In the Glasgow Herald a Mr D. Drummond described
them as: 'perfect iniquities of hell itself and ten times worse
than any of the evils of the public-house... sapping the morals
of the youth of Scotland.'
A large percentage of Italians in Scotland
during the 30's had registered as Fascist Party members in response
to calls from Mussolini. Italy's subsequent involvement in World
War Two brought Italians many hardships: adult males were interned
(some were held on the Isle of Man and Northern Ireland; some
were even shipped to Australia and Canada.) Remaining family
members were left to run dilapidated businesses and cope with
mistrust and persecution. Many cafes were vandalised and it was
not uncommon for businesses to have to be rebuilt from scratch
following the end of the war.
Peter Muccini remembers growing up in Scotland
during World War Two:
"Collar the lot! This was how Prime
Minister Winston Churchill ordered the arrest of all Italian
nationals within minutes of Italy declaring war on Britain on
June 10, 1940 and thousands of Italian families throughout the
country had the police knocking at their doors in the dead of
Our family was awakened by a distressed
Mrs Agolini who lived near us in Kilmarnock. The police had arrested
her husband Vittorio and thrown her out on the street while they
searched her house. She warned they would soon be calling on
us and, sure enough, just as she said this, there was a loud
banging on our door... they seized the wireless, an atlas, a
Kodak camera, a pair of binoculars and a toy microscope, none
of which was ever returned...
Dad's business was given to a local businessman
who paid the absurd rent of £2 a week. This was dad's only
source of income so he was forced to become a garzone,
an employee. To most of the older Italians of the time, used
to being their own boss, this was humiliation and rather like
being declared bankrupt.
We were exiled to Newmilns, a sleepy village
nine miles up the Irvine valley because Kilmarnock was a prohibited
area with 20,000 troops stationed there including Poles, French
and Canadians. We were under curfew and forbidden to leave our
home between 10.30 at night and eight in the morning...
The contrast between the older generation
who had retained their Italian citizenship and their offspring
born in Britain was heavily tinged with bitter irony... The older
generation, resident in Scotland for decades and known and well
liked by the local population, were locked up as potential spies
and many perished on the Arandora
Star while their children were called up for military service...
(For more on this period visit www.scotsitalian.com)