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24 September 2014

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You are in: London > Faith > Communities > I - Z > Italian London

Giuseppe Mazzini's plaque in Clerkenwell

Giuseppe Mazzini's plaque in Clerkenwell

Italian London

Generations of children have London's Italian Community to thank for the introduction of ice-cream to the capital. Find out how Italian people have been living and working in London for hundreds of years and are making their mark on the capital.

Italian Flag

Italian Flag

Italians have settled in the capital for centuries, for work, for study or when situations of political and economic turmoil back home forced them to leave. Italy’s process of unification from the second half of the eighteenth century saw political dissidents forced to leave the peninsula to find refuge in London. They have definitely left their mark on London life.

Did you know

London has had an Italian presence for centuries.
In 1850, Caterer Carlo Gatti introduced ice-cream to London.
In the early 19th century a community of Italians grew up in Clerkenwell and then moved on to open cafes and restaurants in Soho.

Renaissance artists came here to work and among them Canaletto whose famous paintings hang in the National Gallery and Buckingham Palace. Giuseppe Mazzini, the famous nationalist visionary lived in London for many years. Thanks to Mazzini’s efforts, the Italian Church of St Peter in Clerkenwell was built in 1864 and still stands today. From the first half of the nineteenth century the area saw an influx of Italian political refugees including Antonio Panizzi, who became chief librarian at the British museum and designed its famous domed Reading Room.

Reading Room designed by

Reading Room designed by Antonio Paniz

This was also the time when an Italian community came together as one with over 2000 people. They found employment in the catering industry opening their own cafes, restaurants and wine shops, some of which remain today. Italians had managed to establish themselves successfully in mainstream British life, commerce and politics until Mussolini declared war on Britain in 1940.

During the war, Italians were declared alien enemies and some had their shop windows smashed by angry crowds. Thousands of men were separated from their wives and were confined on the Isle of Man. Memories of war are still vivid among older generation Italians and some still resent the way they were treated, as they felt they belonged in London.

Conchiglie pasta

Conchiglie pasta

The traditional haunts of the Italians in London are Islington, St Pancras, Westminster, Kensington and Lambeth. More recently, they have gone as far afield as Enfield and Bromley. Clerkenwell is a focal point for the community with the Italian church and the oldest shops and cafes located here. A taste of Italy came alive at The Cutty Sark Gardens in Greenwich with fresh Italian produce in 2008.  Olives, Antipasti, Parma Hams and of course some fine wines all helped locals to enjoy the outdoor market and pick up some bargains too!

Italian market, Greenwich

The Italian community today comprises two well-defined sections.The London-born of Italian origin have tended to make a living in the catering trade or as musicians. The more recent arrivals became immediately part of English life gaining employment in varied occupations.

Little Italy's procession

Little Italy's procession in honour of the Madonna

At Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre during 2008 there has been a free exhibition on "Little Italy".   It  tells the story of London's original Italian quarter in  Holborn, using photographs, archives, artefacts and recordings.  The archives cover  the history of the community's origins in the early 19th century, through to its height in the years around 1900 and its subsequent decline in the post-war period. 

Christopher Lee

Christopher Lee, famous Italian actor

Today the Italian community are vibrant in all aspects of British life contributing to areas of media and entertainment, the arts, sport, business, research and innovation. Frankie Dettori, Lawrence Dallaglio, Anita Roddick, Marco Pierre White, Anthony Minghella, Eduardo Paolozzi and actors like Christopher Lee, Ken Stott, and Tamsin Outhwaite, are just some of the well known and respected Italian Britons who have contributed to cultural life in London.

last updated: 02/07/2008 at 12:25
created: 26/05/2005

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