Italian London

Italians have lived in London for centuries, but only in the 19th century did a distinct community begin to evolve in the capital.

London's 'Little Italy' was the area around Saffron Hill bounded by Clerkenwell Road, Farringdon Road, and Rosebery Avenue. The number of Italians living in this poor area tripled in the last 20 years of the 19th century. By 1901, the Italian population was 11,000.

The community had its own church, St Peter on Clerkenwell Road, built in 1863. It had two newspapers and strong links to the hospital in Holborn's Queen's Square. By 1901, Italians and Swiss-Italians from the Swiss province of Ticino dominated London's restaurant and ice-cream trades. Italians were also prominent in London as street musicians and grocers.

In the early years of the 20th century, the Italian community began to drift westwards. Slum clearances and road building in Clerkenwell displaced many. Some went to Notting Dale in North Kensington, most went to Soho, where a second 'Little Italy' grew up.

Soho had traditionally been London's French quarter, but its Italian population increased significantly after the First World War. By 1934 Soho was regarded as more Italian than French. New restaurants had opened, among them Quo Vadis, Leonis and Quaglinos. Delicatessens supplied adventurous Londoners with the then exotic foods of pasta and olive oil.

During the Second World War, London's Italians were caught up in wartime feeling against 'enemy aliens'. Many Italian waiters were interned and Soho's Italian restaurants suffered from anti-fascist rioting.

During the 1950s the Italianification of Soho continued. Among the famous Soho institutions of the decade were Bar Italia on Frith Street and Bianchis restaurant, run by Elena Salvoni and her husband Aldo. The new interest in informal Mediterranean food provided a further boost to Italian restaurants. London's first 'trattoria' was Terrazza in Soho, which opened in 1959 with an interior mural of Mount Vesuvius and an indoor vine with plastic grapes.

By the end of the 20th century, the Italian community in London numbered around 30,000. Italian Londoners are spread throughout the capital, with more defined Italian communities in Islington, St Pancras, Westminster, Kensington and Lambeth. More recently, growing numbers of Italians have moved into Enfield and Bromley.

St Peter's Church in Clerkenwell remains a community focal point. The street procession of the Madonna del Carmine continues to take place every summer, as it has for over 100 years.

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