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Italians in the United Kingdom

Italians in the United Kingdom
Total population
Italian-born residents: 130,000 (2011)[1]
With Italian ancestry : 1,000,000
Regions with significant populations
Chelsea · Westminster · Kensington · Liverpool · Bristol · London
English · Italian · Sicilian · Welsh
Anglicanism · Presbyterianism · Catholicism
Related ethnic groups
Italians · English · Scots · Welsh

Italians in the United Kingdom, also known as British Italians[2] or colloquially Britalians,[3] are British citizens or residents of Italian ethnic or national origin. The phrase may refer to someone born in the United Kingdom of Italian descent, someone who has emigrated from Italy to the United Kingdom or someone born elsewhere (e.g. the United States), who is of Italian descent and has migrated to the UK. More specific terms used to describe Italians in the United Kingdom include: Italian English, Italian Scots and Italian Welsh.


  • History 1
    • Roman Britain 1.1
    • Middle Ages 1.2
    • 15th to 18th centuries 1.3
    • From Napoleon to World War I 1.4
    • Second World War 1.5
    • Since 1945 1.6
  • Demographics 2
    • Population 2.1
    • Distribution 2.2
  • Notable individuals 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • Bibliography 6
  • External links 7


Roman Britain

The Romans from Italy were the first Italians to settle in the British Isles along with other people from various parts of the Roman Empire (mainly the Balkans). They came as far back as 55 and 54 BC when Julius Caesar (initially landing in Deal) led expeditionary campaigns in the south-east of England,[4] and then again in AD 43 when Emperor Claudius invaded and subsequently conquered the British islands. Historian Theodore Mommsen calculated that in the five centuries of Roman presence in the British isles, more than 50,000 Roman soldiers (mainly from The Balkans) moved to live permanently in Roman Britain.[5]

Middle Ages

Lombard Street, London

Even after the conquest of Britain by the Anglo-Saxons there was a small but steady presence of people from Italy in the British isles: they were mainly merchants, men of culture and Сatholic clerics.

One of the first Italian communities in England started from the merchants and sailors living in Southampton. The famous "Lombard Street" in London took its name from the small but powerful community from Italian Lombardy and northern Italy, living there as bankers and merchants after the year 1000.[6]

In 1303, Edward I negotiated an agreement with the Lombard merchant community that secured custom duties and certain rights and privileges.[7] The revenues from the customs duty were handled by the Riccardi, a group of bankers from Lucca in Italy.[8] This was in return for their service as money lenders to the crown, which helped finance the Welsh Wars. When the war with France broke out, the French king confiscated the Riccardi's assets, and the bank went bankrupt.[9] After this, the Frescobaldi of Florence took over the role as money lenders to the English crown.[10]

As bankers, the Frescobaldi financed ventures for numerous members of European royal families, notably their financial conquest of England, which Fernand Braudel has signalled as the greatest achievement of the Florentine firms, "not only in holding the purse-strings of the kings of England, but also in controlling sales of English wool which was vital to continental workshops and in particular to the Arte della Lana of Florence."[11]

15th to 18th centuries

According to historian Michael Wayatt, there was "a small but influential community" of Italians "that took shape in England in the 15th century initially consisting of ecclesiastics, renaissance humanists, merchants, bankers, and artists."[12]

Giovanni Cabot (in the middle of two friends) in London

Historian Alwyn Ruddock claimed to have found evidence that Giovanni Cabot received backing from the Italian community in London for his voyage to North America. In particular, she suggested he found a patron in the form of Fr. Giovanni Antonio de Carbonariis, an Augustinian friar who was also the deputy to the papal tax collector Adriano Castellesi. Ruddock suggested that it was Carbonariis, who certainly accompanied Cabot's 1498 expedition and who was on good terms with the King, who introduced the explorer to Henry VII for the discovery expedition. Beyond this, Ruddock claimed that Cabot received a loan from an Italian banking house in London 'to go and discover new lands'.[13]

In the aftermath of the English Reformation, amongst other religious refugees from the European continent, many Italian Protestants found Tudor England to be a hospitable haven, and brought with them cultural Italian ties. The fifteenth century also saw the birth of a pivotal Italo-Englishman in the form of John Florio, a famed language teacher, lexicographer, and translator. The Titus family is another significant group that settled in England in the time of the Renaissance.

The arts flourished under the Hanoverian dynasty and this attracted many more Italian artists and musicians to Britain. All of this developed in the United Kingdom a moderate Italophilia during the late Italian Renaissance.

From Napoleon to World War I

Napoleon wars left northern Italy with a destroyed agriculture and consequently many farmers were forced to emigrate: a few thousands moved to the British isles in the first half of the nineteenth century.[14]

From the 1820s to 1851...accounts for 4000 Italian immigrants in England, with 50% of them living in London. The regional origins of most were the valleys around Como, and Lucca. The people from Como were skilled artisans, making barometers and other precision instruments. People from Lucca specialized in plaster figure making.By the 1870s the main regional origins of Italian emigration to Britain were the valleys of Parma in the north, and the Liri valley, half way between Rome and Naples. A railway network had been started by this time and this helped the people from the Liri valley to migrate to the North of Italy, and then on to Britain. The people from Parma were predominately organ grinders, while the Neapolitans from the Liri valley (now under Lazio) made ice cream......the occupational structure of the immigrants, up to the 1870s, remained "substantially the same." After this date all itinerant employment crossed regional demarcations....The centre of the Italian community in Britain throughout the 19th Century, and indeed to the present day, is 'Little Italy’ situated in a part of London called Clerkenwell.....description of its existence then, from an 1854 print, is of a "warren of streets around Hatton Garden." Dickens’ Oliver Twist and Gustave Dore's prints of London at that time fill in the images. As numbers increased and competition grew fiercer, so Italians spread to the north of England, Wales and Scotland. They were never in great numbers in the northern cities. For example, the Italian Consul General in Liverpool, in 1891, is quoted as saying that the majority of the 80-100 Italians in the city were organ grinders and street sellers of ice-cream and plaster statues. And that the 500-600 Italians in Manchester included mostly Terrazzo specialists, plasterers and modellers working on the prestigious, new town hall. While in Sheffield 100-150 Italians made cutlery.....of the 1000 or so Italians in Wales at the end of the 19th century a third of them worked as seamen on British ships, a third worked in jobs that serviced shipping, such as ships chandlers, seamen's lodgings etc., and most of the rest worked in the coal mines.In 1861,....there were 119 Italians in Scotland, the majority of them in Glasgow. By 1901 the Italian population was 4051. By this time the Italian communities were becoming more affluent. The Italian Scottish community was "…almost all engaged in small food shops – either ice cream shops or fish restaurants" Sponza,Lucio.

  • The British Italian Society
  • Museum of London: Reassessing what we collect: Italian London
  • History of Little Italy in Ancoats
  • St Peter's Italian Church images (Clerkenwell-London)
  • Photos of Italian "Processione" in London, done in July of every year since 1863
  • Stories of Friendship,1943-1945

External links

  • Brown, A.L. (1989). The Governance of Late Medieval England 1272–1461. London: Edward Arnold. ISBN 0-8047-1730-3.
  • Colpi, Terry. The Italian Factor: the Italian Community in Great Britain. Mainstream Publishing. Edinburgh, 1991
  • Mommsen., Theodore. The Provinces of the Roman Empire: the European Provinces. Phoenix books. Publisher University of Chicago Press. Chicago, 1968 ISBN 0-226-53394-8
  • Palmer, Robin & Charles Greig. The Britalians: An Anthropological Investigation. University of Sussex. Brighton, 1981
  • Prestwich, Michael (1972). War, Politics and Finance under Edward I. London: Faber and Faber. ISBN 0-571-09042-7.
  • Sponza, Lucio.Italian Immigrants in Nineteenth Century Britain: Reality and Images. Leicester University Press. Leicester, 1988


  1. ^ a b "Estimated population resident in the United Kingdom, by foreign country of birth (Table 1.3)".  
  2. ^ Colpi, Terri (1992). "The impact of the second world war on the British Italian community". Immigrants & Minorities 11 (3): 167–187.  
  3. ^ Palmer, Robin Charles Greig (1981). The Britalians: An Anthropological Investigation. Brighton: University of Sussex. 
  4. ^ "History Today". Retrieved 6 October 2014. 
  5. ^
  6. ^ Italians in England during the Middle Ages
  7. ^ Brown 1989, pp. 65–6
  8. ^ Prestwich 1997, pp. 99–100
  9. ^ Brown 1989, pp. 80–1
  10. ^ Prestwich 1997, p. 403
  11. ^ Braudel, The Wheels of Commerce ("Civilization and Capitalism", II) (1979) 1982:392f.
  12. ^ Wyatt, Michael The Italian Encounter with Tudor England: A Cultural Politics of Translation (Cambridge Studies in Renaissance Literature and Culture No.51) Cambridge University Press, December 2005
  13. ^ Father Giovanni Antonio De Carbonariis and Newfoundland
  14. ^ Italian Migration to Nineteenth Century Britain
  15. ^ Video of the construction of St Peter Italian church in London
  16. ^ Enrico Verdecchia: Londra dei cospiratori. L'esilio londinese dei padri del Risorgimento, Marco Tropea Editore, 2010
  17. ^ a b c David Cesarani, Tony Kushner, The Internment of aliens in twentieth century Britain, Routledge;, 1 ed. (1 May 1993), p176-178
  18. ^ Colpi, Terry The Italian Factor: the Italian Community in Great Britain (pp.115-124) Mainstream Publishing, Edinburgh, 1991
  19. ^ Foreign Office File FO 916 2581 folio 548
  20. ^ Foreign Office File FO 371 25210
  21. ^ Italian community in Manchester
  22. ^ Italians in GB
  23. ^ a b Italians in Manchester
  24. ^ Bedford's Italian question British Broadcasting Corporation (retrieved 24 August 2007)
  25. ^ a b "'May the best team win'". Bedfordshire on Sunday. 24 June 2012. Retrieved 4 June 2012. 
  26. ^ Colpi, op. cit. (p.149)
  27. ^ Ibid. (p.235)
  28. ^ Italiani nel Regno Unito (in Italian)
  29. ^ "Country-of-birth database".  
  30. ^ 200,000 Britons speak Italian as a mother tongue
  31. ^ "International students in UK higher education: key statistics". UK Council for International Student Affairs. Retrieved 2012-07-24. 
  32. ^ Italians in London
  33. ^ Italians in Bedford
  34. ^ Neighbourhood Statistics. "Italians in Liverpool". Retrieved 2010-08-10. 
  35. ^ Neighbourhood Statistics. "Italians in Bristol". Retrieved 2010-08-10. 
  36. ^ Italian community in London


See also

Today the Italians of the United Kingdom are vibrant in all aspects of British life, contributing mainly 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 Carandini Lee, Ken Stott, and Tamzin Outhwaite, are just some of the well known and respected Italian Britons who have contributed to cultural life in London.[36]

There are many notable individuals among the Italian Britons, from Giovanni Florio to Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Sir Charles Forte.

Notable individuals

Italians and British-born people of Italian descent reside across the entire UK. Also unlike many ethnic groups in the country, there are substantial numbers of Italians outside of England. Locations with significant Italian populations within the UK are listed below.


In 2011, 7,100 Italian students were studying in UK universities, this is the seventh-highest figure amongst EU countries and fifteenth globally.[31]

The 2001 census recorded a total of 107,244 Italian-born people resident in the United Kingdom.[29] Office for National Statistics estimates put the equivalent figure for 2011 at 130,000,[1] while Italian is the first language of some 200,000 people in the UK.[30]



In 2007 there were 82 Italian associations in Great Britain, most of them in the metropolitan area of London.[28] An estimated 350,000 have direct Italian descent in the United Kingdom.

Bedford has the highest concentration of Italian immigrants in the UK, with Peterborough. This is mainly as a result of labour recruitment in the 1950s by the London Brick Company in the southern Italian regions of Puglia and Campania. By 1960 approximately 7,500 Italian men were employed by London Brick in Bedford and a further 3,000 in Peterborough.[26] In 1962 the Scalabrini Fathers, who first arrived in Peterborough in 1956, purchased an old school and converted it into a church named after the patron saint of workers San Giuseppe. By 1991 over 3,000 christenings of second-generation Italians had been carried out there.[27]

The region of the country containing the most Italian Britons is London, where over 50,000 people of Italian birth live.[22] Then there are Manchester, where 25,000 Italians live[23] and Bedford, where there are approximately 20,000 people of Italian origin.[24][25]

In the 1950s Italian immigration started again to some areas of Great Britain (such as Manchester[21]), even if relatively limited in number. It was made mainly of southern Italians. But in the 1960s it tapered off and practically stopped in the 1970s.

"Little Italy" in Clerkenwell (London)

Since 1945

In one of these transportations a tragedy occurred: the sinking of the steamship SS Arandora Star on 2 July 1940 resulted in the loss of over 700 lives—including 446 British-Italians being deported as undesirable.[17] Italians comprised almost half of the ship's 1564 passengers; the rest were British soldiers, German POWs and Jewish refugees.[17] Sailing for Canada from Liverpool, the unescorted Arandora Star was torpedoed by the German submarine U-47 and sank within 30 minutes.[17] One historian describes it as the "most tragic event in the history of the [British] Italian community... no other Italian community in the world has suffered such a blow."[18] On the 19 July the Home Secretary, wrote a letter to Lord Halifax, the Foreign Secretary, in which he made it clear that he realised mistakes had been made in selecting Italians for the Arandora Star.[19] Lord Snell was charged with conducting a government inquiry into the tragedy. He recognised that the method of selecting dangerous Italians was not satisfactory and the result was that among those earmarked for deportation were a number of non-fascists and people whose sympathies lay with Britain.[20]

This anti-Italian feeling led to a night of nationwide riots against the Italian communities on 11 June 1940. The Italians were now seen as a national security threat linked to the feared British Union of Fascists, and Winston Churchill instructed “collar the lot!”. All Italian men between the ages of 17 and 60 were arrested after his speech. They were transported to camps across the country.

When Second World War came the Italians in Great Britain had built a respected community for themselves. But the announcement of Benito Mussolini’s decision to side with Adolf Hitler’s Germany in 1940 had a devastating effect. By order of parliament all aliens were to be interned, although there were few active fascists. The majority had lived in this country peacefully for many years, and had even fought side by side with British soldiers in the First World War. Some had married British women and even taken British citizenship.

Second World War

By the time WWI started, the Italian community was well established in London and other areas of the British isles (there were nearly 20,000 Italians in the United Kingdom in 1915).


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