It is fair to say that the relationship between the UK and its Italian community has been tumultuous; from the awe-inspiring heights of the Italian Renaissance to the strained anti-Italian feeling during the Mussolini years and back again. Most recently the love has returned with the recent mastery of Italian manager of Leicester City, Claudio Ranieri.
There are 220,000 registered Italians living in London, making this expatriate community the fourth largest in the cultural capital, after the Polish, Irish and French. Far from being a recent addition to the cultural melting pot that is the United Kingdom, the presence of Italians in the UK dates centuries back in history.
Italians in London: How the relationship unfolded
The Roman Empire
The earliest Italians to settle in Britain formed part of the Roman Empire led by Julius Caesar in the south-east of England, back in 55 BC. Even after Britain was conquered by the Anglo-Saxons, a small Italian community continued to thrive. The community was made up of merchants and bankers who congregated on Lombard Street in London to do business.
The Italian Renaissance
As the Italian Renaissance swept across Europe, a degree of Italophilia developed in the United Kingdom alongside an the influx of Italian musicians and artists who considered Great Britain an agreeable place to settle.
The Anti-Italian Feeling
The Napoleonic war left Italy in tatters resulting in a wave of Italian emigration to the UK at the beginning of the 19th century. By the time Europe was in the grips of the First World War, there was a well established Italian community of 20,000 immigrants in London, particularly concentrated in “Little Italy”, Clerkenwell.
This community suffered greatly once the Second World War hit especially with the siding of Fascist Italian dictator Benito Mussolini with Nazi Germany. Many felt the wrath of this anti-Italian feeling, despite having shown their allegiance to the British army and even fought on the side of the British in the First World War.
By The Turn Of The Century
At the beginning of the 21st century, the number of Italians emigrating to the United Kingdom dwindled. Interestingly, the highest concentration of Italian immigrants is centred in the small historic town of Bedford, located north of London largely due to the brick labour industry.
A New Found Love of the Italian Community in London
When Leicester City F.C achieved the seemingly impossible, against all odds (5,000:1 to be exact back in August) and won the Premier League; it was the perfect end to an unlikely fairytale. To put it into perspective, it was more likely that Andy Murray would name his first born Novak than the ultimate underdog team (who had come close to relegation in the previous season) would scoop the title.
The man behind the fairytale win, Italian manager Claudio Ranieri, remained cool as a cucumber throughout the season, laughing off the idea that his team could actually win the title. While many scoffed at Ranieri’s appointment (“Claudio Ranieri? Really?”), the Italian quietly got on with it. The world and the internet did not however, Leicester-mania has exploded and with it so has the love for this modest Italian manager.
Join Your Italian Community in London
With such a developed Italian community, there are plenty of ways to feel at home, whether it be through attending cultural events, Italian cinema or language exchanges.
The Italian Cultural Institute in London promotes and organises concerts, exhibitions and other cultural events in London. They offer an extensive array of language courses for all levels as well as access to their Italian library.
CinemaItaliaUK brings the best Italian films not yet available on DVD for a British audience to London. Italian film lovers need never miss a film again, and with English subtitles, anyone can enjoy these hidden gems at the home of Italian cinema in the UK: Genesis Cinema in Mile End.
The Italian Bookshop has recently moved to Gloucester Road in London. This a specialist selection of Italian works is housed within the European Bookshop gathers Italian speakers and lovers of Italian literature and language under the same roof.
The Tricolore Theatre is a professional theatre company which promotes Italian culture, literature and language. They put a great emphasis on bilingual productions meaning that they are accessible for all nationalities and ages.
London’s Love Affair With Italy
The Italian diaspora has played a pivotal role in the development of the international community, especially in London. Think about it, can you imagine a London without Costa Coffee on every corner?
The coffeehouse founded in London by Italian immigrant brothers Bruno and Sergio Costa in 1971 is now the second largest coffeehouse chain in the world. The Italian community has helped form London into the multicultural city we know and love, in more ways that we know.