Weird & Wonderful London 2


Still poking about in old London photographs, I’ve a few more choice shots from the city’s past. Alfred Gilbert’s statue of Anteros (god of requited love) has been moved about a lot since it arrived on top of the fountain in Piccadilly Circus in 1893. Eros is Anteros’s twin brother, and that’s the name chosen for him by the public, who generally decide what all buildings and statues are called. Critics called it a financially disastrous, ugly, pretentious, unsuitable nuisance. Here it is on its way to the Embankment while the Circus is enlarged in 1925. There were four identical statues cast; the ones in Liverpool and Blackpool were vandalised and lost.

Tower Beach, here seen in 1955, was a foreshore of Essex sand dumped by Traitors’ Gate, intended so that poor Eastenders could go to the ‘seaside’. King George V said that the children of London should have ‘access forever’ to the spot where so many swam and sunbathed, but it was closed in 1971 after pollution fears grew. It’s about to crop up again in ‘Bryant & May’s Day Off’, in the next B&M book, ‘England’s Finest’, out this October.

I say, I’m a chap in a suit, so could I listen to one of the new ‘records’ you have? In 1955 at HMV you could go into a soundproofed booth with your own personal gramophone and try the song out first. This was clearly in the days before anything not tied down in a shop would be nicked. Often girls demonstrated ‘record your own voice’ devices, allowing you to make a record in-store. In the 1980s you could do something similar with T-shirts by taking in any drawing or photo of your choosing and having it instantly hot-inked onto the fabric.

It’s the Ladies Who Do! Seen here in 1952, the Fluffers of the London Underground popped on their turbans and used brushes and brooms to defluff the tube lines at night. This is no lost occupation, though – it still goes on throughout the system, just with better equipment.

While Londoners were busy supporting the Spanish in their fight against Franco they weren’t so happy about the Italians. There were anti-Italian riots throughout the city in 1940. Delis, restaurants and ice cream parlours were smashed up, and the capital’s waiters were hounded out or quickly changed their names. Not all were Nazis; many had fled Mussolini for our ‘safer’ shores, only to find themselves interned for the duration of the war. This was a time when the political leanings counted more than racial differences.


15 comments on “Weird & Wonderful London 2”

  1. Ian Luck says:

    I remember there being a lot of very good Italian cafes and coffee bars in the area of Wales around Pembrokeshire. My late father loved visiting these establishments, and referred to them as (and I apologise to any Welsh people if my spelling is incorrect) ‘Brachis’. I know that some were started by Italian Prisoners Of War, who liked it here, and stayed after the hostilities, but I wonder if some were opened up by Italians who had left London because of harassment there?

  2. John Griffin says:

    For many years an area of the eastern suburb of Nottingham was ‘Little Italy”, as the prisoners of war in the camp nearby decided not to go home. Many of them were allowed out without guard anyway as they were happy to be away from the action. There were delis and shops where you could buy authentic Italian produce cheap into the early 80s and a multiracial/national pub – the Jester – which closed in 2009. there you could watch/listen to Caribbean dominoes (noisy) being played by Jamaicans, Italians, Poles and the like.

  3. Adam says:

    I never knew that the Tower beach survived until 1971. I’m surprised that a (pay-to-use) version hasn’t returned, given that water quality has improved.

  4. John Peacock says:

    I found this old WalesOnline report that might be a bit helpful re: Italian Ice-Cream makers:

    “Among the first migrants to Wales, via London, were cousins Angelo and Giacomo Bracchi, pioneers of the ice cream and confectionery shops in South Wales and founders of the famous Bracchi Brothers chain.

    They opened their first cafe in Newport, but soon moved on to Aberdare.”

    Personally I’m more familiar with Rabaiotti ice cream in Pembrokeshire – the flagship cafe on Charles Street is long closed, but the company still exists, apparently. I don’t know if it tastes as good as it did in the 1970s (though as that sentence reeks with nostalgia I’m guessing not).

  5. John Peacock says:

    (Oh, and the article suggests that the Bracchis and the Rabaiottis long predate the Second World War.)

  6. snowy says:

    There have always been ‘Italians’ in ‘Britain’, strictly speaking there were people from the peninsular now occupied by modern Italy on the collection of islands that became Great Britain even before Julius Caesar.

    Traders in cloth, silk, fur, glass, silver and gold. Then came the men in leather skirts, then Missionaries from Rome, then Sculptors, Painters and Mosaic Layers and more Merchants. The list really does go on and on through out the centuries. Those with a keen recollection of ‘The Six Napoleons’ will know the nationality of the craftsmen employed by Gelder & Co.

    One has to be very careful around anti-Italian sentiment in the 30s and 40s, it is a ticklish subject. A lot of innocent people were unjustly persecuted by mobs, without doubt. Some of it may just have been fear and paranoia in a frightened population. But some of it would have been a deliberate campaign by the same Anti-Fascist* elements that are now universally praised for defeating the Black-shirts.

    * [Nazi is only applied to the German form, which is probably not strictly fascist, small ‘f’. I’ve never checked it fully because, well – life is too short really. And ‘Nazi’ was just an insult coined by Winston to denigrate all those that liked marching about, flicking their legs in the air, like arthritic Tiller Girls.]

    [Waters sufficiently muddled ☑]

  7. Andrew Holme says:

    Somebody somewhere must have produced a book on Italian POWs and the proliferation of ice cream parlours in our country during the late Forties/ early Fifties. ‘Tognarellis’ in Kendal was run by Antonio Tognarelli and his wife Rafaella. Mr Toni was the son of an Italian POW, I believe. There was a big camp in Lancaster, and my Gran had tales of the POWs working the surrounding fields during harvest time. These were very exotic people for working class Northeners. In my mind’s eye I can see a long ago small boy in ‘Tognarellis’, tucking into an enormous Banana Split with all the trimmings, listening to the splashes and gurgles of the huge coffee machines. Has my life ever been better?

  8. Jan says:

    Swansea is a great place to visit for Italian ice creams. A large Italian population was based in Swansea and coal miners from nearby towns on their normally Sunday day off enjoyed the luscious ice creams as mining is notorious occupation for drying out the mouth and breathing passages.

    I think the Italians were there long before WW2 . The numbers of Italian folk grew just before the war.

    There was also a big Italian population around outer North East London where they tended the massive greenhouses where cucumbers and tomatoes were grown. I’d like to say this was near Edmonton but can hardly remember now, where the windmill is lots of garden centres are based there now….

  9. Martin Tolley says:

    Pacittos in Redcar N Yorks – lemon top, or the maple walnut

  10. snowy says:

    “You’ll be making a grave error if you kill us.”

    “There are a quarter of a million Italians in Britain.”

    “And they’ll be made to suffer.”

    “Every restaurant, café, ice-cream parlour, gambling den and nightclub in London, Liverpool and Glasgow, will be smashed.”

    “Mr Bridger will drive them into the sea.”

    “Well, gentlemen, it’s a long walk back to England.”

    “And it’s that way. Good morning.”

    [I’ve always enjoyed this exchange, for its place within the context of the film, rather than the implied threat to harm anybody.]

  11. Ian Luck says:

    In Ipswich, there were Zagni and Sons, who, for whatever reason, traded as ‘Peter’s’. I can taste their ice cream even now – utter bliss. It was made in a small factory not far from the docks. Their ‘normal’ ice cream tasted just like the most expensive stuff made today. It was snow white, made with real milk and cream, and had a delicious vanilla flavour, the sort that only comes from using real pods and seeds. It was very slightly granular, with tiny flecks of ice, like snowflakes, all through it – particularly refreshing on a hot day. They had kiosks in the big park in town, and all along nearby Felixstowe seafront – odd constructions with cantilevered rooves. A big tearoom as well on the front. All gone now, sadly. I looked in to where their factory had been. Alas! It is now just another bloody car wash.

  12. snowy says:

    I’m very jealous of you lot, having fancy Ice-cream. On the very rare occasions it ever made an appearance in my pudding bowl, it was usually a bit cut off a cardboard wrapped brick of something made by Wall’s⁽ᵃ⁾ that looked suspisciously like frozen margerine.

    Except for one memorable occasion when I was presented with something that had been created in an ice-tray by Grandad from a packet of powder that was designed to be mixed with milk and stirred every half an hour for about 4 hours until it formed something resembling a lumpy sorbet.

    [ ⁽ᵃ⁾ Wall’s was a British company most famous for producing sausages of a modest quality. There was a long standing joke about the reputed ingredients they minced up to fill their product:- “Wall’s have ears”. What horrors really went into their ice-cream was always open to speculation.]

  13. Ian Luck says:

    Snowy – it’s odd that you should mention Wall’s Ice Cream, as my brother’s partner brought back an aluminium ice cream container today from a local agricultural show. It was stamped ‘PROPERTY OF WALL’S ICE CREAM’. Utterly utilitarian, but beautifully made, and very satisfying to look at. She uses them as planters – there’s one on the patio already, which we saw in an antique dealer’s. It’s one of those things that is quite stupidly cool, and which you have to own, even if you’re not sure what you’re going to actually use it for. They were originally in the vans, in the fridge inside, full up with icecream. Before the use of aluminium was frowned on for food use. I’ve just ordered another larger one from Cornwall.

  14. snowy says:

    The history of the ‘domestic’ use of aluminium is interesting, [well to some of us me.]

    It had been around for a long time, but in its raw unoxidised state it is quite reactive. It was mostly an exotic material, until the aircraft industry started using it around the 1920s. It slowly permeated out into normal life as a new wonder material.

    But it only became ubiquitous in the late 40s and 50s because everywhere in the world there were huge piles of decommisioned war materials lying about being sold off as scrap. It may have seemed to be a natural successor to copper pans but it is a horrible material to cook in/keep clean.

    [This comment has NOT been brought to you by the Aluminium Marketing Board.]

  15. Helen Martin says:

    Aluminium was made into jewelry in the 1800s, very light weight and non-tarnishing. I have a necklace and earring set which feels like aluminium to me, although it was made in the 1950s. The light weight was one of the attractions of the cooking ware. My mother had a substantial pot she boiled potatoes in and had it been made of other metal would likely have been very awkward to handle.

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