Magazine article History Today

The Making of an Englishman: At a Time of Widespread Concern about the Patriotism of 'Economic Migrants' and Political Refugees, Peter Barber Tells the Story of One 19th-Century Immigrant Whose Affection for Britain Grew as Political Crisis Severed His Attachment to Home

Magazine article History Today

The Making of an Englishman: At a Time of Widespread Concern about the Patriotism of 'Economic Migrants' and Political Refugees, Peter Barber Tells the Story of One 19th-Century Immigrant Whose Affection for Britain Grew as Political Crisis Severed His Attachment to Home

Article excerpt

If you had been making your way along Seven Sisters Road in the north London suburbs in 1901 you would have noticed a large flag of St George flying over a modest looking care at the entrance to Finsbury Park. This may have seemed nothing special until you saw the foreign name on the canvas awnings over the shopfront: Pazzi's Restaurant. It was owned by Pietro Pazzi, who came from the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland. This sort of Swiss establishment with a care in the front room and a restaurant at the rear had been springing up in London, the suburbs and along the seaside resorts of the south coast in increasing numbers over the previous 50 years. By 1900 there was hardly a high street around the capital that was without one, but few made such a show of their patriotism. The path that led to such a display had been dramatic.

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Pietro Pazzi was born on November 24th, 1848, the year of revolutions in western Europe, to Giuseppe and Maddalena Pazzi, small landholders from long established families in Semione, a village near the mouth of the Alpine Val di Blenio in the Swiss canton of Ticino. Beautiful though the valley was, the soil was poor and there had been a centuries-long tradition of emigration to Italian cities, including Florence. Just a year before Pietro's birth, Carlo Gatti, a member of a patrician family from Marogno, a few kilometres further up the valley, arrived in London (having initially moved to Paris), where he soon founded the first of the Swiss cafe-restaurants and began recruiting his relatives and compatriots to work as waiters, chefs and managers. Men from Semione joined the exodus and by the 1860s the village was becoming known as one which sent its males to Britain as well as to Paris, Lyon and Belgium. Most of the emigrants believed they would ultimately return home.

Relatively secluded though Semione was, Pietro seems to have received a good education. Following a well-trodden path, he emigrated to Paris, most likely after the floods which devastated his valley in the winter of 1868-69. In 1870, probably in connection with the upheavals of the Franco-Prussian War, he moved to England.

He found a job as a waiter at the renowned Oxford Music Hall in London's Oxford Street. In the census of 1871 Pazzi is recorded as living not far away in Princes Street between Regent Street and Hanover Square. By that time he had already married his wife Apollonia Togni, who in 1871 gave birth to their eldest son Severino. But, as was quite usual at the time, Apollonia remained in Ticino. He must have returned home regularly, however, since a daughter, Virginia ('Gina'), was born in Semione in 1875. In the course of 1874 he became an early member of the Unione Ticinese di Londra, a mutual benefit society primarily created for freshly arrived Ticinese waiters and ice-workers (Carlo Gatti had introduced ice-cream to the capital in 1850), which had been founded the previous February.

By 1874, helped by loans from Gatti, Pietro had started his own business, initially in partnership with his brother Massimo, who was five years younger. Apollonia appears to have come to London in 1876, though Severino and the baby Virginia remained in Semione in the care of their grandmother, receiving their education from the parish priest. Virginia only seems to have joined the family in the 1890s.

The location of Pietro's establishment at 271 Seven Sisters Road was well chosen. Though it was then on the outer periphery of London and therefore, presumably, relatively cheap, it had enormous potential. Finsbury Park had opened just a few years earlier in 1869. Its station then marked the north-eastern limit of the suburban railway and tram network and what was to become the London underground system; the Ticinesi had already learned that the ideal location for their cafes was the immediate vicinity of stations and transportation hubs and in parks. Over the following years Pietro became a family man with a home in nearby Stroud Green Road, where his son Guerino was born in 1877 and his daughter Florida, or 'Florrie', in 1879, to be followed finally by his fifth child, Rosa, in 1883. …

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