History of Italian immigrants to West Fife celebrated in new book
Michael Alexander talks to retired Dunfermline nurse Norma Alari about the book she wrote which explores the history of Italians, including her own family, who settled and started businesses in West Fife.
When Dunfermline-born Norma Alari took early retirement over a decade ago after 37 years as a nurse, it gave her time to investigate her Italian roots.
With the two groups of grandparents born in Tuscany and migrating to Scotland around 1902, his parents ran Alari’s fish and chips in Dunfermline for decades, and her aunt also had her cafe next to the chip shop.
However, with even more free time when the country went into lockdown in March 2020, the 68-year-old was inspired to do something more substantial with the information she gathered while writing a book.
Sixteen months later and Norma publishes the 130 pages Italians of West Fife: Dunfermline, Cowdenbeath, Inverkeithing and Kelty – 1800 – 1930.
“The book is about Italian migrants from the regions of Lazio, Tuscany and Emeila-Romagna who left the hilltop villages of Atina, Casalattico, Barga and Borgotaro,” she said.
“I wrote about at least 26 people who lived and worked in Fife – as well as in other parts of Scotland.
“The information was gathered from the census, diaries, oral history, guild dean, assessment rolls and many academic papers and books and naturalization case papers.
“The book is 130 pages long and I think it will appeal to anyone who remembers their favorite chip shop and cafe and I hope descendants of the people we’ve written about as well.”
A former student of Primary St Margaret’s RC and St Columba’s RC High School in Dunfermline, Norma, who lives now Cupar, explained how records show Italians have been present in Britain since Roman times and that from the 17th century onwards many skilled and semi-skilled artisans and craftsmen worked in towns and villages across the country.
However, from the end of the 19th century, when Italians experienced poverty and famine in their home country, Scotland saw an increase in the number of Italian immigrants.
the 1871 census for Scotland registered 268 Italians and by the 1911 census this figure had increased to 4,594.
Italians from the region of Tuscany have settled (not exclusively) in Glasgow and the West of Scotland with surnames such as Capanni, Giuliani, Gonnella, Marchi, Bertolini, Biagioni, Bechelli and Brucciani.
Italians from the region of Lazio settled in Edinburgh and the Lothians with surnames such as Valente, Caira, Magliocco, Di Ducca, D’Inverno, Divito, Taddei, Fusco and Mancini.
Italians from the region of Emilia Romagna settled in the North East of Scotland with surnames such as Donati, Canale, Cura and Bertorelli.
Drawing on census records, business directories and valuation records, Norma learned that the main occupations recorded for Italians in Scotland were statues / figurine makers, organ players (musicians), confectioners , mosaic tile setters, bakers and hairdressers.
The earliest record of Italians in Fife is that of Antonio Staffiere, a confectioner in the 1881 census for Dunfermline.
However, it was not until the 1890s that other Italians were recorded in other places such as Auchterderran, Cowdenbeath, Lumpinnans, Markinch, Leven and Buckhaven.
By the 1920s, many Italian immigrants had established successful businesses.
Some ran ice cream parlors and cafes, and they sent their families to join them in Scotland.
History of the Alari family
Growing up in Dunfermline, Norma said many stories from her own family were “guesswork.”
One story passed down was that his grandfather Amos Alari on his father’s side worked in the pottery in Stoke on Trent when he was 13.
The more research she did, however, the more she learned.
His research revealed that in 1911, Amos was registered at a cafe on South Street, Perth.
In 1916, his grandfather’s name was on the valuation records of what became the chip shop of his parents, Donald and Nora Alari in Dunfermline – a business his older brother took over upon their father’s death, and which was only sold in 2016.
“Because they are traders, you have valuation records, you have the census, you have business directories where you listed them and council minutes where they may have applied for a registration license. for their store, ”she says.
“The other valuable resource is the guild dean’s file. “
The challenges facing migrants
As she deepened, however, she also learned some of the challenges that had to be overcome by these early migrants.
First, there was the economic backdrop of why many emigrated from Italy in the first place.
“These are mostly hill people – they are farmers,” she says.
“I touched on this a little bit in the book – their history as farmers and property taxes rising after the Napoleonic wars.
“They were big families and not all managed to make a living off the land, so it was common for young people to leave with a trade. I think that’s probably how Amos Alari, a band member at the age of 13, ended up in Stoke on Trent.
When it comes to why the history of the Italian-Scottish family wasn’t always celebrated when she was younger, she attributes it to a number of reasons.
The company was “very anglicized” at the time, she says. As Italians are Catholics, many families have kept a relatively low profile with an underlying stream of persecution in Scottish society.
The other aspect that “kaiboshed” a lot of culture during this time was World War II.
When Italy became Germany’s ally and the Italian leader Benito mussolini declared war on Britain and France in June 1940, Italian immigrant men over the age of 16 were declared “enemy aliens”.
Over 4,000 Italians have been arrested and many have been sent to internment camps on the Isle of Man. Others were transported to Canada or Australia.
There have been anti-Italian riots in cities like Edinburgh and Glasgow. Italian companies have been attacked.
Norma does not know that members of her family were sent to internment camps.
“During World War II, many Italian traders in Dunfermline put posters in their windows stating that they were British citizens,” she says.
“There were quite a few Italian men who naturalized just before the war – my grandfather Amos Alari being one of them.”
However, other extended family members were treated as “strangers”.
“On my mother’s side in Kilmarnock, because Kilmarnock was a protected area because of a munitions factory, this whole family there was moved there because they were considered foreigners and sent to Glasgow.
“I have my grandmother’s ‘foreign’ documents where she was to report to the police and have her little ones stamped.
“When they returned to the family home in Kilmarnock (at the end of the war), a lot of my grandmother’s clothes and pottery had been taken away by the people who had been put into the house. She must have cleaned the house.
“I had an uncle in Irvine who was arrested and sent to Irvine Prison. But he was never interned.
“Apart from that, for Dunfermline, there’s Divito at Crossgates, the glaciers. Their old man was taken away and interned.
Learning curve on the Italians of Fife
Growing up in Dunfermline, Norma says she could probably name four Italian families.
But in the process of research, which took her to libraries and even National Archives at Kew in London, she was surprised to learn that there were probably around 100 Italians from time to time who were connected to Dunfermline, and likewise, Cowdenbeath, Kelty, Lochgelly, Markinch during that time.
To become a British citizen around 1915, applicants had to ask a large number of households to give a reference.
Through her research and discussions with descendants, she managed to list some of these people.
The Italians of Dunfermline explored in the book include Antonio Staffiere, Giovanni Segalini, Carlo Felice Rebori, Carlo Felice, Galione, Giuliani, Dominico Berturelli, Maloco, Arcangelo Tartaglia, Ernesto Boni, Fortunato Vernolini, Raffaello D’Inverno, Motroni, Francesco Capanni, Angeloantonio Cascarino, Taddei, Fusco, Catignani, Amos Alari, Aquilino Rossetti, Enrico Casci and Giovanni Leonardi.
What they all had in common was that they worked hard and had good business acumen.
It was a work ethic she was aware of as she grew up.
“We barely saw my dad when we were young,” she recalls.
“He had gone to the store early in the morning to get everything ready. We saw it at lunch time and then the store opened at 3 or 4 p.m. until 11 p.m. They worked. It was long, antisocial hours. They worked seven days a week.
Norma is also grateful for the help and assistance of librarians and archivists – past and present – and anyone who took the time to talk about their families.
How to get Norma’s book
Norma, (who can be contacted via [email protected]), hopes to have the book published by “end of June / beginning of July”.
Dunfermline Library has agreed to do a launch. She has also contacted Waterstones in Dunfermline and expects interest to grow “by word of mouth”.
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