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Most of our family and friends know that we are big fans of family history. It should be warned, however, that it’s a very addictive pastime and once you get started you can so easily get hooked !!!
I started by researching my father’s side of the family, the Richards family – Tin Miners from Cornwall, the Davies family – Coal Miners from Ammanford in South Wales and the Houghagan’s from County Mayo / County Galway in Ireland and in Swansea.
Next we began researching Paul’s Shapcott family from Whitestone / Exeter in Devon. This got us well and truly hooked and we went on to liaise with several other Shapcott researchers, and we have put together a large database of information. Consequently, we registered our Shapcott interests with “The Guild of One-Name Studies”. We were interested to discover just how far and wide Shapcott’s are dispersed from their native homeland of Knowstone in North Devon, and to learn more about their individual stories and varied ways of life.
Here is our Shapcott Family Website: http://www.shapcott-family.com
And then of course there was my Italian side of the family. My maternal grandparents originated from the beautiful mountain community of Atina, Frosinone, Italy, overlooking the River Melfa and the Meta and Mainarde mountains, on the edge the Abruzzi.
My Atina website: http://atina.shapcott-family.com/
However my grandparents chose to leave behind their beloved Atina to make a new life in London. In the Summer of 1911 they first set foot on English soil, and made their way to “Il Quariere Italiano” of Clerkenwell, the district known as “Little Italy” by the English and “The Hill” by the Italian residents.
They rented a dilapidated Victorian house at the lower end of Little Saffron Hill which was to be their home for many years to come.
My mother, Tina (Concetta), was baptised in St Peter’s Italian Church in 1920 and made her First Communion there.
She married my father there in 1955.
Then I was born and was also baptised at St Peter’s and I lived in Clerkenwell until, in 1957, we moved away to the countryside of Hertfordshire, away from the smogs of old London town.
My mother would, however, return every so often on a Sunday to attend Mass at St Peter’s. We also came at special times of the year, such as for the Italian Procession in July, which I walked in on two occasions, just as my mother had done before me. We also enjoyed attending the Christmas Bazaar in St Peter’s School hall, Herbal Hill, where my mother had attended school.
Sadly I did not have the good fortune to get to know my maternal grandparents, as they had both died well before I came along. However, as I grew up I developed a true passion for Italy and all things Italian. My mother (Tina) would fondly recount stories of her childhood in Clerkenwell and I decided to write them down and record them for future generations to learn from and to enjoy, to preserve them for posterity. I am so happy to be able to share my mother’s memories with you at my new website entitled “Clerkenwell Our Little Italy”.
Tina’s story is about a child growing up in Little Italy
during the 1920’s and 1930’s.
In addition it includes descriptions of living in London through the Blitz during WWII, the internment of “enemy aliens” and the terrible tragedy of the Arandora Star.
The website also has a section dedicated to the history of Clerkenwell over the last few centuries and the influx of Italian immigrants to this area. There is information regarding the padrones, the organ-grinders, the street musicians, the artists’ models, the immigrants’ various crafts and trades, the terrible living conditions in the slums and, of course, the manufacture of ice cream.
Another section is devoted to St Peter’s Italian Church and the annual procession in honour of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
During this project, I have met through the wonders of the internet, a number of interesting people who share my passion for Clerkenwell’s Little Italy and its social history, and also the history of London. I would like to say a big thank you to everyone that has helped me.
A special thank you to those photographers who kindly gave me permission to use their wonderful images to illustrate the website.
So, here it is: Clerkenwell Our Little Italy
I have also created a Facebook Group by the name of
Please do feel welcome to join !!!
#clerkenwelllondon, #clerkenwell #familyhistory #atinaitaly #italianprocession #littleitaly
Well, sadly all good things must come to an end.
All the members of the “We Love Atina !!!” Group seemed to really enjoy their long weekend in Atina. They were a great bunch of people and everyone got on so well. The weather was so kind to us, lovely warm sunny days, perfect for all our little trips around Atina and it environs.
We enjoyed several lovely evening meals together at …
The Villa Fortuna’s restaurant in lower Atina / Ponte Melfa. We found it to be very friendly, the food was very good, tasty and reasonably priced.
We also used the Villa Fortuna’s bar as our meeting point and were made so welcome by Marcello and Christiane, the Italian / American owners who also share our passion for Atina and genealogy. We were also able to use their Wifi network which was very useful. Thanks guys !!!
The group also had a lovely meal one evening at the well known restaurant named “Il Vicolo” in Upper Atina, which was also very enjoyable.
You can read more about “Il Vicolo” here:
One lunch time we went for a spot of lunch at “La Botola” (opposite the Museum) and had the typical Atina dish of “pasta e fagioli“.
During their stay in Atina Brigida and Trevor, and Gina and Enrico chose to stay at the Fontana Vecchia, which is situated a little outside Atina, so a car would be useful. They found the owners to be very friendly and helpful and would have no hesitation in recommending it to future visitors of Atina.
Mary stayed at the “Hotel Virginia” near the centre of Atina. Here are some photos she took of the view from her room:
She said: “It was very clean and quite retro … A mix of old and new, the owner’s husband is a French architect and he designed it. The owner also took me to the train station in Cassino when i left and would have picked me up too if I had called her … I spent a week there and I was the only one in the hotel so a bit scarey. It was very central for Atina, if like me, you are without transport.”
The Bed & Breakfast Posta Vecchia is also well recommended. It is situated in the heart of the old town. However it only has 2 rooms
We’d also like to recommend the Hotel Villa Fortuna (who also have the bar and restaurant above) to anyone looking for accommodation in and around Atina. This is situated in lower Atina, in Ponte Melfa.
Well, we are soon to plan next year’s “We Love Atina” Group’s next gathering in 2015. We hope it may become an annual event.
The date is still to be decided, however some have asked if it could be held during the summer months.
Any further feedback would be much appreciated.
If you would like to join us, please feel free to join our
“We Love Atina !!!” Facebook Group
or get in touch with me.
We’d love to hear from you. The more the merrier !!!
Ciao for now !!!
All photos by me © Louise Shapcott
#atina #atinafrosinone #italy #familyhistory #surnames #weloveatina
Some members of the “We Love Atina Group” stayed on for a couple more days to see for themselves the Feast of San Marco, the patron saint of Atina. Marco Galileo is said to have been an apostle of St Peter and was persecuted and martyred for his Christian faith in Atina, during the reign of the Roman emperor Domitian.
Once again we met up at the café next to the Arco in Piazza Garibaldi.
On this occasion we had the pleasure of meeting Lorraine Tambourine and her husband Billy, who are both from Scotland. They are frequent visitors of Atina.
Festivities were just starting to get underway. There was a brass band playing across the square by the Convent of San Francesco.
I went up to the church and peaked inside where the ceremony was still taking place.
There was San Marco in all his glory.
By this time darkness had fallen and I wandered through the streets
admiring the illuminations.
After the church service there was the procession
throughout the streets of Bella Atina.
The festivities continue into the night
when at midnight there is a grand firework display.
All photos by me © Louise Shapcott
#atinaitaly #atinafrosinone #feastday #feast #sanmarco #santamariaassunta #cathedral #cattedrale
We took some of the group to Montecassino Abbey, which is just a short drive away from Atina. Mary Gilmour, Gina Polard and her father Enrico Battaglia had not had the opportunity to visit the abbey before.
Saint Benedict of Norcia founded the ancient Monastery of Montecassino in 529 AD and the order of the Benedictines. The Abbey was built on the ancient ruins of a Roman fortification, and became renowned through the ages as a place of great holiness, culture and art.
During World War II Cassino was a stronghold of the German Gustav line and the abbey was almost completely destroyed by the Allied forces who carpet bombed Cassino and the Abbey, the decimation of this holy bastion gave rise to a massive public outcry. After the war the Abbey was eventually rebuilt according to its original design, and brought back to its former glory.
As you enter the Abbey you first come to a peaceful cloister, and standing in the centre of the garden is a bronze statue depicting Saint Benedict as he is dying, being comforted and supported by two of his Benedictine brothers.
In the cloister is a beautiful and colourful mosaic.
This leads on to the Bramante Cloister.
In the centre there is an octagonal well.
The Monastery’s vineyard
Steps lead up to a higher cloistered area and the facade of the grand Basilica, which has three bronze doors.
As we entered the Abbey the monks were singing verpers.
The inside of the Basilica is incredibly ornate and lavishly decorated.
There are wonderful examples of colourful intricate inlaid marble work.
Another Cloister with a fountain.
More than 30,000 soldiers lost their lives at Cassino and many are buried in the relevant British, French, Polish, German and Italian Military Cemeteries. The Polish Cemetery is positioned on a hillside overlooking the Abbey, a footpath leads down to the entrance which is guarded by two stone eagles. 1,052 Polish soldiers are interred here, each grave is marked by a cross and the graves are laid out on a terraced area. Above the terrace is a hedge, clipped and shaped to form a hollow cross. An inscription, which translated from Polish reads:
“We Polish soldiers for our freedom and yours
Have given our souls to God
Our bodies to the soil of Italy
And our hearts to Poland”.
You can read more about Montecassino and Cassino here at my website:
We then headed for the British Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery in Cassino, here the individual gravestones stand upright in the landscaped grounds which are meticulously tended in memory of the fallen soldiers. Here in this tranquil sanctuary more than 4,200 brave young Commonwealth servicemen now slumber in eternal peace, overlooked by the abbey from aloft.
I always feel so sad and emotional when I visit these cemeteries. We have another such cemetery not far from here, in Minturno with contains yet another 2,049 Commonwealth graves. So many fine young lives lost – and what for I ask? Paul, my husband, said to me – “Imagine seeing instead of gravestones all these soldiers standing up proud in their uniforms, ready to defend their country / commonwealth. How splendid they would have looked.” We must never forget that each one was a wonderful person, courageous, loving, with a family behind them, who would miss them forever. The same applies to all British soldiers who fought for their country so bravely in wars across the world but didn’t make it back home. We must also remember all those injured and maimed.
May they rest in peace but remain in our hearts and prayers.
“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.”
From Laurence Binyon’s poem For the Fallen, written in September 1914
All photos by me © Louise Shapcott
#montecassino #abbey #cassino #wargraves #british #warmemorial #italy
Francesco Massa also organised for us to visit a local museum by the name of Casa Museo Académie Vitti. We did not know of its existence prior to this, and from the outside it just looked like an ordinary house, but once inside what a treasure trove it proved to be.
The museum is dedicated to the Academie Vitti, a private art school, founded by Cesare Vitti in the Boulevard de Montparnasse, Paris in 1894. During this period the Montparnasse quartier was a centre of art and bohemian culture which attracted artists from all over the world.
There were three beautiful Caira sisters, namely Maria, Anna and Jacinta, who worked as professional models posing for artists, sculptors and photographers. They came from Gallinaro, a small town in the centre of the Val di Comino, quite near to Atina. On display are many nude sketches in pencil, charcoal and chalk and paintings and drawings by Jacinta Caira.
There are also many postcards and photographs of models in costume taken by the greatest photographers of the time, such as Nadar and Naudet.
Maria Caira married Cesare Vitti.
The Academie Vitti became one of the most respected schools of Art in Paris and operated without interruption for about 25 years, until the beginning of the First Word War in 1914 when the Vitti’s and Caira’s decided to return to Italy. They lived in the very same house where the Museum is now situated.
Cesare Erario is a direct descendant of the family and decided to open a museum to exhibit the family’s treasured private collection of authentic works and memorabilia.
Thank you to Cesare and Francesco Massa
for organising this really interesting visit.
All other photos
© Louise Shapcott (NonnaLou)
#atina #italy #MuseoAcademieVitti #museum #schoolOfArt #MontparnasseParis #ValDiComino
La Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta stands in Piazza Marconi, in the centre of the historic old town.
The Church was decorated in preparation for the up and coming celebrations of the Feast Day of San Marco (1st October), Atina’s patron saint.
Some of us chose to attend Mass at the Cathedral.
Me, Louise, lighting a candle for my mother in the Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta, Atina.
The church was founded in the 11th century on the site of an ancient Roman temple dedicated to the god Saturn. At this time the church was dedicated to St John The Baptist, you can see a statue of St John on the exterior facade of the church, located in a niche flanked by the bell towers.
The remains of the martyr San Marco were deposited there. In 1280 the church was enlarged In 1349 the town of Atina and the church were destroyed in a devastating earthquake. In 1405 a bell tower with four bells was erected. By the 16th century it had three chapels dedicated to SS Rosario, St John the Baptist and St Joseph and later more were added to SS Crocifisso and the Madonna of Loreto.
In 1743 the remains of the martyr San Fortunato were deposited there and in 1725 it was decided to totally renovate and expand the the structure including the construction of the dome, the renovation works took approximately 20 years. 1746 the new church was reconsecrated and dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta and given her name, In 1798 the church was further adorned with the noble facade with two bell towers and in the first half of the 19th century the artist Teodoro Mancini of Atina painted the interior of the dome and the vault of the central nave. In 1873 the building was struck once again by an earthquake which caused the need for major reparations and further enhancements to the structure were included and then on the 3 May 1878 it was deemed to grant the church the higher status of a cathedral.
Since then the Cathedral has withstood the further serious earthquakes of 1915 and 1984.
The church we see today is decorated in an ornate Baroque style. Monsignor Domenico Simeone showed us the beautiful altar intricately inlaid with multi-coloured pieces of marble in the Napolitan style, similar to work in the Abbey of Montecassino.
The main Altar of the Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta.
The painting of the Assumption above the main altar
The beautifully carved wooden Choir Stalls
The Statue of Atina’s main patron saint, San Marco, and the Altar of the Cattedrale
The Pulpit and the Confessional
The Baptismal Font –
Many of our Atina ancestors may well have been baptised here.
Some of the beautiful side Altars and Chapels
Painting of the Last Supper
I would just like to add that it was here in this chapel in October 2005 that my parents, Tina and Hugh, celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary by renewing their vows. It was a very touching experience and a very special occasion.
Sadly they have since both passed away. How I miss them so.
Returning to the Cathedral – The ornate gilded dome and ceiling.
Looking towards the rear of the church and the organ.
A Fresco of St John the Baptist.
Ornate Baroque Plasterwork and Gold Leaf.
The organ which was built in 1737 by the Catarinozzi family.
An ornate sarcophagus.
During WWII and the heavy bombing of Atina by the Allies in 1943, the Cathedral was seriously damaged, the dome was destroyed and several works of art were also lost. In addition, sadly some paintings by the artist Luigi Velpi were stolen from the Cathedral in recent years.
A big thank you to Monsignor Domenico Simeone who gave us a wonderful tour of the beautiful Cathedral, in perfect English.
All photos by me © Louise Shapcott
#cathedral #cattedrale #church #SantaMariaAssunta #atina #italy
The Church of Santa Maria – the first church was built in 1044 on the site of the Roman temple of Saturn. This was destroyed in the earthquake of 1231, however was soon rebuilt and was enlarged over the years. In November 1943 it was destroyed during the bombing of Atina. This is the entrance to the Cemetery.
Atina’s Cemetery – The Visocchi Chapel
Looking down at the lower section of Cemetery at the church of San Pietro and in the distance the district known as “Il Colle” and the small octagonal church of Santa Croce.
From Atina’s Cemetery
A view of the Val di Comino and the mountains beyond.
A section of ancient Cyclopean wall dating back to the 4th and 5th centuries BC, situated near the Cemetery.
All photos by me © Louise Shapcott
#WeLoveAtina #Cemetery #Atina #frosinone #italy #church #churches
Having enjoyed it so much last year, on the first Sunday of August we eagerly returned to Atina to watch the Gran Premio Dell’Arco, the Go Kart racing competition. This year we took lots of photos of the event.
Just like last year, the designs of the carts were many and varied, the common theme being all “wheels” are made from “Ball Bearing Races” kindly donated by the manufacturer SKF of nearby Cassino.
Whilst not fully up to pace with all the design regulations, its seems carts can have three or four bearings and these can be either large or small, or indeed a combination of both. For months in advance the carts are lovingly crafted and tinkered with in the cellars and garages around the town, it has to be said some a little more seriously than others.
There are three driver age groups, the youngest driver age band being the Teenagers, then the 18 to 50 year olds, and finally the Seniors or over 50’s. Time trials are carried out throughout the morning of the event. Each driver gets a lone run which is meticulously timed and determines their actual starting position on the grid. Then in the afternoon, after a good plate of pasta of course, the main races follow !!!
This year in addition to the normal fixed point cameras along the course, the events were recorded by an “eye in the sky” in the form of a helicopter camera man, and the event was recorded by a local radio station c.A.c. A c.a.S.
The course runs for a length of approximately 2.5 kilometres, starting from the main archway at the entrance of the old Centro Storico in Atina Superiore, and winds its way down to Atina Inferiore / Ponte Melfa on the valley floor below.
3 members of our family were to take part: Cousin Mario and his two sons Giuseppe and Simone.
Each race began with the sound system playing a loud rousing fan-fare to fully set the scene. The commentator then began the final countdown, and soon the competitors went careering off down the hill, fronted by a squad of motor bikes noisily beeping their horns. In the square a large TV screen had been set up for the spectators to watch the rest of the race on the long winding road down to the finishing line.
Finally the ceremonial presentations of the trophies to the victors are held in the early evening. This year was more special for our family because we had a podium finish. Cousin Mario achieved second place in the over 50’s section, setting the standard for next year for his two sons to endeavour to supersede.
Bravo Mario !!!
Also this year was special because in the middle category there was a lady driver on the podium for the first time ever.
Last weekend the puppies were 8 weeks old, and fully weaned and thus ready to leave their mother. We had to start thinking of how we could find good homes for them. We decided to try placing some adverts on the internet (in Italian of course) …
“We are 4 sweet puppies, in good health, all looking for a good home, and love from a family or from people who are truly animal lovers.
Not Hunters !!!
We are very affectionate and so much want to be loved and to play.”
The very same day we received several enquiries. A young lady by the name of Oriana rang us to say she and her family were very interested in adopting “Bertie”. She said that they lived in Tuscany, so we had to work out a way of meeting up with her and her family. Finally the meeting place was decided on, Ciampino airport. “Bertie” was wonderfully behaved during the journey, and as we drove into the entrance of the airport we could see the family eagerly awaiting us. They had everything prepared, and had even purchased “Bertie” a stylish black diamonte collar and lead. Unfortunately it was a little to large just yet. They said they were thinking of renaming him. He now has the stately name of “Prince” !!!
On Sunday we received another phone call, this time from a little closer to home in Pontecorvo, which is situated about 40 km inland from Itri. A young chap called Massimiliano was interested in adopting one of the male pups. That afternoon he and his father drove down through the rain to find us. On seeing the puppies they found it impossible to choose between “Alfie” and “Georgie”, so they ended up adopting them both, which we were pleased about, as they would keep each other company. We have since been in contact with Massimilliano who emailed to say that the puppies are very happy as they have a large garden to run around and play in and he has also kindly sent us some photos. The family have also decided to rename them as “Atilla” and “Ringo” !!!
Another email enquiry was from a young lady called Federica, who said she came from a family who were mad about animals, and that she lived in a villetta with a garden. They already had one dog, but she wanted to surprise her family by giving them a second. She asked us to help keep it a secret as it was to be a big surprise for her Mamma. On Monday evening we drove to Frosinone, “Maisy” proved to be a bit of a handful in the car, but eventually calmed down and went to sleep. Fede have us good directions, we had arranged to meet in the car park of MacDonalds. Federica and a couple of friends were waiting for us. She took hold and cuddled Maisy immediately, and promised that the puppy would be well looked after. She also has been in further contact saying that the whole family have really taken to Maisy, and that she is happy, settling in and eating well.
We really hope that we can keep in touch with all three families and receive updates on the puppies’ progress. We have been invited to visit them all when we can, which will be a pleasure.