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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
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
One day we drove with Ben and Keith up to Atina, to visit “la famiglia” where we were, as always warmly received. It was over 3 years since Ben’s last time in Atina.
He enjoyed wandering through the cobbled streets, taking some photos here and there of the home town of his Italian great-grandparents, Benedetto and Maria Grazia.
photos by ben woods
For the next several weeks we were kept incredibly busy with the succession of guests staying here at “Tre Cancelle”, and at our other holiday rental properties in the Itri area. We had two families who, during their holidays, were hoping to trace their Italian family roots in the province of Frosinone.
Gina’s ancestors had come from the Sora vicinity, so we took time-out to travel with her and her family to try and assist with their research and further acquaint ourselves with this area.
We drove inland from Itri winding our way through the beautiful mountain countryside, passing Campodimele, towards Pico and onwards to Ceprano and the Ciociaria area. This name is derived from an ancient, rudimentary type of sandals, Le Ciocie that was typically worn by the shepherds of the area. The people of Ciociaria are very proud of their culture, traditionals and crafts. They specialise in wrought iron and copper work, rustic pottery containers, wood work and basket-making, these skills having been passed down over the generations from father to son. I too feel proud to be able to call myself a Ciociara.
First we decided to visit Isola del Liri, a quaint little place. Here the River Liri divides into two branches, forming an island and there is an impressive waterfall, “Cascata Grande” right in the centre of the town.
We drove on to the nearby village of Carnello and checked out surnames on the War Memorials and took a look around the sweet little church dedicated to San Antonio and Santa Restituta.
In Carnello we stopped for a delicious lunch at a restaurant named Mingone. It had a rustic setting with an stunning mural depicting life back in time in Ciociaria. The atmosphere was warm and inviting and the menu was based on typical products of this region, specialising in freshwater fish from the nearby River Fibreno.
It serves dishes “with a twist”, for example we sampled Ravioli with a trout filling. We would highly recommend it to anyone.
Feeling full to bursting we drove on to Sora, a bustling market town which also lies on a plain on the banks of the River Liri, historically associated with agriculture and the manufacturing of paper. A rocky spur provides a scenic backdrop to the town and Sora is sometimes referred to as the gateway to the Abruzzi National Park, an area of outstanding natural beauty and a place we wish to further investigate. We took a relaxed stroll around the town, and explored the impressive Church dedicated to Santa Restituta and the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta.
Then another set of guests, a couple from Germany, arrived for a fortnight’s stay with us. It turned out that Mike’s family had emigrated to Dundee in Scotland from Atina and Alvito, all within the Ciociaria region. We soon learned that Mike worked in Bremmen as a Stress Engineer, on the Airbus Project, which was an incredible co-incidence, as before moving to Italy Paul had also been a (decidedly stressed) Stress Engineer also working on Airbus !!!
We accompanied Mike and his wife to Atina and met up with Cousin Mario, who greeted us warmly and affectionately as always. We explained that Mike was trying to discover more about his Italian family roots and Mario volunteered to help and do some research at the Comune. Mario also treated us to a personal guided tour of Atina and its museum, and we learned a great deal about Atina’s fascinating history, once ruled by the Samnites and a prosperous town even in Roman times.
We left Mario to his lunch and decided to drive a little way and find somewhere to have a bite to eat. We headed down the valley, in the direction of Cassino, and followed the old winding road which existed long before the new super-strada had been carved through the mountains. This lead us to the picturesque Belmonte Castello, a fortified hill town perched high on a rocky promontory, overlooking the valley below. Like “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” (or even Scotsmen !!!) we took a little stroll around the ancient tower and the higher reaches of the town and admired the stunning panoramic views, in the full heat of the day.
Parched, wilting, and with tummies rumbling we began to pootle back down the hill, when we stumbled across a curiously named establishment – “Gabby’s Fish and Chips”. The owner and his brother were lazily sitting outside, so Paul went to enquire as to whether there was any chance that they could provide us with a little light lunch. At first they mistook Paul for a German – apparently Paul speaks Italian with a Geman accent !!!
It soon transpired that these guys were Scottish ….. and also from Dundee …. and that in fact Mike knew their families and their Fish and Chip and Ice Cream establishments !!! Yet another uncanny co-incidence. The owner produced a delicious platter of mozzarella, salamis and local cheeses which we washed down with some refreshingly cold beer. We asked what on earth was a Fish and Chip shop doing in a sleepy Italian backwater such as Belmonte Castello. They explained that having become totally disillusioned with life back in the UK, they had decided to return to the homeland of their grandparents to set up a little restaurant and bar. Occasionally they had tried putting Fish and Chips on the menu, and the local Italians being somewhat curious had tried this out for themselves. Apparently it had gone down so well that the Scots decided to make it into a Fish and Chip restaurant. They were now experimenting with some other new dishes, such a good hot curry or two, which also seemed to tickle the palates of the locals. Well I never !!!
From here we took the final 15 minute drive up to Atina. On the final approach to this special place it always seems the hairs stand up on the back of my neck in excitement and anticipation of the first glimpse of the dome of the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta.
This was to be Sarkis & Margaret’s first visit to the home town of his Italian mother and the first meeting with their Italian cousins. This particular Sunday there were celebrations for the Feast of Corpus Christi / Corpus Domini (held nine weeks after Easter).
The old town had been cordoned off to vehicles and as we strolled through the town’s elegant gateway we saw that final preparations were underway to adorn the winding cobbled streets with a colourful carpet of tinted wood shavings. This a real community event involving many hours of preparation, co-operation and hard work. Also, several special altars had been erected at strategic points along the route of the procession, and apartment dwellers along the way had draped colourful tapestries, beautiful lace trimmed linens and silk bedspreads from their windows and balconies which gently wafted in the breeze.
Suddenly the Town Band struck up, setting the scene with some doleful religious music, and the solemn procession began to make its way forward over the decorative carpet. At the centre was the local Parish Priest dressed in his ceremonial robes and wearing an embroidered wrap around his shoulders which he used to grasp the “monstrance” displaying the consecrated host, so as not to actually touch it with his hands. Four proud staff bearers supported a decorative canopy aloft, flanked by several dignitaries wearing black hats, white cloaks and white gloves and cassocked youths carrying a crucifix and lanterns. The procession slowly progressed around the town, stopping periodically at the erected altars to offer prayers and bless each quarter of the town. More and more townsfolk joined the procession along the way, and strangely now and then the band (as if they could not contain themselves) had to intersperse the solemn religious music with some jauntier traditional numbers !!!
It took several hours for the procession to circumnavigate the town so night had fallen by the time it had arrived in the piazza in front of the old baroque cathedral. Here more prayers were offered and then church bells began to joyfully ring out long and loud. It was a wonderful experience to witness this, to think that so many generations of my ancestors had heard the same bells ringing over the years.
Then it was back to cousin Anna Rita’s where Sarkis and Margaret were most warmly welcomed into the Italian family fold. We enjoyed a wonderful family meal and the cousins were able to meet up and chat via Paul and myself as interpreters. Looking at old family photos they remarked just how much Sarkis resembled their late father Michele. It was quite an overwhelming experience for Sarkis to at long last meet his Italian cousins and to walk around Atina treading in the footsteps of his ancestors ….. something he will not forget for some years to come.