Part 2 – The Arcaris

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My grandparents

My grandparents, Sabatino and Angela Rosa  Arcari (nee Grilli),  first came to the UK in the late 1800s, settling initially around the Kent area. Like many other families of the time, they came here to escape droughts, food shortages and poverty in their homeland. Most of the families in these photos are from Southern Italy and the areas around the Comino Valley, in particular, Picinisco, a very beautiful tiny mountain top village in the heart of the Abruzzo range, adjoining the National Park. Although some Swansea café owners came from more Northerly regions, contrary to popular belief, a great number also came from the areas of Italy South of Rome.

They began business to suit the seasons, taking a barrel organ around in Winter and an ice cream hand-cart in Summer, in particular on Whitstable beach. Angela Rosa’s nephew, Michael Grilli, also took a handcart around the beach. Like most of the Italians who came here, they were not only entrepreneurial but very ambitious. They saved every penny they could until they could finally achieve their dream of owning their own business.

They moved to Morriston in the early 1900s to open a café on Woodfield Street, Morriston Swansea, not far from the café of Sabatino’s sister, Nascenza Pompa and her husband, Ferdinando. Another brother, Giuseppe first went to Merthyr with his wife, Domenica D’Ambrosio, then settled in Glasgow, where they opened a very busy and popular café, The Central Café, on Sauchiehall Street.

After a few years, Sabatino and Angela Rosa moved to the Palace Café on High Street, directly opposite the Theatre.  The whole family were expected to help in the business. Their daughters, Adelina and Serafina (Sophie), would take ice cream across to the theatre to sell during the intervals while the sons and daughter-in-law helped in the cafe.  Even the youngest, (my father) at age 7, would get up between 3 and 4 am to help make the ice cream for the coming day, before going to St Joseph’s Convent School. The cafe would open at 5 am for the Railway and other workers, and close again around midnight. The family were respected and loved by all who met them and they made many friends in Wales, with their children marrying into Welsh families.

The business thrived until around the war years, and Churchill’s “Collar the Lot” call, referring to the internment of immigrants, started to turn the tide in the other direction. Cafes were stoned and looted, and it was recalled by the late former Lord Mayor of Swansea, Charles Thomas, that Cascarini (precursor of Joe’s) café in Fabian Street, now Fabian Way, was one of those threatened by a wild mob. They were saved by a group of Dockworkers who were regulars at the café and determined to protect Miss Cascarini  at all costs, they formed a protective human barrier in front of the café. The café survived until the 60s when a compulsory purchase order was made to enable road widening.

Meanwhile, the Arcari family gave up their business and later lived in Ormesby Terrace, then Wern Fawr Road. Many of the Italians formed a very popular accordion orchestra, of which Francesco Arcari (youngest son of Sabatino), his brothers Alfonso and Luigi, Len Demarco and others were members.

Written by Anita Arcari, for People’s Collection Wales February 2020


Read Part 3 here: