The Welsh Connection: Italian Migration to Wales 1880s – 1950s

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For many Welsh people, Italian migration to Wales instantly brings to mind the name ‘Bracchi’. It’s easy to understand why. The popular story says that the Bracchi family, originally from Bardi in Emilia Romagna, arrived in the booming coalfields of South Wales and, noticing a gap in the market, opened the first Italian café in the country in the 1880s – 1890s. By 1939, the Italian cafes – known by the Welsh as Bracchis – had sprung up across the country, and there was at least one or two in every major town in Wales.

This is not to say that they were all run by members of the Bracchi family of course – they would be joined by Italians predominantly, but not exclusively, from the hills surrounding the Val Ceno. In recent works exploring Welsh-Italian history – be it cultural or academic – a lot of attention has been dedicated to the experiences of the bardigiani in Wales. A lot has been said of the Sidolis, Antoniazzis, Servinis, Moruzzis, Chiappas and Carpaninis. Over the past forty years, the Amici Val Ceno Galles group has been the leading voice of the bardigiani and of Italians in Wales. But Italian migration to Wales extends far beyond Giacomo Bracchi and his frothy coffees. Casting the net wider, Italians have made significant contributions to everyday life in Wales from the Victorian times onwards. That’s where I come in. My name is Gareth White, and I’m a postgraduate researcher and Italian teacher at Bangor University. I’m working on a PhD thesis on Italian migration to Wales between the 1880s and 1950s. I’m investigating the experiences of Italians in the Welsh workplace in this period, and looking at how these experiences intersected with geopolitical events, impacted their sense of identity, and facilitated their integration into Wales.

With my research, I’ve been digging deeper into the story of the Italian refreshment industry in Wales and the story of the bardigiani, but also connecting it with a wider narrative that spans two centuries and involves Italians from all four corners of Il Bel Paese. It’s a research project that links Northern and Southern Italian families working in the refreshment industry in Wales with Italian soldiers captured in Africa and sent to Wales as prisoners of war, as well as with the Italians who were contracted to work in the metal industries of Wales during the twentieth century. It’s a story of brave Italian and Welsh-Italian women running the family business as the men were interned during the Second World War, of young Italian men working together to build chapels and paint frescoes behind the barbed wire of prisoner of war camps, of temporarily contracted steelworkers who would go on to become prominent Welsh-Italian artists and restaurant owners. It’s a tale of two countries, two worlds, and the interactions between them.  And that’s where you come in. I’ve been conducting digital oral interviews for my research via Skype and / or Zoom to find out more about the Italians who spent time in this country. If your ancestors moved to Wales between the 1880s and 1950s, worked in any of the industries below, and you wouldn’t mind speaking about your family history for about one hour, I’d love to hear from you. I’m looking for Italians who:

  1. Worked in the refreshment industry (1880s – 1950s)
  2. Were Prisoners of War in Wales (1940s)
  3. Worked in the steel / coal / tinplate industry (1900s; 1950s).

You can contact me at my Bangor University email ([email protected]) if you have any questions, or follow me on Twitter (@rgwhite92).

Grazie, Gareth