Italians in the United Kingdom

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Italians in the United Kingdom
Total population
Italian-born residents
233,000 (2019 ONS estimate)
Regions with significant populations
Related ethnic groups

Italians in the United Kingdom, also known as British Italians[1] or colloquially Britalians,[2] are citizens or residents of the United Kingdom of Italian heritage. The phrase may refer to someone born in the United Kingdom of Italian descent, someone who has emigrated from Italy to the United Kingdom or someone born elsewhere (e.g. the United States), who is of Italian descent and has migrated to the UK. More specific terms used to describe Italians in the United Kingdom include: Italian English, Italian Scots, and Italian Welsh.


Roman Britain[edit]

The Romans from Italy were the first Italians to settle in the British Isles along with other people from various parts of the Roman Empire. They came as far back as 55 and 54 BC when Julius Caesar (initially landing in Deal) led expeditionary campaigns in the south-east of England,[3] and then again in AD 43 when Emperor Claudius invaded and subsequently conquered the British islands. Historian Theodore Mommsen calculated that in the five centuries of Roman presence in the British isles, more than 50,000 Roman soldiers (mainly from The Balkans) moved to live permanently in Roman Britain.[4]

Middle Ages[edit]

Lombard Street, London

Continuous contact with Rome and the Catholic world was initially restricted to the Celtic Christian, Brittonic-speaking portions of Britain where trading activities continued with the Mediterranean and Italy continuing into the seventh century as non-Christian Anglo-Saxon kingdoms began to coalesce into England. Initially the stable Anglo-British kingdoms of Wessex and then Northumbria followed the practices of Celtic Christianity however powerful figures such as Alfred the Great, who had been anointed by the Pope in Rome, tended toward Roman Catholicism especially after the Synod of Whitby drawing merchants, men of culture, artisans and educated Catholic clerics from the Latin West including Italy.

After the conquest of Anglo-Saxon England in 1066, the first recorded Italian communities in England began from the merchants and sailors living in Southampton. The famous "Lombard Street" in London took its name from the small but powerful community from northern Italy, living there as bankers and merchants after the year 1000.[5]

Medieval Italian craftsmanship at Westminster Abbey

The rebuilding of Westminster Abbey showed significant Italian artistic influence in the construction of the so-called 'Cosmati' Pavement completed in 1245 and a unique example of the style unknown outside of Italy, the work of highly skilled team of Italian craftsmen led by a Roman named Ordoricus.[6] In 1303, Edward I negotiated an agreement with the Lombard merchant community that secured custom duties and certain rights and privileges.[7] The revenues from the customs duty were handled by the Riccardi, a group of bankers from Lucca in Italy.[8] This was in return for their service as money lenders to the crown, which helped finance the Welsh Wars. When the war with France broke out, the French king confiscated the Riccardi's assets, and the bank went bankrupt.[9] After this, the Frescobaldi of Florence took over the role as money lenders to the English crown.[10]

As bankers, the Frescobaldi financed ventures for numerous members of European royal families, notably their financial conquest of England, which Fernand Braudel has signalled as the greatest achievement of the Florentine firms, "not only in holding the purse-strings of the kings of England, but also in controlling sales of English wool which was vital to continental workshops and in particular to the Arte della Lana of Florence."[11]

15th to 18th centuries[edit]

According to historian Michael Wayatt, there was "a small but influential community" of Italians "that took shape in England in the 15th century initially consisting of ecclesiastics, renaissance humanists, merchants, bankers, and artists."[12]

Giovanni Cabot (in the middle of two friends) in London

Historian Alwyn Ruddock claimed to have found evidence that the navigator Giovanni Caboto ('John Cabot') who discovered North America in 1497 {received backing from the Italian community in London for his voyage to North America. In particular, she suggested he found a patron in the form of Fr. Giovanni Antonio de Carbonariis, an Augustinian friar who was also the deputy to the papal tax collector Adriano Castellesi. Ruddock suggested that it was Carbonariis, who certainly accompanied Cabot's 1498 expedition and who was on good terms with the King, who introduced the explorer to Henry VII for the discovery expedition. Beyond this, Ruddock claimed that Cabot received a loan from an Italian banking house in London 'to go and discover new lands'.[13]

In the aftermath of the English Reformation, amongst other religious refugees from the European continent, many Italian Protestants found Tudor England to be a hospitable haven, and brought with them cultural Italian ties. The fifteenth century also saw the birth of a pivotal Italo-Englishman in the form of John Florio, a famed language teacher, lexicographer, and translator. The Titus family is another significant group that settled in England in the time of the Renaissance.

The arts flourished under the Hanoverian dynasty and this attracted many more Italian artisans, artists and musicians to Britain. All of this developed in the United Kingdom a moderate Italophilia during the late Italian Renaissance. For example, in the 1790s many Italians with skills of instrument making and glass blowing came over from Italy, France and Holland to make and sell barometers. By 1840 they dominated the industry in England.[14]

From Napoleon to World War I[edit]

The Napoleonic wars left northern Italy with a destroyed agriculture and consequently many farmers were forced to emigrate: a few thousand moved to the British isles in the first half of the nineteenth century.[15]

From the 1820s to 1851...accounts for 4000 Italian immigrants in England, with 50% of them living in London. The regional origins of most were the valleys around Como, and Lucca. The people from Como were skilled artisans, making barometers and other precision instruments. People from Lucca specialized in plaster figure making. By the 1870s the main regional origins of Italian emigration to Britain were the valleys of Parma in the north, and the Liri valley, half way between Rome and Naples. A railway network had been started by this time and this helped the people from the Liri valley to migrate to the North of Italy, and then on to Britain. The people from Parma were predominantly organ grinders, while the Neapolitans from the Liri valley (now under Lazio) made ice cream......the occupational structure of the immigrants, up to the 1870s, remained "substantially the same." After this date all itinerant employment crossed regional demarcations....The centre of the Italian community in Britain throughout the 19th Century, and indeed to the present day, is 'Little Italy' situated in a part of London called Clerkenwell.....description of its existence then, from an 1854 print, is of a "warren of streets around Hatton Garden." Dickens' Oliver Twist and Gustave Dore's prints of London at that time fill in the images. As numbers increased and competition grew fiercer, so Italians spread to the north of England, Wales and Scotland. They were never in great numbers in the northern cities. For example, the Italian Consul General in Liverpool, in 1891, is quoted as saying that the majority of the 80–100 Italians in the city were organ grinders and street sellers of ice-cream and plaster statues. And that the 500–600 Italians in Manchester included mostly Terrazzo specialists, plasterers and modellers working on the prestigious, new town hall. While in Sheffield 100–150 Italians made cutlery.....of the 1000 or so Italians in Wales at the end of the 19th century a third of them worked as seamen on British ships, a third worked in jobs that serviced shipping, such as ships chandlers, seamen's lodgings etc., and most of the rest worked in the coal mines.In 1861,....there were 119 Italians in Scotland, the majority of them in Glasgow. By 1901 the Italian population was 4051. By this time the Italian communities were becoming more affluent. The Italian Scottish community was "…almost all engaged in small food shops – either ice cream shops or fish restaurants."[16]

Giuseppe Mazzini lived in London for some years and promoted the construction of the Italian church of St. Peter in the "Little Italy" of Clerkenwell (a London neighbourhood)[17] The Italian-style basilica was inaugurated in 1863 and was the main place of reunion for the growing Italian community of London. The Risorgimento hero Mazzini also created an Italian school for poor people, active from November 1841 at Greville Street in London.[18]

By the time WWI started, the Italian community was well established in London and other areas of the British isles (there were nearly 20,000 Italians in the United Kingdom in 1915). All Italian born subjects living in Britain at the time of WW1 were regarded as "aliens" and forced to register with their local police station. Permission had to be given by the police if a person wanted to travel more than 5 miles from their homes. <C.A. Volante: Identities and Perceptions: Gender, Generation and Ethnicity in the Italian Quarter, Birmingham, c1891-1938 PhD thesis, 2001>

Second World War[edit]

When Second World War came the Italians in Great Britain had built a respected community for themselves. But the announcement of Benito Mussolini's decision to side with Adolf Hitler's Germany in 1940 had a devastating effect. By order of parliament all aliens were to be interned. Although there were few active fascists, the majority had lived in the country peacefully for many years, and had even fought side by side with British-born soldiers during the First World War. Some had married British women and even taken British citizenship.[citation needed]

This anti-Italian feeling led to a night of nationwide riots against the Italian communities on 11 June 1940. The Italians were now seen as a national security threat linked to the feared British Union of Fascists, and Winston Churchill told the police to "collar the lot!" Thousands of Italian men between the ages of 17 and 60 were arrested after his speech.[19] They were transported to camps across the country.[citation needed]

In one of these transportations a tragedy occurred: the sinking of the ocean liner Arandora Star on 2 July 1940 resulted in the loss of over 700 lives, including 446 British-Italians being deported as undesirable.[20] Italians comprised almost half of the ship's 1564 passengers; the rest were British soldiers, and Jewish refugees.[20] Sailing for Canada from Liverpool, the unescorted Arandora Star was torpedoed by the German submarine U-47 and sank within 30 minutes.[20] One historian describes it as the "most tragic event in the history of the [British] Italian community... no other Italian community in the world has suffered such a blow."[21] On 19 July the Home Secretary, wrote a letter to Lord Halifax, the Foreign Secretary, in which he made it clear that he realised mistakes had been made in selecting Italians for the Arandora Star.[22] Lord Snell was charged with conducting a government inquiry into the tragedy. He recognised that the method of selecting dangerous Italians was not satisfactory and the result was that among those earmarked for deportation were a number of non-fascists and people whose sympathies lay with Britain.[23]

Since 1945[edit]

"Little Italy" in Clerkenwell (London)

In the 1950s Italian immigration started again to some areas of Great Britain (such as Manchester[24]), even if relatively limited in number. It was made mainly from Lazio. But in the 1960s it tapered off and practically stopped in the 1970s.

The region of the country containing the most Italian Britons is London, where over 50,000 people of Italian birth live.[25] Then there are Manchester, where 25,000 Italians live[26] and Bedford, where there are approximately 20,000 people of Italian origin.[27][28]

Bedford has a high concentration of Italian immigrants, along with Peterborough. This is mainly as a result of labour recruitment in the 1950s by the London Brick Company in the southern Italian regions of Puglia and Campania. By 1960, approximately 7,500 Italian men were employed by London Brick in Bedford and a further 3,000 in Peterborough.[29] In 1962, the Scalabrini Fathers, who first arrived in Peterborough in 1956, purchased an old school and converted it into a church named after the patron saint of workers San Giuseppe. By 1991, over 3,000 christenings of second-generation Italians had been carried out there.[30]

In 2007, there were 82 Italian associations in Great Britain.[31]

British companies founded by Italians[edit]

  • Ferranti - electrical engineering and computer equipment firm founded in 1885.
  • Marconi - British telecommunications and engineering company formed in 1897
  • Arighi Bianchi - furniture store founded in 1854
  • Grattan - catalogue company founded in 1912
  • Forte - hotel & restaurant business founded in 1935



According to the 2011 UK Census, there were 131,195 Italian-born residents in England, 3,424 in Wales,[32] 6,048 in Scotland,[33] and 538 in Northern Ireland.[34] The 2001 Census recorded a total of 107,244 Italian-born people resident in the United Kingdom.[35] Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimates put the equivalent figure for 2015 at 162,000[36] and 233,000 in 2019.[37] In 2016, the Italian embassy in London estimated that 600,000 Italians were resident in the UK.[38] According to Ethnologue, Italian is the first language of some 200,000 people in the UK,[39][dubious ] although the 2011 Census recorded only 92,241 people with Italian as their main language in England and Wales.[40]

For the period 2015 to 2016, 12,135 Italian students were studying in British universities. This was the third-highest figure amongst EU countries and ninth globally.[41]


Italians and British-born people of Italian descent reside across the entire UK. Furthermore, unlike many ethnic groups in the country, there are substantial numbers of Italians outside England. Locations with significant Italian populations include London, where the 2011 Census recorded 62,050 Italian-born residents,[32] Manchester with an estimated 25,000 people of Italian ethnicity,[26] Bedford with an estimated 20,000 ethnic Italians,[27][28] and Glasgow, which is home to a large percentage of the estimated 35,000+ Italian Scots.[citation needed]

Notable individuals[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Colpi (1992)
  2. ^ Palmer (1981)
  3. ^ "History Today". Retrieved 6 October 2014.[dead link]
  4. ^ Collins, Nick (22 February 2013). "One million Brits 'descended from Romans'". The Daily Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group Limited. Archived from the original on 23 February 2013. Retrieved 7 March 2017.
  5. ^ King, R. (1977). "Italian Migration to Great Britain". Geography. 62 (3): 176–186. JSTOR 40568731.
  6. ^ "Cosmati Pavement".
  7. ^ Brown (1989), pp. 65–66
  8. ^ Prestwich (1972), pp. 99–100
  9. ^ Brown (1989), pp. 80–81
  10. ^ Prestwich (1972), p. 403
  11. ^ Braudel (1982), p. 392f
  12. ^ Wyatt, Michael (December 2005). The Italian Encounter with Tudor England: A Cultural Politics of Translation. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-84896-1.
  13. ^ Jones, Evan T. (May 2008). "Alwyn Ruddock: 'John Cabot and the Discovery of America'". Historical Research. 81 (212): 224–254. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2281.2007.00422.x.
  14. ^ Nicholas, Goodison (1977). English barometers 1680-1860 : a history of domestic barometers and their makers and retailers (Rev. and enl. ed.). Antique Collectors' Club. ISBN 978-0902028524.
  15. ^ Saunders, Rod (18 December 2014). "Italian Migration to Nineteenth Century Britain: Why and Where". Anglo-Italian Family History Society. Archived from the original on 7 January 2017. Retrieved 7 March 2017.
  16. ^ Sponza (1988)
  17. ^ Construction of St Peter Italian church in London. Retrieved 7 March 2017.[dead link]
  18. ^ Verdecchia, Enrico (1 October 2010). Londra dei cospiratori. L'esilio londinese dei padri del Risorgimento. Marco Tropea Editore. ISBN 9788855801133.
  19. ^ Moffat, Alistair (2013). The British: A Genetic Journey. Edinburgh, Scotland: Birlinn Limited. p. 217. ISBN 978-0-85790-567-3.
  20. ^ a b c Cesarani & Kushner (1993), pp. 176–178
  21. ^ Colpi (1991), pp. 115–124
  22. ^ Foreign Office File FO 916 2581 folio 548
  23. ^ Foreign Office File FO 371 25210
  24. ^ "Italians in Manchester". Root 101 Limited. Retrieved 7 March 2017.
  25. ^ "Italy". BBC. 2009. Retrieved 16 April 2017.
  26. ^ a b Green, David (29 November 2003). "Italians revolt over church closure". BBC News. Retrieved 16 April 2017.
  27. ^ a b "Bedford's Italian question". BBC. Retrieved 7 March 2017.
  28. ^ a b "May the best team win". Bedfordshire on Sunday. Local World. 24 June 2012. Archived from the original on 25 May 2013. Retrieved 4 June 2012.
  29. ^ Colpi (1991), p. 149
  30. ^ Colpi (1991), p. 235
  31. ^ "Gli Italiani in Gran Bretagna (Abstract)" [The Italians in Great Britain (Abstract)] (PDF) (in Italian). Italian Ministry for Foreign Affairs. Retrieved 16 April 2017.
  32. ^ a b "2011 Census: Quick Statistics for England and Wales on National Identity, Passports Held and Country of Birth". Office for National Statistics. 26 March 2013. Archived from the original (XLS) on 5 January 2016. Retrieved 16 April 2017.
  33. ^ "Country of birth (detailed)" (PDF). National Records of Scotland. Retrieved 13 April 2015.
  34. ^ "Country of Birth – Full Detail: QS206NI". Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency. Archived from the original (XLS) on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 28 April 2015.
  35. ^ "Country-of-birth database". Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Archived from the original (XLS) on 17 June 2009. Retrieved 30 October 2009.
  36. ^ "Table 1.3: Overseas-born population in the United Kingdom, excluding some residents in communal establishments, by sex, by country of birth, January 2015 to December 2015". Office for National Statistics. 25 August 2016. Retrieved 28 November 2016. Figure given is the central estimate. See the source for 95% confidence intervals.
  37. ^ "Table 1.3: Overseas-born population in the United Kingdom, excluding some residents in communal establishments, by sex, by country of birth, January 2019 to December 2019". Office for National Statistics. 21 May 2020. Retrieved 27 September 2020. Figure given is the central estimate. See the source for 95% confidence intervals.
  38. ^ Marchese, Francesca (28 November 2016). "Could UK's Italians rock referendum vote?". BBC News. Retrieved 28 November 2016.
  39. ^ "United Kingdom". Retrieved 16 April 2017.
  40. ^ Gopal, Deepthi; Matras, Yaron (October 2013). "What languages are spoken in England and Wales?" (PDF). ESRC Centre on Dynamics of Ethnicity (CoDE). Archived from the original (PDF) on 1 May 2015. Retrieved 28 April 2015.
  41. ^ "International student statistics: UK higher education". UK Council for International Student Affairs. 12 January 2017. Retrieved 16 April 2017.


External links[edit]