Ancoats has undergone quite a transformation over the years. Once one of the ‘roughest’ parts of Manchester and now one of the most sought-after, very few actually understand the cultural significance of Ancoats, or it’s deeper, much richer history. A history that not only spans back to a mere 20 years ago when it was riddled with crime and the abandoned remains of the bygone industrial revolution, but right back to the late 1800s, too, when the small suburb became home to a large number of Italian migrants.
Fleeing to the suburb in the midst of the Risorgimento – the revolution which saw Italy unify with Rome as its capital – Manchester became the home to many an Italian family seeking to escape the violence (approximately 2,000 Italians), bringing their beloved culture along with them that widely contributes to our city still to this day.
Finally recognising that contribution to Manchester’s heritage, a brand new plaque has been placed outside of St Michael’s church – a Roman Catholic church where the Italian community were welcomed. The plaque brands Ancoats Manchester’s official ‘Little Italy’, in homage to the Italian community that once called the area home.
The result of a 22 month-long campaign by Lily Mott – a local student belonging to the Granelli family (who were heavily involved in the ‘ice cream wars’ that came as a result of influxes of Italian migrants seeking work in the ice cream industry) – the brand new plaque is the area’s first nod to its history, a nod that has, quite frankly, been a long time coming.
Lily said: “Until now, there has been no official recognition of Little Italy in Ancoats. This plaque finally commemorates the Italian communities who were integral to our cities cultural and economic history.
“Manchester is built on immigration and that is something we should celebrate and be proud of. This plaque represents so much more than Little Italy. It is about welcoming and integrating other communities and cultures into our lives.”
Lily’s family, the Granelli’s, were just one of the numerous families operating ice cream businesses in the city centre, with the Granelli’s in particular, running a little store on Oldham Road. Another notable figure who played a huge role in Manchester’s ice cream industry was Antonio Valvona – an ice cream maker widely known as the man who invented the ice cream cone, after health and safety concerns banned the use of the licking bowls that were formerly used to serve the Italian treat in.
Long story short, if it wasn’t for our Italian friends moving over to Ancoats, we wouldn’t have ice cream cones, ice cream vans as we know them today (jingles and all!), Salvi’s or our beloved Sugo’s Pasta Kitchen. And that’s a terribly sad thought, if you ask us. But what does this mean for Ancoats, today?
As many a Manc will have noticed already, Ancoats has undergone a huge urban regeneration of the years following its decline – a decline that began after the council undertook slum clearance on the area, moving its residents (Italians included) to other suburbs in the city. What could have been a thriving Italian neighbourhood packed full of authentic trattoria and ristorantes still thrives in the present, however, with less than a handful of restaurants that represent its green, white and red blood. Will more Italian businesses move in to reclaim the streets they once inhabited? One can only hope.
For those wanting to see the plaque for themselves, you can now visit it in all of its glory at 36-38 George Leigh St.