Anne MacNicoll who lives in Canada sent us some pictures of her maternal great grandparents who immigrated from Italy to start a new life in Scotland. In the early 1900s, there was a lot of prejudice held against Italians and many families found it hard to start up businesses and some were even left with no option but to change their names to avoid persecution.
We would like to tell you the story of two families who moved to Hamilton from Italy for a better life. This is the story of the Rossi & Di Duca family told in the words of Anne MacNicoll and part researched by Historic Hamilton.
Here is Anne’s story:
This is a plan of the Hamilton Palace where my mother’s family, (Di Duca) along with twelve other families were housed from 1924 when their home and business on Quarry Street were slated for demolition. She had written on it the area of the palace where they were housed and the names of the other families. Many of them had shared toilets, no electricity only gaslight and burned wood in the fireplace.
My maternal grandparents, Francesco and Carmella (nee DiDuca) Rossi along with Maria and Angelina DiDuca Immigrated to Scotland from Italy around 1906 where they moved around a bit before finally settling in the Hamilton/Bellshill areas. Francesco and Carmella lived at no. 8 Lamb Street where my mother, Rosa was born in 1914 the youngest of four siblings. Carmella died just three years later and all four children were fostered by Angelina (aka Julia) and her husband Enrico Fusto (aka Harry).
Julia and Harry kept the DiDuca name for the children after marriage as it was supposedly a more prominent name back in Italy. The four children were Donato (aka) Donald, Angelina (aka) Lena, Gaetano (aka) Guy and Rosa (Rose). All attended St. Johns School where Guy was Dux of the school three years in a row but was passed over for a university scholarship in favour of the headmaster’s daughter. The children’s father returned to Italy where it is believed he remarried.
There is a little discrepancy as to where their shop actually was but it was either in Quarry Street or a little farther down on Castle Street. Not sure if they just sold ice cream or if it was also a grocers. They lived above the store but in 1924 the building was slated for demolition and they were housed temporarily in the Hamilton Palace but it turned out that they were to live at the Palace for seven years. It was a very hard time for them and the children would chop up the old window frames and make penny bundles of kindling to sell and would also sell the old lead pipes. Harry tried very hard to keep the business going and would make the ice cream in the old palace kitchens by night and then load up his barrow, rain or shine and take it to the same spot in the park (palace grounds?) he did this for years.
Julia spent her last years at 18 Grammar School Square with Lena and her daughter Celia until she died in 1954. Lena and Celia emigrated to Canada in 1956 and Lena lived to the grand old age of 102. She died in 2014. Donald moved to Glasgow where he opened a fish and chip restaurant, before moving on to Ayr still continuing on in the restaurant business.
Guy worked for many years around the Hamilton/Glasgow areas before opening his first fish and chip business in Edinburgh after which he moved to Johnstone and opened a general store. It was around this time that the family decided to change their surname for Rossi to Ross. Because of the prejudice still held by some in Scotland against the Italians, it was very difficult to get a business license when you had an Italian name but after the name change, all was well. Later he opened two more successful businesses in Glasgow before emigrating to California in the early 1970s where he opened a coffee shop in Beverly Hills. He later retired and stayed in California until he died in 2000.
My mother Rose married Richard Allan a miner’s son who came from Larkhall. After the war, he worked the rest if his life at the Clyde Iron Works. We, my brother Rikky and myself (Anne) along with my mum and dad lived at 11 Morgan Street in the old tenements until they were condemned and torn down which I believe was around 1959.
My father died early from cancer at the age of 58 after which my mother emigrated to Canada to be with her sister and also spent a lot of time with brother Guy in California, she died at age 90 in 2005.
I would love to see any photos of these particular tenements in Morgan Street if anyone has any, and if any of the many kids that lived there remember either Rikky or myself I would love to hear from you. Rikky now lives in England and I am in Canada.
My mother and her three siblings were cousins to your “White Knight” story that you previously wrote about, Peter Coia and his three brothers. His mother Maria was a sister to my Nonna and she and her husband Augustino Coia settled in Bellshill also in the ice cream/restaurant business of course!
As well as the Cross Cafe in Quarry Street Peter opened a fish and chip shop next door and also had a billiard hall. Peter was an international table tennis champion and sports promoter and was president of the Ice Cream Assoc. of Britain and Ireland. A very benevolent man he opened the Hamilton Cross Club and worked tirelessly for the men and women of the armed forces. Sadly, he was killed in an aeroplane crash on his return from London in 1950. His son Peter also ran a business in Hamilton, can’t remember where but I’m sure Ice Cream came into it somewhere.
Anne, thank you for telling us about your family’s time in Hamilton, I did some further research to see what I could find for you and I started with the 1911 census where I found your Grandparents living in Stonehouse. They were living at 42 King Street and your grandfather Francesco was working as an Ice Cream Vendor. Your grandmother Carmella and their son Donato was also living here.
You had mentioned that Francesco went back home to Italy after Carmella had died, however, I could not find any evidence of this. I found a Francesco Rossi leaving the UK at Southampton onboard a ship called the New York on the 2nd of August 1913 and the age seems to be correct, but I can’t confirm if this is the same person as your Grandfather.
I also had a look to see where the family shop was and I can confirm that I managed to find where it was located. The family shop wasn’t on Castle Street, but you were close enough. The family shop was actually situated right at the start of Quarry Street and the address for the shop was 9 Quarry Street. The family’s address from c1915 until they were evicted was 1 Quarry Street, so they lived right on the Bottom Cross.
I have one picture that shows a part of the building before it was demolished. If you look at this picture of the Bottom Cross you will see to the right the start of the old building. After the demolition of these old houses, a Burtons department store was built on the same spot.
Anne, I would like to thank you for sharing your story of your Italian family and also for sending us these fantastic pictures. These will now be documented and stored on Historic Hamilton for years to come.