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I am going to eat here in the King's Café on Elmbank street once I have finished here in the Mitchell Library in Glasgow, Scotland. An Italian cafe


Scots-Italians can trace their history back to the mass migrations of the late 1800s when they fled famine, corruption, a crippling economy and the disastrous agricultural condition of their homeland in order to find a better life in Scotland and generate income to support their families.

Most of the immigration was from six key areas: Tuscany (mainly from he Province of Lucca - especially Barga and Garfagnana); Lazio (mainly from the Province of Frosinone - especially Picinisco); Molise (mainly from the Province of Isernia); Ligure (mainly from the Province of La Spezia); Campania (mainly post war period); Valdotaro and Borgotaro (mainly from the Province of Parma).

The first settlers were mostly statue sellers who had come up from London. Fresh off the boat they would sell their wares in the ports (anything from humble statuettes to blocks of ice.) Many remained in the port cities of Glasgow, Greenock and Edinburgh, opening shops and serving dairy ice cream to the working classes of Garnethill, Paisley and the Grassmarket. In the beginning this was served direct from the barrows with shouts of "Gelati, ecco un poco". Consequently they became known as the 'Hokey Pokey' boys.

The majority soon diversified. With dairy produce and seafood in abundance it wasn't long before ice cream-serving Fish 'n Chip shops began to sprout. These expanded into cafes, with full meals, confectionery and cigarettes added to the menu. Italian cafes subsequently sprang up all over Scotland. Police records show the number of cafes in Glasgow alone had doubled by 1904 with 336 ice cream shops open by 1905.

Once the cafe's were fully operational, it was expected that all family members chip in. The head of the business would commonly recruit young Italians, often from the home village. These Italians in turn would eventually start their own businesses in time. In the households Italian was spoken, Italian food was the staple diet with all the family dining together. Religious festivals were observed. Long anti-social hours meant little contact with people from outside the Italian community.

It wasn't until the First World War that a sizeable Italian community - over 4,000 - began to emerge in Scotland with Glasgow housing the third largest community in Great Britain. Soon, the Italians diffused across the whole of Scotland rather than focus on any particular area.

Their cafes became focal points and, especially for the younger generation, an alternative to the pubs. Unlike their English counterparts they also traded on Sundays. Cafes did not sell alcohol and gained the sympathy of the Temperance Movement

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