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From Ancoats’ ‘Little Italy’ to Market Street: 180 Years of Ice Cream in Manchester
The city is even credited as being where the ice cream cone was Invented!
Take a walk down Market Street today and you’ll notice many, many things. Although the COVID-
It’s certainly never the most pleasant of walks, but it’s mostly a necessary evil – unless you can duck down one of the side streets and make your way to the other side of town that way of course.
On your walk down Market Street though, you’ll most likely have noticed that little Ice Cream kiosk outside Tesco and further down, another little Pizza kiosk outside Boots.
They’re both part of the Scappaticci family, who have been serving scoops of ice cream for over 100 years, and are part of an expansive 180 year history of the city.
All those many years ago, in the early 19th Century, many Italians emigrated to Manchester and settled in the area around Ancoats, mainly due to poverty and political instability back at home.
You see, Italy in the 19th Century was undergoing a consolidation of states into one single country – the Kingdom of Italy. Throughout the 1820s and 30s there were many large rebellions and insurrections, and in 1848 – a series of revolutions resulted in Rome becoming the capital of the newly formed country in 1871.
With all of this political and social upheaval, many Italians fled the violence and wars, with around 500 Italians settling in Ancoats, which would later rise to around 2,000 by the beginning of the 20th Century.
The area quickly became known as ‘Little Italy’ and it was here that ice cream changed the lives of Mancunians forever.
With a new ice room having opened up at Mary Jozeph’s Fruit and Italian Warehouse on Market Street, the city had already been exposed to the wonderful new food early in 1801, but it wasn’t until a warehouse opened on Blossom Street that it all really kicked off.
Used to house fruits, vegetables and fish, the warehouse also featured an adjoining icemaking factory – keeping things chilled and fresh, and it was here that savvy Italians made great use of the surplus ice.
Ancoats’ Fruit, Veg & Fish Warehouse // Len Grant
By the turn of the century, Manchester’s ‘Little Italy’ was home to around 70 Italians working as ice-
Louis Granelli with his daughters on Oldham Rd // Credit: Granelli Family
As you can imagine – this wasn’t very sanitary, and quickly ‘penny licks’ were being attributed to cases of typhoid and cholera in the area, and so health authorities threatened to ban the sale of ice cream in the city.
A major blow for the Italian families who relied solely on their delicious creations.
Luckily, one particular Italian vendor, a bloke called Antonio Valvona, who lived on Great Ancoats Street, well, he was also a biscuit maker as well as an ice cream maker and around the year 1901 – he invented the Ice Cream Cone! He patented his invention as an ‘Apparatus for Baking Biscuit Cups for Ice Cream‘ and that was it – nothing could stop ice cream now – it was unstoppable.
The Cornet. Invented in Ancoats!
By this point the ice cream was carried by horse and cart, bicycles and push carts, with vendors roaming the streets of the city, shouting their heads off to let people know that they’re outside. It was also common for ice cream vendors to head to the city’s markets, creating what was commonly known as ‘Sucker’s Alley’ every couple of days a week on Shudehill.
As the vendors shouted through the streets of Manchester, probably destroying their vocal chords in the process, some bright spark decided that instead of shouting – he should use a hand bell instead.
By the 1950’s, these ‘tunes’ became jolly musical ‘chimes’ and thus that excitement of hearing the ice cream van coming down the street was born.
Cabrelli & Son (or daughter?!) Credit: Cabrelli Family
What happened then?
Well, the Second World War happened, and Little Italy pretty much became a no-
Seen as a potential threat to national security, Italian-
Released Italian Internees in 1945 // Credit: Tony Rea
These internees were transported to camps around the country and throughout the Commonwealth, while those left behind in ‘Little Italy’ were subject to a strict curfew and were banned from holding public meetings.
It should be noted that many of the British-
Scappaticci’s Ice Cream Cart (and a happy customer)
But effectively ‘Little Italy’ and the city’s relationship with ice cream was gone for good. Ancoats remained derelict and empty for close to 30 years, before investment, new apartments and some seriously cool neighbourhood eateries turned up in the last decade.
So, next time you’re walking down Market Street and you spy Ben Scappattici’s – remember everything I’ve told you here today – and the 180 year history of ice cream in the city, and all of those Italian families whose livelihoods revolved around it.