London’s Little Italy

Little Italy in London is located in Clerkenwell.  This part of the city has a link with Italy that spans at least two centuries, since the very first immigrants came to city to make a new life. This area was once known as the Italian Quarter and even Italian Hill, and the area is defined by the roads of Roseberry Avenue, Farringdon Road and Clerkenwell Road at its perimeter. This is a part of the city that once went by the name of Saffron Hill, and was the place where many Italian immigrants made their homes. The influx of Italian workers were welcomed by the authorities as they brought a new lease of life to the area, forcing out all of the pickpockets and ne’er-do-wells that once called this part of the city their home, totally changing the way that the place operated.

Photo by Alan Denney
Photo by Alan Denney

The Italian Influence

St Peter’s Church was the idea of a Roman Catholic Priest, St Vincent Pallotti, his ideas were brought to life by Sir John Miller-Bryson, an Irish architect who, influenced by the Basilica of San Crisogono in Rome, worked to create the Church of St Peter in Little Italy in 1863. The church is now a preserved listed building and is well worth a visit, as you will not come across another church of its style anywhere in England.

By 1895 it was estimated that there were around 12,000 Italians living in London, the majority of which had made their home in little Italy, with a further settlement beginning to form in London’s Soho district. Soho attracted the artisans, the jewellers and watchmakers, the tailors and creative types. The area of Saffron Hill and the Italian Quarter in Soho were even mentioned in a Sherlock Holmes story, showing just how important the areas were in the way that London was developing as a city. Though Conan Doyle made the Italians in the story less than trustworthy and rather shady characters, the general population held the belief that the Italian workers that lived within the city were industrious and generally well respected.

Little Italy Events

The annual Procession of our Lady of Mount Carmel takes place every July, on the first Sunday after the 16th of the month. When the procession first took place it was believed to be the first time that there had been an open display of the catholic faith since the times of Henry VIII and the reformation, the parade still continues with numerous brightly coloured floats. Today the church continues to be the main focal point of the community, especially at Christmas and other religious festivals.

In close proximity to St Peter’s Church there are number of traditional Italian eateries, some of which have been in existence here for well over a century, and of course some wonderful coffee shops where you can get a true taste of Italy in the heart of England. There is even a specialist Italian driving school here and of course an outlet where you can buy your very own iconic Vespa scooter.

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