Leith's Little Italy

We have always associated the `Italian Connection` as being proprietors of the local chippy or ice cream, never giving thought they were as much Leithers as ourselves.  Here I wish to put things right

Italian families began to settle in Scotland from as far back as the late 19th Century.  In that time their descendants integrated into Leith, adopting the language and the brogue that went along with it.

Maybe not `Mcs or Macs` but Leithers nevertheless.

Here I am hoping some of these descendants can lets us know of their families` beginnings; where they came from, when and how they integrated.

Frank Ferri   (frankmae@blueyonder.co.uk)

The Italians integrated very well into the Leith community as early as the 1800s. My family were one of the few not in business; my grandfather had a business but died when my father was only 10 years old leaving my grandmother, who spoke poor English, with three sons and five daughters

She was briefly interned at the beginning of the war but released under license. They came from the mountain village of Picinisco, province of Frozinone about 30 miles south of Montecasino.

Connie Newman nee Lanni (connie.newman@virgin.net)

Alessandro Lanni (known as Andrew) was born 1st November 1896 in the village of San Antonino, near Montecassino.  He arrived in the UK with his parents in 1908, when the family settled in Middlesbrough in the ice cream business. 

He served with the East Yorks Regiment in the First World War; was demobbed in 1919 and married my mother Benedetta Coia (from another local Italian family) in December 1922.  Two children were born to them, the first, a boy, died after 3 days.

My father came to Scotland in March 1934, staying overnight with his cousin Angelo Lannie in Henderson Street, before moving in with the Scappaticci family in Wellington Place while he looked for a shop of his own. 

He moved in July to his first shop at 51 Ferry Road and was joined then by my mother & sister Toni, where they lived in a flat next to the shop at 47 Ferry Road.  I was born there in 1935.

My father was interned on the Isle of Man in 1940, after Italy entered the war.  My mother was not, as she had actually been born in Glasgow!  We moved back down south to stay near relations there.  Because of my father's 1st World War service, he was not at the camp for long and was allowed out to join the army again.

We all arrived back in Leith as a family in 1945, and because our flat had been damaged by the bomb in Largo Place, we moved to another shop at 6 Anchorfield & a flat in Lindsay Road. 

We remained there until his death (in the shop) of a heart attack in June 1974.  We were all very happy in these years, making many friends in the neighbourhood.

My grandmother came to this country in 1883 aged 14 and died in 1965, right up to that day she spoke very little English and sadly I never learned to speak much Italian because of her poor education and inability to translate.

As a youngster, I never really thought of myself as being Italian, my father having married my mother Mary Jones a Scot. But somehow or other I knew I was different, maybe because of my colouring and the fact my grandmother spoke with an unusual accent.but became a little more aware especially when Italy entered the war on the wrong side in 1941 and Italian businesses were being attacked and the odd neighbour in a fit of pique would make some snide remark, but largely it went over my head.

It wasn’t until my teens, early 20s that I became fully aware when in conversation with friends or acquaintances when maybe expressing something Scottish that I’d get the odd jibe of “What do you know?.. Wie a name like FERRI, your no Scottish”…. so I’d change tack and play the Italian card, then it wiz….. “Your No Italian!.. Yie wir boarn here, so how kin yie say yir Italian”

Being in a no win situation displeased me enormously, I was being robbed of any real identity or heritage, so I said.. Sod it!.... I’m Italian and a Leith one…. Anyway I’m happy now to be fortunate enough to be able claim to two rich heritages. I’ve done a lot of research on this and have learned that because my paternal grandparents were not naturalized, I can claim Italian nationality, so I’m now registered in Italy as an Italian National of dual nationality and can get an Italian passport if I wish, but at my age, I’m not going to bother, although my youngest brother Terry has gone the whole hog, but then he vacations in Sorrento every year. 

Sadly Italians in Leith and the city for that matter are no longer as well represented as they used to be; times have changed.  The early arrivals in the late 1800s worked hard to establish businesses, passing it on to their children and some of those in turn became more successful and able to better educate their kids.   The result being, that generation were not interested in maintaining the family traditional business, but many going to university and going into the professions.

There are some exceptions though who are big business in the city namely the Crolla family, who still continue to flourish.

Italian Expression


You may have heard this word in movies particularly the ones relating to the Mafia, but it has no sinister meaning at all.

In small Italian village communities, it roughly means: Family … not in the sense that you’re related through blood, but almost as close that. They may make the comment when meeting each other or when referring to you as a close friend; it’s used more loosely these days…. Old Leithers in communities like Ballantyne or Corporation buildings etc, perhaps was our nearest equivalent to that environment, very loosely speaking of course

John Scappaticci

Now in Saskatoon, Canada since 1967.  My mother`s family were true Leither, Glancys and Gardiners.  My dad`s sides were newcomers who came from Italy in 1891 and stayed the rest of their days there.

We moved to Montgomery Street in 1941.  I grew up there and went to Holy Cross.  Served my time in Robbs, so forever Leith will be part of my life..        Have been promised info.

Eduardo Paolozzi

World famous artist and sculptor. To my mind, probably to date, Leith`s most famous son where he was born in 1924.

Came from the same family village as mine.  Picinisco, province of Frozinone about 30 miles south of Montecasino.

For a while, some of his massive sculptures were on view at the top o the Walk outside St Mary's Cathedral.                                                                                                                                                                                 Frank Ferri

* If you would like to add your family to here, then I would only too pleased to do so.  A photo or two would be appreciated.      John Stewart, Webmaster

Alessandro Lanni & his fiance Benedetta Coia 1917
The Wedding, December 1922  
Alessandro Lanni before his Marriage
Dad after he joined up in 1940                     Mum & Dad with their 2 daughters, 2 sons-in-law & grandchildren taken in 1969.                                                                   There was to be another grandson (my 4th son) later, but Dad never saw him.


Added by  Liz Torres (Russell) Florida  pirnifield@yahoo.com
Re the Italian connection - I am not claiming any but I would like to say thank you to them. My dad Johnnie Russell grew up in Lochend. The story goes that my grandad Malcolm Russell was a real "B---d+ (I never met him), a drunk and an abuser and use to beat the crap out of my dad, his sisters and mother. (He did end up in the Grassmarket an alcoholic).

Anyway a family from Italy the Marinello's (Yes the great-grandson Peter played Fitba) took my dad under their wing - Peter the son and Theresa the daughter (whom I did meet many times, Peter had a bar somewhere near Bellevue School I think) sheltered, fed and clothed my dad, even though they didn't have too much themselves.

He said if it wasn't for Mrs. Marinello and her family he probably would not have survived. So I would like to thank them for giving such unconditional love and support to my dad or I might not have been born as my dad had four kids, has six grandkids and twelve great-grandkids. So if anyone knows the Marinello's say Hi and thanks from the descendants of Johnnie Russell.
Joe De Ponio

Added by John Stewart  (livvyboy32@hotmail.co.uk)
Joe had his Fish and Chip Shop in Henderson Street just around the corner from Giles Street next door to Jack Haynes, the bicycle dealer.  This was my family`s local chippy.  I was only 5 at the beginning of the War when Joe was interned.

I then remembered Lizzie Mazzaro kept the shop going for the duration.  He bought the shop from the Mazzarros  Joe`s wife would sometimes be in attendance.  I don`t think she was of Italian extract.  LIzzie`s own sisters kept going their own father`s business of that name on the Shore.

Later Joe took over again after being released from internment.  He was a comparitive young man in my mind`s eye.  In fact, he reminded me of Robert Young, the American film actor.  He always had a smile for everybody.


Pacitto - Bonnington Road (North)

Added by Alec Wallace, Canada. alexnpat@gmail.com
I remember the Pacitto family well; their Ice Cream Shop had the most pleasant aroma of all of Leiths Ice Cream shops. Why was it that they all had that most enticing aroma?

To the teenagers from Burlington St. it was the main source of Sunday night entertainment; we would scrape up enough to buy one coke and share it, usualy 6 guys and gals in one booth.

They had three beautiful daughters Lena, Rita & Mary.  I did so much want to marry Mary after I grew up. Sorry I have no ITALIAN connections,but I wish I had.  They are wonderfully Exuberent and Friendly. .

Lanny - Henderson Street

Added by John Stewart
I always remember, to my shame I may say, when Mr Lannie`s shop was attacked by a crowd of youths and ransacked at the beginning of the War when Mussolini sided with the Germans.

I must have been six years old when I witnessed this.  Next thing I recall clearly was when a box of chocolates was shoved into my hands by a lad whose name I remember to this day.

As I grew older, I really got to know how unfair this must have been, for Mr and Mrs Lannie and their daughters,Bernadette, Lucia, Theresa and son Julio proved to be true Leithers who were well loved and respected.

Gallo - Bangor Road/Great Junction Street

Added by John Stewart
In 1941, Leith Hospital ran its weekly Thursday night Decontamination Exercise in preparation of a gas attack.  They recruited eight boys from the Corporation Buildings as guinea pig victims, myself among them.

After this was completed, we all trooped over to Gallos at the top of Bangor Road for our supper.  This was plates of hot peas and vinegar.

We sat in the rear of the shop feeling as fresh as daisies after our complete cleansing and supping away at our delicacy.  This was bought by the money given us for our wartime effort.by the doctors and attendants.

Mazzarro - The Shore

Added by George McGill, Leith
Lizzie ran it with three sisters Jetna, Minnie and Rosie.  Mrs Mazzaro, pure white hair,with large comb on the back was always wearing a blue shawl.  Mr Mazzaro wa a little portly man with his round headgear,
Angelosanto - Portland Place

Galletta - Barber Shop, Henderson Street

Added by John Stewart
Although my haircutting was done by Tam Tait in Bonnington Road, I used to go with some of my pals to wait for them getting theirs done here.  This was just after the War.  Fred Galletta ran it then before he handed over to his son Joe to keep the business going..  Joe was another cheerful guy who passed the time blethering away to us..


"To all the souls of the Italians lost by the sinking of the SS Arandora Star "on this day July 2nd 1940. You are not forgotten....
"Che Dio Benedica Tutti voi"
Frank Ferri
Belmonte, Gaetano; Cinorelli,Geovianni; Coppla, Phil; Coppla,Paola; Coppla, Alfonso; Coppla, Donata; DeMarco, Lorenzo
Delicanto, Carmine; Gallo, Emiio;  Innotta, Ferdinando; Meile, Natalino; Pacitti, Gaetano; Paolozzi, Alfonso Rodolfo;
Pelosi, Paul;  Revella, Luigi;Petiglio, Carlo; Rinaldi, Geovanne; Rossi, Emilio;  Rossi, Pietro; Tedesco, Raffaele; Valente, Adolfo

The above were members of the Edinburgh and Leith Italian Community who were among those who perished that day when the ship SS Arandora Star that was carrying them to internment in Canada was sunk by a German U-Boat.  Coincidentally, the same one that sank HMS Royal Oak in Scapa Flow in 1939 with the loss of  833 men and boys.

Pompeo:  Billiard Hall at Coalhill

Added by Peter Sellar, Mississauga, Ontario.
We used to collect the beeries and play there. Pompey was a heavy set guy and he had a bouncer called Ben, short for Benito I believe and he was a big guy who kept a weather eye on the players and if anyone tried to bump the table he was out the door in a flash. It cost 3d an hour to play.

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Amusing Anecdotes

From Connie:                                                                   Ricotta Cheese

Thinking of things Italian Mamas made. My all time favourite was Ricotta cheese! Mum made her own & it was to die for!
She would buy more milk than we needed & let some of it go 'off'.. Milk doesn't seem to go off these days with all the treatments it gets.

Anyway, she would then boil this up with good milk until it separated & 'curdled', then pour it into a large muslin bag, draw it all together (a bit like clootie dumpling!) tie it at the neck & suspend it from a hook in the kitchen window frame with the bowl underneath on the window sill to catch the whey.

There it would be left to drip for a few hours until quite dry. The resultant cheese was then put into a clean bowl - absolutely wonderful. Nothing like the stuff you get in supermarkets today. When I got in from school, my eyes would go straight to the window. If the bowl was there. I would get a couple of slices of nice fresh crusty bread, spread liberally with the ricotta and (the icing on the cake for me) a dollop of lemon curd on top! I can taste it now


Salvona.                         Have been promised info

Valente: Ice cream Shop in Duke Street                   

Added by George McGill, Leith
Owned by NIcholas Valente.  His father Adolfo Valente went down with the Arandora Star.  His mother was Francesco Scappatici. Nicholas had two sisters; Eva and Rena

De Felice:

Alberts: KIrkgate.

Added by George McGill, Leith
This was run by the Gallo brothers: Eric and Mario.  The father may have been Alberto.
Eric married Jetna Mazzaro while Eric`s wife was called Yolanda.

Marcantonio: Duke Street chip shop.

Added by George McGill, Leith
Ran by Armando.

Capaldi: Great Junction Street near Methvens Fish Shop

Added by George McGill, Leith
Ran by Toni.

Fascioni: Chip Shop, Bonnington Road

Added by George McGill, Leith.
Took over from Pacittos.  Cecilia ran it.

Crolla: Quality Street.Ice cream shop.

Added by George McGill, Leith
Ran by Mary.  She was the sister of Michael who ran the Deep Sea top of Leith Walk after his father Giovanni the founder..  Had a daughter Preziona.

Minchella:  Ice cream shop near Alhambra.

Added by George McGill, Leith
Ran by Constance.  Her sister ran the De Vito Chip shop in Quality Street.


De Vito: Chip shop in Quality Street.

Added by George McGill, Leith.
Mrs Nino, her sons Mario and Nino.


Rocchio:  Ice cream shop in Kirkgate near Gaiety

Added by George McGill, Leith.
Ran by Michael and his wife Mary.


Malcolm Chisholm, Member of the Scottish Parliament for Leith

One of  the great attractions of Leith now as in the past is the great diversity of its population. Here we can see the rich contribution that many  Italians have made to the life of Leith and of  Scotland .  There are already many memories and stories from  Leithers  here and round the world and I expect there will be many more in the weeks to come. Congratulations once again to John .

Michaels (Iannarelli family)    Ice cream shop in Tolbooth Wynd

"Mr Michael Iannarelli, the cheery proprietor of Michael's Cafe in Tolbooth Wynd, near the old Kirkgate, died on Sunday, aged 86.
Mr Iannarelli, of 7 Links Gardens, Leith will be remembered by earlier generations as the driver of the horse-drawn ice cream cart which made the rounds of Leith before the arrival of the ice cream van.

Mr Iannarelli left his native Montaquila, in the province of Isernia when he was 11.  A few years later he returned home to marry Louisa, then 15-yars-old.  The couple were following the Italian custom of marrying young.

Shortly after returning to Leith, Michael and Louisa established a successful ice cream business, and eventually opened a cafe.  They worked together in the cafe for many years and the customers were saddened at the death of Louisa two years ago.
The couple were well respected in Leith, and regarded by all as Leithers.  Every year, Michael would drive his ice cream cart in the Leith Pageant, donating to hospital funds all the day's proceeds."