Among the entertainers and the market workers were recent arrivals from Italy who, according to one source, formed the largest part of the Smithfield Market labour force, and the majority of the city’s street sellers and hawkers.59 Mainly motivated by sheer poverty, thousands of Italians left their rural villages between 1865-1900 and large numbers came to Manchester, many of them settling in the old mill workers’ cottages close to the Catholic churches in Ancoats, part of which would become known as Little Italy. Nearly one in every three of the Italian immigrants was a musician.60

Little Italy would become ‘well known for its entertainers and especially its street musicians’ and

‘During the summer nights in and around Little Italy, one could hear accordions, tambourines, and even the occasional mandolin, well into the small hours of the morning. Men and women danced the Tarantella, a dance full of expression, very popular in the southern regions of Italy’. (‘Ancoats, Little Italy’ by Anthony Rea)

During the day the music most commonly heard in the streets came from the barrel organs that were made by Italians in Ancoats. The operators ‘would walk the streets of Manchester and surrounding districts playing their barrel organs and hurdy gurdies, some with monkeys in red waistcoats and hats, and a few with dancing bears’. The makers of the barrel organs were Domenico Antonelli who had his organ factory in Great Ancoats Street, and Simon Robino, a craftsman and musician who ‘studied at the Marseilles College of Music and, though none but his family knew, he was a composer, too. Every day his waltzes were heard in the streets of Britain. But he never sought to have them published’.

Figure 10 – Marco Rea, grandfather of Anthony Rea, author of ‘Ancoats, Little Italy’, and Marco’s brother Antonio, with an Antonelli barrel organ, 1909 (Courtesy Anthony Rea)

Italian musicians and singers would perform in the pubs and coffee houses of the area. Into the 20th century, the famous Italian name of Mancini would become associated with music in the George & Dragon. The great Rudi Mancini, the finest accordionist to come out of Little Italy’ and his brother Albert, also a talented musician, both were resident players at the George & Dragon in the late 1930s when the pub became known as the Band on the Wall.

Much of the above information on the Italian community is from the excellent website, ‘Manchester’s Ancoats, Little Italy’ by Anthony Rea.

59Manchester UK – 19th Century Life in Manchester in Victorian Times

601881 Census, quoted by Anthony Rea in ‘Manchester’s Ancoats, Little Italy’