Little Italy alive and well in Clerkenwell

One of the great things about being based in Clerkenwell is its character. This area, just north of the City of London, is a maze of back streets and alleyways. In fact, Clerkenwell is the backdrop for Fagin’s gang of pickpockets in the book Oliver Twist as Charles Dickens knew the area well.

A decade or two after the publication of Oliver Twist, Clerkenwell became a centre of London’s Italian population, acquiring the nickname “Little Italy” somewhere along the line. This community has now largely dispersed, although I’m glad to say that a good number of Italian restaurants and the odd deli survive.

Another remnant is St Peter’s Italian Church which stands at the centre of what was Little Italy, just a few streets away from our office.

Hundreds of people still flock every year for an annual parade which has been held since the late nineteenth century to honour Our Lady of Mount Carmel. It is supposed to be the first outdoor Roman Catholic event that had been allowed in London since the Reformation.

What is without doubt is that this procession is spectacular, bringing a small slice of Italian street-life to London every July. Banners and statues are carried down the street, mingling with floats decorated to illustrate biblical and other scenes.

(Pictures © Alan Denney. For more images of the parade and a fascinating chronicle of ordinary Londoners over the last few decades, see Alan’s Flickr).

Perhaps predictably, the streets are not only filled with religous icons but also with aromas from the outdoor kitchens and food stalls that also spring up. You can get a metaphorical taste of the day from the pictures at the Italian Church website.

It’s easy to forget the influence of other cultures and nationalities on our city, and how many hidden gems such as this parade they contribute. I feel we’re lucky to live in a city that celebrates different cultures. London has been described as “the multicultural centre of Europe”, with over 7 million inhabitants speaking 300 distinct languages. We are renowned for our multiculturalism, and that is something we should be proud of.