Why does Bedford, a town with 100,000 people in the middle of England, often resemble a southern Italian city, such as Campobasso or Avellino?
At the end of the 1940s, the majority of Italian prisoners of war returned home, depriving the UK of a valuable workforce fundamental to post war reconstruction. The Italians were also appreciated for their hard-working attitude and their skills. Agreements were drawn up with the Italian government that brought tens of thousands of Italian workers to the coal mines, the textile and the rubber factories. However, the vast majority were assigned to the brickworks as enormous quantities of bricks were needed to rebuild the cities devastated by the bombings. Surrounded by its massive brickyards, the small town of Bedford alone received 7,500 Italians, into an area that had hardly hosted any foreigners in the past.
This phenomenon ended in the 1970s, and the Italian community in many industrial towns disappeared or became scattered throughout the UK. In Bedford, however, it had consolidated,, due to the constant arrival of friends and relatives. The birth then of a new Little Italy strengthened by that of the second generation. Thus, even today it has its Italian church, its clubs where the menfolk play briscola, its grocery shops where the Indian samosa are sold next to the Neapolitan friggitelli. Bedford is then perhaps the only town in the world where some of its inhabitants speak a perfect British English, but still call Midland Road “Via Roma” and think of themselves as “paesani”.