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The Italians in Merthyr Tydfil


The story of modern Italian immigration began with a tide of economic migrants in the 19th century. The majority coming from the mountain villages of the North, often as seasonal workers walking overland to French ports. Gradually more stayed and either saved enough to bring their families here or married local women and started families here. They encouraged other family members and friends from their villages to join them in a classic pattern of chain migration. The 20th century saw another wave of immigration, predominantly from the South of Italy and Sicily. A significant number passed through London and branched out to establish communities in South Wales.

Charlie Speroni wrote that leaving the family farm and vineyards in Italy was a major upheaval. As a child in 1927 he arrived in Wales unable to speak a word of English but he was made to feel very welcome. As well as attending school he was expected to work in the family business. During the depression the family rented a fish and chip shop in Penydarren and Charlie was in full time employment working on the chip carts in the winter and the ice cream carts in the summer months. He worked in London for a few years but always returned to Merthyr. Charlie never returned again to Italy and said that ‘The sky may not be so blue in Wales, but the friendliness of its people make it home.’

Speroni's Ice Cream Cart

Tom Protheroe standing with Mr. Speroni's Ice Cream cart.


The Galleozzie family are a Merthyr family! They have been living in Merthyr Tydfil for over 130 years, since Luigi moved here in the 1870s. Martyn Galleozzie, a former Welsh ABA featherweight champion in the 1970s was definitely Welsh.

Dominico Basagelao

Dominico Basagelao arrived in South Wales in the early 1860s and finding himself in Pantywaun on a snowy winter’s evening he took lodgings with Mr and Mrs Thomas of the Royal Arms Public House. He found work in as a colliery in the South Tunnel Drift Mine. Although a poor Italian and a stranger, he married into the rich Jones (Ceffyl Gwyn) family who were Welsh speaking chapel people.  John Martin Basagelao born in 1868 became a wealthy man. He was the landlord of the Tredegar Arms and the former Red Lion public houses at Dowlais Top. 

At the start of World War II Italian nationals were interned as enemy aliens, which many felt to be extremely harsh treatment as they themselves were fiercely  anti-Fascist. Just prior to the Second World War a number of Italian residents in the Borough decided that the time had come to make important decisions and a number made the big step of applying for and achieving British citizenship. Among their number was Giovanni  Bracch from Troedyrhiw, Giovanni  and  Giuseppe Opel from Treharris and lastly Cesare  Cordani, Merthyr Tydfil  in April 1940.

From the 1880s the Berni family had a café in Pontmorlais, and then John Berni  had a temperance bar and high class confectionery at 91 High Street.

The Berni Brothers' Berni Inn - 13 Pontmorlais

(From the Merthyr Express)

Mr Barsi  was at one time an electric tram driver but later he ran a fish and chip shop in Penydarren. He was thankfully not interned during the Second World War, having served his adopted country well during the First in the Welsh Regiment.

Mr Barsi in his fish and chip shop at Matthias Terrace, Penydarren

The Provini's came to Cefn Coed from Tredegar and kept the Corner Cafe for many years,there was the Provini fish-bar in Georgetown and they also kept the Wellington in Bethesda Street. Frank and Tony Viazzani  in the Station Café, John Street  were the ticket agents for all  local boxing tournaments and the  walls of the café are  still decorated  by many boxing photographs of Howard Winstone.



Merthyr's Italian Cafes


Inside an unknown Merthyr Italian Cafe.

Lyndon Howells husband of of Anna Provini (of the Corner Cafe, Cefn Coed) emailed us to tell us this photograph

is actually of the Park Cafe in Tredegar, kept by Anna's family from the 1930s to the late 1950s.

  The Express Cafe, Pontmorlais.   The Park Cafe, Pontmorlais.  




Dimambro's Fish and Chip Shop, Pontmorlais


The Central Cafe, High Street.

(Now Hing Hong)





  The Queen's Cafe, High Street.   Zanelli's Cafe, High Street.  


  Berni's Temperance Bar, 91, High Street.   The Arcade Cafe, High Street.  



Giovanni  (John) Alfieri Standing on the right in the back row of this photograph, came to Wales in 1949.  The men in this photo worked

for a Penydarren building firm called JC Jones. Probably based somewhere near the Norton pub, off Penydarren High Street. Shortly

after this photo was taken,  he became a carpenter at St Tydfil’s Hospital, where he worked for more than 25 years.

(Photograph courtesy of Alma Saxton (Nee Alfieri))


Mrs Anna Alfieri cooking Fish & Chips in the front room Chip Shop

at No.1 Hodges Street. 1950s

Note the Gaslight, handy during electricity power cuts.

(Photograph courtesy of Alma Saxton (Nee Alfieri))


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