Italian Community

Bedford > Multicultural

Arrival of the Italian Community

Up to 1951 the immigrant population of Bedford had been quite small and consisted mainly of Polish people and East Europeans.

After 1951 there was a general immigration of Italians into the town. They were employed by the London Brick Company who launched bulk recruitment schemes to entice Southern Italian workers to come to Bedford.

The post war building boom had created a shortage of labour in the Bedford brickworks industry. Post war conditions were extremely difficult in Italy and unemployment was high making the offer of work in England very attractive.

"Italians and Bedfordians alike were equally unsure, even alarmed, by the whole thing; everyone was apprehensive - except the managers of the great brickworks, who knew just what they were doing and why" (New Society, 2nd April, 1964).

When they first arrived the Italian workers were placed in hostels, some of which were former POW camps. When they could afford it they moved into shared accommodation instead and Midland Road (a popular area) became known as 'Little Italy'.

The workers were engaged for a period of four years and were permitted to send for their families if they obtained an employer's certificate of satisfactory conduct and a certificate from a landlord wiling to accommodate the family. After the period of four years had expired the workers were at liberty to stay on at the brickworks seek employment elsewhere or return to Italy.

During the 1950's he Bedfordshire Times gave a great deal' of attention to "the Italian question" particularly in matters regarding overcrowding by unscrupulous landlords, language difficulties, the difference in cultures and disagreements between the brick company and Bedford Council regarding the number of workers they were allowed to employ.

As well as the brickworks many Italian women found employment in the town and a large employer was the Chocolate Tobler Meltis factory and Texas Instruments.

An Italian Vice Consulate was opened in the town in 1954 to look after the needs of the Italian settlers.

Further reading:

Arrival of the Italian Community by Bedfordshire Libraries, 2005

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