Reading's 'Little Italy': Childhood, chores and challenges

Once settled in Reading, many Italians had their own families. This second generation was largely brought up in the same regional, localised way that characterised their parents’ childhood. However, this upbringing separated them from Reading’s non-Italian community.

Italians in the back garden of their home in De Beauvoir Road, Reading, 1960s.

Everyone in the household had their own roles. Girls learnt to cook, clean and look after a household properly. Boys typically had more freedom than girls and occasionally helped their father with household DIY. This restrictive family environment caused some British-born Italians to misbehave.


We were naughty, but that was the only way we could have some sort of normality.

- Mena and Giulio A6841C61-ACD8-4C22-BA6A-1DA1EACB60AA

From home, to school

Schooling brought more challenges for British-born Italians. Many remember not being able to speak English on their first day of nursery.

This made the experience very isolating as it was difficult to understand what others were saying. As they learnt English, some developed an accent which other children picked on. Others were told to go back to their own country, something which Mena and Giulio remember vividly. (hyperlink to their audio clip on the Voices page)


There was a teacher who took a dislike to me and she would make fun of my mum’s accent.


- Giulio (second-generation Italian) A6841C61-ACD8-4C22-BA6A-1DA1EACB60AA

As most first-generation Italians could not read or write in Italian, let alone English, they could not help their children when they struggled with school. Instead, siblings helped each other with homework.


There was nobody to help us with our schooling [...] our parents were here to make money and work.

- Mena A6841C61-ACD8-4C22-BA6A-1DA1EACB60AA

The perception of education

Most historians of migration, and the public alike, have highlighted that migration is typically associated with upward intergenerational social mobility. However, for Italians living in Reading, social mobility was not a given. As hard work rather than education was seen as the route to success, few second-generation Italians studied at sixth form or university.


Your duty was to get married and start a family, it was not get a career, go on holiday or do things that you want to do. So, in a way, I do feel I have missed out on part of my life [...] I could have had some girly holidays, explored a bit, gone to university [...] but that was not the done thing.


- Teresa (second-generation Italian) A6841C61-ACD8-4C22-BA6A-1DA1EACB60AA

Although Teresa now has a successful career, she did not have the education or youth she wished for. While the first-generation of Italians found it difficult to explore the opportunities the British education system offered, the system itself did not have any integrative or supportive mechanisms for these children. Teresa has ensured her children do not experience the same.

Teresa’s daughter graduating from university in 2021.

In addition to normal schooling, British-born Italians were also expected to go to Italian school. These were held every Saturday in Caversham, then later at Maiden Erlegh School. It was important that they speak standardised ‘proper’ Italian rather than their parents’ regional dialects. Migrants left Italy as Southerners but their families would become Italians in Reading.

Below, Ciriaco reminisces on how he was taught Italian in his Italian school.

However, not all children appreciated Italian school.


I used to hate it because, on a Saturday morning, the last thing you want to do after going to school all week is go to Italian school!

- Giulio A6841C61-ACD8-4C22-BA6A-1DA1EACB60AA

Family holidays for British-born Italians

Aside from schooling, British-born Italians also had very different holidays to their friends.

Looking back, many British-born Italians remember only ever going on ‘holiday’ to Italy to see family. Even though they were visiting, during these vacations these Italians were often expected to help out on their family’s farm.

While Teresa loved visiting her nonno in Italy, she experienced more boundaries there during her limited leisure time, such as chaperones.

The changing face of childhood

This localised, village upbringing which characterised the childhood of many second-generations has disappeared. British-born Italian children are now encouraged to go to university, explore new places and enjoy their youth in ways their parents could not. Their upbringing is influenced by the ever-changing British and Italian culture which surrounds them.

Italian migration Britain is not just a story of assimilation: it is also a story of movement. British-born Italians move between the two worlds, Britain and Italy, which they have created and brought together.