'Strange voices in the street', 1960
Catalogue reference: LAB 8/2201

Strange voices in the street
'Fine workers - but no more for us'


At first Bedford looks like any other up-to-date English town.
     Then you notice people calling to each other in the streets - in Italian. Or an olive-skinned housewife gesticulating at a market stall. Or dark eyes twinkling under black berets on the bus.
     One in 12 of Bedford's 60,000 people is Italian. They are lured by the rich employment of sprawling brickworks that lie a mile or so beyond Bedford's boundaries.
     Since 1951 they have been moving in with their wives, children - and momma and poppa, too.
     Now the town council has called a halt. No more Italians can find a home in the terraced streets where the Giovannis and Emmanuels have replaced the Joneses and the Smiths.
     By a unanimous vote the Conservative council has refused an application by the Marston Valley Brick Co. for permission to employ 200 more Italians.
     Manager Robert Miller said: "They are first-class workers. We simply can't get Englishmen to work in the brickfields. It's a difficult and hard job. And the Italians do it well."

     The council said simply: "We want no more foreigners."
     How do the foreigners differ from the English people of Bedford? To get an idea, see how they prepare for an Italian-style New Year.
     In Commercial-road's flavour-laden delicatessen, 31-year-old Nicola Vittorio mopped his brow amid the heaps of cheeses, the wicker-encased Chianti bottles and the stacked cases of spaghetti.
     He said: "We may be 2,000 miles from home - but our people are going to have an Italian New Year."
     Enthusiastically he told me of the Italian fare: "Already for Christmas we have had our traditional eels, our roast cockerel and our very special spaghetti. Now we prepare for the New Year.
     "Every family will have a gallon flagon of Chianti on their table - triumphant amid the nougat, the Motta cake and the cheeses."

     In a little schoolroom, grinning youngsters rehearsed a play under the eyes of Italian Sister Andrina Bosetti. They joked to one another in startling Bedfordshire accents. Then - hesitantly - spoke the Italian lines of their play.
     In a temporary chapel, Italian Father Alberto Vico studied plans for a new all-Italian church. He is one of three Italian priests in the town.
     On Sunday there will be sermons in English and Italian in the English Holy Jesus church.
     "But soon we will have our own church," said the priest.
     In a gay Italian club men sipped Chianti and played cards.
     The man who helped to close the door to more Italians explained his town's problem. Mayor Alderman Alan Randall told me:
     "I am proud of Bedford. And Bedford is proud of its Italians. They have made a valuable contribution to the welfare and prosperity of our town.
     "But there are complex problems. They pack into houses like sardines. Our Public Health Department has had to be augmented to cope with the problem. And we still have 1,100 on our housing list.
     "In our schools the language problem is acute. English children are being held back.
     "Our maternity wards are overflowing with foreign mums and many an English girl has to have her first baby at home.
     "There is no malice or bias in our refusal to let more Italians join their friends here. Five thousand Italians are part of our town - it's for their good, too, that we cannot allow services to be overstrained and collapse."
     Said Bedford Italian Vice-Consul, Dr. Mario Capobinco:
     "We don't hold any grudge against the council. They have given us every help. We have to thank Bedford's townsfolk for giving us a welcome and a home."

[caption of large photograph ]
For an Italian woman it's a sweet life in a sweets factory.

[caption of small photograph ]
No grudge

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