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The Ice Cream Families

The 40 quart ice cream freezer 1890s

Yes there were many families that made ice cream in the early years in Ancoats. For some it was a brief living, while for others it was a way of life. These families were the pioneers of the ice cream industry in Manchester.

Young children queued eagerly with their pennies and ha'pennies in every season for the mouth-watering creations. Now grandparents themselves, their children and their children's children still buy today in many cases from the same families.

Advances in early ice cream equipment were most rapid in America, above are examples of catalogues around the 1890s.
The ice cream familes and manufacturers together formed the Ice Cream Federation in the early 1900s, latterly the Ice Cream Alliance

The names of the more famous and industrious ice cream families were magic, music to the ear, and roll off like the names of the Italian national football team: Marco Rea and sons; Vincenzo Schiavo (Vincent's Ices); Carlo Tiani's; Boggiano's (Peter Burgon's); Gerardo Scappaticci (Gerard's Ices); Bernardo Scappaticci (Ben's Ices); Carlo Visco's (Mamma It's Carlo); Rocca's; Pessagno's; Pandolfo's; Trulio's, Sivori's; Raffo's; Marocca's; Meschia's; Granelli's (of Oldham Road); Bacigalupo's; Mattiusi; Luchetti; Cabrelli's; Granelli's (North Road Clayton); Longinotti's; Bertaloni's; Coniola's; Andrucci's (Andrew's); Perselli's; Levaggi's of Denton, and many more. Everyone thought they made the best ice cream; well folks, in my humble opinion, the best ice cream in Manchester was made by my father, Loreto Rea!

Wafer cone tins by International Wafer Co. (Antonelli's), Colaluca & Rocca, and Valvona's, circa 1920s

One should also not forget the biscuit manufacturers (who made the cones, wafers and twists); the famous Antonelli family, whose business started life in Salford in 1912 as the International Wafer Co., still manufacturing today in Eccles; and Colaluca and Rocca. Particular mention must go to Antonio Valvona, whose company created the 'Twist' ice cream cone. At a time in the 1890s there were grave health concerns over the use of the 'licking glass' in eating ice cream - a seller would serve a customer a scoop of ice cream in a glass, wash it, then use it for the next customer. Many glasses were not scrupulously washed and the sanitary authorities threatened to ban the sale of ice cream. The Valvona Company's edible cone, in my opinion, saved the modern day industry.

During the Second World War, the ice cream industry in general suffered a complete ban, due to rationing, and the consequences of internment. This led to the closure of many family businesses - ice cream factories, milk bars, and street vending. The renamed International Biscuit Company Ltd., run by the Antonelli family, diversified into supplying the military with pre-packed biscuits. Also, if it hadn't have been for the generosity of Mr. Domenico Antonelli, many families would have gone under. He supplied them with biscuits to sell to earn a living, sometimes more than their rations allowed.

The queue for ice-cream at one of Rea's ice cream carts, Piccadilly, Manchester, VE Day 1945 (cutting from Daily Express newspaper)

After the War, the ice cream industry experienced a boom in sales, as people were released from austerity and rushed to buy so-called 'luxury' items once more. As sons returned from the front, and fathers returned from internment, the old family businesses began to re-establish themselves. Many brought in the latest ice-cream technology, bought new premises, and re-invested in equipment from manufacturers including 'Creamery Package' in the U.S., 'Gusti' from Italy and 'Edoni' in Scotland. Motorised vehicles replaced pony carts and push carts, and long gone were the shouts of the ice cream vendors, to be replaced by musical chimes (initially imported from Switzerland).

1909 Label of the Valvona biscuit company established in the 1890s

The post-war 'baby boom' and the housing estates that followed, coupled with motorised ice cream vans, led to much larger territories, or 'rounds', for the ice cream sellers. There also followed a renewed influx of Italian immigrants, particularly from Sicily, many of whom ended up working in the lucrative ice cream business. With new selling boundaries being drawn, between the old families, and then the new arrivals, there were often conflicts. As is the way with Italians, these often ended in vendettas. This was the beginning of what became known as the 'Ice Cream Wars'. Not just isolated to Manchester, the national press soon took up these stories, colourfully embellishing them with links to the 'Mafia'. It was not uncommon to see three or four vans at one time, all arguing as to whom the street belonged. The competition was fierce.

Some families took on franchises of large national companies, such as Walls 'Mr.Whippy' and Lyons Maid 'Mr.Softee'. The ice cream business fragmented, from families who both made and sold ice cream, to those who specialised only in wholesaling, or individual self-employed ice cream van sellers. The latter could afford to shop around for the cheapest prices. This competition and fragmentation saw the decline of the local ice cream families, and the further rise in power of national companies. Perhaps if the old Italian ice cream families had consolidated, working together to form a co-operative, instead of in-fighting and under-cutting each other on prices, they might have been a greater force today.

Sadly only a few businesses remain, and the decline is continuing. This is due to several reasons, including a change in buying patterns brought about by home freezers and supermarkets, price competition, and third generation family members moving into external careers. More beureaucratic licensing laws and increased costs have also played their part. I wonder how long it will be before the magical tones of the modern day ice cream van also pass into the pages of history.

See also:

Tony Rea: A Family History of Ice Cream

The Antonelli Story

De Marco family's site

Antonio Arcaro, one of the early italian ice-cream vendors on the streets of Manchester 1899-1900 (courtesy Filomena Rea (nee Arcaro))
The humble beginnings of ice cream production in Ancoats, circa 1890s
Mr. Coniola on his round in Bradford, Clayton, Manchester (courtesy Coniola family).
Mr. Giovanni Andreucci also known as 'John Andrews Ices' circa 1900
Bill for the purchase of new ice cream equipment from S. Demarco & Sons in Glasgow, 1925
Granelli's on 'Sucker's Alley', Shude Hill (courtesy Paul Curotto)
Behind Granelli's shop and dairy, Oldham Rd., Ancoats (courtesy Paul Curotto)
Sivori's Ices, Ancoats, now of Gorton (courtesy Paul Curotto)
Burgon's (Boggiano's) on the streets of Salford (courtesy the Boggiano family)
Bagicalupo's on the streets of Broughton, Salford.
One of Pesagno's of Middleton ice cream van 1930s. Notice the similarity to a pony cart (courtesy Louis Pesagno).
Mrs. Marrocca (Marocca's), outside Platt Field's, Manchester (courtesy of the Marrocca family)
The International Wafer Company, Ayres Road, Old Trafford. Mr. Domenico Antonelli surveys the packaging department, packing their famous old fashioned twist 1925 (courtesy Mr. Roland Antonelli)
Ice cream factory of the late 20s - early 30s
Pesagno family members loading the ice cream vans (courtesy Louis Pesagno).
Gerardo Scapaticci founder of Gerard's Ices, also founded 1898. The company still manufacture today.
Outside Pesagno's dairy, New Islington, Ancoats circa early 50s. A large ice cream manufacturer (courtesy Louis Pesagno).
Carlo's & Sons
One of Carlo Visco's new ice-cream vans on the rounds in New Moston 1950s (courtesy the Visco family).
Perselli's of Moss Side (formerly Ancoats) 1950s.
Rocca's Ices, one of the oldest manufacturer's in Manchester, established 1872 (courtesy Tony Rocca Snr.).
Bernardo Scapaticci the founder of Ben's Ices, established 1898. The family still sell ice cream on Market Street, Manchester city centre

All text and images (unless marked *) Anthony Rea 2010
not to be used without permission. All rights reserved