Italians in the United Kingdom

Italians in the United Kingdom, also known as British Italians or colloquially Britalians, are citizens or residents of the United Kingdom of Italian heritage. The phrase may refer to someone born in the United Kingdom of Italian descent, someone who has emigrated from Italy to the United Kingdom or someone born elsewhere, who is of Italian descent and has migrated to the UK. More specific terms used to describe Italians in the United Kingdom include: Italian English, Italian Scots, and Italian Welsh.


Roman Britain

The Romans from Italy were the first Italians to settle in the British Isles along with other people from various parts of the Roman Empire. They came as far back as 55 and 54 BC when Julius Caesar led expeditionary campaigns in the south-east of England, and then again in AD 43 when Emperor Claudius invaded and subsequently conquered the British islands. Historian Theodore Mommsen calculated that in the five centuries of Roman presence in the British isles, more than 50,000 Roman soldiers moved to live permanently in Roman Britain.

Middle Ages

Continuous contact with Rome and the Catholic world was initially restricted to the Celtic Christian, Brittonic-speaking portions of Britain where trading activities continued with the Mediterranean and Italy continuing into the seventh century as non-Christian Anglo-Saxon kingdoms began to coalesce into England. Initially the stable Anglo-British kingdoms of Wessex and then Northumbria followed the practices of Celtic Christianity however powerful figures such as Alfred the Great, who had been anointed by the Pope in Rome, tended toward Roman Catholicism especially after the Synod of Whitby drawing merchants, men of culture, artisans and educated Catholic clerics from the Latin West including Italy.
After the conquest of Anglo-Saxon England in 1066, the first recorded Italian communities in England began from the merchants and sailors living in Southampton. The famous "Lombard Street" in London took its name from the small but powerful community from northern Italy, living there as bankers and merchants after the year 1000.

The rebuilding of Westminster Abbey showed significant Italian artistic influence in the construction of the so-called 'Cosmati' Pavement completed in 1245 and a unique example of the style unknown outside of Italy, the work of highly skilled team of Italian craftsmen led by a Roman named Ordoricus.
In 1303, Edward I negotiated an agreement with the Lombard merchant community that secured custom duties and certain rights and privileges. The revenues from the customs duty were handled by the Riccardi, a group of bankers from Lucca in Italy. This was in return for their service as money lenders to the crown, which helped finance the Welsh Wars. When the war with France broke out, the French king confiscated the Riccardi's assets, and the bank went bankrupt. After this, the Frescobaldi of Florence took over the role as money lenders to the English crown.
As bankers, the Frescobaldi financed ventures for numerous members of European royal families, notably their financial conquest of England, which Fernand Braudel has signalled as the greatest achievement of the Florentine firms, "not only in holding the purse-strings of the kings of England, but also in controlling sales of English wool which was vital to continental workshops and in particular to the Arte della Lana of Florence."

15th to 18th centuries

According to historian Michael Wayatt, there was "a small but influential community" of Italians "that took shape in England in the 15th century initially consisting of ecclesiastics, renaissance humanists, merchants, bankers, and artists."
in London
Historian Alwyn Ruddock claimed to have found evidence that the navigator Giovanni Caboto who discovered North America in 1497

From Napoleon to World War I

The Napoleonic wars left northern Italy with a destroyed agriculture and consequently many farmers were forced to emigrate: a few thousand moved to the British isles in the first half of the nineteenth century.
in London
Giuseppe Mazzini lived in London for some years and promoted the construction of the Italian church of St. Peter in the "Little Italy" of Clerkenwell The Italian-style basilica was inaugurated in 1863 and was the main place of reunion for the growing Italian community of London. The Risorgimento hero Mazzini also created an Italian school for poor people, active from November 1841 at Greville Street in London.
By the time WWI started, the Italian community was well established in London and other areas of the British isles.

Second World War

When Second World War came the Italians in Great Britain had built a respected community for themselves. But the announcement of Benito Mussolini's decision to side with Adolf Hitler's Germany in 1940 had a devastating effect. By order of parliament all aliens were to be interned. Although there were few active fascists, the majority had lived in the country peacefully for many years, and had even fought side by side with British-born soldiers during the First World War. Some had married British women and even taken British citizenship.
This anti-Italian feeling led to a night of nationwide riots against the Italian communities on 11 June 1940. The Italians were now seen as a national security threat linked to the feared British Union of Fascists, and Winston Churchill told the police to "collar the lot!" Thousands of Italian men between the ages of 17 and 60 were arrested after his speech. They were transported to camps across the country.
In one of these transportations a tragedy occurred: the sinking of the ocean liner on 2 July 1940 resulted in the loss of over 700 lives, including 446 British-Italians being deported as undesirable. Italians comprised almost half of the ship's 1564 passengers; the rest were British soldiers, and Jewish refugees. Sailing for Canada from Liverpool, the unescorted Arandora Star was torpedoed by the and sank within 30 minutes. One historian describes it as the "most tragic event in the history of the Italian community... no other Italian community in the world has suffered such a blow." On 19 July the Home Secretary, wrote a letter to Lord Halifax, the Foreign Secretary, in which he made it clear that he realised mistakes had been made in selecting Italians for the Arandora Star. Lord Snell was charged with conducting a government inquiry into the tragedy. He recognised that the method of selecting dangerous Italians was not satisfactory and the result was that among those earmarked for deportation were a number of non-fascists and people whose sympathies lay with Britain.

Since 1945

In the 1950s Italian immigration started again to some areas of Great Britain, even if relatively limited in number. It was made mainly of southern Italians. But in the 1960s it tapered off and practically stopped in the 1970s.
The region of the country containing the most Italian Britons is London, where over 50,000 people of Italian birth live. Then there are Manchester, where 25,000 Italians live and Bedford, where there are approximately 20,000 people of Italian origin.
Bedford has a high concentration of Italian immigrants, along with Peterborough. This is mainly as a result of labour recruitment in the 1950s by the London Brick Company in the southern Italian regions of Puglia and Campania. By 1960, approximately 7,500 Italian men were employed by London Brick in Bedford and a further 3,000 in Peterborough. In 1962, the Scalabrini Fathers, who first arrived in Peterborough in 1956, purchased an old school and converted it into a church named after the patron saint of workers San Giuseppe. By 1991, over 3,000 christenings of second-generation Italians had been carried out there.
In 2007, there were 82 Italian associations in Great Britain.



According to the 2011 UK Census, there were 131,195 Italian-born residents in England, 3,424 in Wales, 6,048 in Scotland, and 538 in Northern Ireland. The 2001 Census recorded a total of 107,244 Italian-born people resident in the United Kingdom. Office for National Statistics estimates put the equivalent figure for 2015 at 162,000. In 2016, the Italian embassy in London estimated that 600,000 Italians were resident in the UK. According to Ethnologue, Italian is the first language of some 200,000 people in the UK, although the 2011 Census recorded only 92,241 people with Italian as their main language in England and Wales.
For the period 2015 to 2016, 12,135 Italian students were studying in UK universities. This was the third-highest figure amongst EU countries and ninth globally.


Italians and British-born people of Italian descent reside across the entire UK. Furthermore, unlike many ethnic groups in the country, there are substantial numbers of Italians outside England. Locations with significant Italian populations include London, where the 2011 Census recorded 62,050 Italian-born residents, Manchester with an estimated 25,000 people of Italian ethnicity, Bedford with an estimated 20,000 ethnic Italians, and Glasgow, which is home to a large percentage of the estimated 35,000+ Italian Scots.

Notable individuals