A CHINA cup cropped cheerfully up in Memories 311. “Rossi’s, Southport and Bishop Auckland”, it said on the side, along with a pretty picture of the famous gateway leading into Auckland Castle park.

From the cup, a story unfolds. Tom Hutchinson, local historian, kicks us off, with a postcard showing the Waterloo Hotel, which stood on Newgate Street, Bishop Auckland, opposite the Eden Theatre.

The postcard was sent in 1949 by someone who signed himself "Poor Old Happy" and who lived in Thornaby to HC Airey, builder and contractor of Durham Chare, Bishop Auckland. Mr Happy had stuck 1935 Silver Jubilee stamps on the card, and he wrote: “A reminder of the days that have gone, Mattie, when you and I were young.”

Loading article content

Fortunately, Mr Happy also wrote on the front of the card that the hotel had closed on April 5, 1920.

After that, it became the Auckland Cocoa Rooms which was soon taken on by Gennaro Rossi, one of the many Italian immigrants who fled the poverty of their homeland carrying the secret of wonderful ice cream.

For 60 years, Rossi’s was a favoured meeting place for those who enjoyed coffee, ice cream and canoodling, although not necessarily in that order. It was famed for its extremely large, and extremely noisy, Gaggia coffee machine, which had been imported especially from Italy.

In the early 1980s, the café was demolished to enable South Church Road to be widened, and Edmundo Rossi, son of the founder, moved his business to the Market Place, where it continued until 1998.

But, as the cup says, Bishop Auckland is only half the story. “I was born and bred in Southport, Lancashire,” writes Patricia Pownall, from Gilling West, near Richmond, “and, yes, there was a Rossi’s there on Nevill Street which runs up to the promenade. My brother remembers that the crockery there also had ‘Southport and Bishop Auckland’ on it. He remembers having Strawberry Parfait there, which was seven pence cheaper than a Knickbocker Glory.”

And there still is a Rossi’s café in Nevill Street, Southport. On its front, it says “established 1950”. It is noted for the finest ice cream in the seaside town, but it seems to be owned by someone who has no connection at all with the Rossis or, indeed, Italy.

So we can only guess that once there was some familial connection between Bishop and Southport.

THE picture of our china cup was sent in by John Phelan and John Redman of Bishop Auckland. It was taken at a pop-up exhibition in Bishop Auckland.

A picture of an identical cup has also been sent in by Terry Tucker, of St Helen Auckland – but Terry’s picture was taken in Ferrara in Italy. In 2004, Terry was holidaying in northern Italy with his family where they encountered an English teacher from Bishop Auckland called Steve who lived there with his Italian wife, Donna. Invited back to Steve’s apartment, Terry was amazed to spot a Rossi’s cup which belonged to Donna’s Italian family.

“They didn’t have a clue where they cup had come from, so I was able to tell them about the café,” says Terry, “about how it was on the corner, and was full of cubicles and how one day in the 1940s there were two lads in there messing about with a gun which went off and one of the lads was shot and killed.”

IS there anything else we should know about this story, or about Rossi’s in general, or about any of Bishop Auckland’s other ice cream and café Italians: Bonini of Newgate Street, Di Palam of Gibbon Street, Gabriele of Bondgate, Panicca of Market Place, Panzieri of Princes Street, Rea of Bondgate, Santi of Newgate Street and, of course, Zair of Bondgate.