WHERE to start? Since Memories 314, we’ve been overwhelmed with correspondence about Rossi’s, the café and ice cream parlour that was in Newgate Street, Bishop Auckland, for 60 years. Let’s go first with Mavis Adlington’s story because it has warmed the cockles of our heart.
- Gennaro Rossi - an Italian immigrant who fled his homeland and brought his secret of wonderful ice cream to Bishop Auckland
- Lovely little cup brings back memories of Rossi's cafe in Bishop Auckland
“It was February 6, 1952,” she says. “I had met a young man, Jack, at a choir practice the evening before and we’d made a date to go to the cinema the following night.
“But on February 6, news broke that King George VI had died and consequently all businesses were closed.
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“On Newgate Street, we discovered the only premises open was Rossi's Coffee Shop. It was crowded and we pushed into one of the cubicles and spent a night discussing politics and religion over mugs of hot chocolate!
“What a first date! It was a historic date for the country – a new queen – and an unforgettable date for us. Jack and I married on March 6, 1954 at Trinity Presbyterian Church, South Church Road – sadly now replaced by town houses.”
SO, the ice cream parlour was opened by Gennaro Rossi, an Italian immigrant in the mid-1920s in the old Waterloo Hotel opposite the Eden Theatre. For some reason, every true Aucklander pronounces Gennaro’s surname “Ross-eye”.
Let’s leave it to Alan Wilkinson, of Houghton-le-Side, to introduce us to the Rossi family.
“Gennaro always served the ice cream and coffees, but spoke little English and was very reserved,” he says. “The matriarch was Mrs Rossi, an invalid with leg problems.
“They had five children, Eddie, Hector, Horace, Benny and the only daughter Lucy,” explains Alan Wilkinson, of Houghton-le-Spring. “Eddie was the oldest, very short-sighted, and a character. I remember meeting him in his smart car one night, wearing a cravat and a monocle. He married Adele who was very glamorous and a model at West Auckland Clothing Factory.
“Hector ran the Southport cafe and Horace worked in the family ‘factory’ behind the shop in Gregory's Yard next door.
“My friend Benny, or Benito, was the baby of the family and we often played cards in a stable behind the shop – a regular in the brag school was The Northern Echo’s Bishop Auckland reporter Bob Cass (Bob, who died last year, became an acclaimed football writer).
“Lucy was a young, very glamorous, real dark-eyed Italian beauty, but you would not like to cross her!”
DAVID APPLETON also knew the Rossis, as he lived above his father’s fish and chip shop a couple of doors away.
“Benny was my age and we used to play in the cobbled yard and derelict Waterloo stables behind their shop,” he says. “His elder brothers all served during the war. Hector became a warrant officer in the RAF, Horace a soldier and Eddie, because of his poor eyesight, served on a farm. Despite that, their father was still classed as a 'foreign alien' and detained on the Isle of Man – it seemed so unfair!
“Following demobilization, Hector opened the shop in Southport and Horace would go down to help during the busy summer season.
“One year I was invited to go there on holiday with Benny. We had a great time and spent many an hour de-topping strawberries for the parfaits and knickerbocker glories and of course testing everything for quality!”
THAT is a fascinating reference to Gennaro Rossi being interned which ties in with information from Stuart Anderson of Spennymoor, who has just completed his PhD on conscientious objectors in the North-East during the Second World War.
During his research, Stuart found one of the 821 in the region who registered their objections was Amelia Rossi, a café worker from Bishop Auckland. She somehow fits into our family tree.
Amelia had to justify her objections by appearing before a tribunal in Newcastle in 1942. She said she’d been born in Britain but had been living in Italy until 1940. Her father – could it be Gennaro? – had fought for Italy on Britain’s side during the First World War but, she said, was now interned.
Registering as a conscientious objector absolved a person from having to do work that contributed to the war effort. The tribunal regarded such people as shirkers and usually gave them a hard time. Amelia was no different.
“Judge Richardson (Chairman): “You don’t mind taking what is brought by British seamen at the peril of their lives. You must have known you would have to behave as every other British subject. You had no business to come back to this country unless you intended not only to enjoy its privileges but to share its burdens.”
“A member: “Had you been in Italy would you have helped that country?” Rossi: “My conscience would not allow me to do anything that would help to kill.”
“Mr Bowman (tribunal member): “Your conscience enables you to run a business protected by the British Navy. You run a café. Don’t you think you owe something to the country that gives you that opportunity?” Rossi: “I work”.”
The tribunal dismissed her objections. Amelia could have appealed against the decision, or she could have accepted it and buckled down to war work.
“How the people of Bishop Auckland would have taken to her being a CO is difficult to gauge,” says Stuart. “While hostility to COs did not reach the level of the First World War, there was some in some quarters, particularly from women whose husbands or sons were serving in the forces. Letters to the local press, and the Echo in particular, show this hostility.
“I would imagine that there would be less hostility if she accepted work of national importance – it would be interesting to know what decision she took.”
IN Memories 233 nearly two years ago, we identified the Rossi’s girl beside the Gaggia coffee machine as Lynn Hamilton, who was in her mid teens when the picture was taken in 1973.
“Lynn and I worked together in the Education Psychology section at County Hall in the early 1980s under the beady eye of Mrs Jeanne Currie,” says Angela Williamson (nee Drane). “I remember Lynn as always being very cheerful and amiable – sadly, though, she kept her coffee-making expertise to herself!”
“THE picture of Rossi’s in the 1920s reminds me of the paperseller who used the blocked up doorway to the left on Newgate Street,” says Peter Gallagher who now lives in Norton, Stockton, but who grew up in the early 1950s in South Terrace just around from Rossi’s. “His name was Arthur Spence or Spencley. He used to get around on crutches selling the Northern Despatch Monday to Friday and the Pink on Saturday night.” Other readers report a paperseller called “Funky Trueman” on the corner.
IN the south-east corner of Bishop Auckland Market Place is an 18th Century house that is to be transformed into an academic research centre for Spanish and Latin American Art and Culture (Memories 316). The building is known as “Roper House” after property developer Vic Roper, who started as a builder from Sedgefield but prospered so that he owned Witton Hall at Witton-le-Wear before a certain football club chairman. Until the 1980s, his office was in Roper House.
MANY thanks for all correspondence. It is magnificent that so many people get in touch, and we try and use as much as we can. Anything else we should know about Rossi’s?