ADELE ROSSI has a foot in two Italian ice-cream making camps: her mother was a Cellini, whose ices sustained visitors to Richmond, and her husband was from the Bishop Auckland family whose café has been much talked about here.
Adele’s grandparents, Teresa and Vincenzo Cellini, came from villages in the Monte Cassino region of central Italy, about 100 miles south-west of Rome, and like nearly all of the Italian ice cream makers who graced Durham and Yorkshire towns, emigrated in the early years of the 20th Century to escape rural poverty. How many of them really had genuine ice cream insight before they arrived is debatable, but they discovered that with hard work, they could make a living from making it.
Teresa and Vincenzo tried Leeds first before settling in Richmond in the 1920s. They turned 22, Bridge Street – a pretty, three storey stone house above The Green and the River Swale – into a little café with an icecreamery in the yard behind.
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They had an ice cream cart and went out into the villages around.
“My mother worked at the ‘bathing pool’, which was opposite Richmond cemetery,” says Adele. “There were even wooden cubicles down there where you could get changed to go swimming in the bathing pool in the river. It was always very cold.”
We reckon this must have been where the Round Howe car park is today at the western edge of Richmond – can anyone tell us more about the changing cubicles?
In the build-up to the Second World War, some Italians sensed a changing attitude towards them, and returned to Italy. This caused a shortage of café workers.
At the start of the war, Rose, who was Teresa and Vincenzo’s daughter and Adele’s mother, moved from Richmond to Darlington to work for the Biagionis. The Biagionis had opted to stay, but had been left running several Italian businesses, and so Rose worked at the Broadway Café, in the Market Place, and the Corner Café, which was opposite the former Technical College in Northgate.
After the war, there was an ice cream match made in heaven: Adele married Edmundo “Eddie” Rossi, of the Bishop Auckland family who had their famous café in Newgate Street.
Eddie’s father, Gennaro, had emigrated from the mountain village of Valvori, near Monte Cassino, settling in Paris at the age of 13 where he worked as a glassblower. He moved onto Paisley, Scotland, to work with his father and brother before they opened an ice cream business in Annfield Plain, in 1912.
During the First World War, he returned to Italy to fight – he seems to have been in the Alps with a mule carrying munitions – and then made it back to the North-East, where he was registered as an “alien” with his movements monitored by police. His registration booklet shows that he opened a business in Dipton, near Consett, and then, on October 2, 1929, moved to Bishop Auckland where he had bought the former Waterloo Hotel opposite the Eden Theatre. This he turned into the famous Rossi café.
Life during the Second World War was difficult for immigrants. When Italian leader Benito Mussolini declared war on Britain on May 10, 1940, ice cream parlours were attacked, and 4,000 male Italian “aliens” were interned – particularly those men who lived in coastal areas as it was feared they might help an invasion.
Gennaro was held for two years in a camp on the Isle of Man, and on his release his movements were again monitored – he had to get police permission to visit the seaside café he had opened in Southport in 1938.
After the war, his five children – Eddie, Hector, Horace, Benny and Lucy – took over his businesses. The Bishop Auckland café lasted until 1974 when it was demolished for road-widening, and then Eddie and Adele, and their four children, relocated to the Market Place. They kept serving until Eddie retired in 1998. He died in 2011, aged 90, but Adele is still as fresh as a lemontop.
BLOB With many thanks to Adele, Mark and Louise Rossi.
“I THINK I am a coffee addict now,” says Lynn Hughes, who is our original Lady Gaggia. “In those days, it was instant coffee, Bird’s Mellow, but now I have to have real coffee in a cafeteria, and I even once managed a coffee shop.”
Lynn was photographed in Rossi’s café in 1973 with the new Gaggia coffee-making machine which had been imported from Italy –? it is a photo we have publised several times in our articles about the cafe.
“I remember it being taken because I was in Bishop with my mam shopping and none of the girls in the shop wanted to be on the photo and they were asking for volunteers and my mam volunteered me even though I didn’t want to,” says Lynn, who was only 14 then. Her surname was Hamilton, and she lived at Middlestone Moor.
“About three years later I worked for Boothroyd’s opticians a couple of doors down from Rossi’s and became a regular,” she says.
Now she lives up in Durham City and is the business development manager for Durham Family Chiropractic.
To show how time flies, she sent a picture of herself and her husband David in last weekend’s Strictly St Cuthbert’s ballroom competition which raised money for the Durham hospice.
“I can’t dance, mind,” she says, “but we’ve made more than £1,000.”
SO many people have Rossi memories. “During the Second World War, sugar was rationed so ice cream was not always on the menu, but you couold have a mug of Bovril and two cream crackers,” remembers Maureen Doyle, who grew up in Bishop and now lives in Newton Hall, Durham. “One evening, my uncle bought me Bovril and crackers and he lived me onto a high stool at the counter – I’d just been to the cinema and seen Betty Grable sitting on a high stool at a café counter. I thought to myself: ‘This is living – wait until I tell them at school tomorrow.”
And Michael Caine from Coventry has been in touch. “One busy Saturday afternoon in the 1950s, with the place crowded, in walked a man from Evenwood, who thought himself a small time gangster and went by the name of Al Kapone.
“He snarled at Eddie Rossi: ‘If you don’t hand over £10, I’ll set off stink-bombs all over the shop.’
“Eddie looked up and deadpan said: ‘Go on, then’, and carried on serving.
“Al Kapone was aghast, couldn’t speak and literally crawled out of the shop, and wasn’t seen again until five years later when he robbed a milkman of his takings in a backway opposite the Hippodrome. He was sentenced to eight years in prison, and I always wonder if Eddie realised who he was dealing with.”