Anthony Mario Di Carlo: Memories of Cannon Street

It was 1948, my parents with their two small girls and my mother pregnant, were on a ship bound for England. The war was over. Their homeland Italy was in chaos, people were starving.

My parents made the big decision to leave their beloved families to make a better life in a better place. They settled in the North East of England, I think mainly because before the war my grandparents (father’s side) had an ice cream business in Newcastle. Other members of the family also took the plunge and emigrated to the North East.
My parents, (not speaking a word of English) somehow arrived in Cannon Street. My father did any work he could to maintain his family, living in a bedsit for some time.

Eventually, they managed to rent a corner shop that came with a house attached. The front door was at No. 1 Derby Street, and around the same corner, the shop was on Cannon Street. It was in poor condition and my parents set about converting the previous fish shop into a general store and (what they knew best), an ice cream shop. My mother was working in the shop, by then with two more children; Marcelle & Josephine (Born in Italy). Including my sister Marie and I, Anthony Mario John Di Carlo (born November 1950), there were four children in all, up to that point.

My mother, Rose, ran the shop with help to look after the children from a neighbour in Derby Street, Mrs Olden, who had become a good friend. My father worked as a mechanic and sold second-hand cars. There were still bad memories at the time of the Second World War. My parents being Italian suffered racist abuse, and we as children suffered abuse too… although we didn’t know why. Little by little as my parents became better known, they were liked by a great number of neighbours and customers. Not really being business people, my parents allowed customers to buy goods on a weekly/monthly tick basis. As people had so little money, quite often didn’t pay at all. Being kind and sympathetic people, my parents let it go, to their own detriment. Probably one of the reasons they were so popular!

My first memories were in 1953, we were the only people in our street with a TV and this certain day, our house was full of neighbours and casual passer-by! It was the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. I still remember to this day watching the Queen being crowned on a fuzzy 12 inch black and white TV, with all those people (mostly strangers) all shouting and cheering.

Anthony Di Carlo with his brother Stephen in Derby Street

From then on, I remember the pigeon park, which was near Newport Bridge. It was a little magical for me, around the allotments there was a lot of sand mixed with seashells. I used to filter out the seashells and sometimes found whole pigeon eggs, which was great. I wondered how part of the sea shore managed to get so far from the beach. In later life, I guessed that the pigeon fanciers brought the sand in for the pigeon nest boxes, later tipping out the used sand around the perimeter of the allotments. It was there I earned my first many stitches. I was about four I think, and a girl a little taller than me, hit me with half a wall brick on my forehead, prompting me to run home crying. Three stitches were my reward.
Alongside the park on the other side of Cannon Street were rows of houses, some of them looked inhabitable. One always had a handwritten sign in the window “Winkles a penny a bag”. I knew what winkles were because when my family had our daytrips out to the beach (I now realise how lucky we were because we had a car). My dad being a mechanic and selling second-hand cars, meant his perk was to have a car. At the beach, we collected winkles and I loved them, picked them out with a needle, so often I knocked on the door with the sign, and when they answered (which wasn’t often) I would buy a penny bag of winkles and stuff my face!

My first day at school was at Marsh Road infants. I cried my eyes out. Our teacher was really nice and I soon cheered up. Mrs Robinson, pretty with a mole on her face. I still remember what she looked like. I imagine she is not with us anymore.

My father had been a motorcycle champion in his youth in Italy, he built me a real miniature 80cc motorcycle, which he named “The Red Devil” after me I suppose! It was made from a cyclemaster engine (bicycle that had an engine on the back wheel) and he made the frame from tubular steel. It was fantastic and I rode on the common in Derby Street, with a trail of kids behind. I must have been a spoilt brat! It created quite a sensation at that time, 1955, child motorcycles did not exist, the evening Gazette did a story on it and one of the national papers, this became known by the local police and the cautioned my dad not to let me ride it in public never again, which was upsetting for me at the time. St Patrick’s junior school was good, I liked the teachers and made bags of sweets and some money on the side! The school was split down the middle separating boys from girls with the playgrounds separated by high walls, I had three sisters on the other side of that wall! The older boys bribed me to pass messages to my sisters, as my sisters were and still are very pretty. My first taste of business aged around seven years old.
During lunch and after school we would play hiding and throwing clemy’s at each other (stones for the uneducated hahaa), no names mentioned…Terry Hast…got me when I popped up from behind rubble. Three more pretty stitches. We also did the forbidden and sneaked through the fence alongside the railway tracks. I recall some kid getting killed on the tracks and they repaired the fence and that ended the taste of danger. The summers were hot and sunny in those days. At Easter we would sit on our step with our Easter eggs melting.

By 1957, I had three more siblings; Pamela, Stephen and Yvonne.

In this photo (left) is Pamela and Yvonne Di Carlo in Derby Street. You can see the penny in Yvonne’s pocket.

I remember my friends and Derby Street neighbours leaving on the government offer of 10 pounds for families to emigrate to Australia. I was sad to see them go, but they came back a few years later. They couldn’t settle there. We were now a family of six siblings and at the age of eight years old we were moving to a new house on the other side of Newport Road and new adventures for us kids. A massive house with garden and six bedrooms. When we left No 1 Derby Street I said goodbye to every room.

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7 Comments

  1. This is Stephen your brother by the way I am using your sister Yvonne Facebook to post this….it was so beautiful to read what you did write..

    Although I was too young to remember those times..because our parents moved to church street..

    It was sad and good to about our parents. War in Europe was a much more desperate place to be.. As British armed forces will know.. But I am so proud of mama and papa. To go against all those terrible war years..like many others .

    And I thank and love you for what you wrote. Bles you tony.

  2. Well what a well wrote story of days gone by, reading it I can see how my family had a similar story too tell, my father was Indian and left India his home land for a better life for his family- I can remember being the first mixed race family being brought up in Grangetown where in those days racism was everywhere and as such we had to learn how to defend ourselves ! Infact I was forever having to fight – and had a fight most afternoons either before Dinner or after Dinner but as we got older things got better and on the whole I am so proud of where I started in life and how I have conducted myself through the years. I often go down what I affectionately call (memory lane) I drive along Birchington Avenue -Grangetown turning left onto clynes road then left again on to our road Langdale crescent where we lived at number 9, next to the burgess family and the Foreman family , it is as though i’m traveling back in time I can see so clearly the Tierney Family and girls who I still go and see all the time, and I remember the kindness and love their mam my friend Ann Tierney always showed me, giving me ten bob- which was a lot of money for cutting her garden, this I now know was an act of true kindness to help my family which I can never forget, I gave my money to mam and this no doubt help her. further up the road we have the Pool Family- a nicer family would be hard to find their Dad was an absolutely lovely man, their mam Ivy was so nice and kind and I have nothing but respect for her. Then onto the shop where we used to go round the back of the paper shop pinch a couple of empty lowcocks lemonade bottles -then run over the tip at the back of the shops, give the bottles to the shop owner who gave us 3d per bottle ( what little sods we must have been ha ) well we have came a long way since then haven’t we ?

  3. thank you , i enjoyed your story very much too , we moved to chursh st across the main rd from cannon st , most of the house were very big , and some pakistaní families moved into our Street , there clothes were strange to me a boy of 9 or 10, and wearing turbans, i soon made freinds , and always remember delip sihg , he was about my age , i can still see his face now 58yrs later, and yes there was racist abuse which i didnt understand and thought some people were very aggressive towards our new nieghbours and to us too , italians, still we got through it and met some very nice people on the way .

  4. I remember your father, mother and older sisters. You mom and dad used to visit with my grandmother and my aunt, Olive. They lived next to Ronnie’s fish shop. I used to play on the pin-ball machine at your mom/dads shop. I seem to recall your elder sister.

  5. I remember your family well especially the younger ones. I was born in 1946 and lived for a while in Derby street. My aunt Mary Williams worked in the fish shop, opposite corner to your shop. My cousin Margaret was always in your house. I can still picture your mam and dad.

  6. hi , i remember Olive very well and her mother that Olive dearly looked after, , they lived over the road from our shop, on cannon st , i i always remember , Olive would give me Cos lettuce sandwiches , homemade bread and real butter , i loved them , happy days

  7. my name is Craig Fleet ( Dixon) my Gran ( Doris) lived next but one from your Fam in Church St – your mum Rose would make massive colanders of spaghetti and I made sure I was around for dinner time – I still love Italian food and beautiful italian girls which your sisters def were – I used to play with your “ Jonny Seven” action gun that fired plastic bullets and grenades … many many years latter I called in on your mum ( think she had moved into a house at the bottom of “ something” bank ( just past Park end) Wagon wheel outside ?? Anyway great story that you wrote – earlier on I used to live in Stanley St next door to the gas tanks and took great delight in fighting the Gypo’s on the other side of the train tracks ( till I found out I was related to them … another story) My mum was called June .

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