Manchester Histories Festival

One Pound Reward for a Lost Boy with Vicci McCann

Wednesday 25 November 2015

Among the posters and handbills of the Warrington County Borough police collection in the Lancashire Archives, there is a poster detailing the loss of an Italian boy at Preston, while travelling to Manchester. It is from about 1860/61. The boy's name is Antonio Grafigna, aged 11 and he is described as having chesnut eyes and hair, wearing a hairy cap, Italian fustian jacket and drab corduroy trousers. An intriguing aspect of his description is that he has with him guinea pigs and white mice, suggesting that Antonio was a street entertainer.

Antonio's brother Davide, named on the poster as 'Davis' hadBlack and white image displaying a LOST poster for a young Italian boy who was lost in Preston. A one pound reward is offered for his return and people are to contact his brother who was living in Back Turner Street Manchester. Image courtesy of Lancashir offered a £1 reward for information and gave his address as 20 Back Turner Street , Manchester. Back Turner Street in the Northern Quarter is also very close to Ancoats, which in the 19th century was known as 'Ancoats Little Italy' because of the large number of Italian immigrants who settled there. Among these immigrants were a large number of 'Italian Musicians' which was a common euphemism for street entertainer or barrel organ musician. A large number of child street entertainers were part of this music industry, and our 'Lost: Boy from Italy' poster is evidence of a history that is often dark and involved what was essentially child trafficking.

Italian children were commonly purchased from their parents, sometimes kidnapped, by men known as Padroni. The children would be taught to sing or play and while some managed to save money and eventually prosper, while under the control of the Padroni they were often abused, beaten and otherwise cruelly treated. Because they were foreign nationals they were not covered by developing legislation controlling the employment of children in Britain.

According to Anthony Rea's web site 'Ancoats Little Italy', 'Manchester's Little Italy was well known for its entertainers and especially its street musicians.' There were also a number of barrel organ manufacturers who set up in Manchester in the late 19th century including, the Antonelli family and Antonio Varetto.

The story has a happy ending as Antionio was found and Antonio went on to set up a barrel organ hire shop and bar in Berlin and later was a partner in a company called 'Cocchi, Bacigalupo and Graffigna' making barrel organs. This and other handbills and posters relating to Manchester can be seen at Lancashire Archives in Preston.

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