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' had 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.