The Italian Job

I will apologise now that this post does not include Minis, Michael Caine or a bus laden with gold hanging off the edge of a mountain road…

In the process of researching my partner Paul’s tree, I came across an interesting link to Italy via the family of his 3x great grandmother Sarah Maria Cotton.

Sarah Maria was born around 1822 in Musselburgh, Midlothian, Scotland, but the family were not Scottish. Her father James Cotton was from Staffordshire and her mother Elizabeth Glanville was from Cornwall – the opposite end of the country. Sarah seems to have been the eldest child, and it is her youngest surviving sibling that I became interested in.

James and Elizabeth Cotton had at least six other children all born in Leicester, William b. 1825 d. 1827, Thomas Glanville b. 1828, William James b. 1831, Jane Ann b. 1834, Amos Glanville b. & d. 1835, Catherine Glanville b. 1840 and Hannah Elizabeth b. 1842 d. 1855.

James’s occupation was a Brush Maker or Manufacturer. I imagine it was this job that took him around the country, as it looks possible that he and his Cornish wife got married in 1819 in Ashton under Lyne in Lancashire, before heading up to Scotland to have Sarah and then back down to the Midlands to settle in Leicester. James also ran pubs for a time, listed at the Dixie Arms, Bond Street, Leicester in 1844 and The Woodsman’s Arms, Rutland Street, Leicester between 1845 and 1852.

James had problems from time to time with his brush making business, from his apprentice Samuel Newton stealing from him in October 1850, then going into debt in 1854, selling his goods to pay off debts in May that year, but ended up in prison for his debt in the September. In 1856 he had another apprentice, Joseph Gibson who ran away but when he came back James refused to teach him the trade. After going to the magistrates court they were ordered to come to an arrangement to get Joseph working again. Then in 1860 an apprentice to him and a Robert Bennett, Augustus Butler refusing to do certain aspects of his work.


Image of a Brushmaker from – Who Do You Think You Are Magazine (

In amongst that period James and Elizabeth also lost their youngest child Hannah at the age of 13, there was an inquest into her sudden death, as she had been feeling unwell for a few days and complaining of a bad headache. Her cause of death was found to be inflammation of the brain – likely to have been Meningitis.

By 1861 the Cotton family were living on the High Street in Leicester where James carried on his brush making business.

So back to the Italian connection…

James and Elizabeth’s youngest surviving child Catherine was with her family in North Bond Street, Leicester in 1841 and at 18 Rutland Street, Leicester in 1851. Both of these streets were the locations of the pubs her father ran.

There was a notice in the Leicester Mercury on the 29th December 1860 announcing Catherine’s marriage having taken place on the 21st of that month in Boston, Lincolnshire to a Luigi Cella – Artist.

Leicestershire Mercury 29 December 1860 Catherine Cotton

I found Catherine and Luigi living at West Street, Boston as boarders in 1861. Luigi was a Photographic Artist aged 28, from Italy. Back in Leicester James and Elizabeth Cotton had a three year old granddaughter living with them at 21 High Street, Mary Elizabeth Cella born in Leicester. It became clear to me that Luigi and Catherine had children before they got married, which of course back then was quite a source of shame and scandal. At that time Catherine would have been just 17. I wonder how her family felt about her getting pregnant so young, and whether they took issue at the fact he wasn’t English? I’d like to think this wasn’t an issue for them, but I don’t know. I found Mary’s birth registered as Mary Elizabeth Cotton Cella in 1857, and also the birth of another sibling – Clotilda Louisa Cella in Nottingham in 1859. Seeing as Clotilda was also born before they married, I wonder again how Catherine’s family took this, two children born out of wedlock. They may well have been living together as if they were married, perhaps he had proposed by then? I haven’t been able to locate Clotilda yet in 1861.

Luigi and Catherine went on to have two more children after they married, Emelia/Amelia in 1865 and Luigi Antonio in 1869 – both in Boston.

I found Luigi’s naturalisation papers on The National Archives website. These documents provided me with details as to where in Italy he was from and when he came to England. The documents were affidavits of people who knew Luigi and could state how long they had known him for, what he had been doing to earn a living and his willingness to become a British subject. There was also a statement from Luigi himself, including details such as him having a British wife and – at that point – three children.

His sponsors or witnesses were Thomas Wise, a Banker, William Simonds, a Wine & Spirit Merchant, George Waghorn, Superintendent of Police and Bartol Storr a Banker’s Clerk. They all stated that they had known Luigi for eight years.

Luigi stated he was born in Ferriere in the Division of Parma, Italy. It looks like these days this comes under Emilia-Romagna rather than Parma. It is about 100km from Parma. He also said he came over in December 1854 and was at that point in September 1867, aged 34, giving a year of birth around 1833 which tallies with his age given on the 1861 census. Also from the information from his marriage certificate, I know his father was an Antonio Cella and he was also described as an Artist.

1920 map

1920 map close

1920s map of Italy with close up of the area including Ferriere – from

Luigi would have been about 21 when he travelled from his home country of Italy to come to England. Photography was still in it’s early days in the 1850s having become more of a tenable medium with advances in fixing solutions in 1839 developed by Henry Fox Talbot, and portrait photographs were becoming something that many people who had the money to spend, were keen to have. With the invention of photography, many portrait artists went on to try their hand at photography, knowing it would likely be something customers would prefer – it being relatively more instant than sitting for hours for an expensive portrait, or perhaps a more lifelike likeness than a silhouette.

Tracking Luigi through the newspapers it revealed that he was in Leicester in 1856 where he attended the Leicester Early Closing Association Annual Soiree on 30th September.  The Early Closing Association was formed around 1842 for campaigning to control the hours of labour in shops as well as abolishing Sunday trading. Half day closing wasn’t achieved until 1912!

Leicester Chronicle 04 October 1856 L Cella

Leicester Chronicle – 4th Oct 1856

Interestingly it describes Luigi as being Sardinian rather than Italian, although Sardinia is an island off Italy some 700km from Ferriere. Presumably it was during this visit that Luigi and Catherine met, with their first child Mary being born in Leicester in 1857.

The newspapers show Luigi as having set up shop in Melton Mowbray in 1857 before moving on to Westgate, Grantham, Lincolnshire later that year in the premises of a George Dawson, an auctioneer before moving premises to the High Street above a Silversmiths run by a Mrs Green. There are advertisements for his services and advising patrons to come before he moves on as his stays were only temporary. In August 1857 he was mentioned in a report about an All England Cricket Match in Grantham as having taken photographs. The adverts below shows the clientele he had – sounds rather grand.

Grantham Journal 04 July 1857 L Cella

Grantham Journal – 4th July 1857

Stamford Mercury 23 October 1857 L Cella

Stamford Mercury – 23rd October 1857

The advert below shows Luigi also did miniatures and offered to teach people how to be photographers.

Grantham Journal 28 August 1858 L Cella

Grantham Journal – 28th August 1858

By 1859 he had moved on to Boston where initially he set up at Mr Hobson’s at the Market Place.

Lincolnshire Chronicle 02 September 1859 L Cella

Lincolnshire Chronicle – 2nd September 1859

By at least 1864 Luigi was then trading at 5 Wide Bargate Street in Boston – by this advert it shows it was adjoining Mrs Brumby’s shop. From other directory entries it appears Mrs Brumby was a Cooper. Looking at the last section of the advert it appears that Luigi was not planning to stay in Boston for long, but it seems that he ended up staying there permanently.

Boston Guardian 23 July 1864 L Cella

Boston Guardian – 23rd July 1864

I found a mention of him in the local paper in 1864 taking part in some shooting and making a wager on his skills!

Lincolnshire Chronicle 03 September 1864 L Cella

Lincolnshire Chronicle – 3rd September 1864

In 1865 Catherine’s father James Cotton passed away aged 68.

At the time of the 1871 census he was still at 5 Wide Bargate with his four children. Catherine was a visiting her brother William back in Leicester, he was running the Champion Inn at the time.

Boston Guardian 20 September 1873 L Cella

Boston Guardian – 20th September 1873

From the advert above you can see where the artistic flourish came into play where Luigi would finish the portraits in water colours, oils and crayons. We can also see that not only did he take portraits in his studio but he also would visit people in their homes to take pictures of those who could not leave the house, and that he could take photographs of views of private houses and gardens.

However in March 1874 Luigi had to file for bankruptcy. The notices in the London Gazette show he was also a tobacconist. It seems that he got himself back on his feet again and continued his business.

In 1881 the family were living at 9 Silver Street, Boston. By then Mary and Clotilda were not at home. Earlier that year Mary had married Robert Thomas Barratt and they were living in Wakefield at the time of the census – Robert’s occupation was given as Interest of Money (Property) so presumably he was a fairly wealthy young man. Clotilda was a visitor in the household of a Mary A Bibby, a General Shop Keeper living in Havelock Street in Nottingham.

In mid 1882 Emelia/Amelia married Thomas Fox Gauntley, a Tobacconist, in Nottingham. Perhaps they had met through Luigi being a part-time Tobacconist?

Nottinghamshire Guardian 14 April 1882 E Cella

Nottinghamshire Guardian – 14th April 1882

Later that year, Clotilda married William Morris, a Jeweller, in Boston. The newspaper announcement got the details slightly wrong in that they called him William Norris Jewkes, rather than William Morris – Jeweller!

Lincolnshire Chronicle 03 November 1882 Clotilda Cella

Lincolnshire Chronicle – 3rd Nov 1882

The 1885 Kelly’s Directory shows that Luigi’s business address had changed from 5 Wide Bargate to 7a Wide Bargate. It may be that this is the same property but perhaps some renumbering had taken place if new properties had been added. He was also still listed as 9 Silver Street too as his home address.

Cella Photo 2

Example of Cella’s photography – found on  a gentleman called Joseph Moore

Looking at the examples of Luigi’s work you can see the Freemason’s symbol of the square and compass. I found that Luigi was a member of the Freemasons, he joined St. Botolphs Lodge in Grantham in September 1858 before then joining the Harmony Lodge in Boston in 1863 where he was described as being an Artist, although his age was given as 31 giving him a year of birth around 1831.

In 1891 they were still living at 9 Silver Street with their son Luigi who by then was 22 and was a Sailor. The 1892 White’s Directory lists Luigi both under Artist and Photographer. The 1896 Kelly’s Directory gave 7a Wide Bargate and this time 7 Pen Street. Pen Street was just round the corner from Wide Bargate.

Sadly Luigi passed away in Boston in 1897 aged 65, his widow Catherine was living with her married daughter Emelia Gauntley at 50 Musters Road, West Bridgford, Nottinghamshire in 1901. By 1911 Katherine was with her son Luigi and his wife Polly living at Victoria House, Annfield Plain, Durham.

Catherine died in 1926 in Chapel en le Frith district in Derbyshire aged 86. I should imagine she had quite an interesting life, a brushmaker’s daughter, growing up in pubs, getting pregnant at the age of about 17 by a travelling Italian photographer… Then settling down in the busy port town of Boston, the ups and downs of perhaps booming business and the lows of bankruptcy.

As for the legacy of the family of Luigi Cella and Catherine Glanville Cotton…

Catherine’s daughter Mary and her husband Robert Barratt did not have any children. From living in Wakefield in 1881, they ended up living at Breck End, The Wash, Chapel en le Frith in Derbyshire, which is where Catherine ended her days, presumably living with them. Robert died there in 1920 with Mary outliving him by 29 years dying in 1949 aged 93.

Clotilda and William Morris had a daughter Mabel in 1889 but sadly William died in 1892 aged 39 with Clotilda following him having died in 1893 aged 34 in Nottingham. Mabel may have been living with her 26 year old cousin John Morris in Melton Mowbray in 1901. It is possible she was working as an Assistant Draper at 12, 14 & 16 Porchester Road in Paddington, London in 1911 working for a Mr. Evan Jones Evans.

Emelia and Thomas Gauntley had a daughter Ethel in 1885, Thomas Cella in 1887, Dorothy Kate in 1890 and Marjorie Emily in 1899. They remained living at 50 Musters Road, West Bridgford. Thomas died in 1931, and Emelia died in 1936. The death notice in the local paper for Thomas’s death shows he remained in the Tobacconist trade.

Nottingham Journal 01 June 1931 TF Gauntley

Nottingham Journal – 1st June 1931

Luigi Antonio had a relationship with a Polly/Pollie Harwood, I’ve not yet found a marriage for them, but they had a son Luigi Antonio in Cardiff in 1895. They were living in Romiley near Stockport in Cheshire in 1901. Luigi was a Fishmonger. I found that they baptised their son in April 1905 in Chapel en le Frith. He was baptised as Luigi Robert, not sure if this was written down by mistake as he was always known officially as Luigi Antonio. Luigi senior’s occupation was given as Railway Man. From the Railway Employment records on Ancestry, there is an entry from 9th Jan 1905 when Luigi was working at Cowburn Tunnel and he burnt his hand on a naphtha lamp.

As we know the family were living in Durham in 1911, by then Luigi was an Insurance Superintendent. The 1911 census information states they had been married for 17 years and had one child.

Luigi’s son joined the Royal Army Service Corps in March 1916, his former occupation being Motor Driver. He was discharged in August 1918 for no longer being physically fit to serve. Although his record does not show much detail about his service, he was  awarded the Silver War Badge. He married Elsie Crump in 1918 in Cardiff, from his marriage certificate his father’s occupation was Chemist.

Cella Marriage 1918

Marriage entry from Findmypast

Luigi and Elsie had two children Joan and Ronald before Luigi’s untimely death in 1927 aged 32. His probate entry gives his widow Elsie as his executrix. His mother Polly – who I believe was actually called Mary, died in Cardiff in 1931, while Luigi senior outlived them both. In 1939 he was living at 142 Donald Street, Cardiff which was his address during WWI. He was an Advertising Salesman’s Van Driver, living with a widowed lady called Annie Ackland who was a Housekeeper. It seems that Luigi senior had quite a varied career, a Sailor, a Fishmonger, Railway Man, Insurance Superintendent, Chemist, Van Driver! In some ways I am surprised he didn’t continue his father’s photography business. He died in 1944 and his probate entry states he died at the Cardiff Royal Infirmary, his executor being named as Horace Dunbar James – a civil servant. His effects were valued at £859 6s 11d – which in 2017’s money (according to the National Archives Currency Converter) would be around £30,551.

I wonder how much Luigi’s children knew of their Italian heritage? It is unknown as to whether they ever travelled there together. I wonder if the family were ever subject to ill treatment because of their “foreign” name? I wonder what life was like for Luigi, coming to England as a young man, how much English did he speak? Did Catherine learn Italian?

Perhaps if anyone who is directly descended from Luigi and Catherine reads this, they may be able to offer some insight. I like to think of it as quite a romantic tale, the young Italian artist, heading to England to find his fortunes with his skills in photography, meeting a teenage girl he fell in love with, fathered children, eventually got married and became British, while hopefully always retaining the love of his home country in his heart.