The Italian Ladies in Settle

Michael Slater
 North Craven 
 Heritage Trust 

This article is the result of discussions with Anna Bibby, Warwick Brookes, Alan Cox, Lisa and Tom Donoghue, Christina Eyles, Barbara Gent, Gina Hayes, Kathy Morphet, Sam Pitts, John Reid, Brian Shorrock, Denzil Threlfall, Gina and Richard Walker and Anna Webb.

There is uncertainty about the spelling of some names so corrections are welcome, along with any further information.

It is perhaps not well known that Settle was ‘invaded’ by a large number of Italian young ladies just after the Second World War. But invaded in a very welcome way. They came by invitation for employment in the local cotton mills and in Giggleswick School. Five of those ladies still live in Settle and tell of their experiences.

Prisoners of war

There was a camp at Hellifield Peel but some prisoners lived in Settle at the Falcon and Whitefriars and in local houses, employed locally in farms and perhaps at Giggleswick School. They wore clothing marked with diamonds on their backs to show their status. Fraternization was quite normal. The Italian prisoners of war kept in Hellifield were visited by the local schoolboys who took delight in visiting them in camp after having had a meal at home after school, and partaking of spaghetti with them. The camp had its own chef. Lancashire airers in Hellifield Peel were used to hang up the spaghetti to dry (it is said!). Football was played against Craven teams and swimming parties took place at Halton West bridge - one Italian was drowned there. Maybe one of the Italian prisoners of war came from near Naples and was the conduit for recruitment of workers for the Settle mills and Giggleswick School from Avellino province in southern Italy. (Lorenzo Christie, the original mill owner, might have had some Italian connection judging by his name).

Mill workers

Unmarried Italian girls, 18 to 27 years old, were recruited by the cotton spinning mill (for the High Mill and Shed Mill of Hector Christie Ltd., later Fine Spinners and Doublers Association) in 1951. Miss Barbara (?) Vessy, the company employee or Matron in charge of health and welfare in the Langcliffe Place hostel went to Italy to find workers from the Naples area. About 12 came in January 1951, and in November 1951 40 more were recruited and brought to Settle. They did not speak English and learned the hard way but had each other to talk to. The hostel had comfortable attractive bed-sit accommodation. The local lads could enjoy a Sunday spaghetti tea there, but had to be out by 10pm.

Before the war Settle was a quiet place and a rather closed community where local lads married local girls. Few tourists then. The town was transformed during and after the war. The congregation of ten or twenty young Italian girls in the Market Place did not go unnoticed - the chatter and noisy laughter had some impact, particularly as there was a shortage of local girls.

The ladies travelled via Naples to Milan by train, and forward to England overland, the company having paid their fares and subsistence from Milan. They were good workers; in the Shed Mill they were all ‘end-knotters’, joining fine threads of cotton with tiny knots, the thread pulled from big baskets of ‘cops’ loaded with cotton thread, at an astonishing rate using a hand-held device. Bad cotton which was continually breaking caused extra stress which was paid for by way of ‘bad running money’. Slubs - the fat bits in the thread - also caused trouble. The Shed Mill (now Watershed Mill) was full of noisy greasy machines. The ladies were not taught English; they seemed happy, working about 7.30am to 5.30pm with one hour for dinner in a good canteen, 10 minutes for tea and biscuits half-way through each morning and afternoon, earning perhaps near £3 a week. Chrissy Eyles, working at the High Mill, remembers shopping in Langcliffe during the lunch break and working Saturday mornings to earn extra money. Interaction between the Italians and the local English girls in the mill during lunchtime was somewhat limited, presumably because of the language barrier. Her brother married an Italian girl. They were all lovely girls, slightly sunburned so not obviously different in appearance from the locals. They enjoyed a good social life with dances every week. The Langcliffe Institute New Year’s Eve ball had a good band and was popular with the Italians.

When the mill closed in 1955 some of the workers went first to a mill in Burley in Wharfedale. The Langcliffe Mill then re-opened for a short while and employed the Italian ladies once more before closing again. The staff then went to Dewhurst’s Mill in Skipton and to other mills in Bradford, Huddersfield and Leicester. Built in 1828 by John Dewhurst, Belle Vue Mills on Broughton Road in Skipton was opened as a spinning and weaving mill, but burned down two years later, and was immediately rebuilt, this time as a cotton mill. In 1882 Dewhurst’s had a floor area of 20,000 square yards spread over 5 storeys, and employed over 800 workers. The Belle Vue Mills did spinning, weaving, making of sewing cotton (Sylko) and dyeing. (

Filomena Nacchia (1931-2013)

Filomena arrived in Settle in January 1951, having travelled from Montemiletto north-east of Avellino in southern Italy, near Naples. Her sister Antonietta was already here along with 12 Italian ladies in the mill. Filomena was accompanied by Guiseppina (?), Maria Yandole(?)(Bailey), Rafaelina, and Maria’s sisters Carmella and Elena, all from the same area near Naples. They worked in the High Mill on spinning machines. Signs in Italian and English were installed.

Filomena and Cedric (’Sam’) became acquainted at the NuVic, followed by walks home to Langcliffe Place, and married in 1958 after Sam returned from National Service. Pasta and meatballs were frequently on the menu at home. The Naples Italian dialect is such that northern and southern Italians find it difficult to understand each other, so later visits to a northern cousin were a little difficult. Visits to Italy every two years meant that wine made by Filomena’s father could be brought home - strong stuff but with no additives, so that early drinking was advisable before the wine tasted more like vinegar. Filomena’s father was a wheelwright in Montemiletto; his father had been born in Brazil - his family had emigrated to Brazil - but he returned to Italy to marry an Italian woman. Home life in Montemiletto was not particularly hard even with Germans billeted there in wartime, followed by British and US soldiers, no damage being suffered. The houses had no water supply - excellent quality water from the village pump was available.

Filomena had to report to the police annually for some time before applying successfully and easily for British nationality.

Highlights from Hector Christie Ltd. employment contract 1951/2
(printed in two languages)

Italian volunteers are sought for regular employment as mill workers in their cotton spinning and doubling mills at Settle.

A company representative will interview volunteers and will select workers according to their suitability.

Volunteers will be transported from Milan to Great Britain at the expense of the company on a permit issued by the Ministry of Labour and National Service valid only for service for an initial period of 12 months.

At the end of the 12 months consideration will be given to allow volunteers to remain in employment for a further period.

The company will provide subsistence allowance during the journey and pay 5s per day from the time of departure from Milan to Great Britain.

On commencing work each volunteer will receive an ex gratia payment of 24s - 6d.

On arrival at Settle accommodation will be provided in the firm’s hostel at a charge of 30s per week, for which two meals are provided on Mondays to Fridays and three meals on Saturdays and Sundays. Suppers are provided each night and from Monday to Friday a mid-day meal is provided in the mill canteen at a cost of 4s - 6d a week.

The hostel in which 17 Italian women are already in residence is situated in the same grounds as the mill only a few minutes walk away.

Italian volunteers will be employed under the same conditions and rates of pay as British workers.

When first beginning work volunteers aged 18 or over will receive a training rate of 72s -9d for a five day week of 45 hours. After a training period of usually about three months average earnings should increase to £4 -15s to £5 a week.

There are 6 public holidays a year and one week’s annual holiday. Payment for holidays is made in accordance with the Trade Agreements.

Italian volunteers undertake to become members of the appropriate Trade Union and pay the same contributions as British workers.

Italian volunteers will pay the same National Insurance contributions as British workers, i.e. 4s at age of 18 or over and employer’s contribution is 3s - 5d a week.

Income tax is payable as for British workers (single woman 2s -10d at £4 a week rising to 20s - 5d at £8 a week).

Free medical attention is provided by the State irrespective of payments made.

If a volunteer is unable to work owing to sickness she will be granted State assistance according to need.

Savings can be transmitted to Italy with a permit from the Exchange Control (1700 lire per pound).

Volunteers will be entitled to free repatriation if their employment is terminated for reasons outside their control or if after two years or more satisfactory employment.

When travelling to Great Britain volunteers will be allowed to bring personal luggage limited to what they can carry and must not bring items for sale or barter.

Settle is a country district in the north of England and the climate is rather cold. It is desirable, therefore, that volunteers should bring with them warm clothes, including a mackintosh (un impermeabile) if possible and a pair of strong shoes.

Giggleswick School

In the later 1950s Giggleswick School had to seek Italian workers as maids in the dormitories and later in the kitchen. Presumably the mill ladies were helpful in finding staff from the Avellino province. At this time there were Geordies working at the school and it is thought that there were also several maids at the school recruited from Sweden or Norway - the mixing with the boys might have precipitated their leaving - followed by the suggestion that war-ravaged Italy might be a better source of staff. From 1955 to 1958 wages were about £2 -10s a week and £3 -10s after 1958.

Luigina Walker ( née Stanco)

Gina was born in Frigento, a small village 50 miles east of Naples, near Grottaminarda, just off the modern motorway from Naples to Bari. Her family lived on a farm in Sturno growing everything - corn, olives, figs, plums, tomatoes, grapes, vegetables - along with animals - sheep, goats, cattle, pigs, horses, chickens. There was plenty of work and no lack of food but there was no money to earn. The farm remains with the family.

In 1959 Gina replied to an advertisement in a local magazine in which Giggleswick School were seeking domestic staff. They had to be 21 years old at least - because the school was for boys only. The school arranged the work permits and required only a sponsor and a birth certificate. She arrived by train in December with snow to greet her. And cried. She did not speak English and learned only gradually by conversation with others over the coming months. But she was not allowed to speak to the boys! There were already about 10 Italian ladies already working at the school so this was helpful.

Gina worked for the school for 27 years with a break of 9 years in bringing up her family.

Elisa Donoghue (née Stanco, Gina’s sister)

Lisa came to England in 1961 also to work at the school as a domestic assistant. Lisa arrived to join seven other Italian girls, including her elder sister. She worked there for 41 years. She was a baby during the war and the region was badly damaged - bridges were destroyed and bomb shelters were in use.

Lisa travelled with Palmina Galante, first by bus to Naples. The train from Naples was a through train all the way to Dover so sleeping on the train was possible. Transfer to the boat across the Channel was at night so Lisa did not realize she was on a boat. She felt sick so left the cabin and only then realized she was at sea! Train to London was followed by travel across London, aided by a friendly African - another surprise for the ladies. Then trains to Leeds and Settle. All this took about three days. It was a somewhat stressful experience. Lisa’s sister Luigina had sent her the train fare and it was paid back by Lisa over the following year of employment.

Lisa met her husband when out walking with a friend, first seeing him with a broken-down motorcycle. She married in the Catholic Church in Upper Settle in 1964. She remembers looking after Russell Harty at the school - and remembers him with much affection, as do the other ladies.

”When I first arrived I couldn’t speak or write a single word of English, but I was very happy . The local girls wouldn’t do the work, but we thought it was easy compared to working on the farm in Italy. We were looked after by Miss Outhwaite, who was like a mother to us. If we went out to the cinema or a dance in Settle we had to be back in by 10 and if we were late she would always wait up and tell us off. The boys - there were only boys then - and the masters were always really polite to us. They would tip their caps whenever we walked past. It was all so different in those days: we weren’t allowed to clean the front staircase until after we were married because it meant getting too close to the boys!”

Antonietta Webb (née Pascucci)

Anna was born in Sturno, the village next door to Frigento, in the province of Avellino. She had two brothers and five sisters. She grew up with a friend Palmina (Galante) who lived next door. Palmina saw an advertisement in a local newspaper for staff to work at Giggleswick School and decided to come to England. When Palmina had settled in she asked Anna to consider joining her. She arrived in July 1963. Anna was one of 12 girls from the same village:

Gina (Luigina Stanco), Lisa (Elisa Stanco), Maria (Meola), Maria (Galante), Palmina (Galante), Lydia (Capparella), Geraldina (Pompesa), Nina (Erminia Perla) and Maria (Capobianco).

Anna was up early every morning at 7am working (with a break) until 8pm, scrubbing floors on her hands and knees with soap for six and a half days a week. The Italian girls never grumbled, having known hard work from being very young at home. She worked in the old kitchen for several years and then in the new kitchen until 1973. She retired after more than 40 years service to the school.

Anna first met her husband-to-be at a dance in Gargrave and later in the Social Club. She married in 1973. Her friends Lucy, Ann, Maria, Lina Capstick and Jean all got married in 1959. They say that all the school washing-up was done by hand and the plates were very heavy. Anyone who visited her kitchens never left without a cup of tea or coffee.

Anna spoke no English but because of the kindness of Miss Outhwaite (Housemother), Miss Hedge (Matron), Mr Roe (Headmaster) and young Mr Brookes (Teacher) she soon found her feet.


The ladies lived at the school in accommodation over the dining room. Some were in Catterall Hall - known to some locals as The Drip. They worked in split shifts 7am to 2pm and about 5pm to 8pm. They had one half-day a week free on Sunday and were paid £3 -17s a week as resident housemaids with free board and lodging. This was a very satisfactory income at that time. It would seem that the school were not able to recruit local girls because of the requirement to live-in. The work involved making beds in the dormitories, cooking, working in the kitchen, serving in the dining room, cleaning, making teas for staff, and practically everything else. They had no training in cooking. Recruits from Ireland and the North-east were also working at the school.

In the limited free time there was a dance at the NuVic (now the Co-op in Settle) in the afternoons (Thursday night was Top of the Pops night) and a disco on Sunday night (at the NuVic), as well as a formal dance at the Drill Hall on Saturday nights, where they could socialize with the local lads. Her now husband had seen her in the area and introduced himself at a dance. There was a 10pm curfew at the school for boyfriends. Climbing the drainpipe and getting in (or out?) via a window after 10pm was not unheard of. The rest is history for some, which is how they came to remain in Settle.

In due course they became British nationals since dual nationality was not accepted by the Italians in earlier years. The Headmaster’s wife was a JP and she eased the whole process of applying for British citizenship.

Gina, Lisa and Anna had many siblings and keep in touch with their families in Italy. All three retain fluency in Italian but in a dialectal version which is perhaps not so readily understood in northern Italy. And words have changed with the passing of time. (A recent book about Calabria makes good reading on this topic. Journey to the South: a Calabrian homecoming by Annie Hawes, Published Penguin 2005).

All three, Lisa, Gina and Anna were married in the Catholic Church in Upper Settle. The ladies were allowed to get married at 2pm and had to be back at work later that day. There was no time off for such events.

The ladies were well-looked after and well-respected by boys and staff, including the Headmaster, marked by occasional presents of wine. There were about 20 Italian ladies at the school, having arrived at different times over a period of years from about 1953 to 1960.

With food in mind, spaghetti was made at home for their families using local flour with no problem. The spaghetti was laid on a table to dry while the sauce was being prepared. Shops in Leeds were able to supply particular Italian foods. Lisa has awful memories of English custard and various other strange English foodstuffs.

Antonietta (Anna) Bibby (née Gaita)

Anna was born in Montefredane near Avellino. Her parents died of illnesses and the two boys and four girls were orphaned but remained in the family home. Anna at age 13 had to look after the family. They owned fields for growing a wide range of crops, including grapes, so they did not go hungry. There was an underground tunnel as a bomb shelter; US soldiers gave them food parcels as they passed through the region. After the war, since it proved impossible to raise the dowry for girls to get married, the alternative was to leave home to find work abroad. Anna’s sisters Maria, Giuseppina and Lucia all came to work at the school, as well as her friend Caramelina (Lina) Giordano. Anna started in 1957 following a sister. Anna, on her own, had a traumatic travel experience as told below by Mr Brookes.

The ladies talked in English at work but had no tuition. They relied on boyfriends to help improve their language skills; Miss Outhwaite responsibly insisted on chaperones for proposed outings with the lads. Motorcycle trips to the Lake District are remembered.

Once married, nationality change was sensible to avoid being repatriated; this cost a lot of money but required no language test. Cooking at home sometimes involved pasta but Italian ingredients were not obtainable in early days. As the years have gone by the understanding of Italian has faded somewhat with so much change in living styles and manner of speech. Holidays in Italy can prove too hot for comfort.

Anna’s sister Lucia married Billy Malkinson and they went to Canada to live. Billy is the cousin of Mrs Threlfall in Settle. It is suspected that Billy came to Settle from Cumbria specifically to find a wife, and was not disappointed.

Aurelia (Gina) Hayes (née Tarantino)

Since no-one in England could pronounce her name Aurelia, she became known as Gina. She has two sisters Amelia and Yolante who also worked at the school. She comes from Sturno where she grew up on a farm growing wheat, maize, all the usual other crops and grapes. She became ill and without enough strength to work on the farm so was sent to a convent at the age of 12 to be educated. At the age of 14 she left, not wishing to continue there to become a nun, and stayed at home to the age of 18 at which age she was allowed to leave to work abroad. The farm remains with the family.

Her sister Amelia came to work at the school and since she was such a good worker, Amelia was asked if she had any sisters or friends interested in coming to England. Thus Aurelia left home aged 18. Amelia married and became Amelia Telese. One of Gina’s brothers married Erminia Telese. Gina met her husband by practising her English, asking him for a light for a cigarette - and ended up walking back to school with him. And that was that!

Gina also had an interesting journey to England, getting on the wrong train at some point and ending up in Paris. Having some knowledge of French (taught in the convent) she was able to find the Italian embassy and was conveyed by car to the station and put on a train to England.

Warwick Brookes

Mr Brookes joined Giggleswick School as a teacher in 1957 and remembers many of the ladies who came from Italy to work there. In turn he was liked (loved) by all the Italian ladies! It is not yet clear how it came to be that a specific local area near Naples was pinpointed as a possible source of recruitment. Some Italian prisoners of war from Hellifield might have been employed at the school as gardeners or one of the mill workers might have been involved in the matter. Most of the ladies came from near Naples rather than from all parts of Italy.

One of the ladies (Antonietta Gaita) was offered employment and was sent employment documents and a rail ticket from Naples by the then Bursar Mr Hustwick. On her arrival in Leeds, hungry and tired, with little money and no English, she was refused entry to the platform for the train to Giggleswick because the ticket was valid only to Leeds. The Station master sent one of his staff out on to the streets to find an Italian speaker - eventually found in a solicitor’s office. The matter was then sorted out over a welcome cup of coffee, the Bursar having been telephoned, resulting in a promise to send a Postal Order to cover the cost of the local ticket. A kind soul gave Anna some money. Anna was met at Giggleswick by several of the Italian ladies already at the school, and was then faced with the one mile walk to the school - carrying her luggage.

The Italians did not have the money to return home during the holidays and it is not certain if they were paid the full rate during the school holidays.

Ladies who worked at the Mill
Maria Barbero (Faulkner) deceased
Lilian Barbero (Maria’s sister)deceased
Filomena Nacchia (Pitts)deceasedfrom Montemiletto
Antonietta Nacchia (sister to Filomena)
Maria Yandole (Bailey, sister of Carmella and Elena)
Maria Maniola (Proctor)
Maria Meoladeceased Londonfrom Sturno
Ladies who worked at the School
 Current locationOrigin
Antonietta Pascucci (Webb)SettleSturno
A(m)elia Tarantino (Telese)ClitheroeSturno
Yolante TarantinoCanadaSturno
Aurelia (Gina) Tarantino (Hayes)SettleSturno
Lydia CapparellaAustraliaSturno
Palmina GalanteSedberghSturno
Maria GalanteItalySturno
Geraldina Pompesanot knownSturno
Erminia PerlaCanadaSturno
Maria CapobiancoIlkleySturno
Maria GaitadeceasedMontefredane
Giuseppina GaitaItalyMontefredane
Lucia GaitaCanadaMontefredane
Antonietta Gaita (Bibby)SettleMontefredane
Luigina Stanco (Walker)SettleFrigento
Elisa Stanco (Donoghue)SettleFrigento
Minocella CaggianoItaly
’Orsolela’ (a nick-name)Canada
Lucia CeleliaItaly
Caramelina (Lina) Giordano (Capstick) deceased
Carmela PerlaItaly
Margaretta Capobiancodeceased
Leonilda GraziossiIlkley
Maria (Cokell)deceased
Adelina Caparelladeceased

The Kitchen
Lisa (Stanco), Gina (Stanco) and Anna (Pascucci)
Anna (Gaita) and Gina (Tarantino)
Front row: ‘Orsolela’, Gina Tarantino and Lisa Stanco at Giggleswick School © Giggleswick School

The Kitchen

Lisa (Stanco), Gina (Stanco) and Anna (Pascucci)

Anna (Gaita) and Gina (Tarantino)

Front row: ‘Orsolela’, Gina Tarantino and Lisa Stanco at Giggleswick School © Giggleswick School