Ever since I was little, I’ve been fascinated by family history. I used to stay over at my gran’s house on a Saturday night sometimes, and before bed I would always beg her for stories about “the olden days.” In return she’d tell me about her parents, her brothers and sisters, and the scary lady who lived down the street (I think we’ve all known one of those in our lives!).
When it was my granda’s turn to talk about the old days, he’d always opt for stories about his Italian relatives, who moved to Aberdeen during the Victorian era. The Italians always fascinated me, but little did I know that they’d one day feature in one of my books!
After my grandparents passed away, my Mum and I decided to trace our family tree. We discovered that on her side, we descended from a couple who lived in Piccadilly, London and worked as servants for many years. This was mind-blowing to me because for a long time I have been obsessed with Piccadilly and I don’t quite know why. I even have pictures of it all over my kitchen and although I have never lived in London, I can always navigate my way round like a native! Needless to say, finding out about my Piccadilly relatives became an obsession for me and I spent many sleepless nights, finding out more and more information. I never knew them of course, but I still wept when I discovered that my Great Granddad x4 passed away at a very early age, and cheered when his widow (my great grandmother x4) went onto raise her children and create a life for herself.
So those lovely people were on my mum’s side of the family, but on my dad’s we have the previously-mentioned Italians… Just to fill you in a little bit, my great, great grandfather Cosimo, moved to Scotland from Italy when he was a young man, and created his own ice cream business, first in Glasgow and then in Aberdeen. At some point during that time, his brother Agostino joined him in Scotland and helped with the family business.
Now while my great, great grandfather is remembered as a respectable family man, hard-working and disciplined, it would seem that Agostino was a bit of a rogue. In my family tree research, I discovered that he was hauled into an Aberdeen court on account of fighting in the street and again because of his colourful love life! The latter involved him taking revenge on his estranged girlfriend Rossina, by asking another woman (Filomena) to marry him. According to Agostino, it was all a bit of a lark to make Rossina jealous – “When a man is a bit angry he does not know what he is doing,” he said.
His plan worked and Rossina demanded that he call off the wedding and marry her instead. However, Filomena was no push over and Agostino found himself sued for breach of promise! During his time in court, he told the judge that his brother (my great, great grandfather) had also asked Filomena to marry him as a joke, which caused a great deal of hilarity to echo around the room. In the end, Agostino was fined and sent on his merry way, but not before he told the court that he hadn’t decided which woman to marry! I’ve done a bit of research since then and it seems he didn’t marry either of them in the end, so his ‘joke’ was rather an expensive and unsuccessful one!
This story has always amused me and so when I was asked to write ‘The Battered Body Beneath the Flagstones and other Victorian Scandals’, I immediately put it in. There are so many bloody murders and crimes in the book, that my Italian cad uncle really made for a bit of light relief. It has been fabulous to include one of my family’s own stories in the book, and it will be amazing if my readers spot their own ancestors in there, too. We shall see!
Oh, before I go – I unfortunately don’t have a photograph of my uncle Agostino, so I’ve illustrated this blog with a picture of my great grandmother (on the left), who was Agostino’s niece. (Thanks to my Scottish family for sharing it!) If I ever manage to find one of Agostino, I’ll be sure to post it here. 🙂 UPDATE: You can see a photo of Agostino here.
You can pre-order Victorian Scandals at all good bookshops or by visiting the publisher’s website.
Until next time,