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Ghetto of the world: Bedford: the English hinterland with an Italian flavor

Today, the story of one of the most amazing combinations that one can imagine of such dissimilar peoples – Italians and British – we continue our column on the ethnic ghettos of the world. Get ready to go with us to the cold and rainy Bedford, where we plunge into the warm Mediterranean atmosphere.
Bedford, despite the large number of medieval castles, fortresses and other similar objects, until the 1960s-1970s, it was difficult to call it a popular tourist destination, since it was a typical 100,000 city from the British backwoods. Bedfordshire county itself, the capital of which it is, was famous for the picturesque river Ouse, several breweries and wool products. The British themselves, lovers of domestic tourism, or those who have already traveled abroad, occasionally visited here, fleeing from noisy cities, such as London or Glasgow, or resting from heavy industrial centers such as Liverpool or Manchester, breathing the fresh and fresh air of the province and enjoying her leisurely lifestyle. Nevertheless, today Bedford, transformed over several years into a very popular place, largely due to the local Italian community that inhabits both the central regions and the suburbs, is by no means boring and uninteresting.

At first glance, the very appearance of the heat-loving Italians in a quite ordinary English town, which can in no way be called cultural, financial or industrial center, is surprising. Still, usually people, and even from another country, move either to where it is warm and beautiful, or where there is a lot of work. However, if you dig deeper and penetrate at least a little into the history of Europe after World War II, then everything will become much clearer.

The end of hostilities brought not only the long-awaited peace, but also devastation. Great Britain, badly affected by the bombing and having lost a lot of its male population in battles around the world, was in need of labor migrants. Italy was experiencing a serious economic crisis, so in the early 50s of the last century, the governments of the two countries found each other – a contract was concluded, according to which 7,500 Italians went to Bedford to restore the county. Surprisingly, the hospitality of the locals, along with a well-paid job, did their job – the emotional and hot Italians were able to get used to not only the stiff British, but also the local weather, so most of them did not return home after the end of the contract. Moreover, a second batch of immigrants arrived later with the families of the first, and then the third wave. All this gave such a demographic result that today every third person in the city has Mediterranean roots.

For more than 60 years of living together, immigrants and natives were not involved in any conflicts or feuds: everyone treats each other with respect and tolerance. Perhaps this is also because the Italian community not only earned its authority through honest work, but also because the Southerners truly fell in love with the city and decorated it with their peculiar taste and refinement, opening lovely family restaurants, rebuilding several architectural facilities and laying the foundation for Bedford’s cultural prosperity. Now tourists are attracted by this amazing combination of two cultures that are not similar to each other. The river festival on the river Ouse, the Italian festival, the Festival of kites, the summer fair – this fun and colorful event is the hallmark of the city. And if we add to these Happenings also restored objects, for example, such as St. Paul’s Cathedral, the majestic grain exchange building, ancient mills, Victorian parks and the Higgins art gallery that keeps unique watercolors and ceramics, we’ll get a versatile and interesting place for weekends. -end, and even weekly vacation. Due in large part to the Italian influence, tourism has become as important today for the entire county as the wool industry along with brewing.

Informally Bedford is considered the capital of all Italians of Great Britain. Until 2008, there was even a consulate here, and to this day several official institutions are functioning at once. Tourists from the Apennines themselves include this place in their compulsory travel program in Foggy Albion, visiting it right after London. Therefore, in the summer months, the Italians generally reach the concentration of almost half of the entire population – they willingly refuse spaghetti and wine in favor of beer and British snacks and also enjoy such an unusual combination of cultures, singing Anglo-Italian hits in the evenings and turning medieval streets into concert venues in the open.

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