Anyone who remembers MESCHIA’s Milk Bar in Hyde, or ice cream bought from a LEVAGGI’s van all around Tameside may wonder how the families came to be here. This is a summary of an article in the Ashton Reporter.

Meschia's Ice Cream Cart

Louis MESHCIA arrived in England in the 1880s. He was part of the widespread emigration from Italy, coming from the Province of Genova of Northern Italy where the countryside is beautiful, but the farms too small to support a growing family. It was family connections that brought him to Ancoats in Manchester, the area that became known as ‘Little Italy’. Shortly after arriving, he was told that there was an ice cream factory for sale in Hyde, then owned by Harry GICHERO at 139 Market Street. He liked the liked the shop so much that he bought it and invited his intended, Maria LEVAGGI to join him from Italy. The couple married at St Paul’s Church and had three children — Amelia, Clarence and Joseph. It is the middle child’s story on which the Reporter focussed.

Clarence was born above the family’s Market Street shop in 1912 and went to Harrytown School and later, Flowery Field. By the age of 12, he was working in the family business, pushing a handcart around Hyde, selling ice cream. Louis had begun to expand his enterprise and had taken a wooden hut on Hyde Market in which he had a brazier that he used to boil large pans of black peas that he sold to shoppers by the mug-full. And, of course, he also sold ice cream. By the age of 14, Clarence had left school and was given a horse and cart to expand the operation into Newton, Woodley and Bredbury.

Ice cream stall

Market Street was as much a bustling place then as it is today - the shops, billiard halls, cafes and the ‘Monkey Run’ as the courting circuit was known. Many romances began (and some ended) at MESCHIA’s Milk Bar. Clarence recalls how the Market Square played a major role in the town’s social life. It was where the Whitsuntide processions gathered; where Wakes Week was celebrated and where politicians harangued the crowds from the top of coal wagons. But first and foremost, it was there for trade.

Clarence remembers jeweller Harry GILBERT who had a stall on the corner of the market; Mrs CROSSLEY who sold curtains; PRESTON’s Pot stall; and a ‘Quack’ Doctor by the name of Sequaw. He stood on a highly decorated wagon selling patent medicines and would also act as dentist for those foolhardy enough. (A shot of whiskey and loud music to drown out the screams!) The market went on until nine o’clock at night and end with an auction of any unsold meat

There were four ice cream sellers at the market — SWANN’s, HENSHAW’s, LEVAGGI’s and MESCHIA’s. There were no such things as cones or wafers then. You either brought your own mug for the ice cream to go in, or bought a ‘Penny Sucker’, a thick glass of ice cream, returning the glass for it to be rinsed out and used again.

Clarence met his wife Betty while dancing in Manchester. They married in 1936 and went to live on Church Street where their daughters, Maureen and Christine were born. But then came the war and Clarence was called up to serve with the British forces in August 1940. Two weeks later, Italy declared war on England and many families of Italian descent were interned in Bury, or transported to the Isle of Man or Canada.

Clarence Meschia Clarence MESCHIA during WWII

Not so Louis MESCHIA or his son Clarence who joined the 8th Training Battalion RASC. He served through the war as Company Quartermaster Sergeant of 799 Air Despatch Company and was heavily involved with the supply drops for the D-day landings and Arnhem.

Towards the end of the war, he received news that his father was ill and was given compassionate leave to be with him. On reaching Manchester, he was unable to get a taxi to take him the eight miles or so to Hyde, but a policeman intervened after he explained his problem. He shared a taxi with a group of American servicemen being dropped off at various destinations. Unfortunately, he arrived home to discover that his father had died 15 minutes earlier.

After the war, Clarence rejoined the family business and despite rationing of ingredients such as butter and sugar, the business began to flourish. Ice cream was then a great luxury in the post-war austerity of Hyde. The family opened a factory in Pine Street from where they supplied forty outlets, but by the early 1980s Clarence and his brother, Joseph decided to retire. The problem was in finding someone with the finance to find a buyer with sufficient finance to take on a thriving business. Eventually, the vans and stock were was sold to Benjamin SUSCA who also took out a lease on the factory. This worked well until vandals set fire to the factory and vans at Pine Street and the enterprise came to an untimely end. However, MESCHIA’s is still represented in Hyde Precinct today, next to the outdoor market where Louis first sold his black peas, although now, frozen yoghurt is high on the menu!

Creative Commons License Rhodes Family History by Ian Rhodes (1999-2017 v.3.0) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available by contacting me.
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