Domenico (Benedetto) Forte, my grandfather, came to Exeter to settle down in 6 & 7 New Mermaid Lodge, which were the cottages leading into Mermaids Yard. Here he raised his early children and housed the people whom he had brought over from Italy to help him in his business. The 1901 census shows the members of his household. By 1901 the Forte Family were well established as ice-cream makers and sellers in Exeter.
The family were educated at The Mint and at the Palace Gate Convent. Education was primitive but useful and they all left school able to do reading, writing and arithmetic. Domenico, or Benedetto as he was better known, went on to establish himself in three shops at the top of South street. Married twice, he had 8 children.
His first wife Louisa Cocozza, from Picinisco Italy, was well known and loved in Exeter, at the turn of the century, as an amateur on the stages at local talent shows which she used to win hands down, because of the unusual nature of her acts where she would do Italian dances and sing Italian ballads in her native costume.
They had two children, Angelo and Lucia. Aunty Lucy married Stanley Croyden a local builder. He built 1 & 2 Dunsford Gardens, St Thomas, Exeter. Our family lived in no 2 for many years. Louisa was killed by lightning and my grandfather married again to Pacifica Morelli. They had more children who all became very well known in Exeter through the sale of ice-cream: Henry, Michael, John (Johnny), Tony, Rosina (Rosie) (Mocha Café's), Philomena (Mina), Carmine (Tommy).
In South Street, they had a fish and chip shop and a greengrocers and a restaurant. The fish and chip shop later became an ice cream parlour. Upstairs there were supper rooms - and above this on the third floor the family lived and there my sister Teresa and I were born.
These shops were destroyed in the Blitz when incendiaries set the shops across the road alight and they fell across the street and set our shops alight. In 2 hours the Forte family lost their living and all their possessions.
Eventually, after the Blitz, the family started a model factory in Preston Street nearby and here they used the very latest technology in the making of the finest ice-cream using American Creamery Package machines as well as Giusti and Carpigiani along with pasteurisers and homonogisers. I know, because for several years I worked there in apprenticeship. The government of the day during and after the war subsidised the milk needed to make the ice-cream, the regarded it as a food, and indeed it was.
Eighty gallons of full cream milk, 1 cwt of butter, 56lb of sugar went into every ice-cream mix that we made there at that time. Local people were employed to wrap ice-cream briquettes and choc ices and ice lollies.
Several of our ice-cream vans were derived from old hearses that had been painted and gilded in gold blue and red. They had sliding glass windows and hand bells which all bore the legend SEMPER FIDELIS.
The family were Catholic and supported both the Sacred Heart in South street and the Church of St Thomas on Dunsford Hill. We also supported the police and the Nuns with fund raising and ice cream for fete's etc.
This is a snippet about the family. I wish now that I had stayed more often to listen to the stories that the old folk used to tell.
© Ed Forte
The Forte family.Angelo Forte serving ice-cream in 1926.
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