Castelluccio to Clwyd and back again

December 12, 2016

by guest blogger, Polly Wright.

When I was sorting through my grandmother’s things after she died, I came across a bundle of letters. My grandparents, like most of their generation, kept all the letters ever written to them, so another bundle in another drawer was not that surprising- however, what grabbed my attention was that they were not in English or Welsh, but in Italian- and they were tied up in a pink ribbon. They were still in their envelopes, postmarked Castelluccio, Montese, and were carefully dated from 1946-1949. There were four of them, and were all signed from the same person- Gualtiero Lenzi. One envelope contained a photograph of the handsome writer, with an inscription on the back: To remember my dear friend Signora Hooson and her family. The last letter, written in 1949, announced the birth of his first daughter, Mara Lenzi.

As I’m sure many people in Clwyd know, a Prisoner of War camp was built in the grounds of Pool Park in the 1943, initially to house Italian Prisoners of War who had been captured in Libya when Italy surrendered. Many of the POWs were employed on local farms in the Ruthin area from ‘43 until the end of the war. Gualtiero was one of about seven Italians who were placed with my grandparents’, George and Kathleen Hooson on their farm in the foothills on Moel Famau- Caerfallen, I always heard from my mother about the attractive and amusing Italian POWs, but these letters made those stories real.

As the grand-daughter of Signora Hooson, and a writer, these letters sent me off on a long journey of discovery which was more successful than I ever dared hope! My partner and I travelled to Modena, the main town in Montese, went into the Istituto Storico de Resistance di Modena – and showed them the letters, asking if it might be possible to track down Mara Lenzi. The people in the Istituto were amazingly helpful, and within two days they had rung up all the Lenzis in the area and found Gualtiero’s oldest daughter.

We were on our way back to the UK when we found out this amazing news- but a year later we went back to Montese, and met journalist Walter Bellisi and archivist and cultural historian and translator, Daniela Garutti. Walter wrote an article about the story in a well known local paper – Il Resto del Carlino, which was published by the end of the week we were in the region, and Daniela accompanied us to meet Mara and Tiziana Lenzi in their home in the beautiful village of Vignola in the Appenines.

The Lenzi sisters were convinced that there was some romance between Gualtiero and my grandmother, as they told me that they had discovered some English letters in an old tin after he died. Sadly, these letters- which might have been her part of the correspondence, were lost now- but Mara and Tiziana strongly believed that they provided a clue to a sense of loss in Gualtiero’s life. I also received the impression from my mother and uncle that Signor Lenzi had a similarly long lasting effect on Kathleen’s life.

What happened between them? Probably not much, as my grandmother was older than him and married- but the story leaves a wistful sense of what might have been. Despite the fact that I can’t speak Italian, I have returned to the UK after my Italian journey with some lovely new friends, – all maintained through social media!

We also travelled to Gaultiero’s village Castelluccio, where he was born and brought up, before we left. What struck me really forcibly, as I looked out over the blue hills and fertile landscape was how similar it is to the Vale of Clwyd. It must have been not only a haven from the war for Gualtiero, but also a home from home.

Polly is looking for other stories of prisoners of war for her research. Find out more on her website. The letters referred to have now been transferred to Denbighshire Archives under reference DD/DM/1902


Explore Your Archive 2016

November 22, 2016

Renowned chef, Bryn Williams helped to kick off the Explore Your Archive campaign in Wales last Friday, here at Denbighshire Archives.

The campaign will run from 19-27 November in archives across the UK and Ireland and encourages everyone to discover the stories, the facts, the places and the people that are at the heart of our communities with many archives opening their vaults and inviting the public to experience, understand and take pride in the wealth and variety of material they hold.

Hailing from Denbigh in North Wales, Bryn Williams learnt to appreciate food and its origins from an early age. He has worked in some of the most prestigious kitchens in London and is now the Chef Patron of Odette’s, taking over the property in October 2008. He has also recently opened Bryn Williams at Porth Eirias, a beach-front Bistro, Café & Bar on the North Wales Coast.

Bryn commented: “It’s fascinating to look at bygone recipes and to see what people used to cook with and also to examine how those old ways of cooking have influenced what we do in kitchens today.  Recipes were one of the things that everyone wrote down and passed on to future generations so they give us a great insight into the food that was served in the richest of houses right down to the rations given out to prisoners or those in the workhouses.”

As part of this year’s campaign here in Wales the focus will be on ‘food’ and a series of short films in English and Welsh have been created featuring historians and archivists looking at nutrition in prisons and workhouses, bygone remedies using some weird and wonderful ingredients and jam-making! We also have a small exhibition highlighting some of the collections held by Denbighshire.

The films can be viewed on the website, plus Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.