The story of Alfonso and Filomena Forte

Alfonso Forte was born on 5th February 1880 in Mortale to Giovanni Forte and Maria Teresa Forte.  He was the youngest of three children.  His eldest brother, Vincenzo was born in 1863 but died as a young boy.  The next child, also called Vincenzo, was born on 15th December 1867, but we know little about him, other than that he went to the United States and worked for the Ford Motor Company in Pittsburgh.  Alfonso went to America in 1895 but returned soon after. 

Although Libera Filomena D'Adamo (or Di Adamo) was born in Castrocielo, her mother, Maria Giuseppa Forte was originally from Mortale, herself the daughter of Luigi 'Scodra Catena' Forte and Clementina Vella.  Maria Giuseppa was known as Maria Longa, as she was relatively tall, a trait that does not seem to have been passed down the generations.  She met her husband, Vincenzo D'Adamo, in Castrocielo and they married and settled there, having two children, Filomena, born on 19th April 1882, and Vincenza, born on 30th September 1888, just five months after the sudden death of her father Vincenzo.  At just 32 years old, the widowed Maria Longa, returned with her two children to her family in Mortale.  Her brother, Pancrazio (Franguccio) had already left for England, but her sister Civita and brother Alfonso were still in Mortale. Her sister, Civita, married Salvatore Evangelista and they moved to London where they established a famous hairdressing business.  In 1897, Maria Longa had a third child, Marietta, but the father is unknown.  She went to visit her sister in London and tried to earn money telling people's fortunes around the Elephant and Castle using a caged parrot, but this did not take off and she soon returned to Mortale.  She remained there until her sad death at the age of 88 in 1944 at the hands of the Germans in Cesano. Vincenza later married Giovanbattista Sacco from Castrocielo and they emigrated to Haskell, New Jersey, USA, in 1921.  They had no children and Vincenza battled with failing eyesight until her death on 15th January 1968 in Haskell.  She remained in contact with her sisters.

Alfonso (knicknamed Severino) and Filomena married on 8th March 1906 in Mortale and they lived in the house built by Alfonso's recently deceased father, Giovanni, together with their surviving mothers, Teresa and Maria Longa.

My grandparents' first child, Giovanna, was born on Christmas Eve 1906, but sadly she died at the age of just four months the following April.  A few weeks later, on 31st May 1907, Alfonso set off with his friend Crescenzo Forte for New York.  He had arranged to stay with his brother, Vincenzo, and was hoping to find some work in Pittsburgh.  However, he fell out with his brother and soon returned to Mortale and to the happy news that his wife, Filomena was expecting their second child.  In February 1908, Giovanni was born, followed by Aquilino in October 1909, Annino in July 1913, Carmine in May 1915 and Teresa in January 1918. 

Alfonso served in the Italian army during the First World War and
this is the earliest photo I can find of him, probably aged about 35. 
After the war, he settled back in the village and the family lived well
but frugally, farming land in the village and in the local mountains. 
Alfonso's mother died in May 1921 and, soon after, he decided to
follow some of his relatives and head north to Scotland with his
three eldest sons, Giovanni, Aquilino and Annino.  He left the two
younger children with Filomena and her mother Maria Giuseppa and
set off from Mortale on 22nd January 1922.  They went first to
Civitavecchia, from where they headed by train through northern
Europe all the way to the Scottish Borders.  Together with Consalvo Forte, the son of a second cousin, they bought a shop in Kelso.  They started in business with a cafe, selling fish and chips and, amongst other things,  Italian ice cream.  They would get ice from the frozen River Tweed and life was tough but they worked hard.  In September 1922, Filomena made the long journey on her own to Scotland to join her husband, a courageous move given her limited travelling experience and no knowledge of any language other than the Mortalese dialect.  She arrived safely  and, nine months later in June 1923, their last child, Mariannina was born in Kelso .  Charles and Teresa remained in Mortale with their grandmother Maria Giuseppa for about three years before being collected by Filomena to unite the family back in Kelso.  Consalvo sold his share to Alfonso and Filomena and they worked hard to build up the business, eventually managing to expand by buying the shop next door.  The shop was at 19 Horsemarket, Kelso, and today, the shop remains as a fish and chip shop, called Rendezvous, run by Italians with the Fortes name still visible in the tiles on the front door step. There were many other Forte branches in the Borders area, some in Melrose, others in Galashiels, Jedburgh, Hawick, Duns, and also in nearby Berwick.  On 17th May 1928, after satisfying the six year residency requirement,  Alfonso and Filomena took the Oath of Allegiance to His Majesty King George The Fifth and, five days later, together with their children they officially became naturalised British citizens.  This was to prove a shrewd move in years to come when Britain was at war with Italy.

In 1929, their eldest son, Giovanni (Uncle John) married Netta Kyle in Edinburgh, and after losing their first son, Vincent in 1929,  they moved down to Teignmouth in Devon in 1930.  Twins, David and Margaret, were born in 1931 followed by Tony in 1932.  This branch of the family are now based mainly in South Africa, but also in Scotland and New Zealand.

In 1931, Alfonso decided to move to the south of England, following the lead of many other branches of the Scottish Fortes who had migrated to the south coast.  They sold the Kelso shop to Domenico Forte, father of David, Ita, Edoardo and Willy (Melrose Fortes), who then sold it to Luciano and Domenica Forte (later in Llandudno).  Alfonso and Aquilino (my father, by this time known as Alfred) headed to Brighton to inspect the town.  They stayed in a top floor flat just
behind the Metropole Hotel and a few months later, on
25th March 1932 (Good Friday),  they opened the
family's first ice cream parlour just round the corner on
the seafront at 122 King's Road.  Business did not get
off to a good start and my father always remembered
them questioning their decision to move.  However, it
was not long before business boomed and they were
joined by the rest of the family.  In 
later years, this
developed into a successful restaurant, run by Uncle Nino. 
It remains a restaurant to this day.

The family lived in rented accommodation near Westbourne Gardens, Hove, and, a s a result of the success of the Kings Road shop, Alfonso was soon on the look out to open another shop.  He found an antiques shop on the King's Esplanade on Hove seafront and bought the property.  Even though the shop had been frequented by Queen Mary, Alfonso had it demolished and built a restaurant with accommodation to his own design.  They were able to open this second ice cream parlour in 1934 and this is where the family lived for the next period in their history.   

We still have copies of the original menu for the King's Road shop dated 1933, and a combined one for both shops dated 1939.  The menus were diverse and the quality of the ice cream was so exceptional that, every year, Fortes were awarded a First Class Diploma at the International Ice Cream and Dairy Exhibition, Olympia, for "purity and excellence of Cream Ices".

Download 1933 King's Road Menu (pdf 206KB)
Download 1939 King's Road and King's Esplanade Menu (pdf 879KB)

Uncle Charlie moved to Ireland in the late 1930s and married Emilia Magliocco, also from Mortale.  They had a restaurant in Waterford and a beach cafe at nearby Tramore until the late 1940s, when they returned to Brighton.  They had four children, Alfonso, Filomena, Frederick and Michael.

During the war, Alfonso and Filomena continued to run their shops with help from their children, when they were not away on service.  Thankfully, the family had become naturalised British citizens in 1928, thus avoiding the fate of so many Italians who were interned whilst Italy was allied to Germany.  Uncle John was in the Fire Service, based in Winchester for most of the war.  He remarried Aunt Lina and spent time in Devon and London, before moving back to Brighton.  They had two children, Peter and Victor.  My father, Aquilino, was in the Royal Engineers (403 Light Anti-Aircraft Battery) having enlisted at Oswestry on 15th November 1940 as a motor mechanic and then in the Dover area with the 143 Regiment. He reached the rank of
Bombardier and was transfered to the Army Reserve after leaving on 
18th October 1945.  Of particular note in his surviving Soldier's
Service Book are the scribbled-out entries of anything suggesting that
he was originally Italian.  Uncle Nino was in the Royal Army Service
Corps, based at first in England and later on in Belgium.  He too was
a trained fire officer.  Aunt Teresa was in the Land Army, based in
Sussex and so returned home every night.  Aunt Mary was in the
Women's Royal Naval Service (WRNS), based in Portsmouth, then in
the supply section in Skegness, then back to Bournemouth and finally
in Eastbourne before she was demobbed. 

During the war, a large number of children were evacuated from
London and so Filomena's cousin, Louis Evangelista, brought his
15 year-old daughter, Maria, to stay with Alfonso and Filomena at the Hove Shop.  She was there until after the Blitz and remembers her stay with great fondness.  She now lives on Vancouver Island, but in a recent conversation with her, she recalled the smell of Ice Cream and coffee, boxes of fresh apples under the stairs and making friends with Aunt Teresa and Aunt Mary, who shared their room with her.  She remembers Aunt Teresa and Uncle Victor courting and walking along Hove seafront, followed at a distance by nonno Alfonso, armed with binoculars.  The twins Margaret and David also stayed at the Hove shop, once when they were very young and once for a period in their teens.

In 1946, Aunt Teresa married Victor Gizzi and they ran a successful restaurant on the Brighton seafront for many years.  It was always hotly debated whether Fortes ice cream was better than Gizzis, but let's leave that unresolved.  They had three children, Joseph, Vincent and Robert.  A year later, Alfred married Victor's sister, Carmela, and they had two children, Anthony and Rosina.  Sadly Carmela died of cancer at a young age and Alfred remarried Romanita and had me in the early 1960s.  Uncle Nino married Luisa in 1952 in Switzerland and they had James, Maria-Teresa, Vincent and Giovanna.  Aunt Mary married Arcangelo Forte's son, Antonio in 1958 in Hove and moved to Bournemouth.  After losing their first child, Rosa, they had Michael, Adrian and Anna Rosa. 

After the war and as they married, the family
gradually moved into their own houses in Brighton
and Hove.  It was in the 1950s that business
boomed and success bred more success.  In 1950,
they opened their third restaurant at 75 West St and
this was run by Uncle Nino.  Alfonso and Filomena
remained at the Hove Shop and this short video clip 
them at the shop in 1951. 

© 2010 Paul Forte

Maria Giuseppa Forte
(Maria Longa)

Alfonso Forte c. 1915

Nino, Mary and Teresa outside the Kelso Shop c. 1925

Alfonso and Filomena with their five children in Mortale 1919

The King's Road Shop

The Hove Shop c. 1938

The family remained close and would often gather.  This video clip shows them celebrating Christmas in 1951.  In 1952, they opened another restaurant at 90 Western Road and this was run by Uncle Charles, following his return from Ireland.  The opening of an Ice Cream Factory and Bakery at Medina Place, Hove followed in 1955 and this was run by my father, Alfred, and Uncle John.

In 1956, they opened a large restaurant and sweet shop in a prime position opposite Brighton's Palace Pier at the Old Steine.  This was run by Uncle Charles and his family, as were the King Alfred Restaurant, which opened in 1967, the Churchill Square Restaurant in 1969 and the Solarium in the 1970s.

Sadly, Filomena died on 20th September 1955, and shortly afterwards, Alfonso, moved to live with Alfred at his house in Benett Drive, Hove.  Alfonso died on 12th March 1958, and their children and many of their grandchildren carried on working in the catering business for many years afterwards.  Others followed many different careers, too diverse to go into further detail here.

Uncle Nino died on 11th December 1986 in Brighton, Uncle John on 12th December 1988 in Crowthorne, my father Aquilino (Alfred) on 30th June 1993 in Pisa, Italy, Uncle Charles on 20th November 1999 in Brighton and Aunt Teresa on 20th October 2004 in Hove.  Aunt Mariannina is the only surviving child of Alfonso and Filomena and lives in Poole, Dorset.  The rest of the extended family are spread all over the world but the majority are in England and many remain in Sussex.

Alfonso and Filomena have left behind a wonderful legacy for their many direct descendants, of which, there are currently exactly 98 in five separate generations.  Their four great, great, great grandchildren, Molly, Harvey, Lee and Phoenix may never have known them but I'm sure that many of their ancestors' upstanding qualities will have been passed down to them through the generations.

This page is a tribute to my nonno Alfonso and nonna Filomena, whom I never knew personally but to whom we all owe so much. 

Nino, Teresa, Alfred and Mary on leave at the Hove Shop 1945

Alfonso and Filomena with John, Nino and Alfred 
in Kelso c. 1922

Filomena in her garden at the Hove Shop c. 1945

Charles, Nino, John and Alfred in front of the Old Steine Restaurant in the 1980s

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