the surprising successes of the ferraras.

I found the following manuscript excerpts when I moved home recently. It was beneath the carpet in the box room & appears to be part of some quite extensive notes for a proposed dissertation/thesis (?) by someone called Henry Eves. Many of the pages were quite unreadable due to damp & many further parts were clearly missing. However, it holds a certain charm – despite being a little poorly written in places – & I felt that I would share it here. Perhaps someone will recognise it?! I wonder if Mr. Eves ever finished his studies? The Ferrara Twins (though I’d never heard of them) sound fun though!

*

The Surprising Successes of The Ferraras.

(A potted history of the Ferrara ice cream empire: 1935-1976)
Henry Eves. History Module II
Rothbury University,1992.

 

1910: Born September 20th, Fiovana, Italy, to Maria (née Delphine) & Captain Augusta-Franck Ferrara. The twins (non-identical) are named Anthony-Sylvester and Sylvester-Anthony. The unusual pairing of the names being something of a tradition in rural Italy.

1914: The Ferraras relocate to Turin where Augusta-Franck is stationed at the famous horse garrison. He is promoted to the rank of captain. This is remembered as a particularly happy period for the young family. The boys enjoy fencing & adopt the regiment dwarf pony, Fonzi. Unfortunately, their time at the garrison is short-lived as war breaks out over Europe.

1916: Captain Augusta-Franck Ferrara [Turin Brigade xiv] killed in action at Caporetto, Slovenia,* during an ill-fated cavalry charge against superior enemy forces. The family move back to Maria’s hometown, Fiovana, in the Trussanzi mountains, where the boys learn to ski & goat herd.

* [see Dr. F.D. Felicini’s excellent account of this battle: ‘Gorizia! – Gas! Gas!’ (Roma University Press 1957)]

1915-20: Various schools.

(text missing)

1928: Anthony-Sylvester applies to study Geography at Verona University, but fails to sit the entry examination as he becomes lost for several days in the unfamiliar city.

[‘…my brother, he disappeared for a weekend in Verona. A weekend! Mama was frantic. Myself, I figured that he was chasing the skirts, the sophisticates, the city girls! Ah, how could I blame him! We had tired of the rough, country girls. By this time Fiovana, well, let me put it this way, we had baked that particular ciliegia torte! (cherry cake). As it turned out, Anthony-Sylvester was actually just hopelessly lost…’Gelato! The Collected Diaries of Sylvester-Anthony Ferrara. 1933-53, vol. 1: Templar Publications, 1974].

Sylvester-Anthony joins his uncle’s ice cream restaurant, Francko’s, in Fioricci, as a dishwasher. During his time here he begins to learn the Ferrara ice cream recipes. His brother joins him later that winter. ‘Francko’s’ ice cream parlour becomes a well known meeting place for stars of stage and screen and politicians. Benito Mussolini was a regular customer, visiting whenever he was in the area.

[‘…Bennie, for he was this to me, was a big fan of the almond & raspberry knickerbocker. He would often eat two all the while signing this and that document.’ : Gelato! The Collected Diaries… p59-61]
[see plate 15 – Francko ‘Fingers’ Ferrara can be seen to the left of the photograph, juggling]

June 1931: Following the Scatessio racecourse disaster of February 14th, which lay claim to both their mother & uncle Francko, among many others, the Ferrara boys board the SS Burundi bound for New York. However, they decide to disembark at Portslyn, England.

[‘We had stood on the damp deck of that damn tramp steamer, in our flannels and our red braces, long enough. The English breeze, the countryside, well… she just took our breath.’ – Gelato! p.177]
19

Spring 1933: The Ferrara twins open their first ice cream parlour out on the outskirts of Barton Sands, Penn Beacon.

[‘A surprising success!’ – The Weston Gazette, w/e June 1933]
‘The success of the ice cream parlour was a surprise to almost everyone – everyone, but Anthony-Sylvester and myself. If we had opened on the mainland, in Weston or Bruchester we would, no doubt, have attracted the interest of the higher classes, those with the money and the time. But we were young. And poor. We could not afford to step straight into that society… The only properties affordable to us were… out on desolate Penn Beacon.’ [Gelato! p. 268-30]
25

[text missing]

– a long line of Italian creatives, the Ferraras knew inherently that to make a success of anything one had to take business to the people who wanted … [text indistinct here] “… even so,” she said. “We all simply adored their ice cream …”

[text missing]

-reasoned (with an acumen that some later attributed to genius, recklessness or luck – these last folk were, probably, just jealous).
[‘… if we could sell the cooling ices and sorbets at almost cost, from a cheap premises, to those with the driest throats… then we could make a go of it in this new world’ Gelato! p259]
It is not known whether it was Anthony-Sylvester or Sylvester-Anthony who came up with the idea of selling ice cream to the quarrymen first, as no clear record exists. Some think one, some think the other.

[photography]

Anthony-Sylvester was the eldest, by some nine minutes, and was the first of the two to be a talker (apparently). He was outgoing and attractive as a teenager. Sylvester-Anthony, quiet and reflective, could be sullen and was prone to chest infections & hallucinations as a boy. Despite these ailments he was the first of the two to be a walker (apparently): this is all merely hearsay about the young Ferrara boys, and there is suggestion that the attributes have been confused with the passing of time; so, who knows? The important (and clear) thing is that two young Italian boys arrived in the area in that thin spring of ’33 and, one or other, both, embarked on an idea that would become a surprising success.

The Hollows, as that area of the peninsula was known locally, was home to those employed in the quarrying business. The name itself is thought to be a reference to the intricate network of open pits that riddle this part of the county. The Hollows stretched along a particularly desolate and dreadful part of Penn Beacon. Any trees that still stand there are bent almost double and bowed to the east. At the time of the Ferrara’s arrival half acre plots could be bought for as little as £100. This was due to a number of reasons, including, obviously, the terrific scarring of the land, the constant rock face explosions, the pest problems & the water issues.

[image]

-The open pit families lived in a ramshackle slum of shacks and huts that were scattered all along the cliff top. People  –

(text missing) –  wandering semi naked one afternoon. The arresting officer found him to be both ‘incoherent & confused.’ His clothing was later discovered on the roof of the Eight Kings public house. One has to question – (text missing) –

 

27.

Five pits dominate the landscape. The Hollows was also the site of the local municipal dump. The dump dates back to Victorian times and sprawled alongside the blast area and the shanties and the blackened milk 

 

(text missing)

 

… skies were littered with terns. Of course, these days, this particular area is now the site of the Hollows Estate which promises ‘popular traditional modern living at affordable prices’ (brought to you by the Jurassic Homes Co.) – a bronze statue of a quarryman stands at the entrance to Ramsden Drive Car Park, although it is sadly in need of care and attention due to excessive guano build-up & some vandalism. [see image]

 

28

The front of Ferrara’s (‘ices, sorbets, milkshakes’), dressed out in pale blue and white, was quite incongruous among the scruffy and scant selection of dark, pokey businesses and timber dwellings. An elaborate and quite ornate etching in the plate glass of two rotund and smiling moustachioed gents, tipping top hats in salutation, greeted you as you approached [see plate 25].

 

(text missing)

 

… the tinkle of spoons sang out against shapely glass bowls and crooked teeth.” The quarrymen gravitated to the parlour after leaving their shifts at the face and word soon got around that the delicious Italian ice cream was the perfect way to ease the grit-cake and dust-coat from their mouths.

The glistening globes of –

(text missing)

– black, also, and green, was dragged back down onto chests or else was trumpeted out with gusty salvoes into the paper serviettes that read Ferrara’s in swirled pale blue lettering. The tables were bare board, busy with crushed almonds and ash and dust, leathered elbows and palms as big as spades. “The lips of these filthy creatures, only that last hour risen out of the quarry” (Gelato! p.466) {became} painted and glossy in the cutlery and glass, with the sticky raspberry sauce. “Tongues darted and lolled and the thick and melodic voices of the quarrymen rose and fell, bringing a choral joy to [indistinct text due to damp staining].

– It was, as has been noted, a thin spring that year and a handwritten sign on the door requested that patrons should ‘please close’ it behind them on entering or leaving the premises. Many of the rockmen, being illiterate, paid no heed to this request and quite soon the twins, bemused, took the sign down and supposed that these hardy types preferred to be cold. The customer, it is said, is always right!

32

The Ferrara’s turned tables between them; collecting and delivering bowls, chatting with the men, neat hands in apron, on hips, friendly claps on black, broad and broken backs. By the second year they purchased another, larger, property on the mainland at Weston and that became as popular as the first. It was also called Ferrara’s and catered for families of the local businessmen. And again it was the boys’ kind and professional attitude to business that made the twins a success among the town folk. That, and the delicious ice-cream sundaes and knickerbocker glories that required the longest spoons to mine the creamy fruit and nut delights from the tall glasses.

36

[text missing]

–  if he were just a fraction taller, well, it would have been a completely different story! The fireman was later presented with a bravery medal, which, if you ask me, he most certainly did not deserve!” (Francesca Manson would go on to serve four years in Penn Beacon prison, all the time protesting her innocence). It is often said that after the incident with the steam engine Sylvester-Anthony never touched red meat again. Infact, it is said that even the sight of deer would anger him.

 

[text missing]

 

–  she broke her arm one evening while walking the neighbour’s Daschhund, Rory. The wind that evening would have been easterly and the house itself, due to extensive renovation work on the west wing, was quite open. Dr. Clutter was duly summoned from The Eight Kings where he was on call.

41

By the time war broke out the Ferrara’s had a string of parlours stretching from Barton Sands through to Dorchester in the east and Lymington in the west. They employed some 60 locals and the twins would be sure to turn up and chat with the customers and always roll up their sleeves and get stuck into the clearing of tables and, of course, the serving of ices. By now, the larger of the Ferrara parlours had also moved into serving tea alongside the cola and lemonades that accompanied the frozen desserts. Some of the properties were large fifty seater venues, whilst many were just welcome home kiosks on –

(text missing)

somewhere along the seafront of Lyme Bay! This stroke of luck enabled her to move to the Norfolk Broads, where she had an old auntie who had once been a singing star in London, but now lived on a pittance in Wrexham with several dozen cats.

44

{notes on war. First draft}

Anthony-Sylvester enlisted in early 1940 and within weeks had left the county on a train to London and from there he took a steamer to France. He was never seen or heard of again.

Sylvester-Anthony married a Penn Beacon girl called Sylvie Trott (b.1919 Penn Beacon. d.1969 Kreuzberg) She was willowy and blind in one eye. By 1942, he waved both her and the town goodbye from, by some neat twist of fate, the deck of the SS Burundi. His capacity aboard the 50,000 tonner this time was as chef. He was one of a team of six whose job it was to feed the crew of thirty-four merchant seamen. The Burundi sailed from Portslyn and from there was employed as a supply ship between America and England. People often talk about  (the grey wolves….is this right?? Check this!!) the U-boat flotillas that hunted the Atlantic during those years, but Sylvester-Anthony never once was bothered by such dramas. He returned in ’44, demobbed, tied his apron back on and went back to the ice cream business as if he had just popped outside for a piss.  {urination?? pasty??!!}

[text both indistinct & missing here]

– business lost some of its custom after the war years. There was the ongoing problem with Jackson & Jackson (solicitors) to keep in mind. By this time his opium intake had reached outrageous proportions & ran the business from his bath tub where he would soak hour after hour, dozing & drinking gin. Ever loyal, Roy, describes the state of affairs at the house as “Sad. Very, very sad. Very sad.” He, too, by that Christmas, would find himself out on the streets.

(text missing & unreadable in places due to heavy staining)

“…people still want ice cream. [missing] would be back in their droves. Everyone, he still proclaimed, loved ice cream. And, if Barton Sands was anything to go by, this will prove still to be the case. But, things were different. He was different!” Michael Thompson.

He took to living mostly in the garden shed. The roses, he said, reminded him of home. It was an odd thing to say because –

[text missing]

 

33
Sylvie gave birth to a son in the summer of 1948 and they decided to call him Anthony-Sylvester, in memory of the lost twin. Anthony-Sylvester grew up to be a red-faced and rubbery boy. He excelled at almost nothing during his schooling, but always remained popular with his classmates by dint of his good nature and generosity. There would always be a gaggle of boys noisily scoffing sundaes after school. The young Anthony-Sylvester, as I say, was not a particularly promising student. Nothing found success with him. Nothing, that is, but one curious skill. Who knows where these blessings come from? Although he was, from an early age, quite a chubby child, he was, amazingly fleet of foot & became the County Junior School champion short distance runner (Gold). There is an intriguing photograph of him (copyright of The Barton Sands Gazette, June 1956) on a wall in the local history museum on Peter Street (It can be found in the corridor at the top of the stairs in the permanent exhibition called Barton Sands’ !). The photographer, one James Liddell, has positioned himself in the middle lane of the track, a few feet back from the finish line. The photograph captures the moment Anthony-Sylvester, aged 8, bursts across the tickertape. His head of distinctive ink stain hair is thrust towards the lens, obliterating his face. His arms are thrown up in triumph and his legs are caught forever in a blur. The photograph is of particular interest to those who enjoy social history. The crowd of onlookers that border the photograph in an almost perfect bottleneck are all turned towards the winner, and so, towards the camera itself. In the expanse of faces, can be picked out, among the usual unfortunate twisted expressions, blurred features, forever-opened mouths and frozen, windblown hairstyles, is a pale and thin young boy’s face. He is stood next to a woman. She has hold of his left elbow. It is jerked up awkwardly towards and beyond his shoulder. She is shouting something into his ear. He ignores her. Or (and I’ve looked at this picture many times), he has not quite yet, in that moment, heard her. The words are on the air. He stares directly into the camera from some feet behind the finish line and, after the winner’s hair and arms and palms and the flailing trail of tickertape, the viewer’s eye is drawn directly into his. It is, and I hope this doesn’t sound too, oh, I don’t know, artsy, but it is as if both he is peering directly into the future. And, by the same token, you are connected to the past. There is a communication. He is Bryan Goss (later of 1980s ‘art-rock’ band, Dead Fox In Mid-Seventies).

How could such a rotund and ice cream fed fellow become a school champion ‘short distance’ (and, by this, it is meant, 100 and 200 yard distance) runner, let alone the 1956 Junior Gold Champion? It seems ridiculous. However, the secret to the young Anthony-Sylvester’s surprising success was in his style of running. It was closer, in nature, to a skip than a run. He would lead with only the left leg, all the thrust coming from the right. Young kids can be seen doing this even these days. It is the classic approximation of ‘horsing around’. Credit, I suppose, must also be given to his PE teacher at the time –

[image]

(Mr. D. Biscuits of Barton Sand’s Junior Grammar d. 1969),

who, rather than discourage such a style, recognised the ‘genius’ behind it.

 

37

The church of Saint Giles is nestled one mile south of the village of Weston, Penn Beacon. There has been a church dedicated to Giles on this site since 1135AD. Sylvester-Anthony’s stone can be found in the quiet west garden at the rear. The Penn Beacon quarried headstone reads, simply –

Sylvester-Anthony Ferrara.

Son. Brother. Husband. Lover of Ice Cream.

September 20th 1910- August 30th 1976.

 

 

black and white donkey head on a grey wooden fence nearby green grass field
Dear Fonzi (In some ways Sylvester-Anthony was never to get over the loss. He carried a crumpled photograph of ‘dear Fonzi’ with him wherever he went. The Almsbury Sanctuary For Poorly Ponies & Donkeys would receive an annual allowance of £1000 & continues to do so to this very day)*

 

 

*Donations are welcome to the Almsbury Sanctuary For Poorly Ponies & Donkeys.