British imperial servants serving in the distant scattered territories of the empire must have been avid for even the most trivial scraps of gossip about life back in London. News that merited only cursory mention or at most a few lines in the British newspapers might find itself extensively reported in the Straits Times of Singapore or the Hawera & Normanby Star of New Zealand The death of Luigi Fraulo, honorifically either King of Clerkenwell’s Little Italy or the King of Ice Cream, depending on which newspaper you read, was an example of the sort of story which seemed to interest the consumers of news in the provinces or the colonies more than your genuine jaded Londoner.
Luigi from Ravello in southern Italy was 21 when he emigrated to London. He arrived in Clerkenwell with a single £10 note (the proceeds of selling his Italian wine business) and died at the age of 57 leaving an estate valued at over £15,000. He used his £10 to hire himself an ice cream barrow and carefully managed his profits enough to eventually set himself up as a supplier of raw materials to the ice cream producers. Opportunities to expand the business were limited however by an expensive crucial ingredient – ice. In those pre-refrigeration days ice had to be imported from Scandinavia and the ice business was controlled by a cartel of ice merchants who kept supplies limited and prices high. Luigi had enough capital to risk chartering a ship an importing ice on his own account. Initially his customers were his compatriots in the ice cream business but as he seriously undercut his competitor’s prices he soon found himself importing vast quantities of ice from Norway and supplying the hotel and club trade. He became wealthy and influential and, according to the account given in the Straits Times, something of a padrone to the London Italian community: “a good number of the tradesmen in ‘Little Italy’ owed their start in business to him. Every compatriot in trouble or difficulty appealed to him and never in vain. He was always ready with sound advice and practical aid. He acted as arbitrator in family and business disputes, he transacted the legal business of ‘Little Italy,’ he helped everyone, and the neighbourhood is nearly inconsolable in its loss.” Fifty carriages attended his funeral in St Mary’s Cemetery.