Mussolini's hidden archive of the Italian community in Scotland is to go on display for the first time in a new exhibition at National Records of Scotland.

The highlight of the documents on show is a unique census of Scots Italians in the 1930s, thought to be the only set of its kind.

The "Censimento", ordered by Mussolini’s government 1933-1940 details 1,400 households and reveals a picture of specialist shopkeepers and skilled craftspeople living and working across Scotland who maintained strong connections to Italy.

The Herald: Giovanni Cavani’s children listed in his census return Italian Consular census, vol 1/528 (detail) ©The Italian GovernmentGiovanni Cavani’s children listed in his census return Italian Consular census, vol 1/528 (detail) ©The Italian Government

The Italian consulate team in Edinburgh were on the verge of discarding the old papers in a general clear-out when they noticed the lists of names.

Italian Consul General Carlo Perrotta said: “Suddenly, the lives of Italian families emerged from the dust.”

The fragile census returns have been painstakingly restored by the conservation department of National Records of Scotland and digitally imaged for future public access.

His Excellency Pasquale Terracciano, Italian Ambassador to the UK, said: “I am extremely grateful to the National Records of Scotland for the great job they have done in restoring the Italian archives and making them available to the public in the photo exhibition 'A Family Portrait'.

"Their stories, the dreams they had as well as their achievements here in Scotland, their significant contribution to the well-being of the nation and its culture make us all too aware of how crucial it is to keep an open-minded approach to migration nowadays.”

Historian and author Professor Sir Tom Devine said Italian migrants had a profound impact on Scotland, helping shape communities but their history here has been harrowing at times.

He said: “Since Italians first came to Scotland in the later nineteenth century, they have contributed enormously to Scottish society, religion, culture, education and, not least, to a new and welcome improvement in our cuisine.

“Finding and restoring this remarkable census will add further to our knowledge of these Scots Italians.

“The discovery also has a certain poignancy. Soon after the census was taken, the Italian community was subjected to serious abuse and violent rioting when Mussolini declared war on Britain in June 1940.

He added: “A month later came terrible tragedy as many Italian internees were drowned when the Arandora Star taking them to Canada was torpedoed off Ireland by a  German U-boat.

“The dead from Scotland were mainly harmless cafe owners, shopkeepers and young shopworkers.”

Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs, said: “This exhibition is a great opportunity for people to learn more about some of the close ties between Scotland and Italy.

"The story of the Scots Italians is one of amazing continuity and vitality, and their contribution to the life of Scotland is to be celebrated.”

The Herald: Alberto Pinchera Italian Consular census, vol 3/224 ©The Italian GovernmentAlberto Pinchera Italian Consular census, vol 3/224 ©The Italian Government

Above: Alberto Pinchera. ©The Italian Government

Tim Ellis, Keeper of the Records of Scotland and Registrar General, said: “I am delighted that National Records of Scotland has been able to offer our conservation expertise to the Italian Government to restore this unique and fascinating set of records that tells the story of Scots Italians between the wars. Through this enjoyable exhibition about that community in its formative decades, we are presenting that story in the country where they and their descendants made a home.”

The free exhibition teams the newly-restored documents with personal keepsakes loaned by Scots Italian families in Scotland, and literally puts the Scots Italians of the 1930s on the map through specially created graphics produced by the National Library of Scotland.

The Herald: By Riccardo Venturi, AkronosBy Riccardo Venturi, Akronos

Historical photographs from the era are complemented by a documentary project featuring contemporary Scots Italians and the landscape of Scotland by Lorenzo Colantoni and Riccardo Venturi.

Lorenzo Colantoni said: “Travelling from the crowd of the Fringe, to the absolute silence of Orkney, and then back through the Highlands and the West Coast, we have found an incredible variety of stories, with such a deep and constant connection with Italy and the Italian culture that most people would not expect.

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"This is one of the reasons why we are extremely happy with our project, and with the chance offered by the event to present it in Edinburgh for the first time.”

The exhibition is the culmination of a collaborative project between the Italian Government and National Records of Scotland to conserve the special registers for public access and was created in partnership with the Consulate General of Italy in Scotland.

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The exhibition at General Register House, Princes Street, runs from December 3 to January 29.

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