Former Capaldi factory, Fetter Lane

23 October 2011

Capaldi ice cream factory, December 2007

The area known as Bishophill has many scenic streets, though modern development has made a couple of them less scenic in recent years.

Most traces of the area’s industrial past have been cleared, and Fetter Lane and nearby Skeldergate are now filled with flats, most of them charmless.

So when I wandered up here in 2007 I was pleased to see the Capaldi ice cream factory, hanging on in there while all around it changed.

In the rush of redevelopment this 20th-century building seemed doomed to demolition.

Capaldi premises, Fetter Lane, 2007, with new flats alongside Detail of lettering – 'WHOLESALE AND RETAIL' – 2007

I loved the look of this place. Partly the way its painted rendered front caught the light from the west in the evening, the first time I took a photo. Partly the long low look of it, emphasised by the windows. Partly that little understated curved detail above the door. But mainly the lettering. There’s something about faded lettering on old business premises. This is a handsome example. It’s big, plain, confident. I could almost imagine Mr Capaldi standing back proudly admiring it when it first went up on the family business premises. J CAPALDI, in confident capitals.

Capaldi building, 2007 – lettering faded/obscured

A closer look reveals that originally it said “AND SON”. The shadow of the lettering still there, in part, with a later doorway extended down from what was one of the windows, cutting through the word SON.

If I were a writer of short stories, this might inspire me to write one, imagining a sad family story – or perhaps an explosive family argument – behind this obscured and faded lettering.

[… but see update, at foot of page]

Capaldi, Fetter Lane, July 2008, with scaffoldingIn 2007 a site alongside the Capaldi factory was being cleared, and the other side of it had already been filled with flats.

I assumed Capaldis and its lovely lettering would be gone, flattened. But in 2008 was surprised to see it still standing, surrounded by scaffolding, with windows boarded and lettering still visible, though apparently covered in cement.

Capaldi, Fetter Lane, March 2011 Capaldi frontage, Fetter Lane, detail, March 2011

Even more surprising to find it still there, in March 2011, as it became clear that the building, or part of it, was being kept, with visible repairs to the frontage. Its sunlit front has windows again. As work continues, there’s a pleasing and appropriate (though accidental) ‘ice cream colours’ effect – toffee, chocolate, cream – in the repaired area of the frontage, above right.

View of Fetter Lane, June 2011

The remodelled building in June 2011. An extra floor has been added above the original frontage, with windows reflecting the ‘horizontal emphasis’ of the 1940s facade, and its windows. Vehicle access has been created by removing one of the ground floor windows and extending an existing doorway.

The smartening and refurbishment inevitably means the loss of the element of ‘faded charm’. It looks as if the lettering is to be repainted, as the remnants of it have been retained, but, as with the repainted wall ads on the old Stubbs building, this will probably look a little inauthentic. I’m glad I caught on camera the old, faded, peeling original.

It’s good to see this 20th century street frontage retained.

It remains to be seen if the same will be possible for a far more well-known 20th century building – the White Swan on Piccadilly. (Update, 2014: yes, it seems it might be possible. See all pages tagged White Swan.)

Notes, links etc

Documents relating to the recent work on this building are on the council’s planning pages for anyone interested in the background/design – see 07/00065/FUL – and the associated Design and Access statement and associated (CoYC) report. The Fetter Lane factory, according to the planning documents, dates from the 1940s.

Update, Feb 2012

The lettering originally said ‘& Sons’ (not ‘& Son’), as I’d assumed, and as I’d written above. Joe’s sons were Tony, Vinnie, Ramon, Carlo and Nino. Many thanks to Jamie, a great-grandson of Joe Capaldi, for this information.

Thanks also to Antony, who emailed me in November, saying he has very fond memories of the factory, and visiting there as a child. His great-grandfather and later his grandfather were the proprietors.

. . . . .

Page compiled 23 October 2011. Photos: various dates, 2007 to 2011. Last updated 8 Feb 2013.

18 comments

  1. Rosalie Bygrave

    I enjoyed reading the above article about Capaldi’s. My mother whose name was Mary Spencer nee Foley worked for Joe Capaldi in the 1940’s with fond memories. Sadly, she is no longer with us but when I was born in 1946 she took me to see him and was very proud when he said I looked like an Italian baby with all my dark hair ha ha. Anyway, they were very happy times for her.

  2. Lovely to read this Rosalie, thank you

  3. Bernie Donohue

    went to school at St Georges with Brain Capaldi and spent many happy hours at the family home near the university , lovely family

  4. Roger Whitehead

    Thanks for this story. I wonder if this branch of the Capaldi family is related to that in Glasgow from which Peter Capaldi (“Doctor Who”) sprang. They also made ice cream.

    Roger

    By the way. York Council has moved the planning documents to here — https://planningaccess.york.gov.uk/online-applications/applicationDetails.do?activeTab=documents&keyVal=JBR607SJ05000 .

    • Thanks Roger for the updated link. (It’s quite infuriating how many of my carefully collected informational links to the council website have been broken since their many revamps/updates.)

      I’m not sure about the Peter Capaldi link, vaguely remember asking this before many years back, our York Capaldi contact didn’t claim any link to the famous Peter.

  5. My son lives in a flat inside this lovely old building.

  6. Does anyone know if there was an ice factory in York in about 1919? Someone was noted on a marriage certificate as working there.

    • Hi Rosie – I believe that the Questa family had an ice cream factory in York around that time – I think it was in the Barbican Road area but I can’t be certain of that.

  7. Mike Kettlewell

    Rosie, the Ebor Ice Cream factory on the corner of Lawrence Street and Regent Street opened in 1921, so unless your dates are wrong, I would presume that they worked for Mr. Capaldi.

  8. Hi, I have only just read your musings. Mike and I developed this building into a single dwelling whilst trying to retain the history. And you are spot on in thinking the Capadi family had fueds and internal wars! The sons, grand and great grandchildren have come to like us and visit to see their heritage, Capaldi started out on a bicycle with an amusing monkey on his shoulder, selling Italian icecream. Without breaking confidence, Capaldi’s 2nd wife spoke freely of her maffia affiliations. I don’t live there now, but Mike does, he would be happy to share. His email is Mike@theicecreamfactory.co.uk.

    • Hi Maria, As a member of the Capaldi family I feel that I need to correct the information you have been given.
      1. The monkey. When Joe Capaldi first came to England as a child he worked for a man that owned a barrel organ and a dancing monkey. This was many years before he started his ice cream business.
      2. Capaldi’s 2nd wife. She sadly died in the mid-1990’s so I suspect it wasn’t her that you have spoken to.
      3. Mafia Links. I can promise that the Capaldi family in York have had no association with, Cosa Nostra, The Blackhand, The Mob or The Mafia.

      I hope this clarifies what you have been told – I would be interested to know who it was that actually told you the above – I think they were pulling your leg slightly.

      Best Regards
      Jamie

  9. Oh, and there is a lovely Capaldi plot in York cemetery. Right of the mausoleum.

    • That bit is correct :-)

    • That plot was once the seaside home of dicks turpin who had highways well aware of his mafia of the Roses on there toenails,where whichcraft was like Steak and chips,but that mausoleum has another famous nest of Americas top hacker,on nonmale ANDERSON,

  10. “and son’s” was a deliberate whitewash of family ties. The first floor door was a loading bay, and when inplace, the family disinherited their eldest. and took out “and son’s”.

    • Hi again Maria,

      I thought I would clarify this one for you as well.

      The sign that runs along the factory front was altered in the 1980’s when my dad and uncle made alterations to change a window to a door so that new ice cream production machinery from Italy could be winched up to the top floor – as you will know if you have lived in the building, the original staircase was very steep and narrow and the lift was hand cranked and not big enough to place large machinery in. Sadly the alterations meant that the “& Sons” part of the sign was reduced.

      The eldest son was never disinherited, he moved over to the northwest of England 20 plus years before the building alteration to run a hotel that his father purchased. He stayed in the hotel trade and ran hotels for Rocco Forte in England and Sardinia.

      I can tell you that all the sons kept in contact and remained close as the years went by.

      Regards
      Jamie

  11. I lived in Alcuin Avenue from 1936 6o 1945, and I remember Joe Capaldi, with his gold tooth, riding along our avenue on his tricycle, dispensing ice cream cones and sandwiches in the early 40s. Always a smile for us kids, underneath a trilby hat. The cornet was 2d, and the sandwiches were 3d and 6d.

    • Laura Capaldi

      Hi Alan,
      Thank you for sharing that memory with us. Who you are describing was Olympio Capaldi (uncle ollie) who was Joseph Capaldi’s brother. He used to come over every year to help his brother with the ice cream,and he was still climbing olive trees on his farm in Italy when he was 86! He had a good life, and used to love to come to England.

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