Ices and Fish and Chips in Coalburn

"Around 1900, when the Italians were arriving in Britain to open up ice-cream shops, Melia Matassie came to Douglas. It was not long before he was visiting Coalburn with his ornately painted vans, drawn by a horse.

One of Melia's compatriots, Prospero (Peter) Giavarini, arrived in Coalburn at the beginning of the century and built a wooden shop beside the ambulance shed on railway ground. The family at first lived in the attics with the Morrison family at Avondale. It was not long until they built the house, Belvedere on Middlemuir Road, and part of the erection was a confectioner´s which became a focus for the young men of the district as it had a full-sized billiard table.

Coalburn Brig Area 1996

The Giaverini's house in 1914

They also sold ice-cream and hot peas. Chips were not then on the menu until two local men built a chip shop on Pro's original site and were doing well but when Pros started selling chips, the two men had to go out of business. Johnny, a brother of Pro, took over the business in Coalburn.

Coalburn Brig Area 1996

Coalburn Fish Restaurant with proprieter Johnny Giavarini and his son Peter in the 1920s

Coalburn Brig Area 1996

The house in 1996 in Belvedere Place, now a private dwelling

Johnny also built a new chip shop opposite the welfare institute. He also put an ice-cream van, or more precisely a handcart, on the road and I remember Charlie McInnes pushed the cart and sold cones throughout the village."

Ice cream barrow

Charlie McInnes with the ice cream barrow.

Ice cream barrow

Billy McLean selling ice creams

Giavarini and his family were well-liked by the villagers who showed restraint and no recourse to vandalism when Italy declared war on Britain in 1940 and set up an outburst of window-breaking at shops belonging to Italians in Britain.

How could it be otherwise in Coalburn? Johnny's two sons, Peter and John, were serving with the British Forces. Peter was a fine cuist and a natural born footballer. He had plenty of opportunity for home practice at billiards, as his parents had a billiard table in their shop, Belvedere, in Middlemuir Road.

From an article by Jim Hamilton in the Stonehouse and Larkhall Gazette.

For most of the lifetime of this shop/restaurant, it was run by Johnny's daughter, Ella. For most Coalburn folk, this establishment was simply known as "Ella's". Residents recall going there to buy sweeties, mushy peas and bus tickets. It became very popular with the young people in the village after a juke box was installed.

Ella Giavarini

Ella Giavarini

The shop/restaurant survived into the 1990s but following Ella's decline in health, the building was sold to become a private dwelling. Ella died in 1997.

The new chip shop mentioned was called the Welfare Cafe. It was built when the Welfare Institute was erected in 1926. Photos of it seem to be rare. Here is a poor quality image taken at a gala in 1938 showing the cafe in the background.

Welfare Cafe

Trade was good as the Welfare Institute became the local cinema replacing Shanks´ Picture House which ironically was next to the Giaverini´s first fish restaurant. When John died aged 71 in 1954, his son, Peter, took over running the business. A resident recalls that, post-war, you could recycle glass jars at the Welfare Cafe, not for money but for ice cream or a wee poke of chips.

The closure of the cinema in the Welfare In the early 1960s hastened the end of the shop. Some years later Gavin Aitken opened the restaurant again. The venture did not last very long. Undeterred, John Henderson then tried also to make it viable there, alas, he too, did not manage to keep it going for any length of time.

Welfare Cafe in The Big Man

The Welfare Cafe featured in the film The Big Man released in 1990. The screen shot above shows Danny (Liam Neeson) and Frankie (Billy Connery) discussing things over a poke of chips outside the Cafe

Former Welfare Cafe 2018

The former Welfare Cafe now a private dwelling. 15th May 2018. Photo: David Halls

Ice Cream Vans in Coalburn

Ices were also available from mobile ice cream vans that visited Coalburn, mainly from Cafes in Lesmahagow

Gardiners Ice Cream Van in Midfield Road, Coalburn

Gardiners Ice Cream Van in Midfield Road, Coalburn.

Danny Gardiner had the Nethanvale Cafe at the corner of Abbeygreen and Langdykeside in Lesmahagow where you could sit in (Now Rollo's fish and chip shop). He also sold ice cream from his black and white van which regularly visited Coalburn.

Ice cream van at No 9 colliery

Ice cream van outside No. 9 Colliery in the 1960s.

The colliers had finished their day's work and had washed and changed at the baths. They would be awaiting their buses home. Billy Hamilton, selling "Scotland's Finest Ices", is serving from his van the queue that has formed. First in the queue is Tam Knowles, second Wull McLaren, fourth Jim Aitken, sixth Jim Menzies and far right. Simon Fraser.

Another regular ice cream van at that time was owned by Walter (Wattie) Paterson. He made his ice cream in premises behind the Old Parish Church in Lesmahagow. Peter McLeish remembers that it was a green van and came round on a Sunday.

At the same time, there was another cafe in Abbeygreen in Lesmahagow, the Park Cafe run by a Mr Allan. The building is now used by Ladbrokes, the bookmakers. According to Peter McLeish, "a group of us from Coalburn used to go there on a Sunday night. That was 60 years ago."

Ginistri's Ice cream van at a Coalburn Gala

Piero Ginestri ran an ice-cream business from Stonehouse and attended local agricultural shows and galas with his ice-cream van. The van is seen here at a Coalburn Gala. Ginestri's business lasted through until 2013.

Other sources of information

Page produced: 26 May 2018 DJH. Updated 10th and 14th June 2018. Further Updated on 22nd April 2020 to include screenshot from film The Big Man. Many thanks to Peter McLeish, Gilbert Dobbie and Betty Nicol for providing material and information. Updated on the 2nd July 2020 to include the photo of Billy McLean, courtesy of Richard McLean. Updated further on 6th August 2020 to include details of ice cream vans visiting Coalburn using information kindly supplied by Peter McLeish. Updated in December 2020 to include an excerpt from an article in the Stonehouse and Larkhall Gazette from a photocopy supplied by Helen Brownlie and also a photograph of Ginestri's ice cream van supplied by Peter McLeish.