The Bianchi Sisters

Cecilia Emilie Rizza Bianchi

The owner of this extraordinary name was born in Islington in 1870. Her father, Aquilino Bianchi, was an immigrant from Italian Switzerland and had married an English girl in London. He was a painter, and moved to Cosgrove with his family by 1880 to work as a coach painter at Wolverton Railway Works.

Aquilino, his wife Emily, Cecilia, and the little one, Alice lived in cottages attached to the Old School, called Grimes’ Cottages. These were small, stone built dwellings, and in most cases were overcrowded. The Bianchi family was small for its time.

Cecilia learned to play the Church organ and from October to December 1891 was paid £1 10s for playing in the Parish Church at Sunday services.

A young man from Nash, named Oliver Richardson, was working as a gardener in Cosgrove, living at 2, The Green, one of the Church cottages, behind which the Mission Hall was being built. Oliver and Cecilia began walking out, and Oliver probably became involved in the building of the Mission Hall – becoming interested in being a minister. Aquilino was selected as the worshippers’ representative at the foundation stone laying ceremony in 1905, showing the respect he had earned in the community.

In 1895 Oliver set sail from Liverpool on the Cephalonia, bound for Boston in America, from whence he took the train to New York. He sent his diary of the journey to his fiancée, Cecilia, back in Cosgrove.

Mrs Bianchi died in the same year, and shortly after that Cecilia made the voyage to join and marry her Oliver in America, where they settled in Southbury, Connecticut, and had two girls, Dorothy and Annie. Oliver became a Methodist minister, and Aquilino later came to live with Cecilia and her family for his remaining years.

Alice Mary Rizza Bianchi

Cecilia’s little sister Alice had an even more exciting life. Born in Cosgrove in 1880, she attended the Old School and was a member of the Girls’ Friendly Society run by Mrs Atkinson – designed to extend the horizons of village girls. We know that Alice arrived in America on 27 September 1905 on the SS Oceanic, with Aquilino, to live in Connecticut with Cecilia and Oliver.

However, on 25 Aug 1911 the enterprising Alice Bianchi sailed from New York into Liverpool. Her occupation was listed as a masseuse! She must have returned to England, as she married Jason Gurney the manager of a Land company, in April 1922 at St Giles (possibly St Giles in the Fields) in the registration district of Middlesex. She was 42. This marriage lasted under seven years.

In October 1926 Alice Gurney was off again on a passenger shipping list from Auckland New Zealand arriving in Seattle USA. Then in November 1928 she went from Southampton to New York, by which time she was 48 years old and living in Hanover Square. On these cruises she was listed as a housekeeper, travelling with several different wealthy London businessmen. months later, she was on 'Arcadian' on a round Africa packet, and on the same ship was a Richard Leslie Birkin. Immediately they got back, the marriage of Alice M E Bianchi to Lieutenant-Colonel Richard Leslie Birkin took place on 27th April 1929 at St George’s, Hanover Square in London.

Alice Mary Rizza Birkin and Richard continued to enjoy travelling first class, and are listed cruising to the West Indies from Southampton and arriving back on 28 February 1930. They lived at Edale House, The Park, Nottingham where the Birkin family were well-known lace manufacturers.

Richard died aged 73 on 22nd July 1936, leaving Alice a fortune of £92,000. Alice M R Birkin died in 1967 aged 86 in North Walsham, Norfolk.

How travel broadens the mind!