The Bianchi Family

Aquilino Rizzan Bianchi was born in Italian Switzerland on May 14th 1834, reputedly at Vancallo. We don’t know when he arrived in England but in the autumn of 1869 he was married in Islington to Emily Mary, and on 12th March 1871 their first daughter, Cecilia Emilie Rizza Bianchi, born on 26th December 1870, was baptised at St Mary Islington.

Aquilino was evidently trained as a coach painter at or before this period. The Islington inns were notable stops for coaches in and out of London at this time and there were several firms of coachbuilders and painters in the area.

We know that from the 17th century coaches ran regularly between Stony Stratford, in North Buckinghamshire, and Islington in London, using the ancient Watling Street route. In 1838 the Wolverton Works began producing railway coaches and became a premier employer for good coach painters in the North Bucks area.

North Country Mails at the Peacock, Islington
After J. Pollard, 1823
In 1869 Aquilino married Emily Mary Webb at St Mary’s Church Islington. On 12th March 1871 their first daughter, Cecilia Emilie Rizza Bianchi, born on 26th December 1870, was baptised at St Mary Islington. In 1871 Aquilino was living with his wife and baby daughter in the Thornhill Road area of Islington – although the address is unclear on the Census record.

By 1880 Aquilino and his family had moved to live in Cosgrove, South Northamptonshire. This tiny village is two miles away from the Wolverton Works and at this time many of the men living there walked each morning down the Grand Junction Canal towpath to the Works to build railway coaches. It is almost certain that Aquilino would have been among them.

In October 1880 Alice Mary [Rizza] Bianchi was born at Cosgrove, and was baptised on 5th December at the Parish Church of St Peter and St Paul. The family, including Cecilia, then aged 11, appear in the 1881 Census, living in Cosgrove, along with a lodger, a child (scholar) named Emily Clara Collins, probably a relative of Mrs Bianchi and born in the St Martin district of Middlesex, as she was.

Under the 1884 Representation of the People Act Aquilino qualified as an Occupation Voter in the 1885-6 Electoral Roll, meaning that he paid at least £10 to rent his cottage at Cosgrove. He appears on no further rolls. It is not clear whether he was a naturalised British citizen at this time, which may have precluded his further inclusion, or he may have paid less in rent than the increased threshold in the later censuses.

Aquilino’s choice of name for his first daughter, Cecilia, may be an indicator to us of his private passion, for music. 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. This was a new organ, pumped by hand, and built by Thomas Atterton of Leighton Buzzard.
Cecilia must have been proud to record herself that year in the 1891 Census as “an organist and musician”. The family were then occupying a cottage, number 6 in a row of seven called “Grimes’ Cottages” in Cosgrove – probably on the “lower” end of Main Street. We believe that Cecilia or her mother may have taught music or basic school subjects locally.

Wolverton Express 16th March, 1934

A Sunday school has been conducted since the commencement [of the Mission Hall] first by Mrs Richardson (now in America) and then by Mr. J W Smith and Mr. F Downing who has a record of thirty seven years’ service.

It is almost certain that Alice Bianchi is in this photograph of the children at the Old School is Cosgrove, but we just don’t know which is her picture.

In the 1891 census 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.

In 1895 Oliver set sail from Liverpool on the Cephalonia, bound for Boston in America, from whence he took the train to New York. Link to his story

Sadly, also in 1895 Aquilino’s wife, Emily Mary, died, and was buried on 4th June 1895, aged 54, at Cosgrove Church. No stone was found for her in the churchyard memorial project of 2008.

Although officially most Swiss Italians were Catholic, Aqulino clearly adopted Church of England traditions on or before his marriage. However, in Cosgrove, there was a strong Non-Conformist Church movement at the time of the Bianchi family’s residence and Aquilino became a staunch supporter. Originally this group met in various houses. In 1886 a house on the Green, yards away from the Bianchi’s cottage, was registered as a meeting place for “Protestant Dissenters”, and by 1903 they had determined to build their own Mission Hall. That Aquilino was selected as the worshippers’ representative at the foundation stone laying ceremony gives us an indication of the respect he had earned in the community.

Wolverton Express August 14th 1903

Nonconformity at Cosgrove


Five foundation stones of a new Mission Hall at Cosgrove were “well and truly laid” with due ceremony on Monday. The present Mission Hall, which was established by the Stony Stratford Baptist Church about 18 years ago, was in reality two upper rooms of two cottages, converted into a small hall, capable of accommodating fewer than 100 persons. The cause, fostered so assiduously by a few earnest and diligent workers from the Stony Stratford Church has grown steadily and for some time it has been abundantly evident that a new place of worship must be provided for the congregation. Though nurtured by a Baptist Church, the congregation is by no means exclusively Baptist; indeed, communicant members of the Church of England have been among the regular attendants.

Mr A R Bianchi laid the third stone on behalf of the worshippers at the old Mission Hall.

This photograph was taken shortly after the Mission Hall opened in 1905.

Alice Bianchi was a founder member, rather than an associate, but was better off than most girls, being engaged in “Home Duties”, rather than in service. The girls sometimes met in the rather grand home of the leader, Mrs Atkinson, at the Priory in Cosgrove, but mostly used rooms at the Old School building at the end of Main Street where the Bianchis lived, occupying pleasant times in reading, singing, sewing and so on.

Alice’s subscription to the Girls’ Friendly Society ended in 1905, after which she “moved to America”, according to the ledger. This is the last record of this Bianchi branch in this country as a family as far as we know.

We know from the USA Immigration papers that Aquilino and Alice arrived on 27 September 1905 on the SS Oceanic. We know that they went to live with Cecilia and her husband Oliver in Connecticut, but we don’t yet know the circumstances of Cecilia’s wedding to Oliver.

By the 1910 American Census Aquilino, aged 75, was living in Southbury, Connecticut with Oliver, Cecilia and their two daughters, Dorothy aged 10 and Annie aged 7. Oliver was a Methodist minister.

On 25 Aug 1911 the enterprising Alice Bianchi sailed from New York into Liverpool. Her occupation was listed as a masseuse! This was not such a loaded title as it would be today – massage for medical purposes was very fashionable at the time, and the two Atkinson daughters, Mary and Gune, had both learned massage in Cosgrove.
Aquilino Bianchi’s his death is recorded on 12th June 1913 at the age of 79, by the sexton of Granby Cemetery in Hartford County, Connecticut, where he was buried.

Whether Alice stayed with her father until his death we don’t yet know, but she must have returned to England, as she married Jason Gurney the manager of a Land company, in around April 1922 at St Giles (possibly St Giles in the Fields) in the registration district of Middlesex. She was 42. This marriage must have lasted fewer than seven years.

Whether Alice was widowed or divorced is also yet to be discovered, but she was certainly wealthy enough to travel. In October 1926 Alice Gurney was recorded 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.

Six months later, in 1929, she was on 'Arcadian' on a round Africa packet, and on the same ship was a Richard Leslie Birkin. It arrived in Southampton on 3rd April 1929. Whether Alice and Richard were travelling together, or met on board and had a whirlwind romance is not yet known, but 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.

Richard was the third son of Thomas Isaac Birkin, D.L., J.P., of Ruddington Grange, Nottingham. He was born on 2nd February 1863 and was educated at Rugby and later in Paris. He had a distinguished military career in the Imperial Yeomanry, culminating in Lord Roberts’ last list of honours where he received the D S O.

Alice Mary Rizza Birkin and Richard continued to enjoy travelling first class, and are listed on Alcantara Passenger list on a round trip cruising to the West Indies from Southampton and arriving back on 28 February 1930. They now 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.

The Bianchi family story has now been published by the Anglo-Italian Society in England and is being further investigated by the Southbury Historical Society in Connecticut, USA.

Newspaper Articles which include members of the Bianchi family

Northampton Mercury - Saturday 25 November 1882

Cottage, having living-room, pantry, two bedrooms the occupation of Mr. Bianchi; rent 2s. 6d. per week.

Northampton Mercury - Saturday 24 October 1885


SIR MAURICE FITZGERALD'S CANDIDATURE. Maurice commenced his second campaign in the Southern division on Saturday by holding a meeting in the Primitive Methodist Chapel, at Cosgrove.

Mr Bull presided, and Mr. Knight moved a vote of confidence in Mr. Gladstone and his late colleagues. This was seconded by Mr. Wood, of Old Stratford, and supported by Sir Maurice in an excellent speech.

On being put the motion was unanimously carried.—Mr. Pollard moved a resolution pledging the meeting to support the Liberal candidate. Mr. A. R. Bianchi ……

Northampton Mercury - Saturday 02 November 1889

COSGROVE. CRICKET CLUB ANNUAL DINNER. The annual dinner of the Cosgrove Cricket Club was held on Saturday evening, in the Schoolroom. A capital dinner was provided by Mr. A. Bianchi. About 35 sat down, and the Rev P. G. McDouall (Rector) presided. Amongst those present were Mr. T. Anchor (senr.), Mr. J. J. Atkinson (C.C.). Mr. F. D. Bull, Mr. F. Whales, Mr. W. Pike, Mr. J. Hemmings, Mr. J. Hills (secretary Wolverton Britannia C.C.), &c.

After the loyal and patriotic toasts had been honoured, Mr. Whales proposed "The health of the Clergy," to which the Chairman responded with a short speech, which he spoke of the activity now existing in the Church of England. Mr. J. J. Atkinson then proposed "Success to the Wolverton Britannia Cricket Club," and Mr. Hills (secretary) acknowledged the compliment. —Mr. Atkinson also proposed the toast of the evening "Success to the Cricket Club," and complimented the club on its state of efficiency. They owed great deal to Mr. Bianchi. —Mr. Panter responded.—Other toasts were "The Visitors," "The Chairman," "The Health of Mr. J. J. Atkinson and Mr. F. D. Bull" (which was received with musical honours), "The Health of Mr. Bianchi," "The Press," and "The Ladies."

A pleasant evening was spent, and songs were given by Messrs. Wheatley, Bickley, F. Whales. F. D. Bull, J. Hemmings, W. Wright, Bugby. Jones, W. Meadows. T. Anchor, Burnell, Gomershall, J. Hills, Panter, Harding. &c. Mr. A. E. Jones presided at the piano. The club has played 15 matches, of which they won 12, lost two, and one was drawn, Mr. Smith made the highest score.

Northampton Mercury - Friday 06 February 1891

COSGROVE. Cricket Club. —The annual meeting was held Saturday. Mr. Bianchi presided. The balance-sheet showed a balance in hand of £2 8s. The officers were then elected for the coming season.

Northampton Mercury - Friday 10 June 1892


A capital Liberal meeting, in support of the candidature of Mr. D. C. Guthrie in South Northamptonshire, was held on Thursday evening, in the Mission Room, Cosgrove, under the presidency of Mr. F. W. Woollatt, C.C., Stony Stratford. The audience that filled the room included. Mr. W. Ryland Adkins, C.C. (Northampton), Mr. E. Baker, Mr. F. Abbot (Wolverton), Mr. Whales. Mr. T. Marks, Mr. A. Bianchi, Ac.—Mr. Adkins having expressed Mr. Guthrie's sincere regret that, under medical advice, be was obliged refrain from addressing meetings this week, suggested that the two grounds by which electors in South Northamptonshire should decide which way they would vote were, first, the manner which the two political parties had behaved during the last few years, and, second, that to which the candidates and the parties they represented were pledged in the future.

Northampton Mercury - Friday 07 July 1893



This small village, not behind in any festivities of a national character, held high holiday on Thursday. As in the Jubilee year the whole affair was a complete success. The proceedings began with a tea for the women and children, kindly provided Mrs. Atkinson, which was served at the Priory. From then till seven o'clock games were indulged in, after which the majority of the village had assembled on the lawn.

Amongst those present were Mr. J. Jepson Atkinson, C.C., and Miss Atkinson, Colonel Murray, Rev. H. C. W. Hewson, Mr. F. D. and Mrs. Bull, &c. The Cosgrove Brass Band was engaged for the occasion, and added materially the enjoyment of all. A large marquee had been erected (kindly lent by Mr. J. Knight), where splendid refreshments were supplied ad lib. Sports were held for men, women, and children, in which a large number participated. At nine o'clock the ground was cleared for dancing, which was kept with great spirit till midnight, when the National Anthem terminated a very enjoyable and memorable day.

The following gentlemen deserve every word of praise for so ably carrying out the arduous duties the holiday : —Messrs. A. R. Bianchi (chairman), T. S. Smith, T. Wake, O. Gommersall, J. Holman, R. Johnson, G. Brown, F. Jelley, J. Knight, C. Baker, and Seymour (secretary). Stony Stratford.