Discovering the Teglio Family

A Journey to Polperro on Friday, 20th October, 2000

History of the Teglio Family

The Cornish Pilchard Industry

Catching Pilchards

Salting Pilchards

Pressing Pilchards

Packing Pilchards

Exporting Pilchards

The Teglio Family and Polperro

Guglielmo Teglio of Plymouth

Massimo Teglio and the Jews of Genova


The Pilchard Works Newlyn

Polperro Heritage Museum of Smuggling and Fishing

Thorn Gent Family Home Page

Polperro, 1970. The Fratelli Teglio factory is just beyond the breakwater, on the right.

[Aerofilms Ltd]

Yesterday, 20th October 2000, I visited the tiny, picturesque Cornish fishing village of Polperro. We left our car at the carpark on the outskirts, and walked alongside the fast-flowing stream down to the harbour. Approaching by extremely narrow lanes, we quickly found the Polperro Heritage Museum of Smuggling and Fishing.

The Fratelli Teglio factory, now the museum, is in the centre of this photograph behind the boats.

The factory and the quayside

The factory and the neighbouring store: note the sign "Teglio Store"

The entrance to the museum

Pressing the salted pilchards: a rare photograph taken inside the factory of Fratelli Teglio, Polperro in the early 1900s.

In the entrance we were met by the volunteer receptionist, and by the volunteer curator, Mr Bill Cowan. And also there in the entrance was a photograph of Roberto Teglio, former owner of the pilchard-salting and packing factory which was now the museum. He was also the brother of my great great grandmother, Emma Teglio.

Bill Cowan explains the history of the Teglio factory

Bill Cowan with Lili Thorn Gent, the five greats granddaughter of Laudadio Teglio

Roberto Teglio

[Polperro Heritage Museum]

Emma Teglio, wife of Constantino Finzi, and daughter of Laudadio Teglio.

Emma Teglio as a young woman

In 1965 I travelled to Italy with my aunt Silvana. We stayed at Monza with my grandfather, Giulio Cesare Schiff, his young second wife, Nadia, and their two children, Aladino and Magda. Aladino I think was about four, Magda about two. Also there was Nadia's grandmother, from Cairo, whom we all called 'La Nonna'.

On August 14th 1965 I had the tremendous good fortune and great pleasure of meeting my great great aunt, Elsa Finzi. It was her custom, whenever possible, to visit her nephew, my grandfather, on his birthday. My grandfather lost his mother when he was only seven years old, and his aunt maintained this link throughout the years until her death.

Elsa Finzi

During the afternoon of my grandfather's birthday I took advantage of the opportunity to ask Zia Elsa - for thus we called her - about her parents, grandparents and other members of her family. She knew the names of her grandparents, and even of her great grandparents. Her mother's mother, Emma Teglio, she said had been the eldest of a dozen children, many of whose names she could remember. She even knew the name of Emma's father, Laudadio Teglio. And there in the entrance of the museum in Polperro yesterday was correspondence with Laudadio Teglio, my great great great grandfather.

Laudadio Teglio

To my surprise according to a document dated 1888 he signed the lease on the building that was the Teglio family's pilchard processing plant in December 1861, and purchased the freehold in 1892. It was his sons Roberto, Federico and Guglielmo, who also signed the lease, who were responsible for the Cornish end of the business. A guide book I purchased stated that they settled in Polperro, but I don't think the author realised quite who they were. They were not settlers, or economic migrants, they were agents for the commercial enterprise that was their family business, and Polperro, not too far from Lands End, was definitely far removed from cosmopolitan Genova (known in England still as Genoa), an impoverished backwater in comparison. Their enterprise brought employment and income to Polperro, and this was recognised in the loyalty of their staff. Bill Cowan told me that their former manager Mr Donald Pengelly was still alive, aged ninety-two, in Looe, just eight miles away. He had even named his house 'Teglio' in their honour. We went to find him, but were told that he had died. Sadly we were too late to hear from him about the business and how it was run.

Postcard addressed to Laudadio Teglio in Genova from Civitavecchia

[Polperro Heritage Museum]

Postcard from Guglielmo Teglio

[Polperro Heritage Museum]

Postcard to Laudadio Teglio, Genova, from Looe, Cornwall

[Polperro Heritage Museum]

Another surprise in the opening display at the museum was the information that Guglielmo Teglio had died in Plymouth on 4th January 1926. I would have expected to know about this, because I know the name Teglio, and because I know the Jewish burial records for Plymouth. I presume that his body must have been taken back to Genova for burial, though it is possible he was buried in a municipal cemetery in Plymouth. This also perhaps explained why I did not know about Guglielmo from Zia Elsa. The Plymouth connection is also interesting, for I did not know that the Teglio's also had a factory in Plymouth.

I know about the burial records for Plymouth because Guglielmo, like all of his family was Jewish. I don't think anybody in Cornwall ever knew that the Teglio family was Jewish. They were just Italian. The Teglio family took its surname from a small town in north eastern Italy. They were settled in Modena, according to my Zia Elsa. But at some time in the nineteenth century they must have moved to Genova. Laudadio is said to have been the last religious and observant Jew in the family. Most Italian Jews rapidly assimilated after emancipation. Typical of this assimilation was Roberto's son Massimo. He did not join the family business (except briefly) but he had his hour during the Second World War when he saved many Jews from the Nazis. His story is recorded in Alexander Stille's book 'Benevolence and Betrayal'. According to Bill Cowan members of the family also fought as partisan's during the war. Roberto was himself president of the Jewish community of Genova before the war, even though his staff and colleagues in Cornwall appear to have known nothing of this. The Teglio family had to relinquish the Cornish business when economic sanctions were applied against Fascist Italy in consequence of the Italian invasion of Ethiopia. Their experiences during the war were consequently hidden from their former employees in Cornwall.

Roberto Teglio returned to Polperro in about 1952, when he was eighty. He was accompanied by a daughter who spoke English, presumably Laura. At that time the four cottages that he owned behind the factory were sold to their occupiers for £400 each. Roberto's grandson Piero has been in contact with the museum within the past ten years, and it seems the family is still involved with the import of fish.

The four cottages behind the factory owned by the Teglio family

It was a very moving experience for me to see the name of my great great great grandfather Laudadio Teglio on prominent display in a Cornish fishing village. Similarly, to know that his son had died tragically in Plymouth, a son whose name had not been hitherto recorded. When I wrote my chapters in 'The Jews of Devon and Cornwall', published earlier this year, I could not have imagined that my own Italian Jewish ancestors had already visited these shores before me.

Esther and Brana return from the museum at Polperro

Piero Teglio

I wrote to Piero Teglio on 1/12/00 enclosing a copy of this website, and introducing myself as a distant cousin. I had hoped to discover more about the Teglio family business, the family history, in particular about Guglielmo Teglio and his daughter Nora. Sadly that was not to be, as he was already very ill. I heard today (31/12/00) that his death occurred two days ago, and that his funeral took place in Genova this morning.

Piero Teglio

Click here to see his obituary


However, thanks to this website, I was recently contacted by a good friend of Nora Teglio, who now lives in the house that Guglielmo built, which his father bought from Nora, though she continued to live their until her death.