BRIEF HISTORY OF THE DIVIANI SURNAME


DIVIANI is a Swiss Italian name originating from the Leventina Valley (just south of the St. Gottard Pass, on the Italian side of the Swiss Alps) in the Southern part of Switzerland called Ticino. 

Ticino is the most southerly Canton in Switzerland and borders Italy. Its religion is mainly Catholic and the first language is Italian, although French, German and a local dialect are spoken too. 

Campello and Calpiogna are mountain villages perched on the mountainside of the Leventina Valley between Airolo and Biasca.

Historically in order to support their families the menfolk have migrated into northern Italy then to France and England to work for a living. In the early 1800's they would have worked as chestnut men selling roasted chestnuts gathered from the hillsides around these villages. Latterly they became restaurateurs with premises in Lyons and Paris, France and also in London, England. 

The surname Diviani first appears in the parish records of St. Atanasio, Calpiogna, Ticino, in the 1660's. Calpiogna and its daughter parish of St Margherita, Campello are in the Leventina Valley on the southern side of the St Gottard Tunnel. The Comune of Campello holds some early documents dating back to the 15C showing entries for the name of D'Ivano. 

Early records for the area indicate settlements and administrations were in place in 1171 and a parocchio (parish) dedicated to St Siro existed in Mairengo at that time, unfortunately the parish records were destroyed in a fire many years ago - how useful they would have been! The parish records of St Atanasio, Calpiogna exist from 1661. This parish was created from Mairengo and had an oratory in Campello, which in 1837 became the parish church of St Margherita. 

The earliest known mention of the family name of Diviani is made in 1610 regarding brothers Giovanni and Pietro (John & Peter) d’Iviano of Fontanedo and their grazing rights in a nearby village. Fontanedo was the major settlement for the Diviani and Brentini families in the 1600’s; a small (and now derelict) village on the mountain side just above the town of Faido and close to Rossura. In 1630 the Plague came to Faido and some of the families moved higher up the mountain to Campello, almost 4,500ft above sea level, to escape the disease. The village of Fontanedo continued to be occupied until the early 1800’s. Although it is now unoccupied the tiny chapel dedicated to Saint Sebastian has been recently restored by the people of Campello and is used to celebrate the annual Castagnata (chestnut festival). 


Campello is a compact village with little means of sustenance for the many people that once lived there. A Census of all residents carried out in 1836 shows that there were 221 males and 189 females over the age of 10 years (in 2004 there was just a total population of 58). Traditional Swiss farming methods were adopted, rye (no wheat) and maize (for Polenta) were grown and the upper Alps used for grazing of sheep, goats and cows in the summer. Cheese was made (and still is today) and stored in a large cave within the mountain in Carì just above Campello. However by the 1800’s there was just not enough food to support everyone.

As early as 1808 men were moving to places such as Genoa in Italy and Lyons in France to earn a living as “Hot Chestnut Men” (Maronnari). They would return to Switzerland in the spring or early summer with the money earned in the previous winter and then in late summer harvest the chestnuts from the trees in the chestnut woods that cover the side of the mountain before returning to their winter “quarters” to sell their wares. 

By this time there was unrest in Switzerland due to Napoleon’s actions and then there were problems with Italy too, so by the mid 1800’s there was a need for the men to travel even further to earn money to support their families. The Diviani families had already travelled to Pavia (Italy), Geneva, Lyons, Paris and Fresnes-en Woevres (France) and must have heard how the streets of London were supposedly paved with gold. An 1851 Census entry for Kirby Street in Holborn, London - part of “Little Italy”- shows that some of the Ticinese families from Campello as well as Calpiogna, including Diviani and Brentini had already arrived and were employed as artisans. Others worked as proprietors or waiters in the many cafés and restaurants in and around central London. 

Perhaps for the above reasons Pietro Diviani decided to travel (apparently by foot) to UK around 1850. There was no railway or St. Gottard Tunnel then, so he like many others would have walked or perhaps obtained the occasional lift on a passing cart over the St. Gottard pass, which is only open June to September the rest of the year it being impassable due to snow, and then travelled onto Calais via Geneva, Lyons in France and perhaps Paris.

My earliest English information is Pietro's marriage in 1852 at the Sardinian Chapel in Holborn, a Catholic Embassy Chapel, to an Irish girl- Mary O'Connor. It would appear that the Catholic Swiss married Irish girls because they shared the same faith. Despite the Catholic Emancipation Act (1829) Catholicism in the UK was still mainly undeveloped and there were very few places in which Catholics could worship. 

Pietro spent his life in London working as a Looking Glass Frame Maker and then as a Litho Engraver, but it would appear he never returned to Switzerland and his descendants lost their Swiss status.