Is Hull’s Frank Penna Yorkshire’s longest serving ice cream man?

Frank Penna at the Italian Connections exhibition. Picture by Simon Hulme
Frank Penna at the Italian Connections exhibition. Picture by Simon Hulme
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HE could be Yorkshire’s longest serving ice cream man.

But after more than seven decades in the business, Frank Penna, 85, has yet to hang up his scoop and on summer days can still be found in the Hull park where he and his family has dished up the treat since 1959.

Italian Connections Penna Ice Cream horse and cart

Italian Connections Penna Ice Cream horse and cart

The story of the famous Hull ice-cream sellers - grandfather Francesco learnt the secret of making ice cream in Brooklyn, New York, in the latter part of the 1800s - is featured in a new exhibition at the city’s Streetlife museum, exploring links between Hull and Italy.

It tells the stories of some of the city’s most influential and well-known Italian families, charting business highs and lows - and even internment during the Second World War, when Winston Churchill ordered that the head of every Italian family be interned.

Mr Penna said: “I have sold ice cream since I was seven-years-old - penny, tuppence and threepence cornets.

“I don’t do as much as I used to - my knees are going now. The family do most of it now.

Carl Toffolo looks at Mosaic of Christ created by his great grandfather Osvaldo Toffalo. Picture by Simon Hulme

Carl Toffolo looks at Mosaic of Christ created by his great grandfather Osvaldo Toffalo. Picture by Simon Hulme

“People like to come to the kiosk - they always say it’s not the same if we are not open. It brings an atmosphere to the park.

“In our trade we always had to work unsocial hours - that’s when you make the most, when people are on holiday.”

Mr Penna took over the kiosk in Pearson Park in 1959 and generations of families beat a path to his door to enjoy a delicious cone - only vanilla is sold.

His grandfather Francesco Penna returned to Reggio Calabria, at the “toe” of the boot of Italy, after his time in the US, and shortly afterwards he, his wife Giuseppa and baby son, also named Francesco, made the journey to Hull.

“There was no industry there at all, there’s just oranges and lemons,” said Mr Penna. “Hull was a smashing place for immigrants.”

Over the next few years Francesco set up his own ice cream business, which led to the opening of premises at 28 North Street, with Francesco making ice cream which would be sold to vendors and hiring out Penna’s ice cream barrows on a daily basis.

The family’s fortune rose and the Pennas owned 15 barrows, three tricycles and three horse-drawn ice cream carts.

After Mussolini declared his allegiance to Germany and Churchill ‘s response, Frank Jnr volunteered to be interned, rather than his frail father.

After four months Frank Jnr - who had served in the East Yorks Corps in the First World War - was allowed home, no longer deemed a threat.

But rationing meant no ice cream and the family had to find another way of making a living.

Ingenious as ever, Frank bought a sawmill and they survived selling kindling on barrows.

In 1944 the ingredients for icecream were available again and the Pennas were back in business - their factory had to work night and day to keep up with demand.

Coun Terry Geraghty said: “Hull has always been a place of opportunity for immigrants who have helped build this city into the great multi-cultural place it is today. The influence of Italian immigrants can be seen all over the city and it is fantastic that their history and Hull’s connection to Italy is being celebrated with this exhibition.”