Jean Hood's Website

the Quest for the Ortellis and their Barometers

the Quest for the Ortellis and their Barometers

Ortelli & Co Macclesfield, circa 1805-1810
Yes, the thread had jumped off the pulley just before the image was taken.

If you need an image of a barometer for any non-commercial purpose, please feel free to use this, credited to Jean Hood. For commercial website use, a link to this website would be appreciated.

Mankind are much happier for the discovery of barometers, thermometers, steam engines, and all the innumerable inventions in the arts and sciences. 
Rev. Sydney Smith , 1771-1845


A few years ago, just on a sudden whim, I bought a large, burr walnut, mercury barometer at a local auction.  The name engraved on the dial, A. Casartelli, rang a loud bell, that turned out to be a bicycle bell because Casartelli was  the surname of a young Italian cyclist, killed in a crash during the Tour de France some years ago. Fabio Casartelli came from the area around Lake Como in Lombardy - as did Anthony Casartelli, whose company made my barometer in Liverpool in the 1870s or thereabouts.  

This research was prompted by my purchase of my second barometer, signed Ortelli & Co, Macclesfield, because there was no information on Ortellis to be found beyond a listing and the information on the barometers that carried their name.  In putting it on the internet as work in progress, I felt I ought to explain the background to the Italian emigration of the late 18th-early 19th century.
Initially I set out to add something to the research already available, such as extracts from some contemporary printed sources, together with information on the Ortellis and a catalogue of extant Ortelli barometers. The project, however, has inevitably become an obsession, particularly where the lives of the Ortellis are concerned. I have therefore taken it beyond the period in which the English Ortellis were involved with barometers (the first half of the 19th Century), and in so doing I found myself on a journey through the highs and lows of the Italian colony in London during the 19th Century.

The piece begins on the next page with some historical background and a simple introduction to the mercury barometer for those who are as ignorant as I was when I bought that Casartelli. It's followed by a long page on the emigration from the Lake Como area to Britain of the barometer makers and sellers. Then come three pages on the Ortelllis and the instruments they signed. The final page of the article deals with useful websites, a list of restorers and dealers and ends with some advice on buying a barometer and, if necessary, having it professionally  restored.

I want to thank all the owners, dealers, auction houses and others who replied to my requests for images, even if they no longer had them. All but one of these respondents offered what image(s) they had without asking a fee, and all images are duly and gratefully credited. Thanks also go to everyone I’ve spoken with, especially the respected dealers/restorers Andrew Foott, Chris Oxley,  Alan Walker.
When it comes to the historical help, I must mention the Anglo Italian History Society, and a wonderful clutch of people  from further afield: Fiona, from my LR days, who turned up the will of Peter Ortelli's father in law; Franco Selvo who initially looked at the online Italian records and gave me the confidence to try them for myself - once you understand the format and calligraphy they are brilliant as far as they go.  From Switzerland, via the magic of the Internet, Anselmo Pedrone keeps me well informed about Ortelli barometers for sale on the continent while doing his own research into the barometers made in England by his ancestors. More recently, Angelina Borelli, descendent of another barometer-making dynasty, who lives above Lake Como, has been generously looking at the original parish records, and I had the great pleasure of meeting her this summer. A chance meeting in the cemetary at Rovenna produced unbexpected results, and I now must now add Giuseppe Salvioni and Don Giuseppe the list. 

 It may be that if enough people - English and Italian - research their barometer-making ancestors we will, between us,  be able to build up a fascinating and integrated history of one important group of Lake Como emigrants.

Next: Barometers: history, working, styles

Go to: From Lake Como to London and Beyond

Go to: The Elusive Ortellis of Macclesfield

Go to: The Slightly Less Elusive Ortellis of London etc.

Go To: The Later Ortellis and the London Colony

Go to:Buying, restoring & further reading

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