The legacy of Notting Hill Carnival: #BCATwitterHour



On Monday 21 August, we will reflect on the legacy of Notting Hill Carnvial and its origins of community spirit, celebration and tradition.

Join us on Twitter @bcaheritage for a special #CarnivalLegacy Twitter Hour between 7pm and 8pm.

Notting Hill Carnival is an expression of art and culture in Britain. Its legacy is sustained by black people, and despite the opposition it has received since its inception, it still remains to thrive on the streets of West London as a staple in Black British culture, generating around £93 million for the British economy each year. Carnival holds a history of awe-inspiring visuals and a cultural narrative steeped in grassroots political activism, representing the voices of the marginalised. Opposition to Carnival is underlined by a want to discipline the working class and confine people to their ability to produce labour. But despite this state repression of cultural expression, and the limited funding Notting Hill Carnival is consistently provided, it has become the largest street festival in all of Europe. Inspired by Caribbean ‘Mas’, meaning theatre of the streets, Carnival’s purpose is to bring people together and to share culture, and each year its legacy prevails. Notting Hill Carnival represents a rich history of resistance, giving Black Britain a voice and an opportunity to be seen.


“Mas offers the participant an opportunity for transformation, to transcend the condition of daily existence; and the opportunity to be part of a transient but highly charged community of people, to be part of something larger than oneself.” Peter Minshall, source: Midnight Robbers: The Artists of Carnival by Lesley Ferris and Adela Ruth Tompsett


“Carnival is a continuity of what we had been doing before slavery. We brought carnival to Britain in our bones and if that didn’t trigger it off something else would have. Carnival wasn’t a memory, it was an instinct.” Darcus Howe, source: Carnival: a photographic and testimonial history of the Notting Hill Carnival by Ishmahil Blagrove Jr.


“Carnival is now part of our English heritage, it is about freedom of expression on the streets. Britain would be a very gloomy place without it.” Winston Findlay, source: Carnival: a photographic and testimonial history of the Notting Hill Carnival by Ishmahil Blagrove Jr.


Timeline / Fact File:


1958 Race riots

Black families in Notting Hill were consistently targeted in racially motivated attacks during the 1950s by the “Teddy Boys”, who were incited by fascist groups such as Oswald Mosley’s Union Movement and the White Defence League. The Notting Hill race riots lasted from 24th August to 5th September 1958 when a mob comprising of around 400 of white people violently attacked the houses of West Indians in the area.


1959 Indoor Caribbean Carnivals, Claudia Jones

The first ‘Caribbean Carnival’ was hosted by Claudia Jones, activist and founder of the West Indian Gazette, on 30 January 1959 at St. Pancras Town Hall. She aimed to showcase Caribbean arts and culture, and promote community cohesion. Headliners included: Boscoe Holder, Fitzroy Coleman and Cleo Laine. It was hosted in response to the 1958 Race Riots and the money raised was used to pay for the court fees of the black people convicted of offenses. The event was televised by the BBC. Saddened by the murder of Kelso Cochrane at the hands of racist white youths in May 1959, Jones went on to host more Caribbean Carnivals at Porchester Hall, The Lyceum Ballroom in The Strand, The Coleherne Public House, and The West Indian Student Centre.


1966 Notting Hill Festival, Rhaune Laslett

The first Notting Hill Carnival, known then as Notting Hill Festival, was founded by Rhaune Laslett in August 1966. It was organised to celebrate the variety of cultures in the multicultural area of Notting Hill. The street festival centred the children in the area, and included Caribbean, Irish and Asian performers, most notably The Russ Henderson Steel Band.


1973 ‘Mas in the Ghetto’, Leslie Jones

Leslie Jones was the organiser of Notting Hill Carnival from 1973-76, and introduced formal organisation and formatting to the event. The 1973 Notting Hill Carnival was called ‘Mas in the Ghetto’ to protest the poor housing conditions for the black working class in The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. From this point on, the focus of the carnival changed to emulate the carnival in Trinidad and Tobago, and address the growing racial tensions in the area.


1973 First costume bands, Lawrence Noel

Lawrence Noel, leader of the Trinidad Carnival Club, brought the first costumed band to Notting Hill Carnival in 1973, and the first appearance of Trinidadian ‘mas’. He designed and constructed 40 costumes in his house in Leytonstone under the theme ‘Head Hunters’.


1975 First Jamaican sound systems

The introduction of Jamaican sound systems, and reggae music by extension, largely increased attendance to Notting Hill Carnival, categorising it then as a major festival. The 1975 Carnival introduced a healthy balance between calypso and reggae, as well as an extension to the carnival route.


1976 Race riots

Around 3,000 police officers were assigned to carnival in 1976, which was ten times the usual amount. The 1970s invited more restrictions from the British authorities on Carnival. The increased tension between black youths and the police was due to frequent racial profiling and police brutality supported by the 1894 Vagrant Act, also known as SUS laws. As a result of the aggressive policing and racist local opposition by groups such as the ‘Golborne 100’, riots ensued. In response to what had occurred, Carnivalists formed the Carnival Development Committee (C.D.C) in an attempt to confront the growing police presence and stop the carnival from being banned.


1989 ‘Police Carnival’

The Carnival Arts Committee (C.A.C), formed in the late 1970s, was replaced by the Carnival Enterprise Committee (C.E.C) in 1989. The 1989 Carnival was endorsed by the British authorities, and heavily policed. Described as the ‘Police Carnival’, the 1989 Notting Hill Carnival resulted in misleading inaccuracies being reported in the press regarding crime levels and casualties intended to tarnish Carnival’s reputation. Furthermore, many band leaders and members who frequently participated in Carnival were subjected to police harassment, preventing them from finishing routes and limiting their engagement with the public. In the years 1989-1990, the People’s War Carnival Band, The Association for a Peoples Carnival (APC) and the Notting Hill International Carnival Committee (NHICC) advocated for a ‘People’s Carnival’, encouraging the freedoms of carnival to placed back into the hands of the people.

Words by Kamara Simms.

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