23 MAY 2008


1 Portobello Carnival Film Festival 2008
2 Lord Holland’s Slavery to Work Scheme
3 The Notting Dale Gypsies
4 Portobello Busker Parades
5 1966 London Free School Michaelmas Fayre
6 1968 Interzone International Times Fair
7 1977 Two Sevens Clash Punky Reggae Party
8 1983/4 Aswad Live And Direct Carnival
9 1995 Hugh Grant Mas and Mayhem

Lord Holland’s Slavery to Work Scheme

In the 1790s the Whig leader Charles James Fox sent his nephew Lord Holland on a grand tour of revolutionary Europe. After Lafayette showed him round Paris, the Fox cub stuck with the French Whigs’ revolution through the Terror and the Napoleonic wars. But, in Naples, the revolutionary tourist put his family’s liberal name in some jeopardy when he fell for Lady Elizabeth Webster.
The next Lady Holland was described as being one of the most beautiful women of the late 18th century, and also one of the richest. This was due to her inheritance from her father, Richard Vassall, of the Friendship and Sweet River sugar plantations of Cornwall County, Jamaica, and its workforce of 500 African slaves. Back in London, the couple married after the birth of their first son (which caused the first big local scandal, rather than her income); Lord Holland double-barrelled his surname into Vassall-Fox, in order to secure property rights, and so became a slave owner.
By all accounts, the Hollands were humane and improving proprietors who supported anti-slavery measures against their own financial interests. It can even be argued that he was more use to the abolitionist movement as a slave owner than he would have been as a mere politician. Nevertheless, in perhaps the defining local paradox, the finest hour of Holland House as the international salon of liberal politics was financed by the profits of slave labour.
Charles James Fox died in power in 1806, having spent most of his career in opposition, as Lord Holland was on the committee that framed his uncle’s bill for the abolition of the slave trade. Meanwhile Lady Holland founded the area’s multi-cultural tradition by employing Afro-Caribbean, Spanish and Italian servants – in order to enhance the foreign image of her political salon. The Hollands were the Madonna and Guy Ritchie of the early 19th century; she was a scandalous Europhile and he just followed in Foxite tradition, but together they were the greatest salon hosts in history.

1837 Hippodrome Racecourse Riot

‘This is not the thing of today, but the foundation-stone of an undying ornament to our country, its proximity to the metropolis rendering it a boon of magnitude to Londoners never before contemplated; the working and poorer classes, particularly, are benefited by its establishment; it makes them even with the aristocratic and wealthy; from the most distant part of the metropolis they can ride in the omnibus, for sixpence, to the Hippodrome…’
‘The great annoyance experienced by the respectable company at the Hippodrome, from the ingress of blackguards who enter by the ‘right of way’, ought, at once, to convince the Kensington people of the impolicy, as well as the injustice of the steps they have taken in reference to this ground… The very urchins who were made the instruments of this piece of contemptible parochial tyranny, will, in after life, blush for the action. We allude to the little boys who accompanied the beadles and ‘old women’, in beating the boundaries of the parish. The reckless injury occasioned to the property, perhaps, is a minor consideration, when compared with the inconvenience attendant now upon the impossibility of keeping out any ruffian or thief who may claim his ‘right of way’ on the footpath… shame upon the people of Kensington!’ The Times 1837
Notting Hill began, as it would go on, in media hype, social conflict and local protest. In 1837 west London building development was briefly held up by the local entrepreneur John Whyte’s racecourse venture. Having leased 200 acres of James Weller Ladbroke’s land, Whyte proceeded to enclose it with 7 foot high wooden paling. The area bounded by the Portobello and Pottery lanes was laid out with 3 tracks; the steeplechase, the flat racecourse, and a pony and trap course; and was also to be used for training, ‘shooting with bow and arrow at the popinjay, cricketing, revels and public amusements.’
According to the Sporting Magazine, ‘as a place of fashionable resort’ the Notting Hill Hippodrome opened ‘under promising auspices’ on June 3 1837. ‘Splendid equipages’ and ‘gay marquees, with all their flaunting accompaniments, covered the hill, filled with all the good things of this life.’ The Sporting Magazine reporter prophetically summed up the first meeting and the area’s future with: ‘Another year, I cannot doubt, is destined to see it rank among the most favourite and favoured of all the metropolitan rendezvous, both for public and private recreation.’
But other reviews were less favourable; in one the horses were described as ‘animated dogs’ meat.’ There was also a crowd invasion through a hole in the fence. Illustrating the age old problem of policing the Notting Hill Carnival, on the morning of the first meeting locals cut the hole through the paling, with hatchets and saws, where it blocked the path to Notting Barns farm. Of the 12 to 14,000 attendance, it was estimated that ‘some thousands thus obtained gratuitous admission.’
John Whyte proceeded to block up the hole with clay and turf, thus enflaming the situation into further Notting Hill race conflict. On June 17 ‘local inhabitants and labourers, led by the parochial surveyor and accompanied by the police’, maintained the footpath by reinstating the entrance hole and adding a northern exit. Once this was achieved, the first community activists gathered on Notting Hill to give three cheers for the parish of Kensington.
The Times reported on the 4th Hippodrome meeting: ‘It is true that a large portion of the assemblage consisted of the dirty and dissolute, to whom the disputed path affords a means of ingress; but their was still a sufficient muster of the gay and fashionable to assure the proprietor that a purveyor of manly national sports will find no lack of powerful and flattering support from the largest and richest metropolis in the world… As long as the off-scourings of Kensington and its neighbourhood, backed by the redoubtable vestry of that parish, are allowed to intrude themselves into the grounds, it would seem that a much larger attendance of the police were absolutely indispensable.’

1840s Portobello Pleasure Gardens
In the mid 1840s there was another Hippodrome course at the Portobello Pleasure Gardens to the east of the lane, featuring a race track thought to be around the axis of Talbot Road. This was the venue for the Richard Branson precursor ‘Mr Gypson’s third and last balloon accent, on which occasion the whole process of inflation may be witnessed by visitors, as it will be altogether inflated in the Gardens with pure hydrogen gas, having sufficient power for carrying up to two persons.’ After which there was to be ‘a grand representation of the Roman Festa, with military music.’

1855 Notting Hill Gate Chartist March
The first big Notting Hill procession was the funeral march of the Chartist leader Feargus O’Connor (who died at Notting Hill Gate) on September 10 1855. The reputed 50,000 strong procession went from Russell Square to the Prince Albert Chartist pub at Notting Hill Gate, then by way of Westbourne Grove, Royal Oak and Harrow Road to Kensal Green cemetery (as Portobello Road and Ladbroke Grove didn’t reach that far yet).

1860 Pope or Garibaldi Riot
The first Notting Hill race riot took place in Kensal in 1860. In an echo of the ‘No Popery’ of the 1780 Gordon riots, as Irish railway navvies settled in the area they were provoked by the question “Who are your for? The Pope or Garibaldi?” This was at a time when British volunteers were fighting for the Italian revolutionary Guiseppe Garibaldi. Kensal was also noted for gypsy fairs and trotting matches, but was mostly renowned for fighting. The canal towpath was the venue for regular pitched battles between the Victorian slum gangs of Kensal New Town, Notting Dale, Queen’s Park and Lisson Grove.

1864 End of Notting Hill Gate Procession
On July 1 1864, another successful road protest was celebrated with a jubilant procession through the Notting Hill tollgate, as it was opened for the last time. Florence Gladstone wrote in Bygone Days, ‘old inhabitants of Notting Hill can remember the public rejoicings and the procession of vehicles that passed through the gates when they opened at midnight on that day.’

1860s Ladbroke Grove Circus
In the earliest local photograph from 1866 the Kensington Park Hotel pub appears at 139 Ladbroke Grove, ‘beyond the limits’ of the Hipp Estate at ‘the central point of North Kensington’, looking much the same as it does in the 21st century, when there were still hayfields beyond the Ladbroke Grove railway bridge. Where the first KPH photograph was taken from, on the Barclays bank corner of Lancaster Road, was the site of a circus run by the prize-fighter Tom Sayers. Further along Ladbroke Grove at the Cornwall Crescent junction was the accompanying boxing booth of Tom King and Jem Mace.

3 The Notting Dale Gypsies




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