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

The Notting Dale Gypsies

In the final stages of urbanisation, the Notting Dale gypsies were integrated into the community by a combination of do-gooding and health restrictions. The 1870s gypsy street in Mary Place was described by George Barrow as ‘chock full of crazy, battered caravans of all colours… dark men, wild looking women and yellow faced children.’ The local king of the gypsies, Mesach, Thomas or Old Hearn, was a 90 year old veteran of the Napoleonic wars who had travelled the country chair-bottoming before settling in a comfortably converted advertising van between two trees.

1870s Portobello Market Carnival
By the early 1870s, Portobello had succeeded the original local market on Norland Road, and its ‘general London notoriety’ was assured for ‘cheery cries, surging crowds and heavily laden stalls.’ Sir William Bull MP wrote of the early market in ‘Some Recollections of Bayswater 50 Years Ago’, for the Bayswater Chronicle in 1923: ‘Columbus discovered Porto Bello in 1502. We discovered Portobello Road about 370 years later. Carnival time was on Saturday nights in the winter, when it was thronged like a fair… in the side-streets were side-shows’ including vendors of patent medicine, conjurors and itinerant musicians.

Wormwood Scrubs Fair
In the late 19th century Little Wormwood Scrubs hosted fairs with roundabouts and drinking booths, and Sunday morning bare-knuckle bouts; one of which resulted in a local gypsy being tried for murder but found innocent. According to Florence Gladstone in Notting Hill in Bygone Days, ‘in the summertime the proceedings every Sunday evening were so disorderly that respectable people could not walk in that direction. It was only after the Wormwood Scrubbs regulation bill was passed in 1879 that this corner settled down to an orderly existence.’
This could be the fair referred to by the 1966 Carnival founder Rhaune Laslett. In the opening chapter of Abner Cohen’s Masquerade Politics, ‘A Resurrected London Fair’, she’s quoted as saying it was ‘a revival of the Notting Hill annual fair that had been traditionally held in the area until it was stopped at the turn of the century.’

1880s Canboulay Riots
In Trinidad in the 1880s there were major clashes between the colonial police and carnival revellers in the Canboulay riots. Canboulay fights between rival bands, where sticksmen traditionally resolved personal differences, began to take on revolutionary significance. After a Carnival riot in San Fernando in 1882, when police tried to stop playing early, drums were banned from the Trinidad Carnival for being barbaric, and to prevent them becoming a focal point of mounting racial tension.

The Rio Carnival and New Orleans Mardi Gras
The Rio Carnival started up in 1888 after the abolition of slavery in Brazil and a severe drought which resulted in a former slave community in the city. In New Orleans in the early 20th century the first black krewe paraded with a King Zulu character mocking the white Carnival royalty with a banana stalk sceptre and lard-can crown. Back in Brazil the Rio samba schools formed in the 1920s and 30s.

1904 Battle of Portobello Road
GK Chesterton’s local literary classic The Napoleon of Notting Hill (written at the turn of the 20th century) features a fairytale battle, more of a riot really, at the beginning of Portobello Road. Prophetically, Notting Hill wins the war but is changed for the worse and loses the final battle to the rest of London:
“As we walked wearily round the corner, something happened. When something happens, it happens first, and you see it afterwards. It happens itself, and you have nothing to do with it. It proves a dreadful thing – that there are other things besides one’s self. I can only put it this way. We went round one turning, two turnings, three turnings, four turnings, five. Then I lifted myself slowly up from the gutter where I had been shot half senseless, and was beaten down again by living men crashing on top of me, and the world was full of roaring, and big men rolling about like ninepins.” Buck looked at his map with knitted brows. “Was that Portobello Road?” he asked. “Yes”, said Barker, “Yes, Portobello Road – I saw it afterwards: but, my God – what a place it was!”…
“Notting Hill has fallen; Notting Hill has died. But that is not the tremendous issue. Notting Hill has lived.” “But if”, answered the other voice, “if what is achieved by all these efforts be only the common contentment of humanity, why do men so extravagantly toil and die in them? Has nothing been done by Notting Hill that any chance clump of farmers or clan of savages would not have done without it? What might have been done to Notting Hill if the world had been different may be a deep question; but there is a deeper. What could have happened to the world if Notting Hill had never been?” The other voice replied; “The same thing that would have happened to the world and all the starry systems if an apple-tree grew 6 apples instead of 7; something would have been eternally lost. There has never been anything in the world absolutely like Notting Hill. There will never be anything like it to the crack of doom. I cannot believe anything but that God loved it as he must surely love anything that is itself and unreplaceable. But even for that I do not care. If God, with all his blunders, hated it, I loved it.”

1914 Anti-German Electric Cinema Riot
In the 1909 Interesting History of Portobello Road, Edward Woolf chanced fate stating that ‘orderliness exists in the extreme, and a police charge in Portobello Road on a Saturday night is the rarest occurrence.’ At the outbreak of World War 1, in the next Notting Hill race riot the Electric Cinema was attacked by a mob who accused the German manager of signalling to Zeppelins from the roof.

Bangor Street Rag Fair

Bangor Street, the most notorious road of the Notting Dale ‘Special Area’ slum (on the site of Henry Dickens Court), was known as ‘Do as you like Street’, a place where ‘no one left their door closed’, and the venue of the Rag Fair. At the turn of the 20th century, the local district nurses were reported ‘valiantly holding their own in spite of the disturbance caused by nightly brawls and the noisy and unsavoury Sunday markets.’
Valerie Wilson recalled in an interview by the Notting Dale Urban Studies group: “They used to threaten us – don’t go up rag fair and the first thing we did when we got outside, we forgot all about it and went straight through rag fair… that was really like a film show, they used to hang old bits of clothing on the railings… the street would throng with people… there was a group of men who came out the war and they were all ex-servicemen, big tall strong men, and they couldn’t get work, so they formed this group and they dressed up in tulle like a fairy in a pantomime and they made their faces up, hideous like white faces and red rouged cheeks and red false curls and they used to dance and people, children and grown-ups, they formed a circle or square and people would throw a penny in.”
As an example of local characters ‘who make the most of the notoriety of their surroundings’, and the slumming tradition, a Bangor Street urchin recounted some “hunderworld business”, in which “the char-a-banc blokes bring the toffs to the end of the street, they pay 6 shillings and 6 pence a time, could you believe it? When the tic-tac man gives the word then father sloshes mother, she screams “Murder!” and I slosh father, then Ennis over the way sloshes his old girl and a free fight starts all around… Dad gives me a sprasy (6 pence).” Bangor and Wilsham Street also hosted more respectable Coronation street parties.

1930s Notting Hill Carnival
The 1930s Notting Hill Carnival, or the Princess Louise Hospital Carnival, consisted of a procession from the hospital along Pangbourne Avenue, Latimer Road, Silchester Road and Clarendon Road to Kensington Gardens. The 1934 Carnival line-up featured a girl with traffic lights on her head, Britannia, a Scotsman, a milkmaid, bellboy, clown and a blacked up youth. This could be the fair before the last war referred to by Michael Horovitz as being revived in the 1966 London Free School Fair.

4 Portobello Busker Parades




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