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

Portobello Busker Parades

Between the wars Portobello Road was noted for busker parades and impromptu Bedknobs and Broomsticks-style carnivals. As recalled in Portobello: Its People, Its Past, Its Present, a busker group featuring saxophone, trumpet, cornet and banjo players had a street parade from the Sun in Splendour pub up to the Gas Works. There was also a pianist and singer in the back of a van, a concertina player touring the pubs, and ‘Silly Henry’, an early breakdancer who’s sound-system consisted of a gramophone in a pram. The streets of Ladbroke Grove were also the scene of regular Catholic processions.

Wilsham Street George VI Coronation Street Party 1936

1941 Bedknobs and Broomsticks Carnival
The Disneyland Carnival scene in Bedknobs and Broomsticks, set in 1941, features Cockney, Scottish and Asian turns and a West Indian steel band. It is possible that West Indian servicemen would have been on Portobello during the war, but steel bands were only just coming into existence in the West Indies; using US army oil drums to get round British colonial laws banning the beating of African drums.

Rillington Place Elizabeth II Coronation Street Party 1953

1958 Rock’n’Roll Fascist Carnival (Link to 58 Remembered – 50 Years On and Historytalk)
Over the August bank holiday weekend of 1958, a local mob reinforced by Teddy boys indulged in a dictionary definition Carnival of ‘riotous revelry: reckless indulgence in something’, if not much bloodshed then plenty of window smashing, spurred on by fascists in an echo of the Nazi Kristallnacht 20 years earlier. In Beyond the Mother Country, Edward Pilkington calls Notting Hill during the riots ‘a looking-glass world’, in which everyday objects like milk-bottles, dustbin-lids and car tyres were transformed into ammunition, shields and barricades; like the battle of Portobello Road, without guns or much serious injury, in GK Chesterton’s The Napoleon of Notting Hill.
The anti-apartheid bishop Trevor Huddleston concluded on the riot, when he was based in Holland Park: ‘If it should lead, as it still may, to a radical searching of the conscience on the part of ordinary citizens, then much good will have come out of evil.’ Like the Gordon riots of 1780, which started anti-catholic and ended up proto-communist, the 1958 Notting Hill riot can be seen in a positive light, dispelling the mother country myth and creating the reality of multicultural Britain. United in their resolve to stay put, Jamaicans, Trinidadians, small islanders, even Barbadians (who were traditionally police) and Africans came together to forge a new black British Afro-Caribbean identity.
Ironically, the main inspiration of Notting Hill Carnival wasn’t old English fairs or Caribbean carnivals, but the anti-black British riot. By the 50th anniversary of the arrival of the Empire Windrush, and the 40th of the riot, in the Windrush book charting ‘the irresistible rise of multi-racial Britain’, Mike and Trevor Phillips portrayed 1958 as virtually a positive rite of passage, a ‘sounding board for popular discontent’ that brought racial prejudice out into the open, along with white working class exclusion from mainstream society. The traditional random reckless revelry was noted, with black and white children playing together in the streets between incidents; getting close to the argument that it doesn’t count as a real race riot. Colin MacInnes’s vision in Absolute Beginners of a ‘cheerfully anarchic’ music hall-style Carnival, with hooray Henrys, debutantes and hustlers dancing in the rain, was pretty much how it turned out in the 90s.

The Road Made To Walk on Carnival Day
The 1958 origin of Notting Hill Carnival was summed up by Darcus Howe, the radical 70s organiser, in his interview for the Mas and Mayhem Carnival history project: “Once you live a huge moment of history, you know exactly how history is made. Once you live in a big moment, otherwise you think somebody orchestrated it or somebody started it. If you want to look for somebody who started Carnival you’ll never find an individual – that’s out of the question, there is no entrepreneur or impresario who called it into being. It looked like we needed it and the road was there and some guys had some instruments in a pub and that was it. That was it! I think what was important was the place because the first Notting Hill riots took place on August bank holiday, so I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we had it in Notting Hill. I think Notting Hill has always been, even before the Carnival started, explained to me as liberated territory, a place where you stood up for your rights and where Kelso Cochrane lost his life. That I can accept quite easily because the coincidence is too bizarre. It just developed.”

1959 West Indian Gazette Caribbean Carnival
The London Caribbean Carnival was officially founded in 1959 by Claudia Jones, the Trinidad-born US civil rights activist who edited the West Indian Gazette. The first ‘indoors Carnival’ (or West Indian Gazette Carnival) took place on January 30 1959 at St Pancras Town Hall, Euston. Cleo Laine topped the bill which included the Mighty Terror singing the calypso ‘Carnival at St Pancras’. The nearest the indoors Carnival came to Notting Hill was the Town Hall on Kensington High Street in 1960. In April ’59 there was a West Indian steel band on the first CND march to Aldermaston.

Marcus Garvey Birthday Skiffle Carnival
The Carnival stalwart Baron Baker remembered a late 50s skiffle-Carnival in St Stephen’s Gardens on Marcus Garvey’s birthday anniversary; featuring Totobag (from the Caribbean café at 9 Blenheim Crescent), King Dick, Gash Boots, Benji and himself, on bongos, guitar, graters, bottles and boxes; but not whether it was before or after the riot. This Carnival tendency, at least, was confirmed by Tommy Farr of the St Stephen’s Gardens tenants’ association, who recalled ghetto fabulous West Indians turning up at the street’s Gigi blues club.
In the early 30s, as Rastafarianism was founded in Jamaica, Marcus Garvey came to London after the collapse of his Black Starliner Afro-utopian plans; to reputedly be one of the first West Indian residents of Powis Square (formerly known as ‘Little (east) India’). Marcus Garvey died in west Kensington in 1940 and was buried at Kensal Green cemetery, for 24 years; then he was re-interred in Kingston as Jamaica’s first national hero. After the ’58 riot, his widow Amy Ashwood-Garvey founded the Association for the Advancement of Coloured People on Bassett Road, and worked with the Carnival founder Claudia Jones.

1959 Kelso Cochrane Funeral Procession
On May 17 1959, a West Indian man called Kelso Cochrane was stabbed to death by a gang of white men on Southam Street in Kensal. This was when the fascist leader Oswald Mosley was standing as the Union Movement candidate for North Kensington in the ’59 election, and holding street meetings around the area. He subsequently appeared at the murder scene on Southam Street. But, rather than start another riot, the killing of Kelso Cochrane turned the tide against the fascists, and started Notting Hill Carnival.
As Mosley was blamed for bringing further disgrace on the area, on June 11 over a thousand black and white people followed Kelso Cochrane’s funeral cortege, in what has been described as a proto-Carnival procession, along Ladbroke Grove to Kensal Green Cemetery. Mike Phillips called it ‘the great event which ended the 50s and began the West Indian decade of Notting Hill.’

1963 Ladbroke Grove I Have A Dream March
In the early 60s the basic ingredients of the modern Notting Hill Carnival were emerging, though not necessarily in Notting Hill. On August 31 1963, Claudia Jones’s diary featured a procession of her Committee of Afro-Asian Caribbean Organisations, in solidarity with the Washington Martin Luther King “I have a dream” march, from Ladbroke Grove station to the US embassy in Grosvenor Square.

1960s Indoors Carnival
After Claudia Jones’s death, Victor Crichlow (brother of Frank, of El Rio and Mangrove fame), Scrubbs and Bynoe took up from where she left off with steel band dances, at such venues as the Lyceum on the Strand and Porchester Halls in Bayswater. There was even ‘a tentative alliance with the gay movement’, as Darcus Howe put it, at the Coleherne pub in Earl’s Court where Russell Henderson, Sterling Betancourt, Vernon Fellows and Nickidee played lunchtime jazz sets.

1964 A Hard Day’s Night Parade
Back in North Kensington the community activist Rhaune Laslett joined forces with the steel band leader Selwyn Baptiste to teach children to play the pans at the Wornington Road adventure playground (now the Venture Centre) off Golborne Road. But, as far as any evidence goes, in the years of the media myth first Notting Hill Carnival, 1964 or ’65, nothing happened. Apart from, that is, when Ringo Starr went ‘parading’ along All Saints Road, and was joined by the other Beatles in Notting Dale in A Hard Day’s Night.

5 1966 London Free School Michaelmas Fayre




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