Notting Hill Carnival

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Notting Hill Carnival
Carnival costume.jpg
Genre Reggae, Soca music, pop
Years active 1966–present

The Notting Hill Carnival is an annual event that has taken place since 1966[1] on the streets of Notting Hill, and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, London, England, each August over two days (the August bank holiday Monday and the preceding Sunday).[2] It is led by members of the British West Indian community, and attracts around one million people annually, making it one of the world's largest street festivals, and a significant event in British culture.[3][4] In 2006, the UK public voted it onto the list of icons of England.[5] Despite its name, it is not part of the global Carnival season preceding Lent.[6]


Professor David Dabydeen has stated: "Carnival is not alien to British culture. Bartholomew Fair and Southwark Fair in the 18th century were moments of great festivity and release. There was juggling, pickpocketing, whoring, drinking, masquerade — people dressed up as the Archbishop of Canterbury and indulged in vulgar acts. It allowed people a space to free-up but it was banned for moral reasons and for the antiauthoritarian behaviour that went on like stoning of constables. Carnival allowed people to dramatise their grievances against the authorities on the street... Notting Hill Carnival single-handedly revived this tradition and is a great contribution to British cultural life."[4] Bartholomew's Fair was suppressed in 1855 by the City authorities for encouraging debauchery and public disorder.

A young woman parading in Ladbroke Grove in 2013.

The roots of the Notting Hill Carnival that took shape in the mid-1960s come from two separate but connected strands. A "Caribbean Carnival" was held on 30 January 1959[7] in St Pancras Town Hall as a response to the problematic state of race relations at the time; the UK's first widespread racial attacks, the Notting Hill race riots in which 108 people were charged,[8] had occurred the previous year. The 1959 event, held indoors and televised by the BBC, was organised by the Trinidadian Claudia Jones (often described as "the mother of the Notting Hill Carnival")[9] in her capacity as editor of Britain's first black newspaper The West Indian Gazette, and directed by Edric Connor; showcasing elements of a Caribbean carnival in a cabaret style, it "featured among other things the Mighty Terror singing the calypso 'Carnival at St Pancras', a Caribbean Carnival Queen beauty contest, the Trinidad All Stars and Hi–fi steel bands dance troupe and a Grand Finale Jump-Up by West Indians who attended the event."[1]

The other important strand was the "hippie" London Free School-inspired festival in Notting Hill that became the first organised outside event in August 1966. The prime mover was Rhaune Laslett,[10][11][12] who was not aware of the indoor events when she first raised the idea. This festival was a more diverse Notting Hill event to promote cultural unity. A street party for neighbourhood children turned into a carnival procession when Russell Henderson's steel band (who had played at the earlier Claudia Jones events) went on a walkabout.[13] By 1970, "the Notting Hill Carnival consisted of 2 music bands, the Russell Henderson Combo and Selwyn Baptiste’s Notting Hill Adventure Playground Steelband and 500 dancing spectators."[14]

Among the early bands to participate were Ebony Steelband and Metronomes Steelband.[15] "Notting Hill Carnival became a major festival in 1975 when it was organised by a young teacher, Leslie Palmer."[15] Palmer, who was director from 1973 to 1975, is credited with "getting sponsorship, recruiting more steel bands, reggae groups and sound systems, introducing generators and extending the route."[16][17][18] He encouraged traditional masquerade, and for the first time in 1973 costume bands and steel bands from the various islands took part in the street parade,[19] alongside the introduction of stationary sound systems, as distinct from those on moving floats,[20][21] which as Alex Pascall has explained: "created the bridge between the two cultures of carnival, reggae and calypso."[22] The carnival was also popularised by live radio broadcasts by Pascall on his daily Black Londoners programme for BBC Radio London.

Notting Hill Carnival is very reminiscent of Jamaican dancehall sessions due to the sounding of the event creating a "space". Notting Hill Carnival’s use of sound systems invokes cultural and personal associations for listeners, bringing about another "space", or a home for populations of the Black Atlantic Diaspora. Physically, the dominance of the sound envelops the crowd, creating a setting for the Carnival even though there are no physical boundaries. The fact that the sound systems are in the streets precipitates an environment where participants hear the sounds before they can actually see the systems themselves. The experience that all of these factors brings about for participants of the Carnival is representative of the Carnival-goers becoming a part of the larger diaspora, and acquiring a feeling of a distant African homeland, without having seen or having first-hand knowledge of the African continent.[23]

Emslie Horniman's Pleasance (in the nearby Kensal Green area), with Kensal Green and Westbourne Park tube stations its closest tube station, has been the carnival's traditional starting point.[24][25]

As the carnival had no permanent staff and head office, the Mangrove restaurant in Notting Hill, run by another Trinidadian, Frank Crichlow, came to function as an informal communication hub and office address for the carnival's organisers.[26] By 1976, the event had become definitely Caribbean in flavour, with around 150,000 people attending. However, in that year and several subsequent years, the carnival was marred by riots, in which predominantly Caribbean youths fought with police — a target due to the continuous harassment the population felt they were under.[27] During this period, there was considerable press coverage of the disorder, which some felt took an unfairly negative and one-sided view of the carnival. For a while it looked as if the event would be banned. Prince Charles was one of the few establishment figures who supported the event.

Concerns about the size of the event resulted in London's then mayor, Ken Livingstone, setting up a Carnival Review Group to look into "formulating guidelines to safeguard the future of the Carnival".[28] An interim report by the review resulted in a change to the route in 2002. When the full report was published in 2004, it recommended that Hyde Park be used as a "savannah"; though this move has attracted some concern that the Hyde Park event might overshadow the original street carnival.[29]

In 2003, the Notting Hill Carnival was run by a limited company, the Notting Hill Carnival Trust Ltd. A report by the London Development Agency on the 2002 Carnival estimated that the event contributes around £93 million to the London and UK economy.[30] However the 2016 residents survey found that many businesses had to close & only 6% reported an upturn in trade.[31]

In 2005, entrants from the Notting Hill Carnival participated in the Bridgwater, Somerset, carnival — Europe's largest lighted carnival and part of the West Country Carnival circuit.

For the 2011 Notting Hill Carnival an iPhone app was released, and in 2012 both iPhone and Android apps.

For 2014, a Notting Hill Carnival illustrated guide was created by official city guide to London The infographic includes Carnival tips, transport information and a route map. The book Carnival: A Photographic and Testimonial History of the Notting Hill Carnival,[32][33][34] by Ishmahil Blagrove and Margaret Busby, was also published in August 2014 by Rice N Peas.[35][36]

In 2015 there was controversy when the Nottinghill Carnival Trust charged journalists £100, to cover the event and demanded copies of all work produced relating to the event within three weeks of the end of the Carnival. The National Union of Journalists organised a boycott of the event. In 2016 the charge remains.

In 2016, 42 hours of live video coverage of Notting Hill Carnival was broadcast by music live streaming platform Boiler Room from the Rampage, Deviation, Aba Shanti-I, Channel One, Nasty Love, Saxon Sound, King Tubbys, Gladdy Wax and Disya Jeneration soundsystems. [37][38][39][40][41][42][43][44][45]

Public order[edit]

Crowds of around one million people participate in the Carnival each year

Since the carnival did not have local authority permission, initial police involvement was aimed at preventing it taking place at all, which resulted in regular confrontation and riots. One notable time when this occurred was in 1976; police had been expecting hostility due to what they deemed as trouble the year before. Consequently, after discovering pickpockets in the crowd, police took a heavy-handed approach against the large congregation of blacks and it became "no-man's land". The 1600 strong police force violently broke up the carnival, resulting in the arrest of 60 people. In the aftermath of the event, the carnival was portrayed in a very pointed way, with those aiding the riots lumped together as the "trouble-makers" responsible.[46]

A change of policy came after a confrontation in 1987, which saw a change to allowing the Carnival to take place with police taking a more conciliatory approach. During the 2000 Carnival, two men were murdered and future policing, while conciliatory, has led to police deployment in large numbers — upwards of 11,000. Some of the crime associated has been displaced to the periphery. In 2007, two teenagers were shot just outside the carnival area. The review in 2000 by participants (but not local residents) resisted calls from the Mayor of London to relocate the event to Hyde Park, but led to the parades taking a circular rather than linear route.

The 2008 Carnival was marred by rioting right at the very end of the weekend, involving large numbers of youths and injuries to police. Some media outlets captured footage of the violence;[47] approximately 500 youths were arrested. The carnival has come under criticism for its cost to the London taxpayer as the cost for policing the event totalled more than £6,000,000; however, it is argued that this should be put into context since the carnival is estimated to bring in approximately £93,000,000 into the local economy.[30]

Despite talk of the 2011 Carnival being cancelled in the wake of the early August riots in the UK that year,[48] it was seen as being relatively peaceful. Five people were arrested for a stabbing at Ladbroke Grove.[49] The victim was one of 86 people who were taken to hospital. In total 245 people were detained by police over the two days of the carnival.[50]

In recent years, the event has been much freer from serious trouble; apart from the stabbings & increasing numbers of arrests and is generally viewed very positively by the Authorities as a dynamic celebration of London's multicultural diversity, though dominated by the Caribbean culture. However, there has been controversy over the public safety aspects of holding such a well attended event in narrow streets in a small area of London. A survey in 2016 however found that nine out of ten residents living along the route of the Notting Hill Carnival flee their homes to escape the “frightening and intimidating” event.[31]

In 2016 there were over 450 arrests and five people were hurt in four knife attacks.[51]

Since 1987 there have been five deaths caused by violence at Notting Hill Carnival:

  • 30 August 1987 - Michael Augustine Galvin, 23, stallholder - stabbed.[52]
  • 26 August 1991 - Nicholas John Hanscomb, 38, bled to death after being stabbed in the thigh.[53][54]
  • 28 August 2000 - Greg Fitzgerald Watson, 21, stabbed to death after an argument over food.[55]
  • 28 August 2000 - Abdul Munam Bhatti, 28, the police treated his attack as racially motivated by a gang of mainly black males.[56] Nine men were sentenced for violent disorder in 2002.[57]
  • 30 August 2004 - Lee Christopher Surbaran, 27, shot by a gang using a Machine Pistol for "showing disrespect".[citation needed]

See also[edit]




  1. ^ a b "About us", Notting Hill Carnival '13, London Notting Hill Enterprises Trust.
  2. ^ BBC - 1Xtra - Black History: "What happened in 1965", retrieved 17 March 2012.
  3. ^ Shiv Malik, "Notting Hill carnival gets off to a peaceful start", The Guardian, 28 August 2011.
  4. ^ a b Professor David Dabydeen (August 2010), "Notting Hill Carnival", Yesu Persaud Centre for Caribbean Studies, University of Warwick. Retrieved 30 August 2015.
  5. ^ "New icons of Englishness unveiled" (27 April 2006). BBC News. 10 June 2015. 
  6. ^ Katherine Schulz Richard, "Carnival is Celebrated Worldwide Just Before Lent",
  7. ^ Caribbean Carnival 1959 brochure.
  8. ^ Travis, Alan (24 August 2002). "After 44 years secret papers reveal truth about five nights of violence in Notting Hill". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 29 August 2016. 
  9. ^ "Claudia Jones", AfroCelebrities, 1 August 2013.
  10. ^ Stephen Spark, "Carnival Roots", Soca News, 1 October 2009.
  11. ^ Margaret Busby, "The Notting Hill carnival has an unsung hero – Rhaune Laslett", The Guardian, 24 August 2014.
  12. ^ Davina Hamilton, "'Yes, This Is Notting Hill Carnival's 50th Year'" ("Debora Alleyne De Gazon, creative director of the London Notting Hill Carnival Enterprises Trust, clears up the confusion about the year the event began"), The Voice, 28 August 2016.
  13. ^ Gary Younge, "The politics of partying", The Guardian, 17 August 2002.
  14. ^ Michael La Rose, "40 Years of the Notting Hill Carnival: An Assessment of the History and the Future" (PDF). , July 2004. Submitted to Joseph Charles Media, publishers of Soca News, for August 2004 Notting Hill Carnival edition of Carnival Groove.
  15. ^ a b "How Carnival was developed in Britain?" Carnival in Education.
  16. ^ Peter Timothy, "Visionaries, Pioneers, Apostles and Healers: The Contribution of Migrants from Trinidad and Tobago to the Development of Black Britain, 1948 to 1986". European Conference on Arts & Humanities, 2013, Proceedings, p. 5. Quoting Tom Vague, 50 Years of Carnival 1959-2009, London: HISTORY talk, 2009, p. 22.
  17. ^ Bill Tuckey, "In the beginning...", The Independent, 23 August 2002.
  18. ^ Portobello Film Festival.
  19. ^ Natasha Ofosu, "Notting Hill Carnival pioneers to be honoured", Soca News, 17 August 2012.
  20. ^ Nabeel Zuberi and Jon Stratton (eds), Black Popular Music in Britain Since 1945, Ashgate Publishing, 2014, p. 141.
  21. ^ Jamie Clifton, "Things You Never Knew About Carnival, London's Best Street Party", Vice, 21 August 2014.
  22. ^ Carnival (2014), p. 290.
  23. ^ Henriques, Julian, and Beatrice Ferrara, "The Sounding of Notting Hill Carnival: Music as Space, Place and Territory."
  24. ^ "Emslie Horniman's Pleasance". The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. Retrieved 3 December 2010. 
  25. ^ "Emslie Horniman's Pleasance: Enchanted gardens". Retrieved 3 December 2010. 
  26. ^ Abner Cohen (1993). Masquerade Politics: Explorations in the Structure of Urban Cultural Movements. University of California Press. p. 109. ISBN 978-0-520-07838-3. Retrieved 19 August 2011. 
  27. ^ Griffiths, Emma (25 August 2006). "Remembering the Notting Hill riot". BBC News. 
  28. ^ Mayor of London - Notting Hill Carnival Review Group.
  29. ^ Colourful: Weekday Edition
  30. ^ a b Michael Ward, "Executive Summary", The economic impact of the Notting Hill carnival, London Development Agency Research, May 2003, p. 9.
  31. ^ a b Notting Hill Carnival is 'frightening and drives residents from their homes' | London Evening Standard
  32. ^ "Fantastic new photobook celebrates the history of Notting Hill Carnival", It's Nice That, 22 August 2014.
  33. ^ "A Black History Month Special Oct 2014: Ishmahil Blagrove discusses his book ‘Carnival’", Flip the Script Book, 10 October 2014.
  34. ^ Jamie Clifton, "Things You Never Knew About Carnival", Vice, 21 August 2014.
  35. ^ "Carnival: A Photographic and Testimonial History of the Notting Hill" at
  36. ^ Stephen Spark, "Notting Hill Carnival book launch – creating harmony out of adversity", Soca News, 26 November 2014.
  37. ^ "Boiler Room to broadcast Notting Hill Carnival livestream | Complete Music Update". Retrieved 2016-09-01. 
  38. ^ Reidy, Tess (2016-08-13). "No mud but all the music: fans flock to watch festivals online". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2016-09-01. 
  39. ^ "This Is How You Can Stream Notting Hill Carnival Around The World". The FADER. Retrieved 2016-09-01. 
  40. ^ "We've Teamed Up with Boiler Room and Deviation to Give You a Taste of Notting Hill Carnival | Thump". Retrieved 2016-09-01. 
  41. ^ SBTV (2016-08-26). "SBTV Partners with Boiler Room for Notting Hill Carnival broadcast - SBTV". Retrieved 2016-09-01. 
  42. ^ "Boiler Room streams live from Notting Hill Carnival". Resident Advisor. Retrieved 2016-09-01. 
  43. ^ "NEWS: BOILER ROOM ARE LIVESTREAMING ALL OF NOTTING HILL CARNIVAL - NOTION Magazine". 2016-08-16. Retrieved 2016-09-01. 
  44. ^ "Live Stream Boiler Room from Notting Hill Carnival". Retrieved 2016-09-01. 
  45. ^ "Boiler Room at Carnival: stream if you wanna go harder". Retrieved 2016-09-01. 
  46. ^ Sarah Phillips, "Robert Golden's best photograph: the 1976 Notting Hill carnival riots", The Guardian, 13 March 2013.
  47. ^ "Carnival Crackdown: Taser Seized", Sky News, 26 August 2008.
  48. ^ Lloyd Bradley, "Don't confuse Notting Hill carnival with the riots", U TV, 25 August 2011.
  49. ^ Davies, Caroline (30 August 2011). "Notting Hill carnival: 16-year-old arrested after stabbing". The Guardian. London. 
  50. ^ "Notting Hill Carnival stabbing: Boy among five arrested". BBC News. 30 August 2011. 
  51. ^ Gayle, Damien (30 August 2016). "Notting Hill carnival arrests hit record high". The Guardian. Retrieved 30 August 2016. 
  52. ^ "Police informer is jailed for perjury over knife murder: Testimony led to man's life sentence for killing of stallholder at 1987 Notting Hill Carnival". The Independent. London. 2 July 1993. 
  53. ^ "Carnival victim's killer still being hunted", This Is Lancashire, 25 August 2001.
  54. ^ "Tragic dad in carnival rap", This Is Lancashire, 7 September 2000.
  55. ^ "Carnival murder footage released", BBC News, 11 October 2000.
  56. ^ "'Racial motive' for carnival murder", BBC News, 5 September 2000.
  57. ^ Cheston, Paul (2 May 2002). "Gang jailed for carnival rampage". Evening Standard. Retrieved 31 August 2016. 
  58. ^ "FutureStyles - Notting Hill Carnival 2016 Monday Mas -... | Facebook". Retrieved 2017-01-17. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Abner Cohen, "Drama and Politics in the Development of a London Carnival", in Ronald Frankenberg (ed.), Custom and Conflict in British Society, Manchester University Press, 1982, pp. 313–44.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 51°30′48″N 0°12′15″W / 51.5132°N 0.2043°W / 51.5132; -0.2043