1958 Notting Hill race riots

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The Notting Hill race riots were a series of racially motivated riots that took place in London, England, over several nights in late August and early September 1958.


The end of World War II had seen a marked increase in Caribbean migrants to Britain. By the 1950s white working-class "Teddy Boys" were beginning to display hostility towards the black families in the area, a situation exploited and inflamed by groups such as Sir Oswald Mosley's Union Movement and other far-right groups such as the White Defence League, who urged disaffected white residents to "Keep Britain White".[1]

There was an increase in violent attacks on black people through summer. For instance, on 24 August 1958 a group of ten white youths committed a series of serious assaults on six West Indian men in four separate incidents. At 5.40am, their car was spotted by two police officers who pursued them into the White City estate, where the gang abandoned the car. Using the car as a lead, investigating detectives arrested nine of the gang the next day after working non-stop for 20 hours.[2]

Just prior to the Notting Hill riots, there was racial unrest in Nottingham, which began on Saturday, 23 August, and went on intermittently for two weeks.[3]

Majbritt Morrison[edit]

The riot is theorized to have been set off by the assault of Majbritt Morrison, a Swedish former sex worker,[4] on 29 August 1958.[5] Morrison had been arguing with her Jamaican husband Raymond Morrison at the Latimer Road tube station. A group of various white people attempted to intervene in the argument and a small fight broke out between the intervening people and some of Raymond Morrison's friends.[6] The following day Majbritt Morrison was verbally and physically assaulted by a gang of white youths that had recalled seeing her the night before.[7] According to one report, the youths threw milk bottles at Morrison and called her racial slurs such as "Black man's trollop",[7] while a later report stated that she had also been struck in the back with an iron bar.[8]

The riot[edit]

Later that night a mob of 300 to 400 white people, many of them "Teddy Boys", were seen on Bramley Road attacking the houses of West Indian residents. The disturbances, rioting and attacks continued every night until they petered out by 5 September.

The Metropolitan Police arrested more than 140 people during the two weeks of the disturbances, mostly white youths but also many black people found carrying weapons. A report to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner stated that of the 108 people charged with crimes such as grievous bodily harm, affray and riot and possessing offensive weapons, 72 were white and 36 were black.[9]


The sentencing of the nine white youths arrested during the riots has passed into judicial lore as an example of "exemplary sentencing" – a harsh punishment to act as a deterrent to others. Each of the youths received five years in prison and they were to also pay £500.[10]

A "Caribbean Carnival", precursor of the Notting Hill Carnival was held on 30 January 1959[11] in St Pancras Town Hall, organised by activist Claudia Jones as a response to the riots and the state of race relations in Britain at the time.

The riots caused tension between the Metropolitan Police and the British African-Caribbean community, which claimed that the police had not taken their reports of racial attacks seriously. In 2002, files were released that revealed that senior police officers at the time had assured the Home Secretary, Rab Butler, that there was little or no racial motivation behind the disturbance, despite testimony from individual police officers to the contrary.[9]

Another, entirely unrelated, riot occurred many years later in 1976 at the conclusion of the Notting Hill Carnival after police arrested a pickpocket and a mixed group of both black and white youths came to his defence. The disturbance escalated and over 100 police officers were injured. Two notable participants in this riot were Joe Strummer and Paul Simonon, who later formed the London punk band The Clash. Their song "White Riot" was inspired by their participation in this event.

Depiction in media[edit]

In 1964 Majbritt Morrison wrote about the riots in her autobiography Jungle West 11.[4]

In fictional soap opera EastEnders it was revealed in 2009 that long running character Patrick Trueman lost his fiancée in the Notting Hill Riots.

The riots were alluded to in season 2, episode 3 of Inspector George Gently entitled "Gently in the Blood".

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Exploring 20th Century London, London Museums.
  2. ^ Fido, Martin; Keith Skinner (1999). The Official Encyclopedia of Scotland Yard. London: Virgin Books. ISBN 0-7535-0515-0. 
  3. ^ Linda Pressly, "The 'forgotten' race riot", British Broadcasting Corporation, 21 May 2007.
  4. ^ a b Olden, Mark (2011). Murder in Notting Hill. Zero Books. p. 162. ISBN 1846945364. 
  5. ^ "Long history of race rioting". BBC News. 28 May 2001. Retrieved 27 April 2013. 
  6. ^ Mark Olden (29 August 2008). "White riot: The week Notting Hill exploded". London: The Independent. Retrieved 27 April 2013. 
  7. ^ a b Dawson, Ashley (2007). Mongrel Nation. University of Michigan Press. pp. 27–29. ISBN 9780472069910. 
  8. ^ Gary Younge (17 August 2002). "The politics of partying". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 27 April 2013. 
  9. ^ a b Alan Travis (24 August 2002). "After 44 years secret papers reveal truth about five nights of violence in Notting Hill". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 27 April 2013. 
  10. ^ Ashworth, Andrew (2000). Sentencing and Criminal Justice. Cambridge University Press. p. 77. ISBN 0-521-67405-0. 
  11. ^ Caribbean Carnival 1959 brochure.

External links[edit]