NOTTING HILL CARNIVAL | A LITTLE HISTORY
Carnival first appeared in West London in 1964 when a group of local residents (mainly of Trinidad descent) took to the streets of their Notting Hill neighbourhood to throw an impromptu carnival procession like the ones they had back in Trinidad. Less than 100 people were present, no local council or government involvement, just the residents themselves.
1960s Britain had been a difficult place to live for the WINDRUSH GENERATION (the name given to the thousands of Caribbean work migrants who answered Britain’s call for labour after the 2nd world war to come to the UK to work in the 1950s. They got their name from Windrush, the name of the first ship that brought them over). The climate and conditions were completely different to what they were used to and in addition the people of England had not been too welcoming. Attitudes were harsh and living conditions were even harsher. Not many landlords would rent to people of colour and those that did usually only provided dilapidated properties that most people didn’t want to live in.
Notting Hill / Ladbroke Grove was at that time one such area, with a landlord who was quick to realise the potential of offering accommodation to working migrants especially blacks and Irish. PETER RACHMAN had the properties and the ruthless ambition and Notting Hill soon became the major residential area of London for Caribbean migrants. I say ruthless ambition because he was both ambitious and ruthless. If you were late with your rent or couldn’t pay the rent increase there was no Citizens Advice Bureau; you just came home to find your stuff on the street or even worse if you were in when they came round to evict.
So the climate was cold, the working environment colder and work colleagues prejudice. It was a truly difficult time but the people were not to be broken. Instead they put their heads down and made the best of what they had. It was that spirit that started the first ever carnival in 1964. The Trinidadian people in Notting Hill wanted to have a party like they did back home so that’s what they did. The first carnival was a social protest and cultural celebration but year after year more West Indian immigrants, white locals and other UK communities joined the festivals and by the 1970s carnival was a major event in the UK calendar.
The calypso and the floats flowing through the streets today are carnival heritage and also act as a vibrant reminder of the original processions. The sound systems and food stalls along the route are uncountable now but you can just imagine back then how people must have started their own little thing in their front garden just to be part of the day. It was that vibe that helped carnival grow so quickly and by the 1970s the annual event was attracting millions each year.
Throughout its history many many major artists, DJs and sound systems have graced the carnival streets. There have been riots, a few unfortunate and senseless murders, but overall carnival has brought good times to tens of millions of people.