With Notting Hill Carnival around the corner, the news is thriving about facts & figures about this large outdoor event, that marks the end of summer for most of us. Notting Hill Carnival is often thought to have begun as “The Caribbean Carnival” in 1959, but the history tells a different story.
After the labour shortage at the end of the Second World War masses of immigrants arrived in the UK which resulted in a new multicultural London, with West Indians, working class Britons, Jews, Irish, Greeks and Spaniards living together in the local community.
The late 1950’s was a time of great racial tension and Notting Hill was an area of deprivation and poverty aggravated by rogue landlords such as Peter Rachman. It saw the Notting Hill Race Riots of 1958 and the racist murder of Kelso Cochrane the following year.
These terrible events sparked a wave of efforts to ease tensions and bridge cultural gaps. “The Notting Hill Festival” in 1966 (the outdoor carnival later to become Notting Hill Carnival) was one of these efforts.
The brainwave of social worker Rhaune Laslett, in collaboration with the London Free School, it was to be celebration of different cultures in the area.
Laslett was child of immigrant parents, her mother a Native American and her father Russian. She described the idea coming to her in a vision where she “could see the streets thronged with people in brightly coloured costumes, dancing & following bands and they were happy. Most were crowds, men women, children, black, white brown, but all were laughing”.
Laslett had invited a well-known Trinidadian steel pan player named Russell Henderson, hoping his presence would encourage participation from the local West Indian community.
The steel band played, and on hearing a familiar sound of home, West Indians flooded the streets. The group then led a procession to Notting Hill Gate and back again, gathering crowds along the way.
News of the festival spread in West Indian communities all over the UK and in following years the event became ever more popular, with more steel pan players and West Indian performers, increasingly developing a West Indian theme.
Notting Hill Carnival is now Europe’s largest street festival and has mantained a Caribbean theme with steel bands, calypso music and Caribbean food stalls.
Just as in Rhaune Laslett’s vision nearly 50 years ago, 3 days of every year, West London’s streets are filled with brightly coloured costumes and happy faces as over a million people share in a multicultural celebration.Date: 02/08/14