Notting Hill Carnival
Written by Mollie Knight
I’m sure all our London babes have had this in the calendar for the past three years (thanks COVID), but this weekend is Notting Hill Carnival! Let's talk through the history of this special occasion and look at some of our gorgeous garms that are perfect for carni – I don’t know about you, but I’m always in need of some outfit inspo!
Groovy Black Crochet Co-Ord, from £8.99
For those that don’t know, Notting Hill Carnival is a huge annual event in West London, happening across Notting Hill (duh), Ladbroke Grove, Westbourne Park, Westbourne Grove and Bayswater. The celebration has deep ties in Caribbean and West Indian culture and spans over August bank holiday weekend, featuring parades, live music and incredible outfits!
Bold + Beautiful Multi Print Dress, from £9.99
It wouldn’t be Notting Hill without the music either – it is, afterall, the only carnival in the world to feature multiple static sound systems, an idea introduced by ex-Carnival organiser Leslie Palmer MBE in 1973! If you go, expect to hear reggae, dub, Soca + much more!
The likes of Beyoncé, Jay Z, Busta Rhymes and Lil’ Kim have all performed at Notting Hill Carnival. More recently, Stormzy, Wiley, Craig David and Giggs (to name a few), have all made an appearance.
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Carnival has grown exponentially over the past few years, it is now the second biggest carnival in the world, after Brazil’s Rio Carnival. This year there are over 1 million expected visitors. However, the origins of the celebrations are not exactly what you might expect…
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In 1959, in the wake of the racially-motivated murder of Kelso Cochrane, a 32 year old carpenter and aspiring lawyer, on Southam Street in Notting Hill, racial tensions were high. This comes right after the Notting Hill race riots in August of 1958. Over 400 so-called ‘Teddy Boys’, young, white, men whose sole purpose was to terrorise the lives of black people, worked their way through the area, causing chaos and destruction in the Carribean community. Consequently, a riot broke out for 5 days, at the end of which there were 140 arrests and 108 charges. Cochrane’s murder catalysed these underlying fractures, with over 1,200 people attending his funeral - some of whom were there to show support and demonstrate defiance over local racism, especially from the police.
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Today a blue plaque marks the spot of Kelso Cochrane’s murder, which is still unsolved. At the time, however, police were complacent and incompetent, with rumours of a cover-up running rampant. Today, there are still issues with the Metropolitan Police, as many feel Carnival has become over-policed, with the Met replacing what once was community volunteers. With the UK’s long history of racism in the force and stop-and-search being implemented since 2018’s Carnival, it is hard to believe that heavily policing events such as this is about safety and security - quite the opposite for the Black-community. This is worsened by the media, who often inflate this crime rhetoric by emphasising the, comparatively-small, number of arrests.
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Efforts to ease race relations and bring the community of together were taking place before Kelso Cochrane’s tragic murder, but a week-long children’s street fayre celebrating the culture of Notting Hill, organised by local community activist Rhaune Laslett in 1966, is widely credited as being the seed that would grow into Notting Hill Carnival as we know it. It is also thought that a BBC broadcasted indoor ‘Caribbean Carnival’ at St Pancras Town Hall in 1959 helped start the Carnival movement in the UK. The carnival was put on by Trinidadian human rights activist and founder of the West Indian Gazette, Claudia Jones, to help raise the hopes of a systematically discriminated against and downtrodden generation of West Indian migrants.
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To this day Notting Hill carnival is a community-led event. It has huge roots in the Caribbean culture of Notting Hill, where many people arriving on the Windrush found a home in the late 40’s as they didn't have much other choice. It was one of the only places to allow West Indian immigrants to rent the unsafe ‘houses of multiple occupancy’ run by immoral landlords. Throughout the years, other cultural influences have come to be a mainstay of the celebrations – like the Brazilian Bands that were first introduced in 1984. That’s why many people regard it as a uniquely ‘London’ event – a pick’n’mix of all kinds of different cultures and people!
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So, whether you’re heading down (or up) this weekend, or are just going to celebrate from afar, make sure you keep in mind the origins of the day - the struggle, sacrifice and the key figures that made this extravaganza a reality. To see some amazing photos of Carni throughout the years, check out this beautiful collection from the Guardian here!
If you are going, make sure to download the Notting Hill Carnival app and buy food, drinks and donate (https://nhcarnival.org/donate) if you can - it’s what ensures the carnival can take place every year and helps support the Black-community in Notting Hill and beyond! Also, if you want to rent any of these carnival-chic outfits, make sure to click the links to secure your rental before the weekend – there’s already a few of these in my basket!
“Carnival is an inherently political space. It was borne out of struggle and continues to amplify those who are currently marginalised.” - Chanté Joseph, 2020