"There were, you know, the Irish, the West Indians; of course within the West Indians there were the Jamaicans, but mainly people from Trinidad, St. Lucia also, Portuguese, but mainly from Madeira, and the Spanish, either Andalusia or Galicia."
- Souad Talsi MBE speaking to the We Are Here Project in 2010.
North Kensington has a long history of community spirit, something that has been particularly evoked when spaces are threatened. However, in an area undergoing constant construction, it becomes more and more difficult to find the things you once identified with, the things that define your area to you, until you feel like you no longer belong.
That is why it is important to have places like musuems, that connect you to the past. The musuems need to be accessible to area however, and it needs contribution from local people as well, as people themselves represent history, change, culture, identity.
North Kensington’s history is rooted in its diversity, and that history is not always a happy one. For example, discrimination played a large part in why West Indians moved to the area.
It wasn't illegal to refuse housing based on race until the 1968 Race Relations Act. Before that, black immigrants were lucky to find any housing at all.
This was exploited by slum landlords, most notably Peter Rachman. Black people were not protected by rent controls, so what these landlords would do was kick out the previous inhabitants and charge much higher rents to black people, who had no choice but to accept it.
This inflamed the racial tensions in the community, as white people were getting kicked out for black people, increasing anti-black feeling. Ben Parkin, Labour MP for Paddington North, blamed the 1958 Race Riots on slum landlords:
“The riots were the consequence of the social conditions created by unscrupulous white landlords."
Notting Hill Race Riots and Kelso Cochrane's Murder
As more black people moved into Notting Hill, the area also began to attract racists who opposed Afro-Caribbean immigration. Groups like Teddy Boys and the Union Movement (a British fascist group) would harass and assault West Indian families.
On 28 August 1958, a group of Teddy Boys saw Majbritt Morrison, a white Swedish woman, arguing with her Jamaican husband Raymond Morrison at Latimer Road Underground station. They tried to intervene and, when Majbritt told them to stop, they were enraged.
When they saw Majbritt the next day, they followed her, throwing milk bottles, stones, and wood, struck her in the back with an iron bar shouting, "N****r lover! Kill her."
That was all that was needed to spark the Notting Hill race riots. By the evening mobs of hundreds of white people ascended onto Bramley Road to attack the houses of West Indian residents. This continued until the 5 September.
It was obviously a racially-motivated riot, with many in mob describing their actions as "n****r hunting". However, senior figures of the Metropolitan police would try to play down the racism involved.
In an official report to the Home Secretary, Detective Sergeant M Walters of the Notting Hill police said:
""Whereas there certainly was some ill feeling between white and coloured residents in this area, it is abundantly clear much of the trouble was caused by ruffians, both coloured and white, who seized on this opportunity to indulge in hooliganism."
This went against the witness statements of police officers on the ground during the riots. PC Ian McQueen was told: "Mind your own business, coppers. Keep out of it. We will settle these n****rs our way. We'll murder the bastards." Another officer was attacked when he tried to stop a black man get beaten up by the mob.
Fascist Oswald Mosely tried to exploit the race riots by running to be MP of Kensington North in the 1959 election, calling for the forced repatriation of West Indian immigrants and for a ban on mixed marriages. He received 8.1% of the vote.
Not long after the riots there was another event that caused people to think about how black people were treated. On 17 May 1959, Kelso Cochrane, a 32-year-old carpenter from Antigua, was mudered in a racist attack on Goldborne road. The murdered were never caught and the police, like in the Notting Hill Riots, played down the racism involved, attributing the attack to a robbery.
Over 1,000 people attended Cochrane's funeral in Notting Hill, with the event serving as a mass protest against racism.
The riots and Kelso Cochrane's murder were important events in defining black-British culture. It cannot be stressed enough that black people are not a monolith, and this was very true for the people that came from the West Indies. People did not initially identify with the term West Indian, instead retaining their nationality. As academic Stuart Hall said: "It was only in Britain that we became West Indians".
The riots gave people something to connect over. "Before that, individuals had endured discrimination. But in that year racism became a mass, collective experience that went beyond that." (Hall)
In response to the racism West Indians collectively faced, the idea of a Carnival emerged.
Notting Hill Carnival
The first Caribbean Carnival in London was not actually in Notting Hill but in St Pancreas. In response to the riots in Notting Hill, Claudia Jones, founder and editor of the West Indian Gazette, organised a carnival to "get the taste of Notting Hill out of our mouths". This carnival, simply called The Caribbean Carnival, took place in St Pancras town hall on 30 January 1959.
It was televised by the BBC and it had the slogan "A people's art is the genesis of their freedom". Part of the money made from the Carnival went to helping those affected by the Notting Hill Riots.
Due to Claudia Jones' Carnival being Caribbean and linked to Notting Hill, many people see it as the original Notting Hill Carnival.
However, the true origins are actually much more local. It began with fair in 1966 led Rhaune Laslett, co-founder of the London Free School (LFS), who wanted bring the various communities in the area together.
In the Grove, a newsletter ran by LFS, Laslett said: "We felt that although West Indians, Africans, Irish and many other nationalities all live in a very congested area, there is very little communication between us. If we can infect them with a desire to participate then this can only have good results"
Notting Hill Carnival as we know it today can directly trace its roots to the Notting Hill Fayre that took place in September 1966. The orginal Carnival was less Caribbean in its roots and was more localised. Local residents, who originated from a range of places, such as India, Ghana, Czechoslovakia, Ukraine, Cyprus, took part, and the Carnival featured a Afro-Cuban band and Irish pipers. In fact, the only Caribbean presence in the inaugral Carnival was Russell Henderson’s Trinidadian Steelband, who also performed in the Caribbean Carnival at St Pancras.
As the Carnival became more Caribbean, Rhaune Laslett became more and more marginalised. In his book, Carnival — A Photographic and Testimonial History of the Notting Hill Carnival, Ishmahil Blagrove writes:
"The festival also began to take on more militant connotations in response to the pressures that black people and the counter-culture scene were experiencing at the hands of the police and the Establishment. The Black Power movement had spread across the Atlantic and gripped the imagination of the black masses. For some, it became increasingly uncomfortable to have a woman identified as white sitting at the helm of what was by now seen as a distinctly black Caribbean cultural affair.
"Rhaune Laslett found her authority being challenged, and her influence and control over the event gradually diminished. She retired from organising the festival in 1970 due to ill health (she died in 2002), amid concerns that violence would erupt because of rising tensions in the black community surrounding numerous police raids on the Mangrove Restaurant, a popular West Indian hangout. She left, dismayed that the festival she had conceived had adopted a confrontational tone that had sidelined her contributions."
In the 70s, Notting Hill Carnival sought to send a different message, but one that was equally as important. As Gary Yonge explains:
"In the mid-1970s, 40% of all black people in Britain were born here.
"In 1958, the first generation used carnival to protest the racism of the mob, but in the 1970s their children used it to take on the Met. For them, carnival was not a cultural reminder of a distant and different home but a means of asserting their claim to the only home they knew. "
Notting Hill Carnival Riot
What started the riots is unknown, but there were already concerns around the Carnival's future beforehand. Over 150,000 people attended Notting Hill Carnival in 1975, a rapid increase from the few thousand that went in the early 70s. With the area already beginning to undergo gentrification, the Carnival became a nusiance to new residents.
With that in mind, 3,000 police officers turned up to the 1976 Carnival, over ten times the amount that had previously showed up. Considering the fact that Notting Hill Carnival was peaceful before 1976, as well as the mistrust that black people had with the police, it was a recipe for conflict.
Over 500 people would be injured, but greater damage occured through how the riots shaped the media's perception of Notting Hill Carnival. Regardless of what actually happens, the Carnival is always reported on through the lens of crime and violence:
When there was small clashes in 1977, the Daily Express ran a front page with the headline: "War Cry! The unprecedented scenes in the darkness of London streets looked and sounded like something out of the film classic Zulu."
Following a stabbing in 1991, Daily Mail columnist Lynda Lee-Potter called the carnival "a sordid, sleazy nightmare that has become synonymous with death".
Instead on focusing on the cultural significance of the event, and the majority that were peaceful, the media focus on arrests and police presence.
Because of this, Carnival organisers have to always be wary of the reaction when things goes wrong. This was arguably a factor in Notting Hill Carnival being cancelled again in 2021 while other large events still happened.
To make things worse, the reputation is completely unfounded. A HuffPost UK investigation in 2019 showed that, when you consider crime relative to the amount of people that attend, Notting Hill Carnival has roughly the same amount of arrests than Glastobury.
Stable Way and the Traveller Community
Irish travellers have been connected to North Kensington for centuries. In the second half of the 19th century, they settled down and began to permanently reside on Mary Place. They were invited to do so by the community as North Kensington became part of an expanding London, and signed an oath.
However, this relationship was strained by increasing construction and expansion, which encroached on the Travellers' ancestral land. When they would try to go back, they would often be kicked off by the authorities.
The solution to this was the creation of Stable Way in 1976, a permanent site designated for travellers in the middle of the Westway. The site still exists today.
Similar to how West Indians moving into North Kensington led to tensions with previous white inhabitants, the Stable Way, and the presence of travellers in general, was unpopular.
What does this mean now?
The reason why Stable Way was able to happen, despite the opposition of those with anti-traveller sentiments at the time, was that they had support from the authorities. In the video above, the last man, who represents the council, in response to the criticism, said:
"Provisions must be made for gypsies as well as other people in the community. One of the most difficult things to do is to help understanding between various groups of people, and obviously it calls for a great deal [of contribution] from both sides. There is an inate fear of the unknown to a certain extent, of different lifestyles in which people have to get to know each better."
Support like this from those in power is vital for the protection of marginalised groups and the preservation of their histories, which is why Maxilla City are making these archives. Support like this is what secured the survival of Notting Hill Carnvial and Stable Way. The history of North Kensington's diversity needs to be preserved because it is through its diversity that we can really understand what North Kensington is today.
This proof of the impact of this support can be seen when we look at the history of the Moroccan and Portuguese communities. Both communities first came into the area in the 1970s, and have left a permanent mark. You only have to the walk through Goldborne Road to realise that.
Within hundreds of yards there are two cafes that embody Portugal's greatest footballing rivalry, with Cafe O'Porto representing the city of Porto and its football team of the same name, and Lisbon Patisserie representing Lisbon and Benfica.
Goldborne Road is also known as 'Little Morocco' due to the Moroccan presence. North Kensington have the largest Moroccan population in London, and over 10% of all Moroccans living in the UK live in the borough of Kensington and Chelsea.
This has certainly left its mark. As Souad Talsi MBE, founder of the Al-Hasaniya Moroccan Women’s Centre, describes it:
"Taza Snack, Bab Marrakech, Casablanca Halal Meat Butchers, L’Etoile de Sousse Patisserie. Such names make you feel you are in one of Casablanca’s neighbourhoods. This is not Morocco but Golborne Road, North Kensington, London W10."
However, for us to truly embrace our history we have to also be conscious of moments in the past where the support available was not sufficient for the challenges faced by the community.
While the Portuguese community is still strong in North Kensington, many were pushed out due to rising house prices. Catarina Demony, co-founder of Little Portugal, has noticed how the Portuguese community are moving away from where they first called home in London:
"Gentrification rapidly made that area way too expensive," she says, "so they moved to Lambeth, particularly to Stockwell."
The Portuguese community are not alone in facing these challenges.
In 2001, a Times Investigation by Brian Deer revealed how the Westway Development Trust (now called the Westway Trust) was beginning to prioritise making money over serving the communtiy. He uses the examples such as allowing Acklam Town Hall to be turned into Subterainia, a nightclub that local residents wanted closed, and their clashes with the local black community.
A report on the Westway Trust in 2020 by the Tutu Foundation found the Trust to have been institutionally racist.
While the Westway Trust is now working to fix these issues, we at Maxilla City want to make sure that we are aware of the past, to ensure that we do not repeat the same mistakes and so that we understand that we can never take the community's trust for granted.
Watch the video below to learn more about the history of the area.