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Notting Hill Riots

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Notting Hill Riots

You might have heard of Notting Hill Carnival, but what about the unrest that created it? The Afro Caribbean community living in Notting Hill has continually fought for their equality, identity and rights of expression. Let's find out about two violent episodes in their history where these were under threat - the Notting Hill Riots.

Notting Hill race riots

During the latter half of the twentieth century, there were two racially induced flashpoints in London's Notting Hill Gate area.

Notting Hill riots (1958)

The first of these occurred in 1958. To understand the picture of the 1976 Notting Hill Carnival Riots, we must first establish the context of the previous unrest.

Causes

The Notting Hill Riots were a result of simmering racial tension caused by the large influx of migrants from the Commonwealth after World War II (see UK Immigration). This area of London was home to a large number of the Caribbean community or Windrush generation that arrived to live Notting Hill Riots Oswald Mosley StudySmarterOswald Mosley (leader of the Union Movement), Wikimedia Commonsand work in the UK. Their status was complicated: as ex-members of a British colony and under the British Nationality Act in 1948, they held the political validity of a British citizen.

However, the shadow of oppression and enslavement of their past loomed, and their differences in appearance and culture could not go unnoticed, particularly by the Union Movement and White Defence League. Their headquarters were in the Notting Hill area, and these white supremacist organisations felt that immigration had left poor white people behind, leaving shortages in housing and job opportunities. They aimed to drive immigrants away and "Keep Britain White".

Windrush

The name Windrush comes from HMT Empire Windrush, the colossal ship which carried over 1200 Caribbean people in 1948 from British colonies in the West Indies to Britain.

Notting Hill riots 1958 facts

  • During the 1950s, segregation showed white people's intolerance of Caribbean immigrants. For instance, signs such as "White Tenants Only" began to appear.
  • The unrest began on 29th August 1958 after a dispute between West Indian man Raymon Morrisson and his white Swedish wife Majbritt outside the Latimer Road underground station.
  • A white mob defending the woman entered into a scuffle with some of Raymond's West Indian friends.
  • The conflict snowballed - on 30th August, Majbritt was abused by teddy boys for being with an Afro Caribbean man. That evening around 300 teddy boys armed themselves with iron bars, butcher's knives and weighted leather belts.
  • They unleashed five nights of terror on Caribbean homes and businesses. Five Black men were left unconscious on Notting Hill on the first night.
  • There was a reaction from the Afro Caribbean community, who used petrol bombs outside their base.
  • 108 men were arrested during the riots - 77 white and 36 Black.
  • Despite shouts such as "Go home, you Black b*******!" senior police officials tried to convince the Home Secretary that there was no racial element to these attacks and that they were pure hooliganism. These details were only released 44 years after. 1

Teddy boy

A nickname for a white British youth who dressed in Edwardian clothes in the 1950s and 1960s and engaged in hooliganism

Hooliganism

Violent or rowdy behaviour

In response to the riots, the Daily Mail ran the headline "Should we keep them coming in?" Shock reverberated worldwide as Britain had been doing her utmost to maintain a squeaky clean image after World War II and amid the ideological chess of the Cold War. Colin MacInnes, who fictionalised the riots in his novel Absolute Beginners, claimed they were a crucial moment:

The moment where any (British) moral leadership to the world evaporated.2

- Colin MacInnes

Murder of Kelso Cochrane

A year after this, as the community licked its wounds, it dealt with an even larger tragedy. The murder of Antiguan Kelso Cochrane by teddy boys in Kensington caused outrage.

The police released two suspects, and no witnesses came forward. Whether it was a lack of interest or intimidation from white supremacists, nothing more was done, showing the systemic racism in the police force.

As a response to this and the previous year's riots, a predecessor of the Notting Hill Carnival took place in St Pancras Town Hall in 1959. Trinidadian Activist Claudia Jones wanted a chance for Caribbean people to express their culture and defy the fierce intimidation and constraints that had become a daily part of their lives. Jones is now referred to as the "mother of the carnival".

Notting Hill Carnival riots

The carnival grew from its humble beginnings and, by 1964, became a street event in Notting Hill. For the next decade, it gradually grew with the addition of different Caribbean elements, including steel bands and jerk cooking. At first, the carnival was organised by two English people, but increasingly Afro Caribbeans demanded control of the event.

By 1974, reggae music and Rastafarianism were key parts of the young Black psyche - the militant, fiercely proud songs would be blasted on extensive sound systems during the carnival. In addition, another Trinidadian, Selwyn Baptiste, established the Carnival Development Committee (CDC).

Rastafarianism

A religious movement that sprung up in Jamaica during the 1930s. It was characterised by the belief that slavery and colonial oppression were a test from "Jah" (their God). Should they remain strong they would be delivered back to their homeland, referred to as Zion. The religion combined elements of Christianity with other ideas, including the notion that Ethiopian king Haile Sellasie was the rebirth of Jesus.

Notting Hill Riots Trinidadian Military Steel Band StudySmarterTrinidadian Military Steel Band, Wikimedia Commons

Notting Hill Riots 1976 explained

Part of the trouble with the 1976 riots can be traced back to events of the previous year. The carnival was a great success, but with the addition of sound systems, white residents wanted it removed from the streets and held in White City Stadium the following year. They complained of noise, the need for police and the lack of facilities. The CDC ignored these requests and went ahead with the plans to have the carnival on the streets as normal.

As a result, the council elected to increase the number of police at the carnival from 60 in 1975 to 1600 in 1976.

These police officers conducted thousands of stop and search procedures and arrested young Black men for allegedly committing crimes such as pickpocketing.

As more and more arrests took place, resistance increased, eventually leading a group of Afro Carribeans to tun to the aid of an accused young man on Portobello Road. By 5 pm, full-scale rioting spread in Ladbroke Grove.

In the end, 125 policemen were injured and 66 people had been arrested, providing the police with the perfect smear campaign and justification for their future policy.

Interestingly, white people played a minor role compared to the 1958 Notting Hill riots - looting a few shops and properties.

Effects of the Notting Hill riots

The results of the Notting Hill Carnival riots were profound. They allowed the police to justify a sophisticated crowd control campaign at the following three carnivals. Footage of people attacking the police in the 1976 Notting Hill Riots was also beamed onto national television, thus perpetuating the image of the dangerous Black male that still sometimes pervades today.

For West Indians, however, the riots represented awakening and liberation. They would no longer be told what to do and would continue to be empowered by their culture. In Birmingham, two weeks later, there was a gathering of 300 people in the town centre when a Black youth was arrested for stealing an ashtray. The clamours for fair policing did not go away, and during the 1980s, notable riots such as those in Brixton in 1981 took place.

The legacy of the Notting Hill riots lingers on, and the message remains the same - to fight back against racist oppression. As recently as 2020, the Black Lives Matter movement demonstrated this, tearing down statues of slave traders and furiously denouncing the murder of George Floyd in the United States by a policeman. The carnival remains an integral part of Notting Hill's culture and promotes a message of inclusivity and freedom of expression.

Notting Hill Riots Statue of Edward Colston StudySmarterStatue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol that was removed and thrown in the harbour by Black Lives Matter protestors in July 2020, Wikimedia Commons

Notting Hill Riots 1976 - Key takeaways

  • There have been two race riots in Notting Hill, one in 1958 and the other in 1976.
  • The 1958 Notting Hill riots were characterised by white terrorism against West Indians. They demonstrated the indifference of the police towards Afro Caribbean concerns.
  • A year later, the murder of Kelso Cochrane underlined this, and the first expression of Caribbean culture was organised in 1959 as a response.
  • As the carnival grew, the leadership became fractured, and their inability to negotiate with the local council resulted in a massive police presence in 1976. Police treatment of young Black males led to riots.
  • This justified white stereotypes but also gave West Indians the autonomy to fight for justice. The legacy of the riots lives on today.

References

  1. Alan Travis, "After 44 years secret papers reveal the truth about five nights of violence in Notting Hill", The Guardian Online, (24th August 2002).
  2. Mark Olden, "White riot: The week Notting Hill exploded, Independent Online, (29th August 2008).

Frequently Asked Questions about Notting Hill Riots

Racial tension between white and Afro Caribbean residents of the Notting Hill Gate area of London.

There have been two Notting Hill riots. The first was in 1958 and the second was at the Notting Hill Carnival in 1976.

During the 1958 Notting Hill riots, 36 Black people were arrested. In 1976, 60 Black people were arrested.

An argument between a multiracial couple sparked the 1958 Notting Hill Riots. It led to attacks by white supremacist groups on the West Indian population of Notting Hill.

The urban riots in the 1960s focused on the large influx of immigrants from Commonwealth countries such as Pakistan in cities around the UK. There were always racial tensions because of this.

Final Notting Hill Riots Quiz

Question

Which community of immigrants were involved in the Notting Hill Riots?

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Answer

Afro Caribbean

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Question

What did the British Nationality Act do?

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Answer

It gave rights of British citizenship to former colonies in the Commonwealth.

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Question

What was NOT a primary concern of white supremacists in Notting Hill?

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Answer

Tax dodging immigrants

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Question

Which of these best describes a "teddy boy"?

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Answer

Young white male

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Question

Which event in 1959 rocked the Afro Caribbean community in Notting Hill?

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Answer

Murder of Kelso Cochrane

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Question

Who organised the St Pancras Town Hall event in 1959?

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Answer

Claudia Jones

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Question

What did CDC stand for?

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Answer

Carnival Development Committee

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Question

What is the sacred herb for Rastafarianism?

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Answer

Marijuana

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Question

Where did some white residents of Notting Hill want the 1976 carnival to take place?

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Answer

White city stadium

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Question

What was the result of the CDC's failure to reach an agreement with the local council in 1976?

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Answer

Increased police presence at the Carnival

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Question

What sparked the gathering in Birmingham two weeks after the 1976 Carnival?

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Answer

The arrest of a black youth

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Question

In which area of London did a significant riot take place in 1981?

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Answer

Brixton

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Question

Which event caused the Black Lives Matter movement protests in 2020?

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Answer

The murder of George Floyd.

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Question

Where did the Edward Colston statue get dismantled?

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Answer

Bristol

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