What is Notting Hill Carnival?

Learn about one of the worlds largest street carnivals

By Notting Hill Carnival

How did it all begin?

Claudia Jones, a Trinidadian human rights activist based in London, put on a BBC broadcasted indoor ‘Caribbean Carnival’ at St Pancras Town Hall back in 1959. She is widely credited with planting the seeds for Carnival in the UK by doing so. 

An appetite for the indoor Caribbean carnival was fed by Trinidadian husband and wife booking agents Edric and Pearl Connor who along with many partners including the West Indian Gazette (which was founded by Claudia Jones) began promoting indoor events in halls dotted around 1960s London.

Claudia JonesNotting Hill Carnival

In 1966 the first outdoor festival took place in the streets of Notting Hill. A local resident and social worker Rhaune Laslett – a Londoner of Native American and Russian descent – organised an event for local children. As an established community activist with a history of addressing and easing inter-cultural tension in the area since the violent race-riots of the 1950s, she set out to include the local West Indian residents in her event.

Rhaune LaslettNotting Hill Carnival

Rhaune invited well-known pan player Russell Henderson, who was accompanied by his pan band members Sterling Betancourt, Vernon “Fellows” Williams, Fitzroy Coleman and Ralph Cherry.

Stirling Betancourt, Powis Square, Notting Hill, Kensington and Chelsea, Greater London by Chris Redgrave, Historic EnglandHistoric England

The band were already popular amongst the Caribbean community, having been regulars at the indoor carnival events. As Laslett had intended, many local Caribbean residents attended, and her vision of an outdoor multi-cultural community celebration was a huge success. The first event saw Henderson's steelband weave its way through Portobello Road as a trail of locals spontaneously gathered and danced in the street to the sound of pan. The first Notting Hill carnival was officially born.

Notting Hill CarnivalNotting Hill Carnival

Notting Hill Carnival Today

Today, Notting Hill Carnival is still proudly a community-led event, its ever-increasing popularity over the last 5 decades has seen it become one of the most vibrant street events in the world. With over a million visitors expected over the August Bank Holiday, London’s Notting Hill Carnival is second only to Brazil's Rio Carnival in size, and is now one of the globe's largest annual arts events. 

Notting Hill CarnivalNotting Hill Carnival

Whilst Notting Hill Carnival is rooted in Caribbean culture, with its Windrush-generation influence remaining strongly evident, it is at the same time characteristically ‘London’. 

It is uniquely the only full-scale carnival in the world to feature multiple static sound systems – a feature introduced in 1973 by the then carnival organiser Leslie Palmer MBE.

Ebony Steelband at Notting Hill Carnival in the 80's by Mr LesNotting Hill Carnival

Music remains the heartbeat of carnival, with several performances running across the weekend. The first stages were organised by Wilf Walker in 1979, chiefly featuring reggae and punk bands. Wilf's early live stages featured performances from emerging talents Aswad and Eddie Grant, who both went on to become two of the UK’s biggest musical exports.

Ebony Steelband at Notting Hill Carnival in the 80's by Mr LesNotting Hill Carnival

Explore more of the history, the people and the music of carnival here 

Notting Hill CarnivalNotting Hill Carnival

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