Traditionally held every August bank holiday, the flamboyant Notting Hill Carnival draws crowds from across the country and beyond to join in on the fun, food, and sound of the Caribbean culture. Boasting the title of Europe’s largest street festival, the colourful carnival completely takes over London’s affluent Notting Hill, Westbourne Park, and Holland Park neighbourhoods for two days to celebrate the wonderful diversity, heritage, and traditions of the capital’s Caribbean community.
History of the Notting Hill Carnival
It’s easy to forget the carnival history, when surrounded with colourful feathers, all day dancing on soca music and steel pan orchestras.
Life was not easy in the Notting Hill area in the 1950’s. Nevertheless, workers from Trinidad, Jamaica, St Lucia and other Caribbean islands were encouraged to come to the UK, because the second World War had badly affected the economy.
The most notable event was the arrival of close to 500 workers from the Caribbean on the SS Empire Windrush, in 1948.
Windrush has remained a symbol.
Life conditions, where most of the Caribbean community ended up living (Brixton and Notting Hill) were far from ideal, and soon social and racial tensions started arising. The tension culminated at the 1958 race riots were effectively, it was white against black.
It was the efforts to bridge the cultural gap between the communities that gave life to the Notting Hill carnival. Claudia Jones, a Trinidadian political activist was central to organising the first event. It took place on January 30, 1959, at St Pancras Town Hall, just 5 months after the riots.
The carnival was then held annually and eventually taken outdoors, under the influence of another notable figure in the Notting Hill community: Rhaune Laslett.
Laslett’s vision was to bring all communities together. She invited renowned Caribbean jazz musician and steel pan player Russ Henderson, to perform with his group, the Henderson’s group (of which Vernon “Fellows” Williams was a member). As years went by, the festival retained its Caribbean essence and became influenced by the Carnival of Trinidad. Carnival costume makers such as notorious Peter Minshall, were early creators of masquerades in Notting Hill.
Notting Hill Carnival today
Today, Notting Hill Carnival is the largest street party in Europe, with 2 millions visitors each year and over 70 masquerade floats. It has come a long way since the 1958 riots, it is at times a contentious street parade, but it is growing strong and widely recognised as a legitimate facet of the London identity.
Attending the festival nowadays, you can expect to see floods of carnival floats and bands kicking off the atmosphere on both Sunday and Bank Holiday Monday from 9 am, following a Jouvert procession where party-goers throw paint and mud on one another to the music from a steel band. Until 7 pm, carnival-goers ready to party enjoy great live music from reggae to dance-hall and calypso, as well as the vibrant tastes of Caribbean cuisine on every corner, from delicious jerk chicken to fried plantain and curried goat – of course along with a can of Red Stripe or two! It’s a huge celebration of dancing, colour, and incredible costumes.
Sunday is traditionally ‘Children’s Day’, where families are invited to join a little more low-key version of the carnival before the partying really starts on Monday. Children’s Day is perfect for entertaining the little ones, with a colourful parade for kids and music from the World Music Stage in Powis Square. Families can join in with young performers and enjoy delicious food and family workshops. On Monday, there are over 60 bands and dancers on floats getting the party started in the streets and nearby pubs, cafes, and restaurants.
Getting to Notting Hill Carnival
The best way to get to the action of the carnival is by taking the Tube to the outskirts of Notting Hill and joining the party as you follow the parade round and the many floats and fun draw the crowd. For Tube stations without disruption, exit at Holland Park or High Street Kensington, but be aware that Notting Hill Gate, Latimer Road, and Ladbroke Grove will have amended operating times during the carnival. There are also extra bus services in operation to make things a little easier for those looking to join in the colourful carnival.
(Article source: Various)