Allan “Capitan” Thornhill: Untitled

Notting Hill Carnival: A Snapshot in Time

Written by: Sophie Taylor

Although that loo queue after one too many Red Stripes might put you off going back year after year, the history of the Notting Hill Carnival is important to remember.

Carnival is a window into the black experience and beyond.

– Ishmahil Blagrove, Jr

The Notting Hill Carnival has roots in the Caribbean carnivals of the early 19th century, which celebrated the abolition of slavery and the slave trade. Our Notting Hill version began life as an indoor Caribbean-inspired festival created by communist campaigner and fighter for black civil rights, Claudia Jones in 1959. She wanted to raise community spirit in the wake of racist attacks against West Indian Londoners.

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Allan “Capitan” Thornhill: Untitled

Political movements were also founded at the time, as both the Coloured Peoples Progressive Association and the Association of Advancement of Coloured People started to gather strength.

In 1966 the first outdoor carnival was led by Rhaune Laslett and the Notting Hill Carnival started its evolution into the event we know today, although its growth into one of London’s most popular events has markedly been a pretty rocky and controversial journey.

Despite some unsurprising scare mongering on the media’s part, Notting Hill Carnival is actually quite safe for an event so large and alcoholic. It’s a shame that this lively festival of African and Caribbean artistry in costume, music and dance is often portrayed negatively by the press. It need not be viewed this way, you only need to attend yourself to witness the positivity, the community pride and the atmosphere of togetherness to understand the power that this annual celebration has. 

As journalist, filmmaker and editor, Ishmahil Blagrove has said, the Carnival has influences not just art in Britain but race relations too, as well as “the notion of multiculturalism and the foundation of the black identity in Britain.”

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Allan “Capitan” Thornhill: Untitled

The question of safety sometimes unfairly clouds the real meaning of the carnival. It is, of course, easy to get separated from your gyrating loved ones in a heady mist of rum punch and your best moves. So keep your phones charged up! The usual advice that applies to all events and public spaces apply here too; sip water, don’t drink from cups that aren’t yours and keep valuables at home.

For me, the toilets are the only downside. If you don’t fancy the insane portaloo queues when you’re busting, there are some savvy locals who will hire out their home bathrooms for us rum-fuelled tiny bladdered ones. Cynical? A little, but kudos for their business sense I say.

Photos by Allan “Capitan” Thornhill from Ishmahil Blagrove Jr’s book, Carnival

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