The Notting Hill Carnival traces its origins back to the culture of the Caribbean. When African slaves were first brought to Trinidad, they were not permitted to dance or play their own music. However, as the slavery regime settled down, a strong local tradition of carnival emerged. Once a year, enslaved people symbolically escaped from the oppression of their daily routine by playing music, dancing, and dressing up in costumes which mimicked the European fashions of their masters. They even whitened their faces with flour or wore white masks.
The tradition came to London with the migration of workers and their families from the Caribbean to Britain after the Second World War. By the late 1950s, many Caribbeans were living in Notting Hill a poor area. There, they faced racism, bad housing conditions and, in 1958, violent attacks from white youths. The idea of a Caribbean carnival emerged as a way of reasserting community cohesion after the 1958 disturbance.
Claudia Jones, the editor of the West Indian Gazette, was the moving spirit behind the idea. The first carnival celebration was held in the town hall building in St. Pancras in 1962. This was a great success and became an annual event. In 1965, local social worker Rhaune Laslett suggested holding some outdoor festivities in Notting Hill. The two celebrations were combined, and so the Notting Hill carnival began. The skills of costume-making, steel drumming and calypso music gradually came together to establish a festival of music, arts and culture.
The Notting Hill Carnival is the largest European street party and the second major street festival in the world after Rio's Carnival. It is truly a spectacle not to be missed.