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London's Famous Notting Hill Carnival Is Canceled This Year, But Here's A Look Back At The Party

Looking back at over five decades of joy put on by the Black British and Caribbean community in London.

Posted on August 26, 2021, at 12:12 p.m. ET

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A woman dancing at the first carnival, which was organized by Claudia Jones in 1959, at St. Pancras Town Hall. It would not be until 1964 that the carnival would move outside onto the streets of Notting Hill.

The Notting Hill Carnival, a Caribbean celebration in London, has been held in late August every year since the 1960s. Before the pandemic, it often attracted over 2 million people to the streets of London to celebrate West Indian culture.

The first carnival in the UK is credited to Trinidadian journalist and activist Claudia Jones, who was the founder and editor-in-chief of the West Indian Gazette. In the 1950s, Notting Hill had been in the news for racial intolerance and riots originating with the white working class and directed against members of the Black community. Jones saw an opportunity to push back against the racist violence with revelry, organizing a 1959 carnival indoors.

In the 1970s, a young teacher named Leslie Palmer took over the organization of the event. "I was a school teacher at the time and wanted to take a break from teaching," he told Anneline Christie of the media company Ilovecarnivall in 2019. "Carnival seemed to be dying. There was an advert in Time Out for all those interested in carnival to attend a meeting. There were only five people. I gave my ideas."

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Trinidadian community activist Leslie "Teacher" Palmer, director of the Notting Hill Carnival in London, on Aug. 25, 1973. There is a sign behind him for the Golbourne Mothers Pre-School Play Group.

Palmer encouraged people to rent stalls for food and drink along the festival route. He also recruited local steelpan bands and other musicians with loudspeakers and organized sponsorship for the event. Palmer is also credited with extending the event to include everyone in the Caribbean diaspora and not just those of West Indian descent. The event, which draws over 1 million people annually, has experienced trouble with riots over the years. But overall, the festival remains as it was intended — a jubilant celebration of Caribbean culture and life.

"Notting Hill Carnival has always been the highlight of my summer, and because each single year brings with it a totally different experience, it never ever gets tired," said Nadine Persaud, the deputy director of Photoworks, a London-based photography organization, and a UKBFTOG photographer who has been attending the carnival since she was a teenager. "When I was younger, it was purely a chance to party hard, but as I’ve gotten older and become a parent, attending has evolved into something more observant. 2019 was a great year with amazing weather, and it’s strange to think that no one there had any idea that a pandemic would put it on hold for two years. It is a huge party loved by many, but it holds a much deeper significance for the local West London community as well as the broader Black British and Caribbean communities in the UK, so 2022 can not come soon enough."

We looked back at over five decades of joy.

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A policeman joining in with the festivities at the Notting Hill Carnival in West London.

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The first-ever Notting Hill Carnival was created in response to the previous year's racial riots and the state of race relations at the time. Above, some of the people who attended the event on Jan. 30, 1959.

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Resplendent in her metal outfit, this maiden from an "armored regiment" marches in the Notting Hill Carnival in London 1982.

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Notting Hill Carnival in London, 1983.

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A Notting Hill Carnival street scene.

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A carnival participant sucks on an ice lolly during the parade at the Notting Hill Carnival, circa 1980.

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Attendants of the Notting Hill Carnival in 1983.

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A man in costume at the Notting Hill Carnival in London in August 1974.

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Teenagers dancing around a sound system at the Notting Hill Carnival in London in 1983.

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Carnival costumes in the Notting Hill Carnival procession in London.

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The Notting Hill Carnival in London in August 1974.

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Girls taking part in the August 1993 Notting Hill Carnival in London while wearing face makeup.

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Notting Hill Carnival in London in August 1975.

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Two little girls dance for onlookers in front of a food stand at the Notting Hill Carnival in the 1980s.

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The atmosphere at the Notting Hill Carnival. Twenty-year-old Joanna Edward from Dominica enjoys dancing with all the ranks of the police force on Aug. 29, 1976.

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Notting Hill Carnival in the 1970s.

Sherion Mullings
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Notting Hill Carnival in the 1970s.

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A Notting Hill Carnival goer in the 1980s.

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A man wears a very large and elaborate costume in the design of a fish at the Notting Hill Carnival, Europe's largest street festival.

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One of the hundreds of thousands of happy revelers who converged on London to take part in the Notting Hill Carnival.

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A Notting Hill Carnival goer, circa 1970.

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Three girls and two men dancing together at the Notting Hill Carnival in the 2000s.

Amanda Edwards / Redferns

A troupe of girls at the Notting Hill Carnival, circa 1970.

Nadine Persaud

Phase One Steel Orchestra present "Savannah Grass" at Notting Hill Carnival in 2019.

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The Notting Hill Carnival in the 2000s.












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