1958 Nottingham race riots

Local newspaper covering the 1958 Nottingham race riots.
Local newspaper covering the 1958 Nottingham race riots.

Ron Ramdin's short history on the 1958 Nottingham race riots, in which over a thousand white people took part in mass racist violence against local West Indians. The violence in Nottingham would act as a prelude for an even more serious and widespread outbreak of violence in Notting Hill, West London, less than a week later.

Submitted by Ed on February 28, 2019

In 1958 an estimated 2000 to 3000 black people were living in Nottingham. A considerable number were concentrated in a 'decaying' district. It was here in The Chase (a public house) on Saturday 23 August 1958 that a fight took place between two men, one black, the other white, before closing time. The fighting spread quickly. Several men were stabbed. The attacks led to counterattacks. Dozens of men and women were injured. Reinforcements were called in to aid the two or three policemen in pacifying a 1500 hostile crowd which had gathered. The fire brigade was also called in for fear that the 'ugly riotous crowd' would have started fires. And, as was the case in Cardiff in 1919, several black men with cuts and bruises were taken away by police 'for their own safety'.

Some 90 minutes later, order was restored and by midnight the crowds were dispersed. The events of this night were not a case of 'spontaneous combustion'. Tension in the area had been running high for a long time as black people were molested, humiliated and beaten up by 'Teddy Boys'. There were many cases of violence committed by Whites against Blacks, two weeks before the Saturday night brawls. The police had been aware of this, for they regarded the Saturday night fights as a reprisal for earlier attacks on Blacks.

The Assistant Chief Constable of Nottingham confirmed that there had been assaults. He said that two white men were on remand charged with robbery with violence against a coloured man and that the attacks made by 'Teddy Boys' in the previous 15 days were responsible for the Saturday night outbursts. He regarded the black community, apart from a few isolated cases, as being 'very well behaved'.

The disturbances were given wide press coverage. The Times reported that the race clash in Nottingham was alarming. Other national newspapers. less optimistic and less restrained, told the Teddy Boys' story in a distorted form.

It seems clear then that before the fighting broke out, relations between Blacks and Whites in The Chase were tense. And after the fighting more trouble was expected the following Saturday. A large crowd of Teddy Boys and local white people, sightseers and reporters, had assembled where the trouble had taken place the previous Saturday. There were no black people in the crowd; they were advised to remain indoors, while police patrols moved the crowd along. In a mood of expectancy, the 'milling mob' had grown to about 4000 during the course of the evening. No black person was in sight until, presumably unaware of the crowd, a car with three West Indians passing through the area was stopped. The crowd went wild. Cries of 'let's lynch them', 'Let's get at them', went up as the crowd, many of them Teddy Boys, poured from public houses and tried to smash their way into the car. Beating on the windows, they tried to overturn it. Finally the police forced a path through them and told the black men in the car to 'go like hell'. They did.

After the West Indians had escaped, with the crowd in 'lynching mood', tension remained high; it seemed inevitable there had to be some release. According to one report, the trouble started when a cameramen lit a magnesium flare to 'film a scuffle between a small party of youths'. At that moment, the dispersing crowd rushed back, anticipating a fire. In the commotion, there was 'great agitation' and shouting. The call was to 'find some niggers'. With no black people in the streets, Whites fought against Whites and the police. Over 50 people were arrested and 24 teenagers and men were charged under the Public Order Act. The next day the Chief Constable said: 'This was not a racial riot. The coloured people behaved in an exemplary way by keeping out of the way. Indeed they were an example to some of the rougher elements. The people primarily concerned were irresponsible teddy boys and persons who had had a lot to drink.’

But, was the violence attributable simply to drink? Among those sentenced to three months' imprisonment each, were the 'niggerchasing' men aged between 24 and 45 years. Two Saturdays after the initial trouble, a crowd had again assembled. In the ensuing 'nigger-baiting' incidents, the homes of some black people were besieged. In defence, tenants threw milk bottles from the upper floors while the mob below attacked the houses with a hail of bricks and bottles. In a dark street, the mob chased black men assaulting five of them. The violence was stopped when the police vans arrived.

Once again, colour prejudice had reared its head. Nottingham was marked by it and, for various reasons, many would not forget it. But even the seriousness of the violence had a ghoulish side. A bus company trying to capitalise on the misfortune of black people, advertised coach tours to see the 'terror spots' of Nottingham. The Sheriff of Nottingham was horrified by this latest development. He said: 'It comes at a time when we are striving to eliminate racial conflict. I understand that chalked notices have been displayed outside bus garage booking offices in Leicester giving full details of the trips. More disturbing, however, was the rumour that the same thing is being done in other cities and towns.'

The police were asked to request that the trips be withdrawn.

Originally from Ron Ramdin's excellent book, 'The Making of the Black Working Class in Britain'.