Introduction to Once upon a time there was a place called Nothing Hill Gate…

Submitted by Fozzie on April 16, 2022

The following is a personal account covering a more or less twenty-year period in Notting Hill Gate (also called North Kensington and colloquially known as "The Gate".) It is sketchy here but detailed there focusing, on the main event: the Notting Hill Carnival, particularly the 1987 riot and the years of conflict on All Saints Road. It's also full of generalities that apply elsewhere too. One could have gone into an immense amount of detail concerning different situations but the length of the text, cost and time involved would have been prohibitive. It therefore has no pretensions at all to being a definitive critique. Its function is finally a pointer what might be by taking a drag at the fag ends of the past.

More generally it would be a good idea if others, independently minded individuals, in particular situations (e.g. other London areas, other UK regions or cities or particular workplace, hospitals, mills, print, pits, building sites, offices, black economy, community programmes, job training schemes and ethnic minorities - could put together some kind of critical document of their own experiences. If nothing else, simply as a guide to those who are fresh in there now or will come after, peering in from the outside or just plain nosey. Although one's own experiences may not seem that interesting to the one telling the tale the fact is such documents would in all likelihood be not just fascinating but also help in clarifying the unknown substance of revolution conceived in a microcosm. "Be global, act local" as the Americans say. In a sense too, the one great autobiography (sort of) this century -Ciliga's, The Russian Enigma - reading like a revolutionary travelogue you can't put down - is also a great indictment of Bolshevism as revolutionary ideology.

A good part of the following was written before the great collapse on the world's stock markets. The first rough draft ended with a prediction that the crash was coming. However this was no different from what many others (including Labour party hacks) had been saying, although the interpretation of what it could mean was quite different. What was important though was that this great event did in fact mean that some of the emphasis of the original had to be changed somewhat. No longer did Notting Hill and London generally seem to be a future of property prices estate agents and yuppies. Thus a kind of postscript is a series of speculative meanderings of what may be in store for us more generally in the UK as a whole. More concrete than such speculation is seeing where this wheel has been. Or, less metaphorically, seeing what has been the history of Notting Hill that has nurtured its present contradictions. In attacking the present we reveal the past. In making our own history we reveal how much, and in what ways, past history was not our own, or that of our class. This therefore is the tale and as the Irish adage goes: "if there's a lie in it, well let it stand." not that a lie is intentional but one must remember that all theoretical explanation is provisional and mistakes are inevitably made. Blob's done more than a few. There's bound to be more in what follows, particularly as it has been produced at the beginning of a new period of great changes waiting their turn in the wings.

"...But Notting Hill is the tyrant ---that they try to meddle with everyone, and rule everyone, and civilize everyone and tell everyone what is good for him."

G.K. Chesterton: The Napoleon of Notting Hill (1904)


Notting Hill was always an immigrant community. The development of the railway network and a changed policy towards cheaper fares in the mid 19th century onwards, meant the centre of London was evacuated in order to become more or less a pure commercial space facilitating the circulation of commodities. As the population was decanted to the peripheral areas between 1830 and 1880, London became the first dead city centre we have now become accustomed to the world over. These areas were then often just fields and pastures and were built up from scratch. Notting Hill was one of them, freshly created and colonized by people from central London, then elsewhere in the UK and finally from the rest of the world. This movement of the poor was accompanied by a similar movement, (though not enforced like that of the poor) of the wealthy from central London who generally took the fresher air of the higher ground of the Hill proper. From its inception the rich and poor lived cheek by jowl with each other affronted by each other's unwanted presence. Indeed the whimsical, light fantasy, The Napoleon of Notting Hill is partially about an earlier resistance to gentrification, although basically the novel is about the richer parts adjacent to Embassy-belt territory and not about the darker, desperate underbelly of "The Gate" proper. In retrospect however, one likes to think that some of Chesterton's paradoxes. ("If a job's worth doing its worth doing badly", " work is the ruin of the drinking classes" etc) which attracted the approval of the French Surrealists may have been a subconscious assimilation of "the Gate's", often rich, low life.

Notting Hill's special interest as regards the UK and elsewhere is of more recent origin. Whatever importance it may have from a revolutionary perspective is what is highlighted here. What follows is not a funk History Workshop. Its central theme is simple. Far more than elsewhere the lower slopes of Notting Hill sponsored the entrance of post-war 'anarchism' - more precisely an anarchic sentiment - into the political arena and party system. Lacking in rigour from the start its eventual kaleidoscopic dispersal covering an enormous range of issues) acted finally as a buttress supporting the nation state.