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“Whatever Community Is, This Is Not It”: Notting Hill and the Reconstruction of “Race” in Britain after 1958

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 March 2019


The impact of the 1958 Notting Hill riots tends to figure in histories of the political right, as a galvanizing force for anti-immigrant sentiment—or as radical catalyst in the transnational history of the Black Atlantic. Meanwhile, the generation of black and white social workers and activists who flocked to Notting Hill after the riots have largely been left out of the history of the British left. This article treats Notting Hill after 1958 as an important locale of new progressive thinking and action. It seeks to consider the political work that the idea of “community” did in Notting Hill, allowing us consider how the politics of antiracism relates in complex ways to the reformulation of progressive politics in postwar Britain. It reveals how black activists came to reappropriate the language of “community” to critique the ameliorative, welfarist approach to antiracism. It also unearths the forgotten eclectic beginnings of Britain's New Left. By excavating the history of community work and New Left activism “from below,” this article traces the ways in which a motley group of Methodist ministers, Christian Workers, students, social workers, and community leaders tested the limits of the liberal paternalism and “universalism” of the postwar social democratic state.

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Copyright © The North American Conference on British Studies 2019 

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They thank the anonymous reviewers at the Journal of British Studies, and Becky Taylor, Stephen Brooke, Jonathan Toms, Alan Finlayson, Madeline Davis, Tank Green, and Rob Waters for their very helpful comments. They also thank Madeline, Rob, and Tank for sharing their unpublished research.


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93 All quotations from Chesworth, “Anatomy of Notting Hill.”

94 Chesworth, “Anatomy of Notting Hill.”

95 Hall, Familiar Stranger, 259.

96 Chesworth, “Anatomy of Notting Hill.”

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99 Alexio Zihute, interview by Camilla Schofield, Luton, 6 March 2015.

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101 Zihute.

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106 See reports in Daily Telegraph (London) and Manchester Guardian, 28 May 1959, in “Race Relations in London in the Years after the Notting Hill Riots,” folder 8, Press Reports, 1959–1961, HLG 117/122/8, The National Archives.

107 O'Malley, Politics of Community Action, 29–30.

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109 Green, 130.

110 Green, 133.

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112 Hall, 260.

113 Sanderson, “The Impact of the Struggle,” 109.

114 Note that some people at the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies did engage in community activism—see, for example, the interviews by Kieran Connell with Chas Critcher (20 February 2015) and Trevor Fisher and Brian Homer (27 March 2015), accessed 28 November 2018,

115 See Minutes of the Notting Hill Social Council, January to November 1964, DC/94, Chesworth Papers, Queen Mary Archives, University of London.

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117 Perry, London Is the Place, 136.

118 Reflecting the global dimensions of community work, Chesworth would go on to join Huddleston in building an agricultural school in rural Tanzania and leading the international War on Want charity. Africa I File, DC/48, Chesworth papers, Queen Mary Archives, University of London.

119 Even more, these social workers highlight women's largely forgotten intellectual contributions to the British New Left prior to the Women's Liberation Movement. Similarly, Perry notes that “Black women overwhelming dominated the leadership of the [Inter-Racial Friendship Coordinating Council] and undoubtedly played important roles in shaping the direction and content of the organization's early activities.” Perry, 138.

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127 Ilys Booker, “Consultation on Community Development.” Scottish Churches’ House, Dunblane, 20 February 1968, LMA/4196/10/004/01, Muriel Smith Papers, LMA.

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131 “Working with Groups.”

132 “Working with Groups.”

133 Booker, “Consultation on Community Development.” The development of the project from its inception up to 1969 is recorded in Roger Milton and Elizabeth Morrison, A Community Project in Notting Dale (London, 1972).

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139 “Immigration: Westminster Regional Campaign.”

140 “Immigration: Westminster Regional Campaign.”

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142 Jan O'Malley, interview by Dave Welsh for the Britain at Work Project: Voices from the Workplace, 1945–1995, 18 September 2011, TUC Library Collections, London Metropolitan University, available here:

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144 O'Malley, interview.

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147 “Notting Hill Tolerance Only Skin Deep,” Times (London), 29April, 1968.

148 “Notting Hill Tolerance Only Skin Deep.”

149 “Notting Hill Tolerance Only Skin Deep.”

150 Notting Hill Housing Service, Initial Housing Survey.

151 Michael Abdul Malik would go on in 1969 to lead a short-lived Black Power commune in North London called Black House. Williams, John, Michael X: A Life in Black and White (London, 2008)Google Scholar.

152 Green, Digging at Roots, 199–200.

153 O'Malley, Politics of Community Action, 50.

154 O'Malley, 51.

155 Green, Digging at Roots, 203.

156 As cited in Green, 203.

157 Green, 203.

158 “Working with Groups.”

159 Patricia Philo, “Notting Hill Today,” Kensington Post, 24 November 1967, as cited in Green, Digging at Roots, 202–3.

160 O'Malley, Politics of Community Action, 49.

161 Green, Digging at Roots, 200.

162 See Hansard, Commons, vol. 783 cc1835–44, 15 May 1969; Notting Hill Housing Service, The Rent Acts and the Housing Market in North Kensington: Memorandum of Evidence to the Francis Committee (London, 1970)Google Scholar.

163 Golborne, no. 62 (22 October 1971), no. 65 (12 November 1971), no. 79 (3 March 1972); New Golborne no. 2 (14 April 1972). Both papers are archived in the Kensington Central Library. See also Pryce vs. Golborne Neighbourhood Council, 1973, Race Relations Board, CK 2/1133, The National Archives.

164 O'Malley, Politics of Community Action, 53. See also Baine, Sean, “The Political Community,” in Community Work: One, ed. Jones, David and Mayo, Margaret (London, 1974), 6678Google Scholar. While the Golborne Neighbourhood Council collapsed amid acrimony in early 1973, its institutional legacy was the North Kensington Housing Action Centre, funded by the Grove Community Trust, the Community Relations Commission, Shelter, and other charitable sources. See New Golborne no. 42 (23 February 1972), and no. 43 (2 March 1973); West London Fair Housing Group, The Housing Action Centre in North Kensington, First Annual Report (April 1972), 3–4; all archived in the Kensington Central Library.

165 In May 1971, for instance, the People's Association helped Merle Major, a West Indian mother, and her children to squat in an empty council property in protest at years of inaction in the face of poor management and harassment from her landlord at 62 St. Ervan's Road. In July, the council put a compulsory purchase order on the St. Ervan's Road property, the first time it had used such powers. O'Malley, Politics of Community Action, 109–11.

166 In fact, during the early 1970s, one arm of the state, the Metropolitan police, proved most adept at unifying the interests of black and white community workers—or at very least, against the police, white community workers could see themselves as on the right side of “us versus them.” Three community observers were, for instance, arrested and jailed following a police raid at the Metro Youth Club in September of 1971. The pages of People's News contain a number of reports of police harassment of both white and black residents. As Rob Waters has argued, while the Mangrove trial was a signal moment in the consolidation of “Blackness” as a political identity in Britain, the support the defendants received from allies on the left and in the counterculture revealed a network of affinities that at times transcended the boundaries of race. People's News, vol. 1, no. 42 (10 November 1970), vol. 2, no. 21 (8 June 1970), vol. 2, no. 42 (9 November 1970), vol. 3, no. 17 (3 May 1971), vol. 3, no. 18 (10 May 1971), vol. 3, no. 32 (August 1971), vol. 3, no. 35 (20 September 1971); all archived in the Kensington Central Library. Waters, Rob, Thinking Black: Britain, 1964–85 (Oakland, 2018)Google Scholar, chap. 3.

167 Blagg, Harry and Derricourt, Nick, “Why We Need to Reconstruct a Theory of the State for Community Work,” in Community Work and the State: Towards a Radical Practice, ed. Craig, Gary, Derricourt, Nick, and Loney, Martin (London, 1982), 1123Google Scholar, at 20.

168 Editorial, Spectre, no. 1 (July 1968), n.p.

169 James Cummings quoted in “A Matter of Opinion,” Spectre, no. 1 (July 1968), n.p.

170 “Race Relations, 1969.” Spectre, no. 6 (January 1969), 1.

171 For a discussion of the place of paternalism in the social democratic project, see Beer, Samuel, British Politics in a Collectivist Age (New York, 1965)Google Scholar; and Lawrence, Jon, “Paternalism, Class, and the British Path to Modernity,” in The Peculiarities of Liberal Modernity in Imperial Britain, ed. Gunn, Simon and Vernon, James (Berkeley, 2011), 147164Google Scholar.

172 On the rise of black radicalism and the influence of African-American liberation in Britain, see Sivanandan, Ambalavaner, A Different Hunger? Writings on Black Resistance (London, 1982)Google Scholar; Angelo, Anne-Marie, “The Black Panthers in London, 1967–1972: A Diasporic Struggle Navigates the Black Atlantic,” Radical History Review, no. 103 (Winter 2009): 1735Google Scholar; Bunce, R. E. R. and Field, Paul, “Obi B. Egbuna, C. L. R. James and the Birth of the Black Power Movement in Britain,” Twentieth Century British History 22, no. 3 (September 2011): 391414CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Waters, Rob, “Black Power on the Telly: America, Television, and Race in 1960s and 1970s Britain.” Journal of British Studies 54, no. 4 (2015): 947–70CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

173 “We Will Sponsor a ‘Race Forum,’” Kensington Post, 3 September 1965, as cited in Green, Digging at Roots, 145.

174 Green, Digging at Roots, 147–48.

175 Green, 148.

176 Green, 150.

177 Mike Philips, “Separatism or Black Control?” in Ohri, Manning, and Curno, Community Work and Racism, 103–20, at 111–12.

178 “There is not, as far as I am aware, any black grouping which calls itself ‘separatist’ … If, for instance, the institutions under discussion happened to be one of the several Polish centres or indeed one of the Irish centres, it is hardly likely that the word ‘separatist’ would be employed.” Philips, “Separatism or Black Control?,” 103.

179 Philips, 105.

180 Rob Waters, “From Race Relations Sociology to Black Cultural Studies: Reading the Politics of ‘Evidence’ through the History of Race,” paper presented at the Modern British Studies Conference, Birmingham, UK, 5 July 2017.

181 Philips, “Separatism or Black Control?,” 105.

182 Philips, 106.

183 Philips, 106.

184 Philips, 106.

185 Philips, 108.

186 Philips, 108.

187 “We Lived across the River,” Radio 4 broadcast, 1 April 1969, MS 4000/2/129, Indian Workers Association Papers, Birmingham Library, 1.

188 “We Lived across the River,” 2

189 Hall, Stuart, “Old and New Identities, Old and New Ethnicities,” in Culture, Globalization and the World System: Contemporary Conditions for the Representation of Identity, ed. King, Anthony D. (Minneapolis, 1997), 4168Google Scholar, at 52–53.

190 Hall, “Old and New Identities, Old and New Ethnicities,” 52

191 “We Lived Across the River,” 12.

192 “We Lived Across the River,” 14.

193 “We Lived Across the River,” 14.

194 Solanke, Iyiola, Making Anti-Racial Discrimination Law: A Comparative History of Social Action and Anti-Racial Discrimination Law (London, 2009), 80Google Scholar.

195 “We Lived across the River,” 13.

196 Rex, John, Race, Colonialism and the City (London, 1973)Google Scholar.