‘Founding spirit’ of Notting Hill carnival to be honoured with blue plaque

Journalist and activist Claudia Jones among five women whose life and legacy will be marked by English Heritage

The woman described as the “founding spirit” of the Notting Hill carnival is to be commemorated with a blue plaque at her former London home this year.

Claudia Jones, a feminist, political activist and journalist who was born in Trinidad in 1915, is one of five women whose achievements and legacy will be marked by English Heritage. A sixth blue plaque will commemorate the violinist Yehudi Menuhin.

Jones came to the UK in 1955 from the US, where her activity as a member of the Communist party during the McCarthy era led to her imprisonment and deportation. At her sentencing, she said she was committed to fighting “for full and unequivocal equality for my people, the Negro people, which as a Communist I believe can only be achieved allied to the cause of the working class”.

Black people in the US were subjected to “the bitter indignity and humiliation of second-class citizenship, the special status which makes a mockery of our government’s prated claims of a ‘free America’ in a ‘free world’”, she said.

In the UK, Jones founded the first major Black British newspaper, the West Indian Gazette, and addressed union meetings and peace rallies. She came up with the idea of bringing Caribbean carnival to London, with the first event taking place at St Pancras town hall in January 1959. It later moved to the streets of west London and became known as the Notting Hill carnival.

Jones died in 1964, aged 49. Her gravestone in Highgate cemetery in north London describes her as “a valiant fighter against racism and imperialism, who dedicated her life to the progress of socialism and the liberation of her own black people”.

The blue plaque will be erected at a house in Vauxhall, south London, where she lived for four years.

English Heritage will also celebrate two suffragettes, Emily Wilding Davison and Princess Sophia Duleep Singh.

Davison, one of the best known campaigners for women’s right to vote, was repeatedly imprisoned, where she was kept in solitary confinement and was force-fed when on hunger strike. She died from injuries sustained when she ran in front of the king’s horse at the Derby in 1913. Her plaque will mark the house in Kensington, west London, where she lived while studying.

Princess Sophia, who was the daughter of the deposed Maharajah Duleep Singh and goddaughter of Queen Victoria, used her royal title to campaign for female enfranchisement as a member of the Women’s Social and Political Union. Her plaque will be erected at a house near Hampton Court palace where she lived with her sisters.

Another plaque will commemorate Marie Spartali Stillman, who modelled for Pre-Raphaelite artists including Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Edward Burne-Jones. She was also a painter herself and one of only a small number of professional female artists of the late 19th century. The plaque will be placed at a house in Clapham, south London.

Ada Salter became mayor of Bermondsey in 1922 – the first Labour woman elected as a mayor in Britain. By the end of her term of office, the area in south London had a public health service and wash-houses, and plans were in place to build new housing and playgrounds, and plant thousands of trees. Her plaque will be erected at her Southwark home.

Menuhin, probably the most famous violinist of the 20th century, founded two music schools and mentored young musicians. His plaque will be at the Belgravia house in central London where he lived, worked, entertained and practised yoga for the last 16 years of his life. He died in 1999.

William Whyte, the architectural historian and now chair of English Heritage’s blue plaques panel, said: “From Emily Wilding Davison, who famously died for her cause, to Claudia Jones, whose lifelong struggle for social justice helped inspire the Notting Hill carnival, these are people who made a difference and it’s an honour to play a part in making sure that their contributions are remembered.”

English Heritage usually awards about 12 plaques a year commemorating people of “significant public standing”. In 2016, the organisation appealed for women to be nominated as it revealed that only 13% of blue plaques in London were dedicated to female figures.


Harriet Sherwood

The GuardianTramp

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