Claudia Vera Jones

Claudia Vera Jones, also known as “the mother of Notting Hill Carnival”, was born Claudia Vera Cumberbatch at 6 Cazabon Lane, Belmont, Port of Spain, Trinidad on 21 February 1915.

She moved to Harlem, New York, United States of America with her parents and three sisters at the age of eight.

Claudia was a very bright child who excelled at school in all subjects. To her credit, she won the Theodore Roosevelt Award for Good Citizenship at Wadleigh high school. After graduating from school Claudia started work in order to support herself financially. This decision led her into a career as a prominent journalist. By 1948, she was one of the top editors at The Daily Worker, a national newspaper. As a result of her popularity Claudia was invited to speak across America, in China, Russia and Japan.

Claudia left America on 7 December 1955 for England. She arrived in London two weeks later and quickly forged links within her community. In 1958 she founded and edited The West Indian Gazette. In the same year there was unrest amongst local residents and Claudia suggested a community carnival could be the answer to dampening the situation. It was her belief that the unifying power of carnival would be the answer.

The first carnival, known then as Mardi-Gras, was held on 30 January 1959 at St Pancras Town Hall. Fellow Trinidadians Fitzroy Coleman (jazz guitarist) and Arthur Aldwyn Holder (known as Boscoe Holder – international artist and choreographer) took part along with singer Cleo Laine. Music was provided by The Trinidad All Stars and Hi-Fi Steel Bands. The event was partly televised live by the BBC as an annual showcase for Caribbean talent.

The following year, Mardi-Gras was held at Seymour Hall, Paddington in order to accommodate the number of people who turned out. It was again televised by the BBC.

In 1961 Mardi-Gras moved to the Lyceum, Strand where the Grandmaster, Trinidadian calypsonian Lord Kitchener (Aldwyn Roberts) performed.

In 1962 calypsonian The Mighty Sparrow (Slinger Francisco) also performed at the Lyceum. In that same year Claudia took carnival to Manchester where both Sparrow and Kitchener performed.

In 1963 and 1964 the masquerade competitions and calypso tents added further structure to Mardi-Gras.

On 24 December 1964, Claudia died at home.

As a result of her efforts, the first official Notting Hill Carnival took place in 1966. The carnival was organised by Rhaune Laslett to promote cultural unity and featured all areas of Notting Hill’s diverse population. Russ Henderson’s steelband represented the Caribbean, leading the procession through the streets. Such was the impact of their involvement, the West Indian (Trinidadian) influence began to take hold and shape ethos of the carnival in the following years.

In 2008 two plaques were placed in her honour, one at 225 Portobello Road and the other at the Carnival Village, Powis Square, London. She was also commemorated by the Royal Mail on the 72p stamp as part of the Women of Distinction series.

As a part of her legacy every year over a million people celebrate the largest street festival in Europe, the Notting Hill Carnival.