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Last Updated: Monday, 21 May 2007, 12:18 GMT 13:18 UK
The 'forgotten' race riot
By Linda Pressly
Presenter, Sleeping with the Enemy

Chris Stredder
I wanted to run but I couldn't. I was totally traumatised by it
Chris Stredder

In 1958 London's Notting Hill was the scene of some of the worst racial violence Britain has ever seen. But for those caught up in a less-reported race riot in Nottingham days earlier, it was an experience that shaped their lives.

Fifty years later, Chris Stredder recalls the night of 23 August 1958, when she was 12, as if it were yesterday.

"I was trying to get through the crowd of people. And I couldn't. I was pushed against a shop window. All of a sudden, this man's head hit the window and he fell onto the floor.

"I remember blood from his head spattered across the front of my dress.

"I couldn't move. He was black and he was on the floor beside me. I wanted to run but I couldn't. I was totally traumatised by it."

Inter-racial relationships

More than 1,000 people went on the rampage on the streets of St Ann's that night.

Eric Irons
I think the police and everybody were shocked by the speed and ferocity of the West Indian response
Eric Irons

The Nottingham Evening Post reported: "The whole place was like a slaughterhouse."

According to the chief constable's account, the first 999 call came at 2221 BST from a pub in St Ann's Well Road.

The police did not deem the area safe again until 0035 BST the next day.

In many of the reports of what caused the riot, relationships between black men and white women feature.

Eric Irons played an important community relations role in Nottingham after the riot, and would become the UK's first black magistrate in 1962.

"There were two accounts. One was that a West Indian was in the pub chatting up a white young lady and when he left the premises, he was assaulted. The other was that someone insulted a West Indian man out with his white girlfriend," says Mr Irons.

"I think the police and everybody were shocked by the speed and ferocity of the West Indian response. There was no nonsense about it."

Increasing tension

A number of people were stabbed that night, most of them white.

Charles Coyne
I got stabbed five times and finished up in hospital
Charles Coyne

Charles Coyne was one of them.

He says: "There were a couple of coloured lads getting onto this lad and his wife, a white couple. I went to intervene and these two lads came for me. I got stabbed five times and finished up in hospital. I was off work a month."

Tensions arising because some people in the white community felt outraged that black men were going out with white women may well have been the spark that lit the fuse that Saturday night.

But local people will tell you ill feeling was already evident.

By 1958 the economic boom that had brought post-war Caribbean migrants to the UK was over.

There was increasing competition for jobs.

Some Nottingham factories were reluctant to take black employees.

And a series of attacks on West Indians - including an attack on a man while he was out getting medicine for his pregnant wife - put the black community on their guard.


Black people today in Nottingham remember name-calling and bricks thrown at their windows as a regular occurrence in the 1950s.

A week after the Nottingham riot, the crowds gathered again in St Ann's.

Around 4,000 people were on the streets on Saturday 30th August, 1958.

But black people were conspicuous by their absence.

Without any visible targets the white crowd turned on itself.

A huge fight ensued and dozens were arrested.

But events in London's Notting Hill were already beginning to overtake the scenes in Nottingham.

Bus tours

Some people remember the disturbances in Nottingham as the "teddy boy riots", a reference to the young men involved who were part of the first real manifestation of white working class youth culture.

An enterprising bus company apparently offered tours of the riot-torn streets. And such was the interest that in early September, 1958, the Lord Mayor of Nottingham appealed to people not to go to St Ann's "for sightseeing purposes".

The riots in Nottingham and Notting Hill were reported and debated around the world.

In the UK, they enabled those who favoured stricter immigration controls to gain the political advantage. Legislation followed in 1962.

You can hear more about the Nottingham riots and inter-racial romance in Sleeping with the Enemy on Radio 4, Monday 21 May at 2000 BST.

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