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Lancaster Road


Author of ‘Sledge: The Soul of Notting’ & Sledge’s Daughter

"My grandmother came here in early ‘50s after the war…she was a war widow, her whole dream was to come and see the country that he died for."

What’s your story of how you’ve ended up in Portobello, how did it all start?

Basically, I was born in the area in the ‘60s. We go very far, way back. My family, they always lived here. My grandmother, Mother Will, came here in early ‘50s as my grandfather was in the war and her whole dream was to come and see the country that he died for. She was a good investor, bought some properties and, come the windrush, a lot of people were housed in her properties around the area. I think my mom’s first home purchase was Ruston Close. That’s the famous Ruston Close where Christie, the mass murderer, lived! That's all in the book! Then we had [my parents] crazy love affair, their ‘Gone with the Wind’ moment... they went to Jamaica. We were in care for that period of time. Great experience in my book. I am of the opinion that your experiences make you who you are. Anyway, they sorted out their mad love life and came back and we moved to Cornwall Crescent.

So, coming onto the 70s as you grew up, what was the area like then?

I think the musical side came out, because of Island Records. That was on Basing Street. My Pa became good friends with [Chris] Blackwell. He was scouting for him in the area. He’d bring young musicians up there. It was so vibrant in the way that musicians almost took over the streets. They'd be walking up the road singing at the top of their voice, having their vocal practice. But it was a regular thing! There was that many bands that sprung up from almost nowhere. Some of it was the consciousness of the new Rasta movement. We had people like Bob Marley, popping in and out of the area when he was exiling himself from Jamaica. People just zoned in – artists, fashion designers, writers, everyone. Now, you don’t see it around here as much but in the ‘70s every other person will have on a bit of red, gold and green. It’s not necessarily they were Rasta but just that they supported the philosophy of equality and unity and a community that helps each other. 'Each one, teach one'.

Your Pa did a lot to spread that philosophy in the area?

Yeah, the First Ethiopian Orthodox Church in England was set up by Rastafarians. The influx of Ethiopians started coming to the church and worshipping with the Rastafarians, until you had other churches, Ethiopian Orthodox churches that started being developed. But ‘Local 33’ was the first Ethiopian Orthodox church which I think they deserve recognition for, from the Ethiopians and from everyone else because that’s the point where it was like it’s not just the movement… It was actually a religion where people have sat down and studied different Bibles and found truth in religion and a culture of their own. In England it may have started around Portobello because Sledge lived around here and it was his market. People could go down the road and they’d find him. People would go to Sledge house and find Mortimo Planno, he’s also one of the forefathers of the Rastafarian faith, or Bob Marley and a few of the Wailers.

Were the 70s a key point in time for the fight for equality?

There are parts in the book where I researched about why my dad always use to talk about the CIA involvement in the Rastafari movement also… that they believed they, the CIA, had to infiltrate and try to break up the black communities. I think in the 70’s they realized that there was a real movement of togetherness and unity within black communities which they wanted to break up - xenophobia! Somewhere like the Mangrove on All Saints Road, was a number one target because it was 'the place' to be in the 70s. First of all, the Mangrove allowed the black power movement to have meetings there. All Saint Road become known as the epicentre of Black culture, music and art. Then you have this huge Rasta presence grow out of nowhere all around the area. It was like Sledge himself became a number one target because he was a first of his kind, 'a Rasta', a representative of all that governments wanted to be rid of, unity & equality. It was almost a normal sort of thing where community leaders, or those ‘seen as’ community leaders, would be targeted by the police. [They] had to make sure that either you were charged of being pimps, drug dealing, break up your homes, say you were doing something really atrocious or whatever so long as you got a criminal record... That’s one thing Sledge was proud of, “I was never a pimp.” Maybe, that’s where his ideals of being a Rasta kind of held him up morally because there was certain things he was like, “No, we don’t do that.” And he’s passed that on to his children & his grandchildren.

I remember when there used to be Jack’s Pie shop on the corner of Ladbroke Grove and Lancaster Road. Taxi drivers used to go there late at night for their filler. If you came from a rave, you stopped at Jack’s and have pies, as you did. They (Sledge and some racist) had a little ruck outside there once – it’s detailed in the book, I think that sort of depicts the tone of the times in Ladbroke Grove, and around England. Wherever black people settled, there was that fight for equality. You know, “I will go in that shop and I will be able to buy that”, or, “I do feel free enough to stand on this corner and if I’m attacked, I will fight back.” When you know that you’re fighting for what is right, then you’re going fight. I think that was why Sledge became so well known. He would stand up for what he thought was right. There were some good people within all of that racism who was like, “well no, actually, we’re for equality and we’re for an integrated community” they made it happen. They enabled it to happen. Where the fight could have been a lot harder, they did come and stand up and say their piece. It was a really tight network with people then. It was a small community like any small community that’s beginning and come to a new country – they do develop their networks, shops and a community eventually! But it was never just about black people. It was about equal rights for all.

So what does Portobello mean to you and what did it mean to your Pa?

To him it was his livelihood. It was everything to him. It’s a place where you go out and see your community every day. He talked to Terry, the fish man; Lenny on his fruit stand; and Linda and Josie on the corner of Westbourne Park and Lancaster Road. Everyone sort of knew each other. If there was a day when he didn’t have any money. He could get a bag of fruits. Yes, he could get a bag of veggies. He’d come home with a big bag of fish, we’d never know at home because it was his community supporting him. In the same way that Linda knew if she said, “Hey Sledge, them guys just robbed me. They have to give back our money.” That kind of community spirit was what he lived and thrived on. It was always a source of good market, good energy. Just loving the place, really and its individuality. Notting Hill is a cosmopolitan community. It’s not just a white, blueblood community. Ladbroke Grove is built up of every single community from the world that you can imagine and could think of. Like in the Emperor Selassie I speech we have to learn that one love. That "Until the colour of your skin is of no more significance than the colour of your eyes there will be War!" If your skin colour ain’t going to make a difference to how I talk to you, to how I relate to you, if I do give you a job or not, whether I help you even I'm having a bad day or a good day, even if I say hi or goodbye, then we will all live in peace. As a Rasta I can only ever hope and pray that we will get to that world where people can think of equality and unity and keep the One Love philosophy alive.