The Mangrove Restaurant-The Historical Black Struggle


As a young black man growing up in Newcastle in the 1960’s the idea of racism and colonialism was not new but it was difficult to hear about the black struggle for justice save through a US prism of the civil rights movement and the apartheid regime in South Africa. The history of what was occurring in the United Kingdom was easy to understand and to visualise form the inner cities but harder to appreciate from rural England.

Long before the establishment of the Voice or Caribbean Times newspaper and in an age without social media it was almost impossible to hear about the trial so Britain’s black communities.

This was the age of images of African Caribbean people being abused and ridiculed on national television in series such as “Death Do us Part” where the supposed satire of being called, “coons” and “wogs” was lost on a racist Britain happy to use such terms as a common form of address. Some respite from this “gollywog” Britain derived from the victories of “Cassius Clay”, coming to London to knock or Henry Cooper in London, on June 18th 1963 is a day that will live etched into every the common memory of every member of our community.

Less well known but equally as significant were the sights and sounds of Malcolm X speaking at the Oxford Union debate, of the exiled famous US baritone and media icon Paul Robeson living in London and singing with Welsh male Voice Choirs in the 1950’s.

The background was the overwhelming success of the West Indies cricket team who repeatedly humiliated England at their own game despite being faced with thinly disguised racism by the England captain, Tony Greig saying they would be, “made to grovel” in the 1976 test. The reality was very different and for many in the West Indian and African community the summers were times of mixed emotions with racist stop and search on the streets of major cities and the tension and empowering joy of watching West Indian giants of ball and bat demolish England and Australia.

It was no surprise that the heart of the Black community was to be found on the streets of Noting Hill where in the last 1950’s Britain’s race riots had exploded in 1958 and led to the creation of the Notting Hill Carnival. Jamaicans came up form Brixton to help fight the smaller island communities that were being terrorised by gangs of teddy boys. Even the normally racist English Judiciary waded to the fray when at Old Bailey Judge Salmon later handed down exemplary sentences of four years each on nine white youths who had gone "nigger hunting" on the August bank holiday weekend. Judge Salmon stated that “hate crime based on the colour of a person’s skin would not be tolerated on the streets of Britain.

The Metropolitan Police however tried to suppress the racist nature of the violence in 1958 only released some 44 years later when official versions hidden form view demonstrated that But police eyewitness reports in the secret papers confirm that they were overwhelmingly the work of a white working class mob out to get the "niggers".

The ferocity of the Notting Hill race riots shocked Britain into realizing for the first time that it was not above the kind of racial conflict then being played out in the American deep south. The carnival, which will fills the streets of west London with more than 1.5 million people every year on August bank holiday was started in 1959 as a direct response to the riots.

The Mangove restaurant in Notting Hill came to symbolize the irony that the cruelty and inhumanity of slavery itself followed by another 150 years of colonialism in Africa, Asian and the Caribbean would lead directly to the sons and daughters of Empire coming, usually at the invitation of the mother country to make their home in the United Kingdom. The irony was not lost that despite the huge sacrifices made by the sons and daughters of Empire in two world wars they were not welcome in the mother country. The current symbolic examples of attempts to unlawfully expel members of the Windrush Generation demonstrates just how much racism is buried at the heart of the British establishment.

The fight back highlighted by the Mangove Restaurant and Community Centre in West London is a significant part of that ongoing struggle for justice freedom that is woven deeply into the fabric of British history.The Mangrove was a Craibbeanrestaurant located at 8 All Saints Road, Notting Hill, west London. It was opened in 1968 by the Trinidadian community activist and civil rights campaigner Frank Crichlow. Frank had originally founded the “El Rio” before it — a coffee bar run by Crichlow at 127 Westbourne Park Road in the early 1960s that attracted attention in the Profumo Affair as one of the places frequented by Christine Keeler and Stephen Ward. Previously in 1956 he had formed the Starlight Four band, which had some success with appearances on radio and television, and in a cinema advertisement.

The Mangrove was a meeting place for the black community in the area, as well as for white radicals, artists, authors, and musicians.Mr Critchlow served John Profumo, the War Minister, during his affair with Miss Keeler in the early Sixties. He was closely bound up with the success and the eventual closure of the Mangrove Restaurant by the local authority for alleged non payment of rates in he mid 19990’s.

Famous customers included Jimi Hendrix, Nina Simone, Bob Marley, C.L.R. James, Vanessa Redgrave, and Lord Tony Gifford and many others.A small newspaper, The Hustler, was published on the premises, underlining the community aspect of the restaurant, which also served as an informal head office for the Notting Hill Carnival. The Mangrove, and its proprietor Frank Crichlow became the target for the Metropolitan Police within the wider police operations that regarded the black community through the lens of historical racism imported directly fromthe old colonies.

However, its magnetism as a centre for an increasingly politicised black community started attracting adverse police attention. 'The presence of groups of black people on the streets was not a palatable sight for Notting Hill police. In the first year the police raided my restaurant six times and six times they found nothing,' Mr Critchlow said. The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea was always a divided community between the largely white, affluent south of the Borough and the social housing northern of the Borough epitomized in the tragedy of the Borough and Government response to the appalling Grenfell tragedy of June 14th 2017. Local residents could be forgiven for thinking that little had changed in the years since the closure of the Mangrove Restaurant.

When his complaints went unanswered, in 1971 he organised a protest march. Mr Crichlow and eight others were arrested and charged with conspiracy to riot in a marathon trial which was to become a cause celebre - Lord Gifford and Vanessa Redgrave were among those who gave evidence for defendants who were acquitted.

'It was a turning point for black people,' Mr Crichlow said. 'It put on trial the attitudes of the police, the Home Office, of everyone towards the black community. We took a stand and I am proud of what we achieved - we forced them to sit down and rethink harassment. It was decided there must be more law centers and more places to help people with their problems.'

In 1987 community policing gave way to “swamp policing” echoing the words of the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher claiming Britain was being “swamped by people from alien cultures”. In one month 4,000 officers were deployed in the area in Operation Trident. It coincided with the reopening of the Mangrove restaurant. Inevitably its customers were searched. 'There were 80 police in All Saints Road alone. You can imagine how the black community felt,' Mr Critchlow said.

The racial classification adopted within the Empire of IC1, “white”, IC2 “Asian” and IC3 “African Caribbean” became the symbols of racial profiling that used the “sus” laws of “a suspicion of loitering with intent to commit a criminal offence” that codified white police racism against the black community. This racial profiling was played out on the streets of Notting Hill and especially on the “front line” of the All Saints Road, home of the Mangrove Restaurant, the police viewed as a centre for drug dealing of cannabis.

By the end of the 1960s, Frank Crichlow’sMangrove restaurant had became the heart of the area's West Indian community similar to the function that the Africa Centre in Covent Garden played for the growing African community in London. At the same time, "the heavy mob", a group of officers who patrolled the community like a colonial army, began a campaign to close the Mangrove, raiding the restaurant 12 times between January 1969 and July 1970. The police stuck to the story that the Mangrove was a drugs den, despite the fact that their repeated raids yielded not a shred of evidence.

In 1970, a group of black radicals, including the late Darcus Howe, were committed to stand trial on riot charges arising from violent clashes between the police during a protest march. From the outset, this was a political trial in which the police, Special Branch and the Home Office sought to discredit the leadership of the growing British black power movement. After 55 days at the Old Bailey, the Mangrove Nine were acquitted and forced the first judicial acknowledgment that there was "evidence of racial hatred" in the Metropolitan police. Frank Crichlow was one of the nine but the trial like the other attacks on him took their toll.

The nine's campaign was part of a campaign to defend Notting Hill's black community from police racism.

After this win he set up the Mangrove Community Association as an offshoot of the restaurant, providing advice and assistance, nurturing local projects to improve housing, establish youth facilities and services for the elderly, and help rehabilitate ex-offenders and those with drug and alcohol addictions.

The Metropolitan Police (MPS) made it there mission to oppressively police Notting Hill and especially the All Saints Road. In 1988, this resulted in Frank Crichlow having the Mangrove Restaurant raided by 48 officers in helmets and riot gear which resulted in Mr Critchlow facing charges of supplying heroin and cannabis. At first he was held in custody and when freed on bail, banned from going anywhere near his business for about a year.

Despite the seriousness of these allegations Mr Critchlow was a community leader respected by most people it seems except the Notting Hill police. Churchmen, magistrates and others who worked among the black and white communities in west London knew of his anti-drugs stance and projects.

That was why, despite the testimony on oath of no less than 36 police officers, the jury at his 1989 trial acquitted him of all charges. His case was simply that the police had planted the drugs on him. The planting of cannabis by officers of was one example of police malpractice used by the celebrated Black Lawyer, Rudy Narayan in a famous cross examination of police officers at another Old Bailey trial.

Rudy asked, “Officer, it is right that you’re really a farmer by profession? No sir I have been a police officer for twenty years. Officer, Rudy retorted, “but you mast be a farmer as you planted cannabis on my client as you have been doing for years on member of the Black community”. The judge reprimanded Narayan, the defendant and gallery smirked and the jury acquitted, as another police case collapsed due to the silver tongue of Narayan, the founding Chair of the Society of Black Lawyers and on an increasingly racist and corrupt MPS.

By 1994, the BBC had documented several Notting Hill Police Officers planting cannabis using the same written statements in numerous cases alleging possession and intent to supply cannabis. I had the pleasure of cross examining a series of police officers at Iselworth Crown Court using the BBC documentary list of previous cases where officers had been disbelieved by police officers. An embarrassed prosecution and Judge had no choice but to sit and listen to a series of police officers try and explain a catalogue of acquittals most of them from the All Saints Road and outside the Mangrove Restaurant.

Eventually, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner agreed to pay damages to Mr Crichlow in settlement of his claim for false imprisonment, battery and malicious prosecution. For many years the Mangrove Restaurant lived on with full-time workers supporting an old people's centre, an ex-offenders hostel, a steel band and other projects,. This was always despite what the community perceived as unprecedented efforts by Notting Hill police to close it down. It was fitting that in 1992 following the racial murder of black teenager Rolan Adams in Elthamthat his parents stood in the All Saints Road over Carnival weekend reminding revelers of the extent of hate crime that only a year later took the life of Stephen Lawrence.

Frank passed away in 2010, and of equal importance to his involvement with civil rights was his connection with cultural ventures based at the Mangrove Restaurant, as he was a central figure in the development of the Notting Hill Carnival. The award-winning Mangrove Steel band was founded in 1980.

The All Saints Road is now much changed as it its gentrification has excluded virtually all sign of a black presence save for the three days of carnival when the street is reclaimed for the African Caribbean community.

There are many milestones on the road to emancipation. The Mangrove restaurant, Frank Crichlow, and all those associated with it will always enjoy a special place in history for whom the Black presence in the United Kingdom has for centuries been a history of struggle, empowerment and staying power. This has been vigorously sustained in the face of the refusal of the British establishment to accept our presence in the United Kingdom. The Mangrove may have gone but its spirit lives on.

D Peter Herbert O.B.E.
Chair of the Society of Black Lawyers