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Narrating Vietgrove:

An Analysis of the multiple accounts of the Mangrove Restaurant 1968—1971

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Illustration by Fawzeyah Alsabah, 2021.

This dissertation study’s starting premise is that narrative is a site where the conditions of racialised minorities within the city is debated and decided. The narratives examined in this study are those situated within and around No. 8 All Saints Road in Notting Hill, London. No. 8 was home to the illustrious or notorious (depending on who’s narrative you ascribe to) West Indian restaurant, the Mangrove. I examine the events that occurred within the restaurant’s initial four years of life as these were the most volatile and formative in the course of black British history. My analyses of these events are given in three narratives, all told in three different voices: the defendants, the British establishment and my own. Through these three voices I intend to reveal how narrative is simultaneously a site of resistance and a site of subjugation.

The Mangrove restaurant was open between 1968 and 1992. Within these 24 years, the building witnessed the tumultuous change of its surrounding North Kensington neighbourhood. Its walls were graced with a company of acclaimed artist such as Bob Marley and Nina Simone and bore the brunt of violent thumps from the local bobby’s batons. The building was the Caribbean community’s beating heart, the centre of London’s counterculture and the frontline of resistance against police harassment.[1]

How and why did the Mangrove become the focal point of the bitter fight between the Caribbean community and the police? How did a simple restaurant from Notting Hill become the focus of a 55-day long trial at Britain’s most acclaimed court, The Old Bailey? The trial was the result of the long-term harassment of the restaurant. Within the first few months of its opening the restaurant was repeatedly raided by the police which led to a protest being held in retaliation on the 9th August 1970.[2] The protest which descended into a violent clash between the protestors and police, was followed by a highly publicised trial the following October. The defendants, known as the Mangrove Nine were Frank Crichlow, Altheia Jones-LeCointe, Darcus Howe, Rhodan Gordon, Godfrey Millett, Barbara Beese, Rothwell Kentish, Anthony Innis and Rupert Boyce. They were charged for riot and affray, the possession of offensive weapons and multiple accounts of bodily harm to police officers. They spent 55 days at the Old Bailey with the aim of not only defending themselves against the charges but to also challenge the false narrative constructed of the Mangrove restaurant and, more broadly, of the Black community of Notting Hill. A narrative which was perpetuated by the police and Britain’s mainstream press. This investigation privileges their narrative, which is titled ‘Vietgrove.’[3]

Unbeknownst to the Police, this trial would mark the pinnacle of the Black British Power movement, becoming a turning point in the political debate regarding racial discrimination. This trial, and their power over that narrative of the Mangrove, was a battle in which they would come out defeated. I argue that the trial was not only a dispute over narrative but also the terms and conditions of how Black people should live in the city. It was a battle over their visibility and place within the wider British society. The provisional arguments formed in this study argue that the trial of the Mangrove Nine can be read as a contest over narrative and the rights to the city.

Extract from ‘Vietgrove Narrative

Vietgrove is still a part of England, albeit the relationship between the two has changed. Now an internal colony within the decaying British Empire, sequestered away in a forlorn corner of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. A neighbourhood apart in both its inhabitants, material condition and the conduct of its authoritative powers. The citizens and their establishments have been subjected to unusual brutal rule from the mob that run rampant through this quarter. Defiance and radical methods for a new way of living can be found in the Mangrove restaurant; this is where the locals gather to organise and put up some sort of resistance to the daily harassment they face. Vietgrove is no ordinary neighbourhood: it is a neighbourhood in the midst of revolt.

In appearance it resembles any other war-torn colony. Yet the war that is taking place is one with the past. The streets are littered with rubble and broken panes of glass as great swathes of it are being hurled up and swept away to make space for the new future. You will see children playing amongst the debris of the past, chatting and jumping between tyres on the side of Silchester Road.[4] Excluded from the private green squares, the children have carved out their own corners of the city by appropriating bomb sites as playgrounds. Free from the tightly controlled Victorian classrooms, they launch themselves off makeshift platforms and gleefully swing in the air.


Outsiders refer to Vietgrove as a square mile of squalor— a social dustbin[5]— and consider the Mangrove as the root cause of all the area’s delinquency and vice. And while yes there is squalor, it is false to equate the citizens of Vietgrove to the conditions of their homes. These conditions were not their creation – this area has been in decline since its inception in the mid-nineteenth century. The carving up of its grand terraces into sublets began as early as 1881[6] and the Irish and Blacks are just the most recent occupants. As authorities clear the streets to make way for a supposedly squalor-free future, they sweep away a section of its current residents. Residents such as Alice Cummerford, who shares one room with her husband and three children.[7] A room where water seeps through the ceiling like rain, she fears she will not be rehoused once her home is pulled down as part of the Lancaster Housing development.[8] As derelict and damp as it is, it is still one of the only rooms available to Irish and Black residents of Vietgrove.[9]







[1] Robin Bunce and Paul Field, Darcus Howe: A Political Biography, 1st edn (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2014), p. 93 <>

[2] Three raids were conducted before the protest was held. However, by beginning of the trial in October 1971 the restaurant would have been raided 12 times by the police.

[3] The name originates from a photograph featured on the back page of the TriContinental Outpost a counter-culture magazine who regarded themselves the ‘voice of the grass roots.’ The photograph is a close up of the restaurant with a sign in the window reading: ‘This restaurant is regularly raided by police, if you like kicks-visit-us, best food in Vietgrove.’ 'Tri17th June 1970, 'TriContinental Outpost, 'WONG/7/40 Magazine, Black Cultural

[4] Charlie Philips. Id no.IN40103

[5] 24th May 1968, Hustler, NEW/3/1 – 9 Hustler magazines, George Padmore Institute.

[6] ‘The Portobello and St. Quintin estates,’ in Survey of London: Volume 37, Northern Kensington, edited by F. H. W. Sheppard (London: London County Council, 1973), pp. 298-332. British History Online <> [accessed September 11, 2021]

[7] 24th May 1968, Hustler, NEW/3/1 – 9 Hustler magazines, George Padmore Institute.

[8] Ibid

[9] Ibid

Copyright of image: © Fawzeyah Alsabah

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