Portobello Road, Kensington & Chelsea

A charac­terful market street winding in a north-​​north-​​westerly direction from Notting Hill Gate, where it branches off Pembridge Road

Portobello Road*

Portobello Road*

Vice-​​Admiral Edward Vernon defeated a Spanish fleet at Porto Bello (now Portobelo in Panama) in 1739 and the farm that stood here was renamed in honour of the victory. The country track that traversed its fields was later called Portobello Lane.

In 1801 the Grand Junction (now Grand Union) Canal cut across the northern part of the lane, which has since been further truncated by the railway and the redevel­opment of Kensal Town.

From the mid-​​19th century the Ladbroke Grove estate progressively filled the territory to the south-​​west and the owners of Portobello Farm began to sell off their land for housing. Traders set up shops along the lane to provide goods and services for their wealthy neighbours.

As devel­opment slowly moved northwards (and socially downwards) over the remainder of the century, terraces of working-​​class housing lined the rest of the road. In 1864 Portobello farmhouse was sold to the Little Sisters of the Poor, who built St Joseph’s Convent on the site of its orchard.

The delightful Electric cinema opened in 1910 and now rivals East Finchley’s Phoenix as the capital’s oldest working cinema.

Over the second half of the 20th century the shops and stalls of Portobello Road increasingly specialised in antiques and bric-​​à-​​brac, creating one of the most distinctive street markets in London. The area’s character was further enhanced by the music scene that evolved here from 1969, when Island Records moved to nearby Basing Street. Live music venues and specialist record shops appeared on Portobello Road in the 1970s and punk, reggae and later rap and hip-​​hop artists performed and recorded here and often rented (or squatted) homes in the vicinity.

Portobello Road has stalls every weekday and is especially big on Saturdays, when it claims to become the world’s largest antiques market. As Julian Mash puts it in Portobello Road: Lives of a Neighbourhood: “… in spite of the slow encroachment of chain shops and super wealth that has so changed the community over the last fifty years, there remains a unique spirit running through these streets. You just have to know where to look.”

A plaque on the wall of 115 Portobello Road commem­orates June Aylward, who estab­lished the street’s first antiques shop.

Postal districts: W11 and W10
Further reading: Julian Mash, Portobello Road: Lives of a Neighbourhood, Frances Lincoln, 2014
Website: Portobello Road

 

* The picture of Portobello Road on this page is adapted from an original photograph, copyright Josep Renalias, at Wikipedia Italia, made available under the Attribution-​​ShareAlike 3.0 Unported licence. Any subsequent reuse is hereby freely permitted under the terms of that licence.
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