Last week’s London Shoes jaunt to the ‘smoke’ took me out west to a district of London that has always intrigued me, probably because of its bohemian and hippie notoriety when I was an impressionable teenager in the late 1960’s & early 70’s.
For this trip out I was privileged to be accompanied by my old work mate Les Bannell – who I first met some 45 years ago back in 1974, when we were both junior members of staff with Barclays Bank – and then, in the late 1980’s we actually worked together at the Whitechapel/Mile End branch of Barclays, when Les was the Office Manager and I was one of his assistants.
Anyway – the topic in question for this specific publication, is all about the extremely interesting place that is…….”Notting Hill”….London W11.
I guess that if you mentioned ‘Notting Hill’ to most people, then they would probably automatically think of the historic annual ‘Carnival’ that takes place throughout the streets of Notting Hill every August – and has done in one form or another since the mid 1960’s.
The other thing that people would probably know Notting Hill for is the 1999 BAFTA winning film of the same name that starred Hugh Grant & Julia Roberts, and was set in and around the area.
However, following my research I discovered that Notting Hill has a whole wealth of history that is far more interesting than just the Carnival and the film.
The main rail station servicing the area is ‘Notting Hill Gate’ tube – and the reason for the ‘Gate’ reference is that in the mid 1700’s there used to be a toll-gate on the main road that led onwards to the very ‘western’ limits of London and beyond – and travellers had to pay a fee to pass along it – This toll-gate was finally removed in 1864, but the name ‘Notting Hill Gate’ has still remained.
It’s very hard to believe it today, but right up until the early 1800’s the district of Notting Hill was almost entirely made up of rural land – and its was known throughout London as an area full of ‘Potteries & Piggeries’!!!
It was known as the ‘potteries’ because its rich clay based soil was ideal in the manufacture of earthenware and house bricks – and as a result there were a number of pottery production company’s operating in the area.
Notting Hill’s rural landscape was also ideal grazing land for animals – to the extent that it was the main area where livestock owners especially bring pigs to fatten them up before slaughtering them in preparation for sale in the London markets.
The majority of the land in the area was owned by the extremely wealthy ‘Ladbroke’ family, and with the rapid increase in London’s population at the end of the 1700’s and early 1800’s, there was massive demand for landowners such as the Ladbroke’s to give up some of their rural land, and make a few quid by commissioning it for the construction of new houses that were to be particularly suitable for London’s up-and-coming middle & upper classes.
By the 1840’s some of the land previously owned by the Ladbroke’s was used for the construction of new streets and large houses, that were designed to incorporate servants living quarters and stables for the horses. Streets such as ‘Ladbroke Grove’ and ‘Ladbroke Square’ plus many more, were laid out – making the area far more accessible to wealthier than average home owners – with its proximity to the City being one of the districts main attractions.
Many of these new streets had ‘private squares’ as their gardens, which were secured by locked gates, which only the home owners in its vicinity had the keys to – thus keeping the riff-raff out. Today, ‘Ladbroke Square’ is a remaining example and is one of the largest ‘private’ squares in London, and quite possibly Britain.
Another amazing fact about Notting Hill that I never had a scoobie about is that it was once the location of London’s largest ‘Racecourse’ – a race-track that was far bigger and more prestigious at that time than Epsom and even Ascot.
Notting Hill’s ‘Hippodrome Racecourse’ was built in 1837, with its design and structure circled around the area at the bottom of the ‘hill’. The punters stood at the top of the ‘hill’ and watched the races taking place below.
St. John’s Church situated at the very top of Notting ‘Hill’ was the actual centre of what was the Hippodrome Racecourse.
However, because of continual angry and sometimes violent protests by the ‘locals’, and also the fact that a number of horses kept breaking their legs racing on the wet clay type turf – the Hippodrome Racecourse didn’t actually last that long, and was forced to close down in 1841.
The former racecourse land was then handed over to developers for the construction of further new housing, that was built encircling the outline of what used to be the actual race-track – and that’s why today Notting Hill has circular shaped streets such as Blenheim Crescent – Elgin Crescent – Lansdowne Crescent & Stanley Crescent.
References to the old racecourse can still be seen today, with street names such as ‘Hippodrome Mews’ and ‘Hippodrome Palace’ etc.
In fact, it was in a room at a hotel that was once situated at no.21/22 Lansdowne Crescent – where in 1970, rock music legend ‘Jimi Hendrix’ was found dead – having choked on his own vomit, following a night of excess.
In nearby ‘Walmer Road’ there stands an old bottle-shaped Kiln from the early 1800’s, that was used by the pottery manufacturers that once thrived in Notting Hill. This magnificent landmark now has a ‘listed’ status so that it remains in situ for future generations to appreciate and enjoy.
One of the main attractions that has drawn day-trippers and tourists to Notting Hill throughout the past decades – is the famous ‘Portobello Road’.
Back in the day, when Notting Hill was a rural area, Portobello Road used to be just a leafy lane that led to Portobello Farm near the top of the ‘Hill’.
The name ‘Portobello’ refers back to the exploits of the English naval officer Admiral Vernon, who captured the port of Portobello in the Gulf of Mexico way back in 1739.
Now funnily enough – when I was working at Barclays Bank at their Dagenham Dock branch back in the early 1980’s – I used to do my drinking in a local pub there called ‘The Admiral Vernon’ – and so as a result of my little jaunt out to Notting Hill, I now know what he was all about.
The main attraction of today’s Portobello Road is its rows of antique shops and market stalls, plus many other shops selling all kinds of quirky and arty stuff.
Another attraction in Portobello Road is the actual book-shop that features prominently in scenes throughout the 2000 film Notting Hill.
Halfway down the Portobello Road stands the “Electric Cinema” building. Built in 1911 it was London’s very first ‘purpose-built’ cinema. However, the Electric Cinema does have a bit of ‘dark’ notoriety about it for 2 reasons.
In WW1 the cinema was owned by a German – and it was believed that he deliberately left spotlights switched on overnight on the cinema roof, in order to assist German Zeppelins in their navigation across London, when they were on their bombing missions. As a result of this the building (and its owner) was targeted by local mobs intent on causing as much damage as possible, in retribution.
Also – it is strongly believed that during WW2, the notorious mass murderer ‘John Reginal Christie’, (who lived just round the corner to the cinema at 10 Rillington Place) – used to be the Electric Cinema’s chief projectionist.
The area around Notting Hill’s ‘All Saints Church’ and especially ‘Powis Square’ – was once considered to be the centre of London’s underground hippie movement and counter-culture.
All Saints Church was built in the Victorian period of the 1850’s and has an unusual ‘Gothic’ design to it. It is definitely a focal point of the area. Throughout the ‘swinging’ 60’s the likes of ‘underground’ bands such as Pink Floyd, Hawkwind & Quintessence plus many others, would regularly play gigs at the huge hall that was attached to the church.
Pink Floyd’s founder ‘Syd Barrett’ would often hang-out there along with many other members of the underground scene of that time – and it is said that old Syd used to be particularly interested in the antics of a young girl by the name of ‘Emily Young’ who used to regularly be ‘on-the-scene’ and who back in 1966, had a reputation for being known as London’s ‘aristocratic flower child’. Anyway, the story goes that Floyds first hit single “See Emily Play” penned by Syd Barrett, was inspired by this Emily Young – who subsequently went on to become one of Britain’s top sculpturers.
Also in Powis Square, is the ‘Tabernacle’ – a Victorian circular shaped terracotta bricked building that was built initially as a church back in 1889. In recent years the Tabernacle has been used as a rehearsal centre by bands such as The Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd before they headed off for big world tours.
The house at no. 25 Powis Square, was where some of the scenes of the 1970 cult film ‘Performance’ were shot – a violent London gangster type film that starred Mick Jagger, James Fox and the late Anita Pallenberg (who was Stones guitarist Keith Richards girlfriend at that time) – and legend has it that ‘Keef’ would sit in his car bang outside the house in a bit of a state, whilst Jagger was inside filming intimate scenes with Pallenberg. (I’m guessing that must have been a bit awkward)
Nearby is ‘St. Luke’s Mews’ where in 2000 at mews house no.4 – Paula Yates was found dead from a drug overdose.
Just around the corner at no.280 Westbourne Park Road is the famous blue front-door to the house where Hugh Grant lived in the award winning 2000 film Notting Hill – and even today there are still constant streams of visitors queuing up to stand in the doorway to have their photo taken.
Down by Ladbroke Grove tube station, alongside the railway arches is ‘Bartle Road’ – a street that today is made up of fairly new residential houses – however, it was once the site of the street ‘Rillington Place’, where at no.10, between the years 1943 to 1953 – the notorious murderer ‘John Christie’ killed his wife and up to 7 others – and then hid their remains either in the back yard, under the floorboards or in hidden sections of its interior walls.
In the mid-20th century the standard of Notting Hill’s housing dramatically fell into a rapid decline, to the extent that it soon became known as being a slum area.
This was mainly due to the devastation caused by extensive WW2 bomb damage to the area – and also the fact that these once elegantly large houses, with their servant quarters and stables, were being divided up into flats and bed-sits to accommodate multiple-occupancy.
The Notting Hill area became more and more multi-cultured and cosmopolitan as its once glamorous houses were now owned by dodgy landlords who took advantage of the income that they could gain from multiple occupancy, by offering cheap rents to the immigrants that had been drawn to the area because of the vast number of job opportunities there were at that time in post-war London.
In the late 1950’s Notting Hill and its surrounding areas, were the scene of a number of much publicised ‘race-riots’ – when immigrants became the target for ‘white’ trouble-making youths such as the ‘Teddy Boys’ – a movement that was notoriously popular at that time.
However, throughout the recent decades, Notting Hill has gradually returned to being a ‘single occupancy’ posh and expensive area for London’s wealthier home-owners.
So……having spent the day walking the length and breadth of Notting Hill – me and my accomplice Les (who, I have to say, did a cracking job of map-reading to help me find all the locations and landmarks on my itinerary) suddenly found ourselves on the door step of one of Notting Hill’s most popular tourist attractions – the ‘Churchill Arms’ pub, and so we decided that we may as well pop in there for a couple of well earned ‘cheeky’ beers and a bag of pork-scratchings.
Followers of ‘Shoes’ will be aware that I have covered-off the Churchill Arms pub in previous blogs – as this is the pub that, is completely engulfed in flowers in the Summer months – and then covered with Christmas trees and fairy lights throughout the Xmas period.
As we ‘took-the-weight-off-our-feet’ in the ‘Churchill’ we reflected on what had been a very successful day exploring and blogging – a day that was made even more enjoyable by the glorious weather, and a day that in itself had made history, by being the hottest February day since records began.
So – as you can see, there is definitely a hell of a lot more to Notting Hill than just the Carnival and an old rom-com film – In my opinion it’s a cracking place to spend a few hours just walking around and taking in its vibe.
Hope you enjoy these accompanying photos.