So, I recently had my second trip to London to see my friends and it took me a bit to get my writing together on it. It was a couple of weeks and I tried to see and visit places and people but was not able to do all I wanted to. While there I was able to take a day, Friday to be exact, and was taken on a tour to Notting Hill and Portobello Road. It was amazing the history and stories to be told about that area and why it has become how it is today. My wonderful historian friend helped me with the facts so some of the things I have shared are in her words.
We started by meeting at Pembridge Road, right by the Notting Hill Gate Underground tube and we went from there towards the Portobello Road, parallel to Ladbroke Grove.
You could just feel the change in energy once we hit Portobello Market. Walking by the Electric Cinema, The Duke of Wellington and the Earl of Lonsdale pubs (among many other pubs), seeing the antiques market, the food stalls, the vintage stores, you get a very real sense of history unfolding before your eyes.
From what I understand, in the mid 1800s Notting Hill area became more residential where large homes were built, for the emerging middle classes as people began to move westwards, out of London. Fancy Notting Hill used to be an area that serviced the richer families and was once primarily known for its pigs. Locally, it was known as The Piggeries because there was a ratio of 3 to 1 pigs per person. Because of rapid over development the large houses later were split up into smaller rented dwellings. They were eventually populated by Afro-Caribbean immigrants brought over to Britain after WW2, to help rebuild the country. However, racial tensions arose, spurred on by the Mosely fascists, and in 1958 a race riot broke out. Later, in the 1970’s, racial tensions would arise again as a response to heavy policing and economic deprivation. But since the 1980’s the area has gradually gentrified and the rioting impulse has faded.
The Notting Hill Carnival is now one of the world’s largest street carnivals. It arose out of local actions. In the 1960’s, the area was still filled with bomb sites and it was a desperately poor place to live.
Wanting to give the children in the area a safe place to play, the residents (including musicians, activists, hippies and local families) developed their own adventure playground and (illegally) opened up previously locked and unused parks. To celebrate the opening of the parks and the adventure playground, they held a party. Given the large Caribbean population, it wasn’t long before the steel drums came out and a joyful street parade began. This was 1966 and the start of Europe’s largest and most exuberant street party.
As we walked from the park area and back toward Portobello Road, we came across what was originally a waxwork/drapers’ models factory, later a church. Then Basing Street Studios (1966), then Sarm Studios with bands like Bob Marley, Exodus and Punk bands. It was also where the song “Do They Know It’s Christmas” was recorded where all sorts of famous artist came together in one place.
In the late 1960s the building became the offices and studios of Island Records. At this stage the Island label specialized in folk and prog rock. Led Zeppelin began recording their fourth album, including ‘Stairway To Heaven’, in the newly opened Island studios in 1970.
Around 1972, Bob Marley turned up on Basing Street, when he was staying in Neasden after touring with Johnny Nash. Chris Blackwell proceeded to sign the Wailers to Island for their major label debut, the Zippo-sleeved ‘Catch A Fire’, which was remixed and promoted on Basing Street as the first rock-reggae crossover album. For some time Bob lived above the Island studios and his wife Rita of the I-Threes was a Basing Street resident for several years.
In the mid 80s the Island recording studios at 8-10 Basing Street became Sarm West, the HQ of the ZTT label of Trevor Horn and Paul Morley, who brought us Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s ‘Relax’ single, ‘Frankie Say Relax’ T-shirts, Propaganda and Art of Noise.
Some great names have gone through the studio on Basing Street. Unfortunately, it is, like much else of west London, being converted into luxury apartments.
*Picture from Portobello Road Market website *
Once we reached Portobello Road again, after viewing where the park was located, we continued on through the market traders and their wares, stopping at some to check out what they had. The market continued on down to where there was a school and across the street from the school, on the sidewalk where more of the market traders were, were paintings on the wall of the history of the area. It was wonderful to see. From there, we went back the way we came. I was so overwhelmed by all that was offered from the traders, I ended up not purchasing anything. Crazy, I know, but I just was so overwhelmed, I couldn’t. Hopefully there will be another time for me to do so.
I hope if you ever get to go and experience Portobello Road and Notting Hill, you will, and can come back and tell me what you came away with yourself. What a great experience that was!
*All Pictures taken by me except the last one, and that I posted where it is from under the picture*