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The History of Portobello Road Market

published on 14/05/2014  

One of the most famous tourist destinations in the world, Portobello Road Market is well known for its fabulous vintage clothes, antiques stalls and vibrant atmosphere. The market’s divided up into distinctive sections – such as the fashion section and the second hand goods section - and is very busy every Saturday, as thousands of people clamour to snap up the bargains on offer.
However, not many people realise that the area has a fascinating history as well. Here’s a more in-depth look at the story behind Portobello Road and its market:

The Beginning
Prior to 1740, Portobello Road was known as Green’s Lane – a twisting country path leading from Kensington Gravel Pits at Notting Hill Gate, to Kensal Green, which is further north. Portobello Farm was built in the area that same year – close to what is now known as Golborne Road. For much of this period, it simply consisted of orchards, hayfields and open land. The farm got its name from the victory during the War of Jenkin’s Ear, when Admiral Vernon captured the Spanish town of Puerto Bello in the Gulf of Mexico in 1739. Green’s Lane later became known as Porto Bello Lane and the farm was sold to an order of nuns in 1864, where they built a convent. To this day pub names such as Portobello Gold and Portobello Star refer to the seafaring days of yesteryear. In fact, one Antique Arcade is called the Admiral Vernon! 

Slowly during the Victorian Era, the area became built up with elegant houses, shop fronts and markets. These often served the rich inhabitants of the beautiful crescents and terraces. Other residents were employed as construction workers; servants; messengers; as well as tradesmen and fruit sellers. The Hammersmith and City Railway Line was finished in 1864 and Ladbroke Grove station opened.  The northern end of the road was developed too, adding to the gentrification of what’s now known as Notting Hill.

The 20th Century
In 1910, the famous Electric Cinema opened, designed especially for modern picture exhibition. During the First World War, it was attacked by an angry mob after nearby Arundel Gardens was bombed – they believed the German owner was signalling to the Zeppelin raiders from the roof! Parts of the road again suffered from bombing in 1944, during the Second World War. In 1945 many “Rag and Bone” men began to set up stalls and sell second hand household items and antiques. This led to the development of the famous antiques section of the market. Initially, the market had been mainly food stalls, but the diversity and expansion of the neighbourhood led to other traders selling “bric-a-brac” goods. 

The Film
It’s been said that Notting Hill, the film released by Working Title in 1999, starring Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts; changed the area’s image forever. The film won a BAFTA and put W11 firmly on the international map, boosting tourism and house prices too! Portobello Market’s a favourite hotspot for US tourists thanks to the film and Notting Hill has become one of the most exclusive areas of London. The diversity of the annual Notting Hill Carnival and its rich history has given the area that extra cachet, drawing in crowds from all over the world.