The History of Portobello Road
Nestled in the trendy London district of Notting Hill, Portobello Road is home to one London’s (and the world’s) most iconic and famous markets. Today buzzing with pubs, restaurants and a diverse range of communities, nearly 300 years ago it was a very different place.
Originally no more than a winding country path known as Green Lane, it took its name from Porto Bello Farm which was built in the area which we now know as Golborne Road. The farm was named after the town of Porto Bello in Panama, captured by the British from the Spanish in 1739, as part of the War of Jenkins Ear.
For much of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Portobello Road remained a simple country lane that connected the districts of Notting Hill in the south and Kensall Green in the north. Unlike neighbouring areas such as Paddington which saw dedicated residential areas planned and built, development on and around Portobello Road was more erratic, shops and markets springing up in reaction to the area becoming a hub for the wealthy inhabitants of Paddington to shop.
As time went on, more and more residential development began to take place in the Portobello Road area, with a selection of elegant terraces and crescents being built for the numbers of wealthy people attracted to the district. Also built were swathes of cramped terraces that were rented to its working class residents that found employment in the area as domestic servants, labourers and in other unskilled jobs. The northern end of the road was the final part to experience development, the catalyst being the opening of the Notting Hill station (now known as Ladbroke Grove) in 1864 as part of the new Metropolitan Railway, now known as the Hammersmith and City line.
Up until the 1940s, Portobello Road market was like many other London markets and mainly sold food and other essential items, and this still continues today. However in the 1940s, more and more ‘rag and bone’ men started selling their wares, soon joined by other traders specialising in brick-a-back and antiques. Gradually, antiques have become what Portobello Road Market is best known for, with Saturday being the main trading day. However, the market still retains its fresh food origins and over time, five distinct sections of the market have formed.
- Secondhand goods – Golborne Road to Westway
- Clothing/fashion – Westway area
- Household essentials – Westway to Talbot Road
- Fruit, veg and other food – Talbot Road to Elgin Crescent
- Antiques – Elgin Crescent to Chepstow Villas
Portobello Road suffered a lack of investment for much of the twentieth century. By the late 1980s however, subject to a large amount of gentrification, Portobello Road went from being a run-down and shabby working class district to being affluent, fashionable and one of the most desirable areas to live in the capital. This has also been reflected in the market. Whilst it is still best known for its antiques, thanks to the influx of the affluent young, the fashion scene has exploded and more and more stalls selling a range of cutting edge and vintage clothing are appearing.
Portobello Road remains one of London’s most famous streets, vibrant, multicultural and buzzing with energy and excitement. It is set to continue as one of London’s ‘must-see’ destinations.