Elegant and Exclusive - a wander in Notting Hill

Aaaah, Notting Hill…home to funky clothes stores, inspiring architecture, a wonderous antique market, vintage galore and, of course, the romance of Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts.  With a charm all of its own, it’s one of London’s most fashionable and exclusive areas - on weekdays predominantly locals lounge in its bars and cafes, but at the weekend tourists throng the streets, soaking up the atmosphere, poking around in its renowned antique stores and having a pint in one of its endless pubs.

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I’ve wandered the streets of this area since I was a teenager, always finding new things to discover, and never tiring of the vibe.  Not that it’s one monolithic area either - from upper-class Notting Hill (close to Kensington Palace) all the way down through trendy, arty Portobello Road, and continuing onto the more working-class areas around Westbourne Grove, it’s incredibly diverse (even though gentrification has had an enormous impact on the entire area all of its streets).  One blog could never do it justice, so let me begin at the beginning…which in this case I’ve deemed to be Notting Hill Gate.

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By way of a little history, until the middle of the 18th century the area was little more than a hamlet with roadside inns along the way (which proved a popular stalking ground for highway robbers).  It was also home to a tollgate (which was, of course unpopular, since you could not travel further into London without putting your hand in your pocket).   With the advent of industrialisation, however, workers from the countryside arrived in their thousands and throughout the Victorian era, this was undoubtably a rough area.  

By the 20th century, with many families no longer able to employ servants, the beautiful homes once built for the wealthy were sub-divided, and after World War II and the horrors of the Blitz, many of them were terribly damaged. From the 1950’s to the 1980’s, Notting Hill had a sketchy reputation to say the least - poverty, deprivation, race riots and slum landlords (the most notorious of which was Peter Rachman) to name but a few.  This was not a neighbourhood that people wanted to live in!

Picture by Henry Grant Collection/Museum of London

Picture by Henry Grant Collection/Museum of London

By the 1980’s, however, the area had become fashionable once more and today, as you walk out of the underground (or alight from the 94 bus) it’s hard not to stop and stare, because the architecture that greets you - a heady mixture of Georgian, Edwardian and Victorian - is nothing short of stunning.  Homes like these (many of which are single-family occupancy) will cost you millions of pounds…and demand is still great.

Turning right into Pembridge Road, you’ll be struck by the number of small, independent stores that remain - some of my personal favourites include ‘Retro Clothing’ (amazing bargains to be had) the Book & Comic Exchange (I’ve spent hours in their, poking around) and Hirst Antiques (I love their antique jewellry).  I’d also recommend “The Sun in Splendour” - a great pub with a bright yellow exterior and, inside, a relaxed atmosphere with excellent food.

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And then, to the left of Pembridge Road is the beginning of Portobello Road…a wonderful place to stroll on weekdays, and a hive of activity on Saturday, when the entire street is packed to the rafters with fashion gurus, antique collectors (the pros and the amateurs) and those who are there to do nothing more than wander and soak it all in.  I’m ending this piece with a picture of the tiny coloured houses at the top of this street that it’s hard not to love.  With their tiny front gardens, wonderful colours and (quite often) absence of shades or shutters) I can never resist the temptation to peer in, for a glimpse of the owner’s life.  These ‘dolls houses’ are just one more thing that makes Notting Hill such a hot-spot in London.

Next time…I’ll continue strolling down the Portobello Road, through the antiques market, food stalls and myriad of bars and pubs…

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