Portobello Road in the 70s

Our last visit to the Portobello Road (see link in column two) proved to be quite popular so we’re returning there this week after a gap of twenty years or so. Now we’re well into what I think of as living memory. I made the point in the fifties post that some of the images could easily have come from the thirties rather than the fifties. By contrast some pictures from the seventies look almost contemporary to my eyes at least. The devil of time is as always in the details.

No Madam, I’m not going to go on forever about the nature of time and memory. Just to say that for me at least the concept of the present has expanded as I get older and it’s not too much of a stretch for me to consider any time in my adult life as the present day even though for some the early seventies have been consigned to the dustbin of history. You can stop yawning now Madam.

Back in the seventies then and for me any visit to the Portobello Road began here at the junction with Pembridge Road:

1973’s incarnation of the Sun in Splendour looking a little down at heel compared to the way it looks today. Pictures of Kensington or London in general from this time have some common characteristics. They look a little less crowded than modern streets, the cars look slightly alien (is that a Ford Frontenac on the right? Suggestions from car enthusiasts welcome) and of course you can imagine Regan and Carter dangerously swerving across your path in their Granada. Or Bodie and Doyle in a Capri for that matter. North Kensington was a favourite TV location at the time.

The road is narrow at this point. There were fewer shops and almost no stalls, although I recall one shop with hip merchandise on sale outside including boxes of bootleg LPs with their all white cardboard sleeves. The market itself didn’t really begin until you crossed Westbourne Grove and the slope down the hill got steeper.

This was and still is the antiques sector with dozens of stalls and the many arcades.

I don’t know if this man is a seller or a buyer but he looks like a market regular from one side of the stall or the other. Here’s another view slightly earlier:

Those three are almost certainly Saturday views. The view on a weekday would be more like this:

You can just see the spire of St Peter’s Church in the distance.

As the antiques stalls thinned out you began to see ordinary high street shops and family businesses. The stalls start to become devoted to food.

The Electric Cinema is visible in one of its periods of closure. The food market wasn’t confined to Saturdays but there were some weekdays when there were fewer stalls.

Eventually you came to the railway bridge and the Westway and a final set of stalls with books, second-hand goods of all kinds and yet more bootleg LPs. I don’t have a picture of this area in the same photo survey set as the others. The photographer was working on weekdays and there wouldn’t have been much to see at that point.  But in my memory the open area beyond the motorway seemed enormous, full of people. It was the epicentre of something although from this distance in time I can’t say what. I looked at the area on Google Street View this afternoon and it was much smaller than I remembered.

Past the Westway the street became much less busy. The view north from the junction with Cambridge Gardens:

In the final stretch to Golborne Road there was another of North Kensington’s many religious establishments, St Joseph’s Home across the road from the Dominican Convent:

Its bulk is disconcerting after the smaller scale of the market. At this point we seem to have taken a further step back in time.

I would never have made it this far on my Saturday afternoon trips to Portobello in the 70s. Somewhere around the Westway we would have found our way to a bus stop and either got the 52 back up to Kensal Rise, or the 31 making its way to Camden Town – in those days one of London’s most tortuous bus routes.

Here’s one final picture to get us back to the70s. The serious business of selling antiques which is both glamorous and seedy.

Postscript

I was told today that one of the stallholders featured in the 1958 photos I used in the Portobello Road in the 50s post from last year is still running a stall. She’s the woman in the checked coat here:

So congratulations to her. If you recognize any of the people featured in the blog I’d love to hear about it. I’ve met a few people who’ve found their way into the Local Studies collection and I always like to hear about them. Especially the three women in the first picture this week. Any ideas?

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8 responses to “Portobello Road in the 70s

  • jojo adu

    be interested to know when electric was opened and closed. I remember its reopening late eighties our early nineties, saw drugstore cowboy there for instance but my big sister Rachel – who worked in jean machine – took me to see 2001 a space odyssey when i was about 5 which was 1970. We lived in no 93 and the shop was my dads, Graham Webb. When we left about 74 75 he sold it to his pal Jack Donovan who kept the signage intact though he mostly dealt in automata.

    • Derek White

      Hello the message to the library time machine was a blast from the past for me. I remember your dad’s shop so well and the old dog Freddie a black Labrador my mate last time I walked from one end of portobello road to the other I stood outside the shop and noticed the cover still had graham Webb sign on it. I new your big sister Rachael I whent to primary school with her she was a lovely kid so she worked at Jean machine I hope she is happy and well and Ruth and you and all of your family i would love to see a picture of you all now I never new you because I changed schools and you was a small baby but I saw you many times with your other sestet Ruth. She was a lovely kid also Rachael was pretty always skipped along with her thick fair hair in plats and her glasses wonderfull kid I left notting hill in 1973 and thought country life for me but any free time I get I always walk up portabello road and still look for the old folks How stupid is that there all gone please I hope Rachael is well and happy I live in hornchurch Essex and work on l u l between upminster and plaistow part time now sadly due to being a part time cater for my dad oh and your mum and dad graham he was a nice big strong man Rachel took more after him and you too poor Freddie had a bad fight once with a passing bull terrier and graham lifted both dogs off the floor wow he always told me not to feed Freddie ha ha please hope your all ok from Derek notting hill man come Essex boy ha ha

  • Dave Wheatley

    I lived in Colville Rd,just off Portobello,in 1970ish.There seemed to be loads more hippies then,so maybe they (us?) thinned out by 1973.I was a member of the Electric Cinema Club, where Montery seemed to be showing every couple of weeks and light shows (pathetic and we knew it then!) broken seats with protruding springs and smoking pot soon as the lights went out.The Head shop with a giant picked nose over the door,a landmark then but nobody photographed it….was it called the Dog Shop or Family Dog…..its hazy maaan.The Nottinghill cops were recruited from the provinces (as legend had it) and we all received hassle (its all coming back!) I was busted on suspicion of pinching a pint of milk as I hadn’t a receipt.Oh I just recalled hanging out with White Panthers in the Wellington,planning revolution…oh the dustmans strike….mountains of mouldy frui tand veg….EVERYBODY was like Withnail And I..in dem days

  • joe

    Great memories Dave, i remember going into the “Electric flea pit” a few time with me mates, and the huge nose on the wall! I might be a little younger then you because the punk thing was happening at that time…I remember going down to the “Republic of Frestoia” to pick up some gear to…..Good times and mostly good people back then…I remember the SUS laws and then the riots too…

  • dave wheatley

    hey joe…remember the Greek deli opposite the Dog Shop.Was it still there in the later 70’s. Kebab for seven bob ( google it !) that did for two.I don’t remember anybody with a credit card, fake student union cards yes, but nobody under thirty had a credit card… .Patti Smith reckons the greed society started with credit card and I didn’t know any greedy people apart from the odd Bogart. I’d love to have seen the hippies faces when your lot took over, we had very young skins so maybe you evolved from that, it would explain the dub connection. Shame only bankers can afford it now…….I mean it maaaan……..

  • dave wheatley

    just read my last ramble…..’we had very young skins’ I meant there were a lot of very young skinheads in the area, not that punks were cloned from Hawkwind roadies..Secondly, ,’Shame only bankers can afford it now’….meant to live there, not to buy dub collectables.

  • Julia Hennessy

    My family lived opposite Bliss Antiques at 244 Portobello Road (top flat) My mum used to call the owner Old Man Bliss and he used to wave at us. I remember the Westway being built we were inundated with a plague of rats from all the ground works. Used to fall asleep to the sound of the tube trains and the drunks rolling out of the Golden Cross pub on the corner. We used to spit on passersby until we got a wallop from our parents. Happy days.
    Julia Hennessy (nee Mayers)

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