Portobello Road in the 50s

I was born in the 1950s so although I can’t remember much if anything about that era, because I was alive then it doesn’t seem to me like it should be described as the historical past. More like an annexe to the present. But looking at these pictures from 1958 demonstrates how far away from us the 50s are. No internet, no mobile phones, almost no television by comparison with today. Only a few subtle differences in this photograph could place it twenty years earlier.

North Kensington has not yet become a particularly bohemian or counter cultural area. These images are from the other side of a cultural divide. It’s a view of almost forgotten working class west London.

That’s Mr Brooks and his vegetable stall. A hard working photographer from the Ministry of Health took these photographs to illustrate a now forgotten display about food retailing. They would have been thrown away if the man who donated them to the Local Studies collection had not had been thinking of their value to later generations.

A little further down from Mr Brooks’ stall is a branch of the once ubiquitous Woolworth’s stores.

In this photo you can see the Electric Cinema looking a little grim but obviously open, one of the longest surviving institutions of Portobello Road. In 1958, according to that year’s Kelly’s it was trading as the Imperial Playhouse.

But fruit and vegetable stalls in gloomy streets are not the whole Portobello story even in the late 50s. The market even then was an outlet for antiques, bric a brac and other second hand goods as shown in another set  of photographs from the same period.

I think you can see a couple of penguin paperbacks on top of the pile of books.

I couldn’t resist including this one. Some kind of basket made out of a dead armadillo. Try getting one of those on e-Bay.

This set of photographs seem brighter and more optimistic to my 21st century eye. Perhaps it’s just that they were taken on a sunny day or perhaps it’s the fact that the people in the pictures are not buying food but browsing for more interesting items.

The 1950s are still a long way off though. Look at this final image:

A trio of excited young women examine the contents of a stall selling jewellery. The detail that caught my eye was that all three are wearing gloves. So we’re still on the other side of that cultural divide.

The next time we go to the Portobello Road it will be to the 1970s a far more familiar era.

Thanks to the unknown Ministry photographer and to Corry Bevington who took the other photographs which are from the HistoryTalk collection.

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29 responses to “Portobello Road in the 50s

  • sally hiller

    amazing i would have been 3/4 on 1958 i remember mum dressing like that in gloves always when coming to london and meeting friends on roof garden at derry and toms kensington high st.

  • halle bop

    Glad to see the great pics,
    Some of the stalls pictured are still in business, in the care of the same families
    Nice to see that living connection reflected in old photos..

  • Steve Jones, Bangkok

    It’s amazing how little the street has change in the last 50 years. I lived just off Portobello Road for almost 20 years, although I moved away a year or so ago. I will probably move back at some point.

  • THE BIG MAC: Portobello Market, Notting Hill, London- Spring is in the air… | The Big Mac Blog

    […] recommend it. You can see some really fabulous images of Portobello Road during the 1950′s HERE, looks like it hasn’t changed all that much. I spotted quite a few young gals wearing their […]

  • balletfloat

    I appreciate seeing these photos. They are brilliant.

  • 40again

    Love the photos, they are brilliant. Lovely to see them

  • Hasenschneck

    I was born at the end of the fifties and can remember vaguely being on a bus with my mother in Kensington HIgh Street and wearing white cotton gloves in the summer. Seems crazy now.

  • Julian Harris

    I was born in the Mitre Public House at 60 Golborne Road in 1949 but sadly it seems to have been demolished. The pub was always packed on a Saturday night and I remember the markey stalls and totters in Munroe Mews. Does anybody have any photos of the pub.

  • Dale Harris

    The mitre Pub : It is part of my personal History. If you do please let me know via this site: good luck Christine only have one recent of the site. Try Roger Mayne photos
    I was raised in Acklam Road has anybody any photos before Westway

  • Garry Brewer

    I lived on Tavistock Road from 1958 till 1972 ( it’s adjacent to Westway) . Great memories. My dad used to drink in The White Cross ( on the corner with Lancaster Road) . One fellow regular was Christie – or so I was told.

  • Portobello Road Market, London | The Everywhereist

    […] perfectly, and there was something comforting about the fact that this strange and bustling market hadn’t really changed all the much in the last century or so. You can still find the same mix of antiques and cheap reproductions. There are people looking for […]

  • Linda Mylward nee' Styles

    I was born in 11 Rillington Place in 1947. My mum used to send me to Portobello Road, or The Lane as we called it to get her vegetables. We used to call the Electric Cinema “The Bug Hole” for obvious reasons.

  • Christine sexton

    Lovely photo I was born in the 50s remember some good time down the lane work in Woolworth and lived in basing st

  • Sam Dawson

    The book “Guttersnipe” by Ronnie Rainbow tells the story of living and working on Portobello Market at this time

  • Ian mackay

    In the late 1950’s I used to help out at a radio & tv shop in Kensington Park road, I can remember hauling out an old radiogram outside the shop on the pavement and playing some records, I found a radio valve in the big chest of draws in the back of the shop, it had hundreds of radio valves in it and swaped it for the one in the radiogram , it gave it a lease of life and soundd even better, later on I migrated to the tv & radio shop at Golbourne Road near the public toilets, they used to have a stall out side selling ex duke box records on a Saturday, I later went out with a girl called June, she lived above a butchers shop in Portobello Road..

    • peter Hewlett

      Hi Ian. Did you go to Holy Trinity school. Harrow Rd ? Pete.

      • Ian Mackay

        Peter, sorry no, I went to Wilberforce School then Beethoven Street school off of Kilburn Lane, 1951 to December 1959..
        Its a shame that this link does not seem to extend to all of North Kensington, as since Friends Reunited stopped the street reunited section, then packed up the school section altogether, it lost a history of contributions, this site is the only one I have found still recording memories and letting people link up from the past.
        Ian

      • peter Hewlett

        Hi Ian. Thanks for the prompt reply. Its sixtyfour years ago that I lived in Bourne terr and went to school there. I have only had coms with one person from that time. Hay ho such is life.

      • Ian Mackay

        Peter given our ages its possibly a bit late in the day, when I was linked to Friends Reunited, the number of those during my years there were diminishing at a fair rate.. One person who was a neighbour who I used to play with in the street, when I contacted after 50 odd years, asked me to remind him who I was!
        So dont feel hurt if your memories are better placed than others…
        Ian

      • peter Hewlett

        Hi Ian. The big problem for me is that the people I knew in my youth were moved out in the fiftys, The houses were condemed before we moved in. I moved to France about eight years ago, Lots of space, and natural sounds. P.

  • Ian mackay

    A couple of spelling mistakes Juke Box for one & sounded for another, shame there is no edit facility on this site !

  • a w lynch

    my wife and i lived at no 348 portobello rd .from 1963-71 wonderful wonderful years ,amazing time to have lived in the area .Life seemed to have been so exciting back then. Oh well ????

  • luca

    I live now in Tavistock Road and for me is an honor to live in that spectacular area of London which is Portobello…What a such pleasure to walk through …Happy

  • Lorna Anderson

    Does anyone remember anyone from Finches or Heneckys around 1971-2?

  • Joanna van den eijnden

    Wonderful photos! I used to live around the corner and Walk through portobello road to go to colville school Which stil exits. The flats in the background I know too. Stil feel the atmosphere from those days.

  • Robin Ray

    In the 30s: I remember the Fascist bully boy meetings on the corner of Blenheim Crescent, all toughs and banners and snarls; and their lightning flash logo everywhere in the Lane, as everyone called it. The huge convents in the Lane and Kensington Park Road, opposite the synagogue. The Poor Clares nuns sifting through abandoned vegetables left by stallholders on a Saturday night. Seeing a single shoe for sale on a stall and wondering why. O those stalls! Fruit was lovingly displayed, dangerous-looking gas lamps to enhance them. Always nice to this young lad, me. Jolly voices, 5 pounds for six, they’re lovely. Notices: don’t touch me till I’m yours.

    The cats’ meat man on the corner of Westbourne Park Road, horsemeat in lovely neat slabs. Watching the lamplighters lighting the gas with long poles. The echoing clip clop of market horses and the man with a handbell selling muffins from a tray slung from his neck. Going to the Bug Hutch with mother and grandma as they slept through the latest movie. The fish and chip shop in Blenheim Cres. Mr Portwine’s lovely butcher’s shop; during the war, feeling great that there was some corned beef just come in… I liked corned beef. Woolworth’s, a wonderland of desirable objects, everything thruppence or sixpence. Marks opposite, more upmarket!

    Grandmother’s flat where I dreaded the gas light going out and there being no pennies to feed the meter while everybody was in the Blenheim Arms. The eel and pie cafe where I always had a pie with parsley sauce. Yum. Home & Colonial where you asked the counter ladies for your tin of baked beans or pound of sugar. During the war the streets were lined by grey brick air raid shelters to which members of my family went every night; quite comfortable inside, each with a proper Yale lock.These shelters replaced the idiotic soft brick ones, open to all, so they just became loos. Nobody used them as in no time they were disgusting and were soon demolished.

    The ack-ack guns in the Westbourne Park marshalling yards making such a din, mainly to reassure us. Bombs shaking the house – and us. Hunting for shrapnel next morning, spotting circular dents in paving stones where firebombs had landed.

    Later, forgetting the alarm had sounded and suddenly seeing a flying bomb in the sky; PANIC! And then the ‘flying gas mains’.

    In the early 50s, as an art student, I lived for a while with fellow students in a house near the bridge, run exclusively for art students, by a wonderfully upper-class couple; they ran a cafe for stallholders in the shop. She served baked beans, fried egg, sausage and tomato, bread & butter and strong tea as if it were haute cuisine and sang out the orders with an adorable cut glass accent. He wore full chef’s outfit right down to the espadrilles and check trousers, utterly seriously. Delightful nutty people. I think the stall people loved them. We did.

    That’s my version of Portobello Road.

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