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.

55 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

      Hello Christine,
      Do you remember my grandparents Alex and Rene who lived on the top floor at Basing Street.

      • lesley belle

        Hi Sam, i remember your nan and grandad, they lived in Silvester House, next door to my nan who was nanny Bush.
        my mum was Betty Harwood, we ended up moving into those flats when i was 11, i remember a Vicky Dawson and a Susan Dawson and the Dawsons who also lived in those flats called Bridget and John.

  • 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.

      • 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…

      • 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.

    • teresastokes

      Hi Ian, I know your query above is nearly 4 years old now but you write that this blog is about the only way to keep up with past friends etc since Friends Reunited was discontinued. I can only suppose you are not a member of Facebook. It is well worth joining if only for the four very interesting group pages there, full of people sharing photos and memories of places and each other from around here, they are groups called Born in W11, Born in W10, the old Notting Hill/North Ken History Group, and the Notting Hill and North Kensington Photo Archive. Dave Walker’s posts usually get shared to their pages.

  • 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.

    • Jackie Lodge

      Hi l went to colville school started in 1961 when l was five years old and lived in the flats which you spoke about.l miss those days. Jackiex

  • 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.

  • ED

    i was born and bred in Westbourne Park Road. About 100 feet from the market. Portobello Road will always be my play ground. EJ Barnes bike shop, or ‘Derecks’ to us and Tony and Mary running the Portobello Star. On Christmas morning it was always packed solid with all the locals. i live in Kent now but still get back twice a year for a solo tour. Still miss the market big time, buying our Christmas Tree late in the day stays so much in my mind, the market looked like Disney Land with all the stall lights on……….ED

    • peter Hewlett

      When I lived in Bourne Terrace I’d go to Portobello Road, as a change from Church Street. Everything was more interesting because of the junk stalls. It was an interesting place to shop, my aunt and uncle lived close by so I’d visit them as well. In my childhood the sun was always shining.

  • joanna

    wish i could meet up with some friends from those days

  • Shirley

    I was born in 1950 and lived in 80 Acklam Road. Eventually with Westway being built, we were rehoused in Appleford Road. I remember the very first Carnival which was one flatbed lorry and a couple of steel drums. My first Saturday job was in Leaders shoe shop in Portobello Road and then Boots, where I stayed for many years. My best friend at the time lived over Jacks fish and chip shop in Portobello Road, just under the bridge, and another in St Lawrence Terrace. I also remember visiting the Bughutch many times without any ill effects! In Acklam Road, there were four of us living in two rooms at the top, with one toilet shared by the whole house, leaking roof, no bath, only gaslight, and ice on the inside of the windows in winter. Heating was a small paraffin stove called a “Beatrice” with a stone bottom, which I now recognise was the name of a camping stove! None of us ever got ill either. Washing in big, foul smelling dark red bricks of Lifeboy household soap saw to that. My highlight of the week was waiting for the winkle and cockle man who came round on his barrow on Sunday afternoons. Then we all sat around the table and had a lovely seafood tea. Later, we listened to radio Luxembourg and the Liberace show was a special favourite. Much of my free time when not at school, was spent playing in the street, where it could be done in safety. In life today, many improvements have been made, but families are often fragmented, and technology only serves to create virtual relationships much of the time. Ours were solid, and I doubt whether kids today will look back with such fondness. in 1974/5 we moved out to Surrey where I still live today. The last time I went “home” was in the early 80s.

  • Charlie Evans

    I lived in the basement with my mum and dad at 1 Lancaster Road from birth in 1950 until 1959 . Charlie Baker who owned the house lived in the top flat he was a coalman and then went on to sell paraffin from a lorry .
    The Robertsons lived on the first floor with their 3 daughters . Jean , Rose and Cathlene. Mr Robbie used to play the piano in the Apollo pub. My dad who worked on the railway at Old Oak Common played for the pub darts team . The Mcauliffes lived on the second floor. I went to Colville school where my first teacher was Ms Sunhen The headmaster was the horrible Mr Wilmore after he retired we had a head mistress called Mrs Must , she didn’t like me either . Great memories . All the bombfires in the street on November 5th , Fishing on the Canal and the Serpentine , playing cricket and football in the street , the cubs 20-28th Paddington , Christmas Eve down the lane ,waiting late to bring a cheap xmas tree home with dad . Spending my school dinner money in the pie mash shop near to Isaac newton school , Saturday mornings at the Royalty Cinema. Swimming at Porchester and Lancaster Road baths .The round pond , Buying a platform ticket at Westbourne park and spending Saturdays on the London Underground. Whitelys , the round pond , A lot of my mums family who were he Whelans including my nan lived at number 5 Lancaster Road and my uncle Tommy and auntie Cath lived at number 14. Someone threw a petrol bomb into our basement during the riots in 1958. Tough times , but great days and I can remember so much more. From around the street I remember Gerald Roe , Ralph Taylor , John D’ath and Alan Coombs, Teresa Flue , Tommy Cobley , and from the school Tony Petrides , Alan Mace , David Collard , Jaquie Spicer , Robert Mcghee , Susan Parry and many more. In August 1959 like many others we moved out with the London Overspill . It was either the Glass factory at Harlow or Vauxhall Motors at Luton as a job for my dad . So we ended up in a brand new council house on the outskirts of Luton and yet another fantastic journey along life’s enchanting road..

    • Shirley

      I used to look forward to Saturdays when I went to the Saturday morning cinema at the Royalty cinema with a classmate Josephine Rose, who lived in Southam Street. I think it cost the princely sum of sixpence, or two and a half pence in today’s money. “Rocket Man” was my favourite series. Sometimes I went to the “Bug House” cinema too in Portobello Road. Never caught any bugs though! I also remember Theresa Flue. My first proper Saturday job was Leaders shoe shop in the Portobello Road, followed by a long term one in Boots Portobello Road. I had a best friend then called Barbara Mayers who lived over Jacks fish and chip shop, just under and past the railway bridge in Portobello Road. My primary School was Bevington Road, head Mr Gemmill. A best friend was a Jamaican. boy called Derek Tapper. I remember fondly the day in class we were tapping out a rhythm with pencils on some glass bottles in nature class, when our teacher Mrs Leadsford, came up behind us and gave us both a clip round the ear! Happy days and fond memories. I went to secondary school, Fulham County, in Munster Road, Fulham.

      • AlanG

        I knew Derek Tapper in secondary school (Sloane). Quite a bright bloke. We were never great friends but any hope of that died when I inadvertently used a racist expression in the class. It was a term my own friends used frequently and neither they nor I realized its racist meaning – but the rest of the class did and that (rightly) marked me down in their estimation. Nearly 70 now and I would still apologise if I had a chance.

      • Shirley

        Found sn old pic of Derek on Exeter University website, where he was at teacher training college. He is also mentioned in “This Boy” , the autobiography of the MP Alan Johnson, as they were both friends. Bet he made a fantastic teacher, presuming that is what he went in to be. My mum always called him a perfect little gentleman.

  • Shirley

    Does Swinbrook Road still exist? Up the top of the road was my primary school Bevington. It had two entrances if I remember correctly, one for primary kids in Swinbrook and one for junior in Bevington Road. I also had a best friend living at no. 33 Swinbrook Road. I lived at 80 Acklam Road.

  • John Brooks

    Just stumbled onto this site. I used to live at 1 St. Ervan’s Road and also went to Bevington Road School and remember Mr. Gemmill. Other teachers were Mr. Buckley; Mrs. Cunningham (or Cunningford??); Miss Hoover. I moved away from the area in 1954 to Penge and then emigrated to Canada in 1966. Now 73….where did the time go? Names I remember from that time were Frank Jones and Peter West.

    • Shirley

      I began school at Bevington in 1955. Mr Buckley was there, also Mrs Ledsford, Miss Maybury, Miss Wolfenden, i remember all these but not Mrs Cunningham. Very happy memories of Bevington school in the whole, I used to get upset because there was no school on Saturday! Some years back, I contacted the school and said I was a former pupil. They were delighted to hear from me and unvited me back for a looksee. But I did not go. It is a very awkward journey on public transport, and I like preserve those happy times in my memory.

      • Cheryl Proudley

        I lived in Portobello Road from1951 – 1963. My father, George Dunkley ran the off licence ‘The Orange Blosom’ 360 Portobello Road.
        I went yo Bevington School too and remember Mr Gemmil and Miss Woofenden fondly.
        My mother’s name was Cherrie. My name is Cheryl, brother Carl and sister, Dawn

  • Donna

    My grandads family were born in Portobello Road in the 1800s. He used to work on the Brookes fruit and veg stall when he was a young man. Lovely seeing a photo of it.

    • Shirley

      In 1958 I was 8 years old. In that first photo there is a lady with a handbag/shopping bag staring directly at the camera. She looks very much like my mum. My mum was an older mum who had me when she was 38.

    • Shirley

      No it is not my mum after all. Blew up the photo and the lady is wearing glasses, which my mum never wore until she was in her 70s, and while she looks very very similar, I can see this is not my mum. Would have been nice if it was. But you never know what turns up in old photos. Many years ago I saw some photos in a newspaper, of the General Strike, and to my delight, there was my dad standing by the front of a bus.

  • Shirley

    I love my old stomping ground. Poor but happy with only happy memories of that time. Mum was never the same after we moved away in the 60s. She missed it very much.

  • Shirley

    My late mum, born in 1913, said she went to school called Portobello Road School, in Portobello Road as a girl. Does anyone have any memory of that school? I am now 70 and think I remember it as a young child in the fifties, but cant be sure.

  • Diane Diamond

    Long before Virgin records moved into the building in Vernon Mews, it used to be a Hay and Feed Store. My friends Uncle kept a couple of horses at a stable in Vernon Mews, which I used to look after.

  • Jackie Lodge

    I moved to Portobello rd in 1961.and lived in the flats behind colville school the block l lived in was Denbey house. My dads name was Peter Francis and used to drink in the Bolton abbey pub. If you rember any of us please email me it would be lovley to here from you.

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