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.
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?