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Trellick Tower
Trellick Tower | Photograph: Claudio Divizia / Shutterstock

Five historical things to look out for in Notting Hill

There’s more to W10 and W11 history than Carnival (though that’s pretty great)

Chris Waywell
Written by
Chris Waywell

You might be tempted to swing by Notting Hill just to Instagram the colourful townhouses or take a stroll down Portobello Road – but this affluent area wasn’t always so chichi. In the 1800s, it was a slum and centre for brick and tile production. Despite the wealthy James Weller Ladbroke starting to develop its rural surroundings, it never took off like Mayfair or Belgravia. In fact, it only really shook off its run-down image in the 1980s, and its popularity was helped along the way by Hugh Grant, Julia Roberts and that famous blue door. Here are five things to look out for the next time you’re in the area.

1. Portobello Road Market

Notting Hill's most famous street began life as a rural lane and gets its name from Puerto Bello, a settlement in Panama that traded treasure with Spain. In 1739, the British Navy was eyeing up this profitable port and it was captured by Admiral Sir Edward Vernon. As a market, Portobello Road only really kicked off when trading hours were extended in 1927. A blue plaque claims that Susan Garth, who ran the first antiques shop in Red Lion Arcade, was the starting point that made the street ‘an international institution’. 

2. Pottery kiln

Once known as ‘the potteries’, Notting Hill's clay deposits meant it was perfect for making bricks and tiles. The only reminder of this today (apart from the street name ‘Pottery Lane’) is a rare nineteenth-century bottle kiln, where the ceramic items were fired, which can be found on Walmer Road. 

3. Trellick Tower

Easily visible from Golbourne Road, Trellick Tower is one of London most controversial buildings. Nicknamed ‘terror tower’ after it opened in 1972, Erno Goldfinger’s brutalist landmark came to symbolise the failings of high-rise social living, thanks to neglect, drug dealers in its rundown stairwells and residents physically trapped in their homes. But – typical London – a three-bed flat in that ol’ tower will now set you back the better part of a million quid.

4. Electric Cinema

It may not look it, but this was England’s first purpose-built cinema, originally called the Imperial Playhouse when it opened in 1911. Loved by locals and saved in 2001 from redevelopment, it also has some darker tales associated with it. These include a German manager, chased out of town by those convinced he was signalling to zeppelins during WWI. Then there’s John Christie, the serial killer who murdered eight women in nearby Rillington Place. It’s said he worked here as a projectionist during WWII. 

5. Carnival founder plaques  

Notting Hill Carnival has been a tradition on the streets of W10 since 1966, born in response to the 1958 race riots. The first event was actually held in St Pancras Town Hall, organised by local Claudia Jones, often referred to as the ‘Mother of Caribbean Carnival in Britain’. Carnival took to the streets with the help and determination of Rhaune Laslett-O’Brien, who organised the first Notting Hill Street Festival in 1965. Though not quite as eye-catching as Carnival itself, there are plaques celebrating these two pioneering women on Tavistock Road.

Check out ten pretty streets in west London you should definitely visit.

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