Notting Hill is an area in London, England, close to the north-western corner of Kensington Gardens, in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. It is a cosmopolitan district known as the location for the annual Notting Hill Carnival, and for being home to the Portobello Road Market.
Very run-down until the 1980s, Notting Hill now has a contemporary reputation as an affluent and fashionable area; known for attractive terraces of large Victorian townhouses, and high-end shopping and restaurants (particularly around Westbourne Grove and Clarendon Cross). A Daily Telegraph article in 2004 used the phrase the 'Notting Hill Set' to refer to a group of emerging Conservative politicians, such as David Cameron and George Osborne, now respectively Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer, who were once based in Notting Hill.
For much of the 20th century the large houses were subdivided into multi-occupancy rentals. Caribbean immigrants were drawn to the area in the 1950s, partly because of the cheap rents, but were exploited by slum landlords like Peter Rachman, and also became the target of white racist Teddy Boys in the 1958 Notting Hill race riots.
Since it was first developed in the 1820s, Notting Hill has had an association with artists and "alternative" culture. There are also areas of deprivation to the north, sometimes referred to as North Kensington, or Ladbroke Grove, from the name of the street.
Origin of the Notting Hill name
The origin of the name "Notting Hill" is uncertain though an early version appears in the Patent Rolls of 1356 as Knottynghull, while an 1878 text, Old and New London, reports that the name derives from a manor in Kensington called "Knotting-Bernes,", "Knutting-Barnes," or "Nutting-barns", and goes on to quote from a court record during Henry VIII's reign that "the manor called Notingbarons, alias Kensington, in the parish of Paddington, was held of the Abbot of Westminster." For years, it was thought to be a link with Canute, but it is now thought likely that the "Nott" section of the name is derived from the Saxon personal name Cnotta, with the "ing" part generally accepted as coming from the Saxon for a group or settlement of people.
Potteries and Piggeries
The area in the west around Pottery Lane was used in the early nineteenth century for making bricks and tiles out of the heavy clay dug in the area. The clay was shaped and fired in a series of brick and tile kilns. The only remaining nineteenth-century tile kiln in London is on Walmer Road. In the same area, pig farmers moved in after being forced out of the Marble Arch area. Avondale Park was created in 1892 out of a former area of pig slurry called 'the Ocean'. This was part of a general clean-up of the area which had become known as the Potteries and Piggeries.
19th century development
The area remained rural until the westward expansion of London reached Bayswater in the early 19th century. The main landowner in Notting Hill was the Ladbroke family, and from the 1820s James Weller Ladbroke began to undertake the development of the Ladbroke Estate. Working with the architect and surveyor Thomas Allason, Ladbroke began to lay out streets and houses, with a view to turning the area into a fashionable suburb of the capital (although the development did not get seriously under way until the 1840s). Many of these streets bear the Ladbroke name, including Ladbroke Grove, the main north-south axis of the area, and Ladbroke Square, the largest private garden square in London.
The original idea was to call the district Kensington Park, and other roads (notably Kensington Park Road and Kensington Park Gardens) are reminders of this. The local telephone prefix 7727 (originally 727) is based on the old telephone exchange name of PARk.
Instead of houses being set around a garden square, separated from it by a road, Allason's houses would have direct access to a secluded communal garden in the rear, to which people on the street did not have access and generally could not see. To this day these communal garden squares continue to provide the area with much of its attraction for the wealthiest householders.
The Notting Hill houses were large, but they did not immediately succeed in enticing the very richest Londoners, who tended to live closer to the centre of London in Mayfair or Belgravia. The houses appealed to the upper middle class, who could live there in Belgravia style at lower prices. In the opening chapter of John Galsworthy's Forsyte Saga novels, he housed the Nicholas Forsytes "in Ladbroke Grove, a spacious abode and a great bargain". In 1862 Thomas Hardy left Dorchester for London to work with architect Arthur Blomfield; during this period he lived in Westbourne Park Villas. He immersed himself in the city's literary and cultural life, studying art, visiting the National Gallery, attending the theatre, and writing prose and poetry. His first published story "How I Built Myself A House" appeared in Chamber's Journal in 1865. Here he wrote his first―but never published―novel The Poor Man and the Lady in 1867, and the poem "A Young Man's Exhortation," from which Graham Greene took an epigraph for his own novel, The Comedians. Arthur Machen (1863–1947), the author of many supernatural and fantastic fictions, lived at 23 Clarendon Road, Notting Hill Gate, in the 1880s; he writes of his life here in his memoirs, Far Off Things (1922) and Things Near and Far (1923). His mystical work The Hill of Dreams (1907; though written ten years earlier) has scenes set in Notting Hill; it is here that the protagonist Lucian Taylor encounters the beautiful bronze-haired prostitute who will later connive at his death.
Early to mid-20th century
The reputation of the district altered over the course of the 20th century. As middle class households ceased to employ servants, the large Notting Hill houses lost their market and were increasingly split into multiple occupation. During the Blitz a number of buildings were damaged or destroyed by the Luftwaffe, including All Saints' church, which was hit in 1940 and again in 1944. In the postwar period the name Notting Hill evoked a down-at-heel area of cheap lodgings, epitomised by the racketeering landlord Peter Rachman and the murders committed by John Christie in 10 Rillington Place, since demolished. The area to the north east, Golborne, was particularly known for being, in the words of Charles Booth, "one of the worst areas in London". Southam Street had 2,400 people living in 140 nine-roomed houses in 1923, and the slum children from this street were documented in the 1950s photographs of Roger Mayne.
In late August and early September 1958, the Notting Hill race riots occurred. The series of disturbances are thought to have started on 20 August when a gang of white youths attacked a Swedish woman, Majbritt Morrison, who was married to a West Indian man. Later that night a mob of 300 to 400 white people, including many "Teddy Boys", were seen on Bramley Road attacking the houses of West Indian residents. The disturbances, racially-motivated rioting and attacks continued every night until they petered out by 5 September.
The dire housing conditions in Notting Hill led Bruce Kenrick to found the Notting Hill Housing Trust in 1963, helping to drive through new housing legislation in the 1960s and found the national housing organisation Shelter in 1966. Nos 1-9 Colville Gardens, now known as Pinehurst Court, had become so run down by 1969 that its owner, Robert Gubay of Cledro Developments, described conditions in the buildings as "truly terrible".
The slums were cleared during redevelopment in the 1960s and 1970s when the Westway Flyover and Trellick Tower were built. It is now home to a vibrant Mediterranean community, mainly Portuguese, Spanish and Moroccan.
Late 20th century gentrification
By the 1980s, single-occupation houses began to return to favour with families who could afford to occupy them, and because of the open spaces and stylish architecture Notting Hill is today one of London's most desirable areas. Several parts of Notting Hill are characterised by handsome stucco-fronted pillar-porched houses, often with private gardens, notably around Pembridge Place and Dawson Place and streets radiating from the southern part of Ladbroke Grove, many of which lead onto substantial communal gardens. There are grand terraces, such as Kensington Park Gardens, and large villas as in Pembridge Square and around Holland Park.
The district offers access to three major public parks, Holland Park, Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park, and smart shops. Even streets which were down at heel in the 1980s are now top-end retail avenues, including parts of Westbourne Grove and Ledbury Road, while Portobello Road has become one of London's prime tourist attractions. The area is well served with restaurants including a 2-rosette Michelin rated one, The Ledbury.