Portobello: Lives of a Neighbourhood

Regular readers of  Notting Hill Post will know the drill by now: another week, another announcement of another independent shop closing down. This time it is Lyndons ribbon shop waving goodbye after 35 years of trading. With rising rents and invading chain shops, it is a worrying time and a sad issue that many of the older trading families are having to leave due to high costs. To get a shot of optimism I meet up with Julian Mash, Idler Academy manager and author of Portobello Road: Lives of a Neighbourhood, for inspiration on where to look in order to take the woe out of Portobello.

Julian knows the streets of Notting Hill better than most. Having once been a bookseller in the famous Travel Bookshop, he decided to take on the task of writing about one of London’s most renowned streets. He sensed that the times were changing and market/evil forces were at work altering what has traditionally made Portobello so unique; the market stalls and independent shops. “Of course the encroachment of High Street chain shops has had a negative impact on Portobello,” says Julian. “Indeed it was one of the reasons why I thought it was a good moment to delve into its past and record some of the stories of the street in my book… the market is what ties the neighbourhood together.” So armed with his trusty recorder, he set about collecting anecdotes about Notting Hill from the past 50 years to compile for his book.

From third and fourth generation fruit and vegetable traders, through to musicians like Damon Albarn, Julian interviewed over 60 Portobello stalwarts and is not downcast about the future of Portobello, “there is still a wealth of interesting things happening, you just have to look a little bit harder these days. There are many people who bemoan the passing of the good old days in Portobello and think it is a shell of what it once was. I don’t subscribe to that – there is still so much great stuff happening. The market of course – vintage clothes on a Friday, flea market finds on Golborne Road, the antique arcades at the weekend, Flafel and Rough Trade records on Talbot Road. There is so much to recommend…You can’t beat strolling along on a Friday or Saturday and chatting to friendly faces behind the stalls. I can easily while away a morning catching up with market traders – you don’t get that shopping online or going into bland chain stores.”

Yet the fertility of Portobello is two-way. And we have to make sure that we are playing our part in keeping the vibrancy alive. Julian refers to the recent threat to the Ground Floor Bar, a closure that would make it a prime target for redevelopment into (more) expensive flats. Optimistically, the recent rallying of the community to save the Ground Floor Bar shows there is life in the old street yet. Times are challenging. But what remains is the spirit of the people of Portobello Road. For they, like Julian, know that “it is very important to save what is important.”

If you would also like to stop the closure of the Ground Floor Bar, please write a letter of support to Alex Giri, First Floor, 186 Portobello Rd, London W11 1LA  or mail to  [email protected] and hopefully we can preserve this great bar and restaurant that is part of the Portobello.

Portobello Road: Lives of a Neighbourhood is on sale at The Notting Hill Bookshop for £16.99.

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