Portobello Road Market ~ Thriving Street life in West London
If you find yourself in London, jump on the tube and go to Notting Hill Gate station. Close by, you will find the market in Portobello Road. On weekdays and Saturdays here, you will encounter real thriving life at ground floor level flooding the street. Anything you could possibly wish to buy will be sold here in one form or another. The market, stretching for roughly two miles along the streets, is a microcosm of gushy, lively cosmopolitan human experience. The Portobello road is home to one of the world’s oldest, longest and most famous street markets.
Portobello Road Market began to emerge after 1860. It evolved as previous orchard and farmland began to disappear as urban London developed. The stalls are erected between late Victorian terrace house architecture producing a very compact and almost intimate atmosphere. The terrace style and layout of the houses are preserved carefully as a very real characteristic of the market. They complement the street mood and attract almost as many visitors as the market itself. The panache of the street is very much a well admired feature of fashionable London culture. Amongst the terraces there are many pubs and a number of them serve international, exotic food dishes. They are all heaving with customers and visitors from all over the world, especially on Saturdays.
Everything is up for sale at the market. Fruit and vegetable stalls abound with all the produce being sold in the classically loud and energetic London style. There are stalls selling trinkets, books, jewellery and second hand children’s toys. There will be some bargains that have gone unnoticed by the traders but not very many. The stall holders know their business well and are very savvy. Friday is the busiest weekday as visitors begin to slide into a weekend state of mind.
Saturday is the big day for the antique sellers. The assortment of so many pieces of discarded bric- a- brac from so many aspects of human life are really so fascinating to look at. They will remind you so much of your own childhood and your grandparent’s childhood. They seem to concentrate the attention of so many people from so many walks of life and nationalities. There is one stall that sells nothing but older, outdated sport boxing equipment. Lamps, crockery, cameras and utensils serving all human activity are in abundance. Visiting the market is like taking a walk through an open air, all encompassing museum of human life. Try a bit of haggling if you want but don’t expect to get too far.
Amongst the traders in the street there are many stalls selling strange and mysterious food to suit all tastes. Visitors eat in the street as they wander along the road. The smells and aromas are intoxicating. If you were not hungry when you arrived, you will be when you savour the colourful sights and bouquets of cuisine from around the world. Thrusting life at a raw level goes on at a breakneck pace along the Portobello Road. The stall holders in the street, the many visitors and buyers along with the action going on in the pubs alongside, all mix together to sustain a unique urban culture.
The market is also home to many clothes stalls. New and second clothing is for sale in abundance. Bohemian styles can be found at the market to create that special preferred look that so many younger people seem to enjoy. You can rummage through it, jumble sale style, to see what you can find. Second hand and unusual clothing has always been popular amongst so many people in London to show off as a fashion statement. Some of the stall holders model their own offerings. They proudly demonstrate their individuality and attractive style for all to see.
There is usually live music going on somewhere in Portobello Road. The street musicians are distinctive and demonstrate a particular nonconformist style of dress and presentation. The instruments that they play have seen better days but create the most perfect and alive vibrancy. They put out on the path their battered violin case. Throw a few coins in it; they like your money. The matured and wise expressions etched into the faces of the musicians seem to suggest a long past, glittering background. They can hold your attention for hours.
Portobello Road has numerous associations with British film, television, music and literary culture as well. Such connections create an additional draw for visitors from all over the world. Much of the filming for the movie ‘Notting Hill’, starring Julia Roberts, was conducted along the street. Visitors often ask for directions to view many of the film settings that are still so plainly recognisable. Other iconic films have also been made around the market area. They include the ‘Blue Lamp’ starring Dirk Bogarde and Jack Warner. A number of the famous car chase scenes took place in this area when London traffic was not so busy. Much of the filming for the television series ‘Minder’ took place in Portobello Road. The street is also home to the still operating Grade 11 listed Electric Cinema, one of Britain’s oldest.
Literary connections include the famous short story called ‘The Portobello Road’ by Muriel Spark. This story was written around the market. A well known novel, ‘The Chinese Agent’ by Michael Moorcock, concerned a jewel robbery from one of the market stalls. Even Paddington Bear, written by Michael Bond, visits his friend in Portobello Market on a daily basis.
The market has always maintained a popular association with teenage youth culture. The successful band from the seventies ‘Dire Straits’ recorded the song ‘Portobello Belle’ for one of their albums. The musical film ‘Bedknobs and Broomsticks’ featured a song and dance called ‘Portobello Road’. That actually took place from a reconstructed market set that was erected at the Disney studios in Burbank, USA.
Visit the market in Portobello Road if you can sometime. The street will be thronging with people all interested in life itself. Look at the many traders who preserve their individuality in the way that they dress, look and present their stalls. All of humanity and many modern cultural associations are there to be regarded as you take the slow, interrupted stroll along the long stretch from one end of the market to the other.