Portobello Road

History of Portobello Road

North Kensington Portobello Road was known prior to 1740 as Green's Lane - a winding country path leading from Kensington Gravel Pits, in what is now Notting Hill Gate, up to Kensal Green in the north.

In 1740 Portobello Farm was built in the area near what is now Golborne Road. The farm got its name from a popular victory during the War of Jenkin’s Ear, when Admiral Edward Vernon captured the Spanish town of Puerto Bello in the Gulf of Mexico in 1739. Green's Lane became known as Porto Bello Lane; the title which it still held in 1841.

The Portobello farming area covered the land which is now St. Charles Hospital. The farm itself was sold to an order of nuns after the railways came in 1864. They built St Joseph's Convent.

Portobello Road is a construct of the Victorian era. Before about 1850, it was little more than a country lane connecting Portobello Farm with Kensal Green in the north and what is today Notting Hill in the south. Much of it consisted of hayfields, orchards and other open land.

The road ultimately took form piecemeal in the second half of the nineteenth century, nestling between the large new residential developments of Paddington and Notting Hill.

Its shops and markets thrived on serving the wealthy inhabitants of the elegant crescents and terraces that sprang up around it, and its working class residents found employment in the immediate vicinity as construction workers, domestic servants, coachmen, messengers, tradesmen and costermongers.

After the Hammersmith and City Railway line was completed in 1864, and Ladbroke Grove station opened, the northern end of Portobello Road was also developed, and the last of the open fields disappeared under brick and concrete.

Portobello Road's distinctiveness does not just rely on its market. A range of communities inhabiting the street and the district contributes to a cosmopolitan and energetic atmosphere, as do the many restaurants and pubs.

The architecture plays a part, too, as the road meanders and curves gracefully along most of its length, unlike the more formally planned layout of most of the nearby area. Mid- to late- Victorian terrace houses and shops predominate, squeezed tightly into the available space, adding intimacy and a pleasing scale to the streetscape.


Brian Girling’s book on Kensington is available from Amazon.co.uk