Postcards from Portobello Road

A short walk from my grandfather’s old London flat is a street of colours and bustle. Traders come to market here every Saturday with antiques from far-flung places and distant times. Every other day of the week the street is lined with the freshest local produce, olives spiced and pickled to please every taste, cameras and timepieces that still carry the smells and stories of their long-ago owners, scarves and trinkets, plates and dishes, yellowed books and cartographers’ maps.

A little ways down, some people are looking up at a bright blue house and taking photos. I read the small plaque and realize that this is where George Orwell spent the winter of 1927 after he resigned his post with the Imperial Police in Burma and came to England. I am thrilled to be standing here imagining the prophetic author at his desk plotting in his head the masterplans for the novels he would soon write. And then without preamble I see his prophesies come true in front of my eyes. The big brothers are coming in–chain stores and restaurants, armies of tawdry souvenirs slowly making their inroads into a sanctum of diversity and a thousand different voices. The old traders are starting to shut their shops and go elsewhere for jobs managing supermarkets perhaps–their voices are being stilled. So I want to let these photos speak, in solidarity.

Portobello Road Market, an old country road known as Green Lane before the 1850s, was set up in the second half of the nineteenth century as a fruits and vegetables market for the residents that came to live in the new upscale terraced houses of the area.
Portobello Road Market, an old country road known as Green Lane before the 1850s, was set up in the second half of the nineteenth century as a fruits and vegetables market for the wealthy residents that came to live in the new upscale housing establishments of the area.
Antique dealers arrived after the Second World War, as did newer residents--Jewish immigrants, Spanish exiles and Irish railway workers, and the market began catering to their diverse needs and selling the discarded bits and bobs from the war years.
Antique dealers arrived after the Second World War, as did newer residents–Jewish immigrants, Spanish exiles and Irish railway workers, and the market began catering to their diverse needs as well as selling the discarded bits and bobs from the war years.
Several Portobello loyalists, who identify with a fast fading culture based on difference and diversity, run campaigns to protect the street's local businesses from the threats of new developers and big chains and brands.
Several Portobello loyalists, who identify with a fast fading culture based on difference and diversity, run campaigns to protect the street’s local businesses from the threats of new developers and big chains and brands.
But the tide is strong and many shop-owners have folded up businesses as rents continue to rise.
But the tide is strong and many shop-owners have folded up businesses as rents continue to rise.
There are fewer gentlemen like him playing in the streets.
There are fewer gentlemen like him playing in the streets.
But Orwell and his ranks are also keeping watch...
But Orwell and his ranks are also keeping watch…
...and all may not be lost.
…and all may not be lost.
  • Don’t miss this short film on Portobello and its history from Stall Stories.

Back to top

16 Comments

Add yours →

  1. What a great post! I love the market at Portobello Road, and I thought it was really well done how you tied in Orwell to the piece. Makes me want to visit it again with a new perspective!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Funny, I was just reading about Portobello Road at work today while researching an antiques tour for one of my clients! It does sound like such a fascinating place to visit – will have to check it out on my next trip to London!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for this slice of home – I love Portobello market (and London in general)! I especially like the dog pictures 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I missed out on going to Portobello markets while I was in London and looks like I missed out on an area full of history too! Will have it on the top of the list if I ever get to go back (which hopefully I will!)

    Liked by 1 person

  5. PBS,

    As has been said, lovely piece about Portobello Road, a place I seldom walked down during my time in London. You’ve made me want to revisit it. Great photos too. And, I’ve discovered another Orwell fan 🙂

    Like

  6. I love Portobello Road! I didn’t realise that some of the old places had been forced to shut, it’s such a shame. I don’t think it’ll become just another high street though, the old charm will hopefully linger on. Lovely post!

    Like

  7. I’ve lived in London all my life and have still never been to Portobello Road! It does look fab, though, I need to make myself go one of these days.

    Laura
    Sometime Traveller

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Lovely post! I went to Portobello Market years ago but still distinctly remember its eclectic vibe….and your first paragraph beautifully brought it all back for me. I too lament the encroachment of big bad chain stores and restaurants, threatening to transform places with stories into anonymous identikit spaces. All the luck to the campaigners and may posts such as yours remind the need to preserve such places…

    Like

  9. I love Portobello. I used to live in Queen’s Park not far and we used to walk down on a weekend and enjoy the hustle and bustle. Your photos are wonderful

    Like

  10. I love what you did with this: telling us about the cameras carrying the stories of the past and then setting your photographs in sepia tones. It was as if you were taking us back in time through the very cameras you described. Very nostalgic piece.

    Like

share your thoughts

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: