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.

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4 Comments

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  1. I’m impressed! Beautiful work!

    Like

  2. Great post and pictures guys! I’ve been wanting to take some time to visit this corner of the world…beautiful! X

    Like

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