Pictures from Portobello

Find yourself edging toward the bottom of Portobello Road on a Saturday morning and there will inevitably be a sea of people moving slowly through the streets in the same direction. I did just that a few weeks ago and thought I’d share a few of my photos.

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If you’ve stepped off the tube in Notting Hill, you’ll walk past a handful of shops selling second hand designer clothes, cheap and cheerful summer dresses and quirky toys.

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There’s even a new branch of Bubbleology on Pembridge Road selling some classic bubble tea. I remember what a novelty that was when I first tried it sometime around the age of 13. Well, it is quite pretty anyway.

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And just as colourful, there’s these amusing tights on mannequin legs hanging in the window of a shop nearby:

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Swing around the curve and meander along the road to where Portobello Road begins. Number 22, a light blue house with a red door was home to George Orwell for about 47 years. The neighbouring homes are painted in a range of colours until you reach the end of that section where the real market madness begins.

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The first stop for most people coming from this direction is probably the shop selling tin pub signs and the musicians performing on the corner.

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My favourite part about visiting Portobello (and likely the only reason I would ever go there on a Saturday) is for the people watching.

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It is, I promise you, an endlessly fascinating activity.

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It’s nice to separate yourself from the crowd so you don’t get swept up in the flow, step out onto the pavement in a spot with a good view and soak in the surroundings, the colourful houses, the antiques, the fashion.

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This girl has a pretty good view.

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And I loved the look on this woman’s face as she watched one of the street musicians play.

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This man was all about the patterns.

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And this one seemed to have stepped out of a different era. Or Shoreditch.

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I just love the colours.

Red Head

Not to mention the fashion.

People Watching

The stallholders themselves are often most interesting. Many of them have been part of this market for as long as they can remember and they have plenty of stories to share if you find a moment to strike up a conversation.

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The beauty is in the small details that are easy to rush past. I enjoy a slow stroll to take it all in.

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I was chuffed to see a Niagara Falls sign next to some Chelsea Flower Show pots (I was born 10 minutes away away from Niagara Falls, New York and now live in Chelsea here in London).

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Paddington Bear was hanging out there as well, another slice of childhood, looking quite fabulous against that bright blue wall.

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This wooden basket made me feel like a weekend in the countryside.

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It’s sensory overload, that’s for sure. A lot of it is aimed directly at tourists – shopping bags with Union Jacks or that say “I Love London”.

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There’s plenty of antiques on this end and random things like horns…

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Tables filled with bits and bobs.

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And magnifying glasses…

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My dad always says be sure to look up in this city. With all the shops to distract us, sometimes we miss out on the details.

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And look down as well. I love to spot interesting combinations of texture and colour, like this yellow bike against the black wall of Ben Sherman.

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Walking on, the antiques change to jewellery.

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Of all sorts.

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A few oddities.

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A few more oddities.

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Cheese, honey and jam.

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There’s also paella.

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Hot soup.

Hot Soup

Or if you woke up this morning itching for a viagara prawn wrap, well now you know where to go.

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On the complete opposite spectrum, there are toys.

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More lunch.

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And behind the stalls are rows of other permanent shops. Pharmacies, clothing stores, butchers.

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There are flower sellers.

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Music.

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Hat sellers with scary mannequin head displays.

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Anyone need a dreamcatcher?

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And just around the corner, there’s even a spot of street art strewn across the wall near a section of food stalls. This is Stik. He looks good in orange.

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And nearby is some pretty terrible fashion…

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All the way at the end of the market as you turn toward Ladbroke Grove, there is this pretty angry looking tiger standing watch.

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At the end?

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Some very good and very very nice food, of course.

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The Colourful Houses of Notting Hill

Scattered throughout Notting Hill and Ladbroke Grove are clumps of painted houses, from bright crimson reds to pale lavenders. From what I can tell, there is no real logical order to them. They are usually in groups of five or 10, surrounded by classic brick terraced homes that line streets throughout the city.

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There was a book published in 1991 called Notting Hill in the Sixties. A quote from authors Charlie and Mike Phillips is often sited in writings about the area now as it illustrates how much it has changed in recent decades: “If you saw Notting Hill at the beginning of the sixties, it would be hard to recognize it as the same place you can see today. Nowadays Notting Hill is wealthy and gentrified. Go back thirty years and the area is a massive slum, full of multi-occupied houses, crawling with rats and rubbish.”

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Even now, when you walk along Portobello Road, starting at the top where Notting Hill Gate station spews hoards of tourists onto the top of the road every Saturday to the bottom of the road as it snakes toward Harrow Road, you notice a gradual decline.

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The further you walk from Notting Hill, the more the faces change, the fashion fades, the buildings crumble and the shops and restaurants begin to look a bit dodgier. The posh shops cut off around midway, where Westbourne Grove intersects Portobello Road.

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The atmosphere is more lively after that, the market stalls dedicated to second hand knickknacks, cheap imported dresses and mugs with Union Jacks. Toward Notting Hill Gate, you’ll find more jewellery, old antiques and china.

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I enjoy the atmosphere of both ends of the road, and it always makes for some good photos. I’ll share them with you soon, but for now, I just wanted to show you how colourful it is, with all the painted houses.

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Even the peeling paint is appealing.

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The people are just as colourful as the houses. If you missed them, here’s a few photos of the folks who hang out around Portobello: https://littlelondonobservationist.wordpress.com/2012/01/24/the-people-of-portobello/

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That’s it for now!

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If anyone knows the story behind these lovely coloured buildings, leave a comment. I’d love to know.

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This last one was made into a coaster for my photography shop, Photo Larks.

The Flowers of The Churchill Arms Pub

First, if you have two secs, vote for me in the Little Blog Awards? (It will make my day.)

And now – I didn’t realise how often I photograph the Churchill Arms (a Fullers pub) on Kensington Church Street until Time Out London posted one of my most recent photos on Facebook and people seemed to enjoy it. I walked by this building every day for about a year when I was working in Notting Hill. And this weekend we ended up there again. It never fails to impress. In the summer, it’s overflowing with gorgeous flowers, always in bloom. In the Winter, there are Christmas trees and white lights in their place. They were, deservedly, “London in Bloom” winners two years in a row. Inside you’ll find loads of Churchill memorabilia, walls and ceiling covered with all sorts of bits and pieces to look at. There’s also a Thai restaurant in the back.

Here’s some photos of the pub from this weekend:

Jorge by the pub

And a little glance at the inside from matogrosso961 from the Flickr pool:

Churchill Arms Pub London

Care for a drink?

The Churchill Arms
119 Kensington Church Street
London W8 7LN
Nearest tube: Notting Hill Gate

The People of Portobello

I didn’t bump into Ron and his dog Betsy this time, but Portobello Market is always prime people watching territory on a Saturday. We walked down from Notting Hill to Ladbroke Grove. Here’s a few photos I took along the way.

Palm Reading

It was a slow stroll through the cluttered shops and stalls full of tacky London souvenirs, the union jack shot glasses, the racks of postcards, red telephone box keychains, tee shirts announcing “My sister went to London and…”

A Browser's Contemplation

And then past the second hand porcelain teapots and antiques market, the boxing gloves and war paraphernalia, rows of various analogue cameras, stamp collections and silver tea spoons.

Tea, Texts and Cigarettes

The music plays. The CD stalls, the buskers, the Johnny Cash man with his big old double bass, a woman singing sweetly with a guitar sitting on a street corner, nestling her chin into layers of colourful scarves to keep out  the January chill.

Windy Day

It was a windy day. One vendor selling jewellery told me she’s been selling in the market for over 15 years and this is the windiest day she has ever seen. Stalls were blowing over. A woman’s rack of tights spilled onto the street, the man above fixing mugs blown in a gust, clothing racks tipping slowly onto the road.

People of Portobello

People walking alone. People walking in groups. People walking their dogs.

We walk past the fruit and veg vendors shouting “one pound a bowl, just one pound a bowl!”, filling paper bags with apples and avocados, passing change over the table of grapes and tomatoes and plastic containers of blueberries for £1.50.

Watching.

The smell of paella cooking slowly in giant woks, steam rising into the cold air, people standing against walls on side streets digging plastic forks into tins of noodles, hands wrapping around hot plastic cups of tea.

People chatting and laughing and eating and shopping and yelling and cooking and walking.

A woman made crepes with ham and cheese or sweet with bananas and Nutella.

Hairnet and Apron

Food stalls faded into clothing stalls, racks of generic £5 market dresses causing crowds in booths that look like closets, tables piled with boxes full of sweaters and tee shirts and belts and scarves.

Wonder What's Down That Way?

The fashion is always fascinating. A woman wearing snakeskin leggings and a neon pink jacket with a big furry wolf hat. A man who could have walked straight out of the 1920. Cultures mingling, languages spilling about.

We head toward the Westway. Graffiti starts to pop up. An old protected Banksy behind plexiglass, a Don banker and colourful murals behind the barrier walls.

Portobello Transaction

We dig through little cardboard boxes full of old jewellery remnants – pendants, beads, broaches and rings. There are boxes of buttons.   Unpolished stones. Watches, hats, wallets, gloves.

Portobello Shoppers

In the vintage and secondhand clothing market, there is leopard print, faux fur, red leather boots, a pair of jean short completely covered in band badges.

Peacock Feathers B & W

A peacock feather seller stands silently with his goods in the street.

Seeing Red

The cold seeps into our bones. Our hands are red and white. The wind whips around. Bags blowing. People bundling and huddling.

The Lip Bite

We decide it’s time to head home.

A Look of Disbelief

So I will leave you now with a video from Stall Stories, the story of Portobello Road Market.

Vendor on a Winter Day

Enjoy!

Listen to a Londoner: Ellen Burney

Listen to a Londoner is a weekly interview with a Londoner – someone who lives in this city, born here or elsewhere. If you’re up for being interviewed, email littlelondonobservationist@hotmail.co.uk.

Ellen Burney

Ellen Burney is a London-based fashion journalist who has written for titles including Vogue, The Guardian and The Sunday Times. She is currently on a ‘six-month city sabbatical’ and living in Rye, East Sussex with her partner and their one-year old daughter Doris.

LLO: As a former ELLE columnist, W correspondent and current contributing editor to Lula, you must know quite a few of London’s best-kept fashion secrets. Where are your favourite places to spend a day shopping away from the high streets?
EB: The staple second-hand designer shops such as Bang Bang on Goodge Street and Retro Woman in Notting Hill. For the best old rags try Beyond Retro on Cheshire Street off Brick Lane and the surrounding stalls in Spitalfields Market. For contemporary labels such as Marc by Marc Jacobs, See by Chloe and Sonia Rykiel I like Diverse on Upper Street, and for hair bows try the crate of bow-ties, visit Episode on Chalk Farm Road! For antique lockets and charm deals, charm the woman with the very long and curling yellow finger nails and tall, fancy barnet in Grays Antique Market in Mayfair.

LLO: You’ve got a love for the printed word. What are you reading now?
EB: Well, I have finally finished A Week In December by Sebastian Faulks, which I loved. In general I read slowly but surely yet with this it was a race against time to finish it before its television debut in December. I made that mistake with Money by Martin Amis, buying it long before I read it and then couldn’t touch it after the pretty dismal television screening earlier this year.

LLO: After a bad day, you’re feeling like a little retail therapy in the form of lingerie and shoes. Where are you going?
EB:
Myla. They have a classic five-pack of tulle knickers with bows for £35 but a lot of my earnings have gone on their frilly tap pants and pearl bras. The frou-frou sleepwear is forever on my wish list. For shoes, Russell & Bromley for their classic loafers which I have in burgandy to match my tipple. I like my shoes clompy rather than sexy and so Miu Miu for platform heels. French Sole for black quilted ballet pumps, a classic cliche I refuse to snap or step out of.

LLO: Where’s your favourite place in London to people watch for some street fashion inspiration?
EB: Anywhere with really mad old, well-dressed women. The type that use their walking sticks to push old bits of bin bag into the gutter while proclaiming it ‘a dirty sock.’

LLO: Top three London bloggers we should all read with our morning coffee?
EB: The Enchanted Hunters, Caroline, No, and Canned Fashion.

LLO: Tell us about an inspirational fashion moment that happened to you or someone you know in London.
EB: Well, I will always remember that the late Isabella Blow took time out to call me with advice on getting work-experience on magazines. It was 9/11 and she was in New York and so it was very, very kind of her.

LLO: You’ve written quite a lot about fashion during the credit crunch for Elle. Where’s the best place in London for some creative but cheap fashion buys when you’re skint?
EB: These aren’t necessarily creative but some good value investment buys are a good starting point. Very soft black leggings, £12 from Topshop. I find tights are an easy way to give some sort of style hint. Navy or grey rather than the predictable black. Wool makes for a nice texture as do ribbed. Falke or Wolford and there’s no point in spending little as they rip, no matter how soft you think the Boots bamboo pairs appear. But maybe that’s just the way I sit. I’ve always relied on a hair accessory or style to perk up my mood. A hair bow or cheap pink scrunchie from the chemist. Chelsea boots are a staple for me. At the moment I have a brown pair from the local ‘Country Store’ but last year’s were £22 from Portobello Market. I live and breathe Breton tops and the best fit and quality I have found are £35 from Labour & Wait on Cheshire Street. I have both red and blue. The sailor souvenir type shop in Greenwich has some great ‘sailor basics’ including heavy fishermen’s sweaters. My hairdresser Zoe Irwin keeps a bowl of accessories from her travels on dressing table and wears each day to spice up outfits, such as a Sonia Rykiel brooch worn as a hair grip.

LLO: Favourite up-and-coming London-based fashion label or designer that deserves our attention?
EB: TBA and Charles Anastase for princess-wear and the magnificant Maggie Cassidys for made-to-measure spectaculars.

LLO: I’m heading to London for one night only and want something to eat and drink away from the tourist trail. Any recommendations?
EB: The Grapes pub on Narrow Street in Limehouse for a candlelit dinner in a tiny, seafood restaurant  above the River Thames. Charles Dickens was a regular and the pub features in Our Mutual Friend. Today, Old Gandolf the Grey is the Guinness-drinking regular. If you’re still around the next day, there’s lobster bisque and rare beef sandwiches. Other traditional pubs I like include The George on Commercial Road for a piano-filled knees-up and The Golden Heart in Spitalfields. In Islington, the organic gastro-pub The Duke of Cambridge for vodka and plum juice never dissapoints. I’ve been going there for over a decade, as well as Frederick’s in Camden Passage, Islington, for fine-dining. A memory of an old gentleman and gentlewoman sitting side by side to survey the folk is a long-time fond memory.

Thanks Ellen!

Ellen’s fabulous blog Vagabondiana is highly recommended!

For more Listen to a Londoner posts, click here.