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 Best of London’s Markets

In a city’s markets, stories are both created and told. They are places where community and loneliness collide amongst the hustle and bustle, where layers of history are stacked up and sometimes destroyed, where vibrant characters go to pass their days. This post is an unedited version of one I wrote originally for Town Fish on some of London’s most vivid pockets of life. Photos are all mine.

Portobello MarketPhoto: Portobello Market

Early Saturday morning, under a light London drizzle, a vendor tosses a handful of crumpled newspapers into a pile of rubbish along the edge of Portobello Road. Around him, others are putting the finishing touches on their fruit and vegetable tables and a few stray shoppers have begun to wander through the streets, coffees in hand.

Portobello MarketPhoto: Portobello Market

Another man wheels a stack of cardboard boxes bursting with tomatoes and carrots, red and orange, an unlit cigarette dangling from one corner of his lips. He parks his boxes and fishes for a lighter in his shirt pocket. Seconds later, one flies through the air and he says, “Cheers mate” and cups one hand around his light to block out the wind.

Vendor and Jewellery
Photo: Portobello Market

Further down toward Ladbroke Grove, earrings are being arranged on tables, vintage dresses hung on rails, mirrors positioned, boots lined up for sale. A bird lands on a street lamp and cocks its head. At the opposite end of one of London’s most famous markets, antique sellers are setting up their treasures from a time long gone. Old film cameras are stacked on wooden tables, teapots and silver spoons laid out, white buckets for “Norfolk Lavender” and “Chilled Wine” hanging in the doorway of Alice’s.

Portobello Buckets
Photo: Portobello Market

Like many of these antiques, plenty of London’s market stalls are passed down through generations, an important slice of family history.

Buying Fruit
Photo: Portobello Market

In the book/blog, both entitled Spitalfields Life, the anonymous “Gentle Author” interviewed a market vendor called Molly the Swagman. Over breakfast at Dino’s Café on East London’s Commercial Street, she said, “My first market was down the lane. I was about three, toddling around on my first day in Petticoat Lane, where we lived. My great-grandfather had the pitch and it went down through the family. That’s how it was in those days. I used to take the money. It’s where I learned to add up.”

Skates in SpitalfieldsPhoto: Spitalfields Market

Sir Alan Sugar started his business career in a stall in Petticoat Lane Market, boiling and selling beetroot for a bit of extra cash. Now, the market is mainly a collection of secondhand or inexpensive clothing and fabrics.

Sunday Upmarket - Ethiopian
Photo: Sunday UpMarket, Spitalfields

If you’re out and about in that corner of East London, don’t forget to swing by the covered Old Spitalfields Market, followed by the Sunday UpMarket for a vibrant collection of clothing from young designers. The mingling scents of food from around the world will lure you in if the fashion doesn’t. This is your chance to try Tibetan momos, Japanese okonomiyaki or Turkish Gözleme, not to mention Sri Lankan curry, sushi, Venezuelan arepas and beautiful Ethiopian veggies. You get the point.

Japanese Food!
Photo: Sunday UpMarket

From there, head down Brick Lane where blankets are spread with knickknacks and make your way toward Columbia Road Flower Market. Brace yourself for crowds, but dive in and listen to the Cockney vendors shout excitedly about their roses and tulips. It’s a great place to pick up some cheap but beautiful flowers to liven up the flat on a Sunday afternoon.

Flower Vendor
Photo: Colombia Road Flower Market

The area in and around these markets has become home to a mix of Bangladeshi families and 20-something hipsters, curry houses, bagel shops, street art tours and indie music nights.

Home Sweet Home
Photo: Near Brick Lane

There are more than 100 street markets that spark to life in every corner of the city, impossible to mention all of them in one blog post but here are a few more.

Brixton Vendor
Photo: Brixton Market

In Brixton Market, reggae beats pump through the stalls and you’ll find delicious Caribbean and Guyana street food – goat curry, beans and rice, cassava and ginger beer. Every Saturday sees a themed market take over Brixton Station Road.

Record Exchange
Photo: Brixton Market

Leather Lane Market is another that goes back some 400 years. You won’t find leather there (it was actually named after a local merchant called Le Vrunelane, which was twisted over the years to become what it is today). However, there are a few raving reviews for the food, in particular a certain Turkish lamb sandwich tent which is only open a few hours in the afternoon. Top it with feta. Avoid the cell phone accessories, pillows and bootleg DVDs.

Deptford Market Scene
Photo: Deptford Market

In fact many of the markets thriving in London today are a mumble jumble of treasures and trash. In Deptford Market, one of South London’s busiest, bargains can be found if hunted down among a dizzying mix of electronics, fresh fish, second-hand clothing, fruits and veggies and children’s toys. There are gigantic live snails, sinister dolls and discounted nail polish.

Ribbons Galore
Photo: Deptford Market

Another much-loved market in the south is Greenwich Market, more of an organised environment with artists and some 150 craft stalls making it a fantastic place to look for unique gifts. Ceramic ware from Jerusalem, green rhubarb tea, an antique chair from the 1870s? Find it here.

Camera Shy
Photo: Borough Market

If it’s food you’re after, head to London’s oldest food market (and one of the biggest) – Borough Market. Fresh cheese, fresh fish, fresh tomatoes and strawberries, freshly baked brownies. Imagine the smell, stomach rumbling. But go on an empty stomach. You will soon fill it.

Posh Banger BoyPhoto: Borough Market

If you want to talk about smelly markets, how about Billingsgate Fish Market – London’s oldest wholesale market? Bring home the catch of the day, but remember they mainly sell in bulk. It’s worth catching BBC Two’s recent documentary on Billingsgate. It is a sure example of the pressures put on market vendors today from their competitors – Tesco, Sainsburys and the like.

Camden Mohawks
Photo: Camden Market

Up north, although Camden Market is a popular tourist destination, it remains a favourite among locals as well. Walk along the canal, sip some freshly squeezed Orange Juice, browse the photography in Proud Galleries and count the mohawks, tattoos and Doc Martins. Though some high street shops have moved into the area, it maintains an eclectic vibe with its funky colourful shop fronts and a brilliant music scene. Check out up and coming bands at The Dublin Castle and the late night saxophonists at Marathon. Pop into Cyberdog for a futuristic fashion fix and smoke a shisha pipe outside at one of the lounge cafes. Camden is a place like no other in London.

Cosplay in Camden
Photo: Camden Market

There’s plenty of history to be discovered in Hackney’s Broadway Market. For example, Fred Cooke started selling jellied eels there in 1900 and the shop F. Cooke still stands today. Stop in for some traditional East London pie and mash before browsing the vintage dresses, smoked salmon and oysters and lingerie.

Portobello MarketPhoto: Portobello Market

Still stuck for choice? Try Marylebone Farmers Market for cabbages and frocks, East Street Market in Elephant and Castle to taste some Ghanaian fufu or Whitecross Street Market in Moorgate which always brings back raving revi

Woman and Sewing MachinePhoto: Camden Market

The markets of London are certainly changing and sadly dwindling, but they remain a very important piece of history and still today a very important piece of London culture. They are a whirlwind of bodies, smells, sights and sounds and a kaleidoscope of cultures where stories are circulated, where the characters of a neighbourhood come together and where the vibe they generate reflects the different areas of London they call home.

38 Photos: London’s Portobello Market Visitors

It’s been a while since I’ve been to Portobello Market, but it’s always one of my favourite places to pass a Saturday afternoon trawling through vintage boots and tables full of trinkets and once-loved jewellery looking looking for a new home. Mostly though, I love it for the people watching, the fascinating and diverse mix of humanity that gathers in this little corner of London every weekend.

The last time I posted my own photos from Portobello Market was back in January. Here’s some from the weekend.

Have your own shots of Portobello Market? Add them to the Flickr pool.
Also, if you’re not a fan of LLO on Facebook, here’s a link!

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!

Londoners: Ron & Betsy

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This is Ron and his dog, Betsy. They’re constantly seen together on Portobello Road, Betsy always perched on Ron’s shoulder while he mingles with the market vendors and helps out with a few fruit and veggie stalls.

I walked over and asked if I could take a photo. Ron smiled and nodded, raising his tattoo-covered knuckles up to pat Betsy on the head. He said, “Yea, go on babe.”

He’s gotta be the coolest guy around that area. I hear someone is writing his biography but not sure if that’s just a rumour or any of the details. If anyone knows more, I’d love to read it, so let me know! If you want to see other photos, have a look at the Ron and Betsy Flickr group (and of course, they’ve also been honoured with a Facebook page…)

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