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The story of Portobello
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The story of PortobelloPortobello Road's extraordinary mix of antique dealers, quirky arcades and fashion stalls that jostle with barrows of fruit and veg draws people from around the globe. But it wasn't always like this. Tim Burke charts its history, while Hermione Cameron, author of Notting Hill: Behind The Scenes, contrasts images of the street captured 100 years ago with present-day photographs taken from the same spot by Andrew Sims.

Portobello's name originates from the capture of the Panamanian port of Puerto Bello, where in 1739, Admiral 'Old Grog' Vernon's fleet of six ships overran the heavily fortified Spanish harbour, promptly making off with all the port's New World gold. Back home, England's jubilation was such that one Mr. Adams, the owner of Barley Farm near Notting Hill, patriotically renamed his 170-acre pasture Portobello Farm. Today, 'Old Grog's' name is still honoured at 141-149 Portobello Road, home of the Admiral Vernon Antiques Market, a contemporary haven of sought-after loot and random treasure.

Glance along Portobello Road and you'll see undulating rows of neat mid-Victorian architecture that were first laid out on the rolling pasture in 1874. Portobello Farm's twisting track was finally enclosed by shops on both sides by 1872, causing Sir William Bull MP to describe the new Portobello Road thus: "Carnival time's Saturday, when it throngs like a fair, so much that the roadway's impassable for horse traffic; on side streets were coster barrows lighted by flaming lamps, while in the side streets were vendors of medicines, conjurors and vocalists..." Descendants of the same costermonger families still sell fruit and veg from barrows along the same market.

The street market went on much the same until 1942, when bombs fell on Portobello Road, destroying rows of Victorian shops by Westbourne Grove. By the war's end, bohemian antiques traders were encouraged from Caledonian Road to fill the bombed-out buildings. Along with rag-and-bone men and ex-servicemen selling contraband, a unique antiques market of barter and eccentricity was born. A spirit captured in song in the classic Disney film Bedknobs and Broomsticks: "Portobello Road, street where the riches of ages are stowed, anything and everything a chap can unload is sold off a barrow in Portobello Road."

Come 1955 and Portobello's ever-lively street scene would be further enhanced by Caribbean migrants. Drawn by the cheap rents offered in nearby dilapidated buildings, they quickly forged a new scene of cafes and clubs, much to the anger of the local teenage Teddy Boys. The aftermath of 1958's Notting Hill race riot brought the demise of the slum landlord, but at the same time secured the area's love of late-night dancing. It was a melting pot that in 1962 drew good-time girl Christine Keeler to sample its reefer-fuelled atmosphere as she ensnared the minister of war Jack Profumo, prompting the press to label Notting Hill as "London's most scandalous neighbourhood".

In 1959, following the race riots, Rhaune Laslett and Claudia Jones resolved to rally residents to celebrate their diversity and thus the Notting Hill Carnival was born. Since then, every August bank holiday has seen the streets around Portobello come alive with the calypso of Carnival.

Around every corner is the beat of reggae, soca and soul sound systems, while the ringing pan-drum signals the passing of the spectacular mas' costume parade. The carnival's early years were marred by violence and the threat of closure, but Prince Charles stepped out in support of the event, and Carnival now attracts over a million visitors every year. The giant two-day outdoor party is a wondrous testament to Portobello's Caribbean heritage. And despite the odd unwelcome headline, the Notting Hill Carnival looks set to continue for another five decades.

But it wasn't just the race riots that turned Portobello's street life upside down. In 1965, crowds of long-haired young people started to congregate around one particular Antiques Market pub, The Earl of Lonsdale. Wearing dandy clothes discovered on market stalls, they called themselves 'hip'. The locals called them hippies. Cat Stevens recorded the moment in his 1966 song Portobello Road: "Getting hung up on smiles, walking down Portobello Road for miles, greeting strangers in Indian boots."

Away from what became known as 'the prime freak pub of all time', the 'happenings' continued at a local Tabernacle Hall, starring psychedelic bands such as Pink Floyd. But for all the colour, Jimi Hendrix's death at the Samarkand Hotel on nearby Lonsdale Crescent in 1970 called time on Portobello's peace and love era.
During the 1970s, great swathes of north Portobello were demolished to make way for the new Westway motorway. A bleaker mood quickly followed; soon any radical wearing flared trousers would be sneered at by a new generation who'd parade through the market in torn ex-army clothes, turning heads with their wildly dyed hair.

In 1976, a local band called The Clash summed up this sense of urban rejection on their debut album: "London's burning with boredom now, London's burning dial 999." That same punk attitude lives on today with do-it-yourself fashion designers and independent shops, such as Rough Trade Records, attracting tomorrow's indie bands eager to make their voices heard.

The 1950s, 60s and 70s sealed Portobello's reputation as Britain's home for the emerging counter-culture. However, in the 1980s and 90s, this position was to be challenged. Portobello's bohemian air might have been captured in films such as Michael Winner's West 11, Nicholas Roeg's Performance starring Mick Jagger, and most recently the Hugh Grant confection Notting Hill, but many feared that it might not see out the era's ever-rising property prices. Yet Portobello's distinctive spirit has survived.

Just as Michael Bond's Paddington Bear loved to visit Portobello market, so too did Colin MacInnes, Michael X, Lady Churchill, Julie Christie, Michael Caine, Peter Blake, Mick Farren, Lemmy, Michael Moorcock, Bob Marley, Van Morrison, David Hockney, Joe Strummer, Hanif Kureishi, Bono, Annie Lennox, Johnny Depp, Claudia Schiffer, Stella McCartney, Kate Moss, Jarvis Cocker and millions of others who have walked along Portobello's mile-long twisting track over the decades, taking in that street theatre where a thousand different stories meet, an unrivalled place of barter and curiosity where the old and the new endlessly thrive.

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