Celebrating 150 years of Portobello and Golborne Market

Andy Norton, North Kensington library, writes:

Library Market stall at Portobello Rd
The Library Market Stall

Last Friday we spent an afternoon at Portobello Road Market, celebrating 150 years of local markets and promoting our own markets-inspired writing competition (more on that, below).

Despite the cold, the market was bustling and many residents stopped by to look at our photos, which showed the market from its early days.

Portobello Road began life in the 1860s as a humble country lane where farmers sold produce to local people. In 1864 the area was transformed by the opening of the Metropolitan Railway Notting Hill station – now known as Ladbroke Grove Station.

Painting of Portobello Rd from 1860s
A humble country lane…

During the 1920s and 30s, Portobello and Golborne Road Market further expanded with discharged soldiers and sailors, Spanish immigrants fleeing the civil war adding to the area’s diversity. By this time, second hand clothes, shoes and ornament stalls had joined the traditional fruit, vegetables, salad, meat, fish and flowers. After the Second World War, Portuguese people settled in the area, opening several specialist shops which are still trading in Golborne Road.

Picture of Marks & Spencer taken 1931
Portobello Road 1931

Antiques started to appear in the 1940s and 50s. Most antique stalls are open only on Saturday, which has always been the market’s busiest day.

Antique market at Portobello Road
Early morning antiquing

The 1940s and 50s also saw the arrival of Caribbean immigrants who came in response to post-war labour shortages.

An aerial view of Portobello Road, taken in 1951
An aerial view, 1951

The market has also featured in films such as Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971), Notting Hill (1999), and Paddington Bear (2014), as well as many television programmes, popular songs and literary works. Each has sparked the curiosity of a new generation of visitors and traders. We are hoping residents will be similarly inspired and take part in our short story competition which offers the opportunity to become a published author.

Portobello and Golborne Market is so big, so diverse, and so fast-changing, that chances are – even if you’re a frequent visitor – there’ll be stalls you’ve never discovered; arcades, nooks and crannies that you’ve never explored.

Promoting our Short Story Competition at Portobello Road Market, 2015
Promoting our Short Story Competition at Portobello Road Market, 2015

150 Years of Portobello & Golborne Market Short Story Competition!

Join RBKC Libraries & Markets for a unique literary collaboration, inspired by the rich history of our local markets.

Your short story can be written against any setting and from any period, including modern day.  The only necessary link is that your inspiration should come from your thoughts about Portobello or Golborne Market.

All winning entries will be published in an anthology that will be added to the library collection.

 Deadline for submissions 30th June

To register your interest and for full Terms and Conditions please email libris@rbkc.gov.uk


Sloane Street 1919: the Peace Parade

We’ve struck gold this week: a guest blog by our Local Studies Librarian, Dave Walker, with some personal- and local- reflections of WWI.

Like many of the people who work in libraries, archives and museums I’ve spent time this year getting ready for the commemoration of the start of the First World War, looking through archive material, going to meetings and workshops, working on exhibitions and events and answering the first flurry of enquiries on the subject. I’ve never experienced any preparation for a centenary like it. Raising awareness of a profoundly significant historical event and getting people interested in history is never a bad thing. But the First World War is not like other historical events. It’s definitely not like the Second World War.


World War 2 was an unambiguous struggle against evil. We may have had some allies we felt dubious about afterwards, and we may feel regret about some of the methods and weapons used by the Allies but it was a necessary war. That seems to be the general consensus. And I know it from my own family. Both my father and my mother were in the armed forces and believed in the cause for which they were fighting.


But World War 1 is less clear cut. We fought an aggressor who was determined on the domination of Europe (and elsewhere). But the origins of the war are caught up in diplomatic machinations and expediency. And there are many areas of disagreement about the conduct of the war. Were our troops “lions led by donkeys” as Allan Clarke famously put it? Or were the allied commanders as competent as could have been expected given that the technology of warfare was changing so rapidly? Was the Great War a just war against an enemy of civilisation? Or simply the result of one gang of would be imperialists attempting unsuccessfully to supplant another? It wasn’t as it turned out “the war to end wars”. But was it just an accidental outbreak of unjustifiable blood-letting?


It’s harder when the event being remembered is reaching the point of being almost past living memory. As far as my own family is concerned there are a few photos of men in uniform seen in old photo albums and I know about my great uncle John James Williamson who died towards the end of the war too late to travel home on compassionate leave when his mother died. (His brother George made it home and survived the war.)


When it comes to what is being commemorated we can agree that it was the courage and sacrifice of ordinary men and women that we want to remember and the details of ordinary lives. The historians and politicians can argue over the rest.

There is no doubt about the suffering and trauma which ended the long Edwardian summer and propelled us into the 20th century. But if it feels disheartening to contemplate pain, misery and injustice we can remember that this is history. We have the whole span of the war to examine, which is why I have chosen these pictures.


This was the Peace Parade of 1919. Men and women who served in the armed forces or in auxiliary forces are seen marching down Sloane Street (just a part of the whole route) to commemorate the end of the war.

We’re rightly avoiding the word celebration this year. But I think it is right to say that these men and women were celebrating one thing – their own survival. They marched in front of cheering crowds to celebrate the peace, proud of what they had done but glad it was finished.


Home at last. War is over.


You can follow Dave’s regular blog here




Local History Week at North Kensington Library

North Kensington Library
North Kensington Library

North Kensington Library is having a Local History Week later this month from Monday 23 to Saturday 28 September. So if you’re interested in knowing more about the local area then come along – we’ve events for all ages and they’re all free.

Local History Exhibition

141-143 Ladbroke Grove in 1969
141-143 Ladbroke Grove in 1969

Monday 23 to Saturday 28 September

Notting Hill Caribbean Culture – Past and Present

Notting Hill Carnival
Notting Hill Carnival

Monday 23 September, 6 to 8pm

A talk by John David. Places are limited – book your free place to this at North Kensington Library.

Carnival 73, 58 Riot Tour and Grove Roots – Film Screenings

Tom Vague
Tom Vague

Tuesday 24 September, 5 to 8pm

Carnival 73 features Leslie Palmer. The screenings will be followed by a Q and A with Tony Auguste and Tom Vague. Places are limited – book your free place to this event at North Kensington Library.

Meet author Blanche Girouard

Blanche Girouard
Blanche Girouard

Thursday 26 September, 6 to 8pm

Blanche Girouard is a local author. She will talk about her latest book ‘Portobello Voices’ which is on the relevance of Portobello Market today. Places are limited – book your free place to this talk at North Kensington Library.

Carnival Mask Making workshop for children

Carnival mask
Carnival mask

Saturday 28 September, 1 to 4pm

There’s no need to book a place to this session – just come along to North Kensington Children’s Library.

Silva Memic

Customer Services Manager, North Kensington Library

Inconvenient People – a talk by Sarah Wise

Sarah Wise
Sarah Wise

Author, Sarah Wise came to Kensington Central Library  on Thursday 18 April to speak about her book, Inconvenient People. This looks at 75 years of psychiatry in 19th Century England bringing to light new research and unseen stories of contested lunacy.

This event was part of our Cityread London events. For more information about this London-wide reading campaign, check out the Cityread London website.

For those that missed the event, Sarah supplied us with some images that she used and talked about on the night. I also took note of some of the questions the audience asked Sarah.

In the attic
In the attic

A rare illustration of Bertha Mason, restrained in the attic at Thornfield Hall in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre (1847). Mr Rochester had chosen not to send Bertha to an asylum, but to secrete her instead at home with keeper Grace Poole.

Lancaster Moor Asylum
Lancaster Moor Asylum

Lancaster Moor Asylum, in the north-west of England – built as part of the massive, mid-19th-century national construction programme of public asylums for the poor.

Georgina Weldon
Georgina Weldon

Anti-lunacy-law campaigner Georgina Weldon became a huge star, championing all sorts of progressive social measures. She was able to command large sums for personal appearances and product endorsements, such as this soap advert.

Kensington House Asylum
Kensington House Asylum

Kensington House Asylum stood, until 1872, approximately where Kensington Court is today – facing towards Kensington Palace. In 1838, the asylum was the focus of a  scandal that prompted the formation of a campaign to improve patients’ conditions and to change the rules regarding lunacy certification.

Questions & Answers

Q – If a person was put into an asylum but they were sane how did they get out?

A – At the time, it was regarded that the state couldn’t interfere with family life but they would try to exert gentle pressure on the family for their relative to be let out.

Q – Will Sarah continue her research into the 20th century?

A – Sarah doesn’t think so. She found the research for this book quite upsetting and with the changes that occurred after the 1913 Mental Deficiency Act it would be hard to carry on.

Q – Were operations on people’s skulls happening in the 19th century?

A – Doctors would drain blood from the head but more often than not this would injure the patient such as causing deafness.

Jodie Green, Lending Librarian
Jodie Green

Jodie Green

Lending Librarian

Further Information

  • Sarah Wise’s book ‘Inconvenient People: Lunacy, Liberty and the Mad-Doctors in Victorian England is available from our libraries
  • For more information about Kensington House Asylum please contact our Local Studies Library.

Empty Spaces part 2: the writing on the floor

Dave Walker, our Local Studies Librarian has been documenting the changes at Kensington Central Library. You can catch up with his first piece, Empty Spaces.

Dave is the author of our extremely popular blog, The Library Time Machine – do take a look as it showcases some of the amazing photos we have in our archive.  So over to Dave again….

For the second of these looks at the refurbishment of Kensington Central Library we go down to the ground floor. This is the former counter area with all the old furniture cleared out.


And here’s a tall window, much loved by our Planning and Conversation department.


And three windows which I quite like.


There were no plans to do anything especially creative with the concrete floor but some drilling had to be done and the contractors had a problem – they didn’t know exactly where all the cables and pipes under the floor were. So one weekend some specialists came in and x-rayed the area.


The colour coded marks indicate the presence of water and gas pipes, electrical conduits and ley lines (possibly).


There are also some messages, some of them easy enough to figure out (if you’re an electrician).


Others simple and enigmatic.


Others look like pictograms.


The first piece of equipment to enter the space was the sorter, which was carefully assembled before any further work was done. (The sorter is used by the public when returning their library items.)


Here’s a book’s eye view.


The writing is now covered over with carpet tiles, but it’s still there. At some time in your next visit to the library you may be standing on this.


Will you experience a sudden urge to change direction?

Dave Walker
Dave Walker

Dave Walker, Local Studies Librarian

Kensington Central Library

New Year’s Message

Colourful firework image

2012 has been a great year for our libraries across the three boroughs.

As well as keeping all the libraries open to meet your reading, learning and information needs, we have introduced additional services, such as One Stop express in Westminster, an online reading group, and extended our business and community events programme. We have made it possible through One Library Card for you to borrow material from any of the 21 libraries across the 3 boroughs, and to use the many special collections and services now available, including online from your home.

2013 will see more investment in library buildings in Marylebone, Hammersmith and Kensington and other service developments.

On behalf of all library staff, thank you for your support and custom this year and we look forward to seeing you in 2013.

I wish you all a Happy New Year.

David Ruse

David Ruse, Head of Library Service, Tri-borough
David Ruse

Tri-borough Director of Libraries and Archives

The Library at Portobello Road Market

We were very kindly given a pitch on Portobello Road Market on Friday 30 November to promote the library. Me and a colleague, Amanda Southern valiantly volunteered to staff the stall for the day! We thought we’d have something eye- catching for busy shoppers to have a look at so we had lots of photos of the market through the ages, from the 18th  to the 20th centuries. These were very kindly supplied by our Local Studies Library.

Here’s some pictures of our market stall.

Our market stall from the front
Our market stall from the front
And from the back
And from the back

We were given an excellent pitch, right in the middle of the market.

Portobello Market
Portobello Market

And thankfully although it was a cold day it didn’t rain!

The sun shines at Portobello Market!
The sun shines at Portobello Road Market!

Lots of people stopped to look at the photos and talked about them.

Copy of DSC_2004
Looking at the old photos
Amanda Southern talking to an interested passer-by
Amanda Southern talking to an interested passer-by

We also took a short video of our stall. Apologies- it’s a little shaky!

Many of the current market traders knew of the families and market stalls in the photos such as Mr Brooks and Mrs Rudd.

Mr Brooks' vegetable stall, 1958
Mr Brooks’ vegetable stall, 1958
Mrs Rudd's salad stall, 1958
Mrs Rudd’s salad stall, 1958

And here’s a photo of the market in 1951.

Portobello Market, 1951
Portobello Road Market, 1951

If you’d like to see more photos like this please do pop into or contact our Local Studies Library (it’s at Kensington Central Library, W8).

It was a great day as so many people stopped to have a look and chat with us. Me and Amanda would like to say thanks to the following people as it couldn’t have happened without their help:

Mark Atkinson, Markets Development Officer- who very kindly gave us the pitch.

Eddie Philips, Building Supports Assistant- who drove us to and from the market and helped us with the gazebo.

Gaynor Lynch and Ishwari Prince from North Kensington Library- who covered for us so we could have lunch in the warm!

Dave Walker, Local Studies Librarian- he took the pictures for this post and got the photos together for the stall.

Jodie Green, Lending Librarian

Amanda Southern, Customer Services Manager

Kensington Central Library

Haunted libraries…

It might sound like a leg-pull, but you do realise that the library that you visit is haunted, don’t you? No? Then read on…

Let’s start with the oldest library in the borough, North Kensington. Built at the turn of the nineteenth century, this old building has seen a lot, and remembers a lot too. I myself have experienced events that are hard to ascribe to anything other than paranormal activity, doors opening and slamming shut by themselves and lights turning themselves back on whilst locking up the building. I kid you not… and these shenanigans would invariably occur in the winter months, when the nights draw in and the shadows appear to run from themselves. When most of the other staff have already made for the tube or the bus and you are alone…or so you believe.

North Kensington Library, sometime in the 1890s
North Kensington Library, sometime in the 1890s
North Kensington Library, June 1935
North Kensington Library, June 1935

Then there is Chelsea library, based as it is in the Old Town Hall. An old building again and one that seems to harbour its share of denizens of the unknown. How about hearing footsteps in the basement stacks and expecting to see a colleague appear but…nobody does. Or what about a sighing and whispering voice said to have been heard, again in the basement area. Spooky stuff, oh yes!

Chelsea Old Town Hall
Chelsea Old Town Hall

Even here at Central library you might feel the goosebumps rise if you were to go down to the stacks buried deep in the basement of the library. That feeling that, although you know you are the only human present in the area, tells you that you are not alone. Somebody else is there with you…

Kensington Central Library, black & white
Kensington Central Library

All of the above could of course just be a work of fiction, a load of old rubbish dreamt up by an overactive imagination.

Well, keep telling yourself that dear readers…