Notting Hill’s Portobello Market faces new threat from shopping mall plans - while bohemia gets pushed out by huge house prices

When a rundown property in W11 goes on the market for £1.5 million you know bohemia’s being pushed out by bankers.
A former rundown shopfront in Notting Hill, with a flat above that needs extensive modernisation, 9 Blenheim Crescent was put up for sale at £1.5 million recently. It is another example of the huge prices that houses in the borough of Kensington & Chelsea, dubbed the Monaco of London, regularly command.
 
But this address has special significance to the area, for it was here on Monday, September 2, 1958, that the worst race riots in post-war British history ignited. At that time it housed Totobags Café, a popular haunt of the West Indian community that also attracted a bohemian set of writers, artists and aristocrats — Winston Churchill’s youngest daughter Sarah is said to have frequented it.

It is one of the few remaining houses that has not been hollowed out, knocked through and given the Farrow & Ball treatment. Retaining its original frontage and used as a market store room, it acted as a reminder that the area hasn’t always been so wealthy.
 
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Up for sale: 9 Blenheim Crescent was at the centre of race riots in 1958
 
Today, it is increasingly difficult to detect the bohemian currents that once made the area the cradle of counter-cultural London. But this is nothing new.
 
In the past decade, many businesses that had been trading for years succumbed to steep rent rises, making way for ubiquitous upmarket chain stores.
 
The most famous examples are Kingsland Edwardian Butchers, which closed in 2011 after 163 years, The Travel Bookshop in 2011 after 30 years and the Antiques Arcade on the corner of Westbourne Grove that housed 80-plus stalls. Most recently, Video City in Notting Hill Gate shut up shop at the end of last month after 30 years.
 
But surely the grit and grime of the costermongers and the bric-a-brac stalls of the market offer some ballast against the chainification of W11?
 
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Celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, Portobello Market also seems to be under threat after Westway Development Trust unveiled plans to build a shopping mall and restaurant at the northern end of Portobello Road.
 
Currently home to the world-famous vintage market, local residents have been forthright in their opposition, gathering signatures in an online petition against the scheme.

All of this comes as no surprise to long-time resident, journalist and writer Rachel Johnson. She says: “My cry of pain started in 2006 when I published Notting Hell, when it was all ‘bankers goes the neighbourhood’. It’s now 2015 and the rackety, boho, edgy ’hood I have known and loved since 1979 is almost unrecognisable — the nubbly, crunchy texture smoothed to high gloss by big money.”
 
Notting Hill is rife with so-called iceberg homes — elaborate digs that incorporate cinemas, gyms, wine cellars and car parks in basements.
 
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Under threat: many long-standing businesses have closed down due to steep rent rises. Image: Alex Lentati

Planning applications have rocketed in Kensington & Chelsea, increasing from 13 in 2001 to 307 in 2012. They exemplify the me, me, me attitude of these new residents, taking up to two years to complete, bringing misery to the community with disruption at each stage of the project.
 
Resident and anti-basement campaigner Nicky Hessenberg says: “They impact on the street life of the area. Most of these basement extensions are too dark to comfortably live in, so we are back to the days of upstairs/downstairs, where the staff of the household live in these holes in the ground.”

 
Other residents are more sanguine about the changes, such as writer Duncan Fallowell, who has lived in the area since 1970. He says: “The area was built for the middle classes and, if they hadn’t returned and restored the stucco streets, much of the area would have been lost to slum clearance.
 
“So I say thank you to rich people who have spent fortunes restoring our fabulous part of London to visual, leafy magnificence.”
 
On an aesthetic level this is true, but it would be a shame if Notting Hill ends up as nothing more than a soulless stage set of historic buildings.
  • Julian Mash’s Portobello Road: Lives of a Neighbourhood is published by Frances Lincoln.

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