It is quite hard to believe that one of London’s most fashionable areas was described as “a massive slum, full of multi-occupied houses, crawling with rats and rubbish” only 50 years ago – definitely a no-go area. Such an place would not have warranted a second glance by London’s hip and famous, let alone have inspired a film starring a bumbling Englishman and a starry American actress (if they did indeed made such films 50 years ago). Kensington and Chelsea – the London borough in which Notting Hill is located – has long been one of the most expensive parts of the entire UK, yet Notting Hill was thought of as the “bad part”. In the past 40 or so years it has seen a massive transformation to the status it holds today.
Two centuries ago, the area was little more than wasteland. It was only in 1840 that the area became more residential with the construction of the Ladbroke and Norland estates. At that time, Notting Hill was either known as the Potteries (because of the nearby pottery works) or the Piggeries (after the three-to-one ratio of pigs to people – how glam!). These large houses were carved up into multiple dwellings, and after World War II the area worsened to become slums.
Notting Hill also became home to a large number of Afro-Caribbean immigrants after World War II, and racial tension often arose – Britain’s first race riots occurred in the area in August 1958. However, the following year the Notting Hill Carnival emerged as a unofficial reply to the riots; by 1965 it took to the streets and has grown every year since. Its presence in the last weekend of August sees around one million people joining the party, backing up the claim that it is the world’s biggest street festival outside Rio. Although the carnival has seen some trouble in the past, it is a relatively safe event now. Aside from carnival weekend, Notting Hill is a rather quiet area for most of the year. The exception to this is Saturdays when Portobello Market is jam-packed with visitors hunting through the antiques market.