Notting Hill: A place whose fortunes have come, gone and come again...
Elgin Mews lies in Notting Hill.
This small L-shaped mews runs from Ladbroke Grove
along the back of the gardens of the north side of Westbourne Park Road
before turning sharp right to emerge between Nos. 316 and 318 Westbourne Park Road
. Unusually for the Ladbroke area, both entrances to the mews are through archways under buildings.
It was built in the 1860s (it does not appear on the 1863 Ordnance Survey map, but is already inhabited by the time of the 1871 census). Both sides of the mews were lined with small two-storey buildings, described in a 1960 Ministry of Housing report (quoted in old RBKC planning papers) as stables with accommodation above. There were no fewer than 28 units.
The 19th century inhabitants were mainly connected with horses - cab drivers, horse-keepers and grooms - but with a good sprinkling of labourers and minor tradesmen: a chimney sweep, a baker, a butcher’s assistant, a house painter etc. Whole families were packed into what must have been extremely cramped accommodation, in some cases two families per dwelling. In 1901 the census recorded no fewer than 143 people living in the mews, chiefly families with children. This makes an average of five people in each dwelling.
By the end of the Second World War the mews was in an extremely dilapidated state. As the 1960 Ministry of Housing report said, the houses were also considered unacceptable on the grounds of “their bad arrangement and the narrowness of the street. There was a lack of air and light and the premises were virtually of a back-to-back type.”
A slum clearance order was made in 1950, all the houses were demolished and the Council made a compulsory purchase of the whole site. There followed some 15 years of dithering, during which the site was used for motor repair businesses.
The Council’s first idea was to give the mews over to stables for costermongers (street sellers), presumably with the Portobello Road
traders in mind. But this was not pursued. Finally, in the mid-1960s, planning permission was granted for houses to be built along one side of the mews to provide “flatlets” suitable as accommodation for the elderly.
Now, all that is left of the original mews are the two arched entrances. The road itself is still privately owned by the Council and many of the dwellings are still social housing.
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Notting Hill is a cosmopolitan district known as the location for the annual Notting Hill Carnival, and for being home to the Portobello Road Market.
The word Notting
might originate from a Saxon called Cnotta
with the =ing
part indicating "the place inhibited by the people of" - i.e. where Cnotta’s tribe lived. There was a farm called variously "Knotting-Bernes,", "Knutting-Barnes" or "Nutting-barns" and this name was transferred to the hill above it.
The area remained rural until the westward expansion of London reached Bayswater in the early 19th century. The main landowner in Notting Hill was the Ladbroke family, and from the 1820s James Weller Ladbroke began to undertake the development of the Ladbroke Estate. Working with the architect and surveyor Thomas Allason, Ladbroke began to lay out streets and houses, with a view to turning the area into a fashionable suburb of the capital (although the development did not get seriously under way until the 1840s). Many of these streets bear the Ladbroke name, including Ladbroke Grove, the main north-south axis of the area, and Ladbroke Square, the largest private garden square in London.
The original idea was to call the district Kensington Park, and other roads (notably Kensington Park Road and Kensington Park Gardens) are reminders of this. The local telephone prefix 7727 (originally 727) is based on the old telephone exchange name of PARk.
The reputation of the district altered over the course of the 20th century. As middle class households ceased to employ servants, the large Notting Hill houses lost their market and were increasingly split into multiple occupation.
For much of the 20th century the large houses were subdivided into multi-occupancy rentals. Caribbean immigrants were drawn to the area in the 1950s, partly because of the cheap rents, but were exploited by slum landlords like Peter Rachman, and also became the target of white racist Teddy Boys in the 1958 Notting Hill race riots.
Notting Hill was slowly gentrified from the 1980s onwards now has a contemporary reputation as an affluent and fashionable area; known for attractive terraces of large Victorian townhouses, and high-end shopping and restaurants (particularly around Westbourne Grove and Clarendon Cross).
A Daily Telegraph article in 2004 used the phrase the ’Notting Hill Set’ to refer to a group of emerging Conservative politicians, such as David Cameron and George Osborne, who were once based in Notting Hill.
Since it was first developed in the 1830s, Notting Hill has had an association with artists and ’alternative’ culture.