Notting Hill: A place whose fortunes have come, gone and come again...
The Kensington Hippodrome was a racecourse built in Notting Hill, London, in 1837, by entrepreneur John Whyte.
The year of Queen Victoria's accession, 1837, saw the inauguration of a new venture in West London - an attempt to establish a race-course which would rival Epsom and Ascot in its attractions. The prospectus, issued in 1836, stated that 'an extensive range of land, in a secluded situation, has been taken and thrown into one great Park, and is being fenced in all round by a strong, close, high paling. This Park affords the facilities of a STEEPLE-CHASE COURSE, intersected by banks and every description of fence; and also of a RACE-COURSE distinct from the Steeple-Chase Course; and each Course is capable of being suited to a Four Mile Race for Horses of the first class.'
The founder of this enterprise was a Mr John Whyte of Brace Cottage, Notting Hill, who had leased about 200 acres of ground from Mr James Weller Ladbroke, the ground landlord. The course as originally laid out was bounded approximately by Portobello Road
, Elgin Crescent
, Clarendon Road
and the south side of Ladbroke Square
. The main entrance was through an arch at the junction of Kensington Park Road
with Pembridge Road. It was also intended to provide facilities for all forms of equestrian exercise and for other out-door sports on non-racing days.
The first meeting was held on 3rd June, 1837, with three races for a total prize list of £250 and was followed by a second meeting on the 19th. Although it was agreed that the company was brilliant and that many 'splendid equipages' were present, the quality of the racing met with a mixed reception, one writer calling the horses entered 'animated dogs' meat'. Furthermore, Mr Whyte, in his enthusiasm to enclose the course, had blocked up a right-of-way that crossed its centre and which enabled local residents to avoid the Potteries, a notorious slum. Some local inhabitants took the law into their own hands and cut the paling down at the point where the footpath entered the grounds of the race-course. As a result, the crowds on the first and subsequent days' racing were increased by the presence of unruly persons who, taking advantage of the footpath dispute, entered without paying for admission.
The next two years saw all attempts by Mr Whyte to close the footpath frustrated. There were summonses, counter summons, assaults, petitions to Parliament by the local inhabitants and the parochial authorities together with a wordy and scurrilous warfare in the columns of the press. There was even a plan at one time to make a subway under the race-course, but in 1839 Mr Whyte abandoned the unequal struggle and relinquished the eastern half of the ground.
The new course, renamed Victoria Park in honour of the young Queen, was extended northward to the vicinity of the present St Helen's Church, St Quintin's Avenue, and, as the prospectus pointed out, 'the race-course
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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
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.