Powis Square, W11

Road in/near Notting Hill, existing between 1867 and now

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Road · Notting Hill · W11 ·
December
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2015

Powis Square is a square between Talbot Road and Colville Terrace.

Powis Square west side (1900s).
The area surrounding All Saints church was sold by Rev Walker in 1860 to the builder George Tippett and consequently became known as Tippett’s Brick Fields. The Powis and Colville squares were built by Tippett in the 1860s as upper-middle class residences, but are said to have gone into an immediate social decline. By the 1880s some were already sub-divided into flats.

Tippett went bankrupt and the estate was acquired by Edward Strutt and Hickman Bacon, who formed the Colville Estate Limited. However, on Charles Booth’s 1900s poverty map the Colville squares are still solidly well-to-do orange. The ward on the whole is a pretty even mix of wealthy, well-to-do, fairly comfortable, poverty and comfort mixed, moderate poverty and very poor.

Powis Square’s multicultural reputation was established at the turn of the 20th century by ’the Wren College’ for the Indian civil service, and the accompanying boarding houses ’occupied by men of Oriental birth’, which acquired the square the nickname ’Little India’. Princess Clemence Bonaparte, the widow of Napoleon’s nephew Louis Lucien, resided at number 2, and Horace George Raynor, the murderer of the store boss William Whiteley (who inspired ’Gosford Park’), lived at 43. By then 13 of the 48 houses had been sub-divided.

In the 20s and 30s the Powis and Colville squares were described as ’rapidly becoming poorer and more Jewish’, ’largely a slum area, and partly large houses turned into one-room tenements and small flats’ – some time before the arrival on the scene of Peter Rachman.

In Powis Square in the 1920s the first black members of the community settled. But principally the people were Russian Polish and Jewish immigrants, as well as Irish, sometimes ’immigrants’ from different parts of England – the depressed areas, Lancashire and others. Many of the people who lived there became legends, people who made their names into real folk myths. Eccentrics, madmen, political radicals, poets and artists: Chicago Kate (who lived in Basing Road), the Englisher (a British born Jew), the Presser (the quiet communist theoretician), Schmooser, the best dancer in Notting Hill. Stallholders in Portobello Road for generations, many of them still represented; Rosie, an Irish woman who kept a vegetable stall and who spoke fluent Yiddish.’ Dave Robins, Interzone IT 1968.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Powis Square became the heart of Rachman’s slum empire, the West Indian blues club and prostitutes scene depicted in Majbritt Morrison’s ’Jungle West 11’ book, the Profumo affair political sex scandal, Michael de Freitas aka Michael X’s Black Power movement and hippy community action.

In the early 1960s the police investigation into the ‘Jack the Stripper’ serial killings encompassed the Westbourne Park Road underworld haunts, the Rio café at 127 (also in the Profumo affair), the Jazz club at 207, Wraggs café on All Saints Road, the Warwick Castle pub and Roy Stewart’s gym at 32a Powis Square.

The most famous Powis Square resident of the late 20th century is Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones, who lived on the west side in 1962, before Mick Jagger became an honorary resident up the road in the ’Performance’ film in 1968. The local hippy counter-culture began with the arrival on the square in the early 60s of the photographer John ’Hoppy’ Hopkins and the beat poet Michael Horovitz, who is still in residence on the Colville Terrace side.

After the riots, the Powis and Colville Residents’ Association was set up by New Left student activists at Vernon Hunte’s house, number 22 Powis Terrace. The chance discovery of keys to Rachman properties in the association’s office, the room of Vernon’s son Lloyd, gave the students their first real insight into the slum housing underworld; explaining ’the fear on the faces of tenants visited by members of the association when they realised Lloyd Hunte and Michael de Freitas were involved’, and their Alsatian dogs. The New Left Club’s Rachel Powell deduced that Michael and the Huntes were on the third level of the ghetto power pyramid, with Peter Davis and Edwards above them, and Rachman at the top.

Powis Square went on to host the Carnival world music stage and the debut gig of All Saints during the 1994 Carnival.

xxx

Powis Square west side (1900s).
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Notting Hill

Notting Hill: A place whose fortunes have come, gone and come again...

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.
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