The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Notting Hill

For the movie of the same name, see Notting_Hill_(movie)
For Notting Hill in Melbourne, Australia, see Notting Hill
Notting Hill
OS Grid Reference:
Borough: Kensington & Chelsea
County: Greater London
Region: Greater London
Nation: England
Ceremonial County: Greater London
Traditional County: Middlesex
Post Office and Telephone
Post town: LONDON
Postcode: W11
Dialling Code: 020

Notting Hill is a district of London located to the west of the centre and close to the north-western corner of Hyde Park. It lies within the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.

Notting Hill has a reputation as an affluent and fashionable area, known for attractive terraces of large Victorian townhouses, and high-class shopping and restaurants (particularly around Westbourne Grove). However it has an equally thriving "alternative" culture, exemplified by the numerous second-hand music stores around Notting Hill Gate.

The hill from which Notting Hill takes its name is probably the hill up and down which Ladbroke Grove passes, with its summit approximately at the point where St John's Church now stands. (Some writers suggest that Notting Hill can refer to Campden Hill, but the local place name and map evidence is against this). The name is very old, and is usually said to derive from the Saxon personal name Cnotta, as in Cnotta's Hill.

In early times, the area was entirely rural, and it fell at the within the parish of Kensington at its northern extremity. An early manor of Notting Barns is recorded. The name Notting Hill came to prominence when a turnpike gate was constructed at the bottom of the hill on the main road from London to Uxbridge, which is now known as Oxford Street, Bayswater Road and Holland Park Avenue along this part of its route. The point at which the turnpike gate stood was known as Notting Hill Gate. The gate was there to stop people passing along the road without paying and the proceeds were applied towards the maintenance of this important road. The gate was removed in the 19th century.

There is, therefore, a difference between Notting Hill (which is a hill) and Notting Hill Gate (which is the site of a gate at the bottom of the hill and significantly south of Notting Hill) although the two are often confused: Notting Hill Gate is often abbreviated to Notting Hill, and people often assume that Notting Hill is always an abbrevation of Notting Hill Gate. The underground station is at Notting Hill Gate and bears that name, although there is another underground station at the bottom of the other end of the hill called Ladbroke Grove.

Notting Hill has never been an official parish, manor, postcode or other administratively defined area, but it is generally understood to include either that part of the historic part of the parish of Kensington (now the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea) which falls north of Notting Hill Gate (broadly covered by the London postcodes W11 and W10) or as the smaller area of the London postcode W11 (with the more northerly W10 area called North Kensington).

When 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 they 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 (which is 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 a survival of this. This is also the reason for the choice of PARK as the name of the local telephone exchange (which is in the Portobello Road at the back of Kensington Park Road) which is the origin of the classic Notting Hill telephone prefix 727 (now 7727) on the principle illustrated here, since the letters PAR corresponded with the numbers 727 on old telephone dials.

The principal architect of this plan was the Ladbroke family's surveyor Thomas Allom and its distinctive feature was that, instead of houses being set around a garden square separated from the houses by a road around the square, houses were placed around the edge of the garden square, with the road on the other side of the house. This meant that the houses had direct access at the back to a secluded communal garden to which people on the street did not have access and which could not, for the most part, even be seen from the street. These communal gardens continue to provide the area with much of its attraction for the richest householders.

At an early stage, a racecourse was laid out running around the hill, with bystanders expected to watch from the summit of the hill, but it was not a success and houses were built over it.

The Notting Hill houses were large but they did not, when built, succeed in capturing the very richest Londoners, who tended to live further towards the centre of London in Mayfair or Belgravia. Rather, they appealed to the upper middle class who could live there in Belgravia style but at lower prices. In the opening chapter of John Galsworthy's Forsyte Saga novels, he housed the Nicholas Forsytes "in Ladbroke Grove, a spacious abode and a great bargain" (The Man of Property, Chapter 1, published 1906).

In common with many parts of London, the reputation of the district has evolved over the years. As middle class households ceased to employ servants, the large Notting Hill houses lost their market and were increasingly split into multiple occupation. In the postwar period the name Notting Hill evoked a down at heel area of cheap lodgings, epitomised by the notorious racketeering landlord Peter Rachman. It was documented in the famous 1950s Southam Street photographs of Roger Mayne, and features as a backdrop to novels by G.K. Chesterton (The Napoleon of Notting Hill), Colin Macinnes (Absolute Beginners) and Michael Moorcock (the Jerry Cornelius quartet). The area is also the setting of the Rita Tushingham movie The Knack (and how to get it) (1965). By the 1980s, the houses began to return to favour with families who could afford to occupy them in single occupation, and Notting Hill is now one of London's smartest and most desirable areas characterised by well maintained stucco fronted pillar porched houses, private gardens, communal gardens, access to the public parks at Holland Park and Kensington Gardens, and smart shops.

Notting Hill is particularly known as the location for the annual Notting Hill Carnival, which takes place in August. This is a huge street festival and celebration of Afro-Caribbean culture, centred on parades of elaborately costumed dancers and colourfully decorated floats. The Carnival was originally established in the 1960s as a positive response to tensions between the recently arrived immigrant community and the majority community, culminating in the Notting Hill race riots .

Notting Hill is also home to the Portobello Road antique market, which has become a major London tourist attraction. The market takes place each Saturday and attracts both antique buyers and sellers and tourists. In recent years the growth of the market and increasingly touristic feel have led some to claim that quality has declined.

The area came to international attention with the release of the highly successful Hollywood movie of the same name. Notting Hill stars Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant and uses characteristic features of the area as a backdrop to the action, including the Portobello Road antiques market and enclosed square gardens. The shop in which the Hugh Grant character works is, in real life, a well-known Notting Hill bookshop.

A map of modern Notting Hill may be seen here

Nearby places:

Nearest tube stations:

Last updated: 08-18-2005 05:02:33
Last updated: 09-03-2005 18:37:12