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John Scott on the Portobello Antiques Market

 
My dear uncle Eric lent me £2,650 to buy 84 Hammersmith Bridge Road in 1961. I sold it in 1965 and bought 79 Portobello Road in the same year for £11,000. This is not a story about the extraordinary  ramifications of the property escalator, but there is a connection with “the market”. I needed to furnish it in ’61 and the cheapest and best place to buy was Portobello. Cheap “Tim’s Furnishings” chairs were £5.10 shillings, whilst a nice rosewood cabriole legged “Vicky” (Victorian) chair was only thirty bob (£1.50 in today’s money).

Moving from furniture to glass, and on, resulted in my trawl of the Portobello Market on most Saturdays before rugby in the afternoon.  Now ; some 50 years on, I have a large home and no children. These two elements and the proximity of the market have facilitated a passionate hobby and instilled, I could not call it less than, a love of Portobello Road.
 
Before revealing some of my most cherished finds and reminiscences, I must describe the place. Named after a famous sea victory at Portobello during the early Elizabethan battles for gold with the Spanish, Portobello “lane” originally led to a farm of the same name. It starts at the south end at the junction with Chepstow Villas. The first arcade, Jones’s, runs right through to Kensington Park Road and with the Chelsea Galleries, comprises the best arcades in the whole market. Smaller arcades and shops follow down the west side only to The Jones Arcade, linking attractively with Westbourne Grove. The western side of this fascinatingly varied thoroughfare has several arcades and shops. North now the road is lined by Portobello Court (flats) till you reach Gales who serve delectable snacks, coffee etc. Street stalls line the road to the east and shops and arcades on the east side. The best Arcade is the “Admiral Vernon”, which accommodates some of the very best dealers displaced by the advent of “All Saints”, 15,000 sq. ft. of modern “made in China” clone shopping. Stalls, arcades and shops run on both sides of “the lane” to Elgin Crescent. The market then becomes fruit, veg and gastronomy (including a great French cheese man who comes every week from Paris).

How does the antiques market work? The secret essence is the goods the dealers bring for sale. And where do they come from? It’s all down to the zest, energy and hunter instinct of the dealers. It is not unusual for them to drive over 1,000 miles in their searches each week - Scotland, Ireland, France etc ; their nets are very widely cast. Hundreds of auctions are advertised weekly in the Antiques Trade Gazette and there’s the internet : contacts are built up over decades. This is part of the magic.
 
 

In 1987, I bought a tile – it was the centre-piece of what the Pottery Gazette of 1890 considered the finest Victorian pavement ever laid. It was installed at Cliveden, and Lady Astor had it ripped up! Earlier I had in my hands a wooden hand-painted “Tempus Fugit” clock. I couldn’t afford the £26. It was sold, having been identified as by C.F.A. Voysey (perhaps our greatest 20th Century domestic architect) to the V&A for £100.00 a few years back.  Armies of people who, like me, love Portobello could tell thousands of stories to equal or beat this one. Only 2 weeks ago, John Smith accepted a reduction to £50 on an old hat case. “You can keep this old sock”, the buyer said throwing the smelly thing at John. The sock contained £3,000 in £20 notes!!

So ; like primordial hunters, we are lured to the chase. What will Saturday turn up? My only prayer is that the Lord will allow my soul to wander among the treasure chests of the Antique Arcades for all time.

I have not dwelt on the Pandora’s Box of knowledge and experience that is freely given to visitors. The place is a glorious goldmine of history and camaraderie. You will make many friends here and you will learn enormously.

Praise for Portobello Market is sung loud by the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea, London Guide Books, Government Literature extolling the merits of London and encouraging tourism and many others, but a pall of Death is hanging over the market.

Encouraged by the worldwide fame and renown of the place, property developers have decided that the arcades, which so enrich and entrance visitors, can be re-developed and let to a totally different customer – at much higher rents! It is a blatant theft of the exciting character that we have all built up and created as a famous national heritage over the last 60 odd years. They own perhaps 60% of the properties and certainly all the arcades. Unless the Authorities take action now, this wondrous treasure trove of history, employment, art knowledge, tourist attraction and lively conviviality will be lost forever.

Article written by John Scott
 
If you want to join the Save the Portobello Market  campaign you can join the facebook page here and sign the petition here. 
 
 
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Comments  

#1 Lord of the flies 2011-07-26 19:48
Sounds like sour grapes to me.

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