Posted by: martinworster | July 14, 2011

121. WESTBOURNE GROVE

Westbourne Grove, once an antiques mecca now an organic chi chi jaunt…

As is usual on my trips back to England, I like to have a wander down memory lane. Westbourne Grove and all it’s environs is a rich source of memory and observation for me. Walking down it now – all chi chi boutiques, organic cafes, high end designers, trendy bars, hedge fund managers’ wives air kissing each other on the pavement, hungover trustafarians, Notting Hill-billy waifs and strays, public school boys and rastas all jostling for space – it’s amazing to see how how much this area has changed from the grotty antiques thoroughfare I knew so well in the 80s.

It’s probably not an exaggeration to say Westbourne Grove is now one of London’s trendiest streets. It wasn’t always like this. My dad had an antique shop here from the early eighties to the early noughties – until it it only made sense to rent it out as the uber rich hipsters moved in. Back in the day Westbourne Grove was a famous street for antique dealers – a close knit community of old school traders and wideboys. Every shop on the Portobello Road end of the Grove would have been an antique shop. I spent many summer holidays and weekends working there. Walking down it now I notice that there’s not one antique shop left. I feel a sad lament for times past, a history and place that only exists now in memory.

Even the Portobello Road has changed considerably. Sorry if this is turning into a ‘ooh, hasn’t it changed, I remember back in the good olde days’ grumbling type reflection piece. But ooh, hasn’t it changed? Again the Saturday market used to be quite famous for antiques and such, now it’s mainly a tourist domain where Italian’s on holiday can buy Union Jack memorabilia and Banksy prints on blocks. Making it more a jumble sale for theme park Britain and not so cool Britannia.

Being in the Notting Hill area, Westbourne Grove was always fairly trendy, a history that dates back to the late 60s and the high rate of bohemian artist and musician types who infiltrated the area, which was then probably due to low rents. Many of the first wave of black immigrants from the West Indies, particularly Jamaica, also first settled in the area and so it has always had a rich Carribean flavour and is the home of the Notting Hill Carnival. We used to have the shop boarded up every August bank holiday weekend as the Grove is one of the main thoroughfares for the Carnival. It used to have a reputation for being a bit rough and there were riots in the late 70s.

I remember we used to eat at the first Pizza Express in the country just at the bottom of Queensway in the eighties. It might have been my age, but I remember pizzas to be quite exotic then. Queensway’s another interesting area that deserves more written focus in itself, a fascinating, bustling Arab dominated thoroughfare connecting the Grove to Hyde Park. At the bottom end is Whitley’s shopping centre which for many years remained derelict. If you like Middle Eastern food, Queesway is the place. Going back even further, I remember a shop where they sold Kickers shoes and the staff used to wear roller skates to serve you whilst wearing plastic helmets with flashing lights on the top – can’t remember the name of this store now, but there was a few of them in London at the time. Another long forgotten retail outlet that no longer exists, just a part of the cities constant process of renewal and change. Retail outlets like growth cells to the body cities constantly changing skin.

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