When cab drivers over sixty put me down in front of my house on Portland Road – nothing much under £1 million in the neighbourhood these days – they sometimes say, ‘Big change here, guv. Used to be rough.’
Just how rough I learned from this vivid guidebook. All bad guidebooks are alike; each good one is good in its own way. Inside Notting Hill is the perfect combination of 99 per cent accurate information and hair–raising stories. Take Portland Road. It lies in the heart of what used to be called Notting Dale. From the late 1840s to 1892, according to a contemporary account quoted by Miranda Davies and Sarah Anderson, it was ‘a plague spot, scarcely equalled for its insalubrity by any other in London... The occupation of the inhabitants is principally pig–fattening... The atmosphere is further polluted by fat boiling. In these hovels discontent, dirt, filth, and misery are unsurpassed by anything known even in Ireland.’ Or take Avondale Park, 100 yards from my door, where we dog–walkers gather every morning near the trees and neat flowerbeds. In the 1850s it was ‘a treacherous ocean of clay sludge and pig swill’. One minute away lies ‘the last home of the fashion designer Ossie Clark, who was murdered here by his lover on 7 August 1996.’ A five–minute walk takes you to the now demolished 10 Rillington Place, where, in 1943, John Christie ‘carried out the first of a horrific spate of murders that were to shake Notting Hill for many years to come’.
The guide is comprehensive for murder, suicide, race riots and scandal. It is equally inclusive for churches. Around the corner from me, for example, is the Church of St Francis of Assisi, built in the early 1860s ‘at the personal expense of the Reverend Henry Augustus Rawes, a member of