Notting Hill in Bygone Days: In the Eighteenth Century

Notting Hill in Bygone Days by Florence Gladstone


The commencement of the village of Kensington Gravel Pits has already been described. Under present conditions it is difficult to realize how countrified the place remained during the whole of the eighteenth century. In Kip’s Britannia Illustrata, published in 1714, there is a bird’s-eye view of the Palace seen from the south.’ Surrounding the royal demesne is a wall which crosses the picture and hides the high-road. Beyond this wall are fields with hills forming the background. This artistic background must not be taken too literally, but the configuration of the ground corresponds in a remarkable degree with the view that may still be seen from the top floor of the highest houses on St. John’s Hill. A hundred years after this engraving was published Faulkner wrote ” The views to the north of Kensington Gravel Pits embrace much rural scenery, comprehending Harrow in the distance with the rich intervening pastures ; and on the right Hampstead, Highgate and Primrose Hill.” And again : ” The whole of the north side of the north highway is laid down with grass, except an inconsiderable quantity of acres adjoining Portobello Farm.” – Rocque’s map, 1741 to 1745, , agrees with this description.

Mid eighteenth century map of Notting Hill by John Rocque

Mid eighteenth century map of Notting Hill by John Rocque

A set of etchings of places round London was published about this time. Two of these are sometimes called Old Kensington and sometimes Notting Hill. One has been adapted into a pretty drawing of ” Notting Hill in 1750,” which appears in Old and New London (see note 9). The other etching is of a still more rustic scene with two or three men hanging about a country lane and a pond and a pig in the foreground. The wide lane on Rocque’s map which joins the highway on the north side, is now represented by Portobello Road, and the end of Pembridge Road. Even the sharp bend is seen where one road turns into the other. This bend, no doubt, was caused originally by some obstruction such as a clump of trees or a pond. Until the middle of the nineteenth century Portobello Lane was ” one of the most rural and pleasant walks in the summer in the vicinity of London,” and within living memory it led ” through fields to Kensal Green . . . cornfields and meadow land on each side, . .. Charming views could be obtained,” and it became the favourite walk not only of the inhabitants of ” Notting Hill, but also of many from the great city.” Considering that there were few cornfields elsewhere in the neighbourhood, it is interesting to find that land to the east of Portobello Lane, on the site of Archer Street, was at one time known as ” Barley Shotts ” a ” shot ” being a small division of field land. Portobello Lane, on some old maps, is called Green Lane, but the chief Green Lane in the district was the winding track from Harrow Road towards Paddington Green. It has developed into Great Western Road, part of Cornwall Road, and Westbourne Park Road.

Portobello Farmhouse stood where the lane from the North Highway to Kensal Green became merely a footpath. Faulkner states that Portobello Farm was the property of ” Mr. A. Adams, the builder, at the time that Porto Bello was captured.” Puerto Bello with its fine harbour in the Gulf of Mexico, close to the present Panama Canal, was taken from the Spaniards by Admiral Vernon in November 1739, the news reaching England in the following March. The name of Admiral Vernon is perpetuated in Vernon Mews, Portobello Road.

It is strange that there is no sign of Portobello Farm on Rocque’s map, and as Puerto Bello was taken for the second time in the year 1819, by Sir George McGregor, it has been suggested that this capture might have been referred to. The earlier date, how-ever, is correct, as the farm appears on Fadon’s map of 1810 shown opposite. In 1795 the Kensington Rate Books mention an Abraham Adams as owning over 200 acres in this district. He was probably the grandson of the builder of the farmhouse.

During the whole of the eighteenth century the knoll, called in these pages St. John’s Hill, was covered with trees : a survival of Notting Wood. Faulkner thus describes the scene. ” The ascent near Holland House is clothed with wood, and affords a variety of picturesque views,” whilst ” the sister hill of Holland House ” was ” of great height and entirely free from wood.” He continues, ” The valley on the north (of St. John’s Hill) is laid down with grass, and the whole of the district appears to have undergone but little alteration, in respect to culture and division of the land, for several ages. Although the distance from London is scarcely three miles, yet the traveller may imagine himself to be embosomed in the most sequestered part of the country, and nothing is heard but the notes of the lark, the linnet or the nightingale. . . In the midst of these meadows stands the Manor House of Knotting Barns.”

In 1767 Mr. Edward Lloyd let his ” Villa at Nottin Hill,” now Aubrey House, to Lady Mary Coke.

During her tenancy, which lasted from 1767 to 1788, she wrote a copious and delightful journal, which throws much light on the state of the district at this period. Lady Mary Coke often speaks of the seclusion of Notting Hill. On one occasion when riding back from town she met ” nothing but women who had been working in the fields, and they talked to me not very civilly, I thought.” In July 1770, when an Installation of Knights was taking place, she writes ” The crowd and bustle at Windsor I suppose is great, and all here is such a state of silence that it seems a deserted country ; nobody riding in the great roads ; nothing appears but the stage coaches. I walked in view of one of the great roads just now, and did not see a creature pass.”

It was along this road that one of her cows, named after an old friend, made an adventurous expedition. ” Miss Pelham (my black and white cow) took a frisk this morning, got out of my grounds, and went very near as far as London before I heard of her. I believe she thinks my place too retired, for she was found among a great herd of cattle.”

This seclusion was caused in part by the state of the roads. In spite of Turnpike Acts, which had been in existence since 1663, highways and byways all over England remained in a deplorable condition. The roads both south and north of Hyde Park were often almost impassable with mud, and streams, which are now carried in sewers underground, crossed the surface. The North Highway was liable to be flooded at the depression where the Westbourne or Bays Water crossed the road. In 1675 this stream was spanned by a brick bridge, which was replaced by a stone bridge before 1769. From Lancaster Gate the ground rises to Notting Hill Gate Station, and then falls some seventy feet before the western boundary of the parish is reached. At Shepherd’s Bush floods were even more severe than at ” Bayswatering.” In 1624 the low-lying ground, now occupied by the West London Railway at Uxbridge Road, was called the Marsh.; In later days this marsh became three lakes, which may be seen on various maps in this book, and even now water rises in the Electricity Generating Station east of Wood Lane. Rills and bridges on the north side of Shepherd’s Bush have already been mentioned.

By 1769 the wooden bridge across the boundary stream had been replaced by one of brick. The autumn of 1768 was exceptionally wet. Lady Mary Coke records : ” When I got up this morning I saw two rivers, the grounds two or three miles off being all under water, and the Thames made a fine appearance. My servants tell me two houses at Knightsbridge have been washed away, and one of the bridges upon the King’s Road.” In the afternoon of the same day water was so deep in the lane leading to Hammersmith, now Shepherd’s Bush Road, that a friend feared she would be drowned when driving through the flood in Lady Mary’s chaise. (There was flooding in this district as recently as the summer of 1917).

In 1772 the trouble recurred and a strange picture is given of the manners of the time. Lady Mary, then a widow of forty-six, had been dining with Lord Spencer at Wimbledon. In that house they had a ” terrible custom ” of serving too much liquor to the waiting servants. On the return journey, after ten o’clock at night, when they reached a ” little bridge between Hammersmith and the Acton rode, the postillion turned short about and drove the open chaise into deep water.” After debating whether to stop in the chaise or to get out and walk, Lady Mary determined to remain where she was. So she ordered the relatively sober footman to walk at the heads of the horses, and to hold the postillion on if he could. In this fashion they at last reached home. Contemporary newspapers tell the same tale.

In 1788 Mr. Salmon of Bond Street, in attempting to cross the hollow near Kensington Gravel Pits in a single horse chaise on his way to Acton, nearly escaped drowning, so large a body of water being collected as to bear up the horse and carriage, and it was with extreme difficulty that he was rescued from the pending danger.” An Act of Parliament had been passed in 1714 to authorize the collection of tolls ” for repairing and amending the highways between Tyburn and Uxbridge.” But keeping in repair was not all that was needed. The preamble to a later Turnpike Act states that the road between Tyburn and Kensington Gravel Pits is ” frequently infested in the night-time with Robbers and other wicked and evil-disposed Persons, and Robberies, Outrages, and Violences are committed thereon, which might in a great Measure be prevented if the said Highway was properly lighted and watched.” The case was not over-stated. It was a time of much lawlessness.

In Notting Hill, thefts from garden, orchard and poultry-yard constantly occurred. Strange cattle would be driven during the night to graze in fields bordering the high road, and farmers had their sheep carried off, or the carcases left behind minus skin and fat. Highway robbery took place on all the roads round London, and the fear of attack was a cruel strain on the nerves of respectable citizens. Newspaper reports of local crimes are preserved at the Public Library. To travel from Acton to Shepherd’s Bush was a hazardous proceeding. The most critical part between Shepherd’s Bush and Tyburn is said to have been at what is now Lancaster Gate, for robbers could hide themselves under the shade of the trees which overhung the wall enclosing Kensington Gardens.

Here, in 1753, a specially brutal attack was made by a footpad one Sunday night on two friends. ” On their making Resistance, he ran an iron skewer into the body of one of the Men, and got off, though pursued by the other. The man who was stabbed ” afterwards lay ” dangerously ill at a Publick House at Bayswater.” But the piece of the road between the sister hills near Holland House was also very lonely and unprotected. On this portion of the road, in 1751, two gentlemen were robbed of their watches and money by men in black masks ” who swore a great deal and appeared to be in liquor.” An upholsterer of Piccadilly had his watch and £3 stolen in 1768, and another man lost £5 and some silver in 1769.

Lord Holland’s Lane, now Holland Walk, was the scene of a serious robbery at three o’clock one October afternoon in 1772, and shortly afterwards a highwayman was shot ” on the outer road ” at the bottom of Lady Mary Coke’s grounds between nine and ten o’clock at night. She heard the report of the pistol while reading in her library. In July 1774 her neighbour, Mrs. Lahoop, was robbed on the same part of ” the Acton Road within a hundred yards of her own house.” On this occasion the two thieves remained in the neighbourhood all night, and stopped a poor woman early next morning. As she had no money they would have stripped her of her clothing, but, someone coming by, they made off.

It must be remembered that roads were unlighted, and that the inefficient police system and the prevalence of bribery made the detection of crime a difficult matter. Consequently when a rogue was caught he suffered as a warning to others. Terribly degrading scenes were connected with the public executions at Tyburn, which were continued until the year 1783. It became the practice to expose the bodies of felons near the scene of their crimes. In 1745 gibbets stood by the Uxbridge Road at Starch Green, at Shepherd’s Bush and at Tyburn, a distance of little more than three miles. The hanging place at Shepherd’s Bush was known as Gallows Close. Two highwaymen were hanging here in 1748, and remains of the gallows arc said to have existed until the year 1800.

But brutal forms of punishment had little deterrent effect on evil doers. Carriages were still held up, and murders committed by highwaymen. It was in an Inn at Shepherd’s Bush, reputed to have been the only house between Acton and Kensington Gravel Pits, that the notorious Jack Rann, or ” Sixteen String Jack,” was finally arrested. The ” Coach and Horses,” now 108, High Street, Notting Hill Gate, and the ” George Inn,” 61, Church Street, were known to harbour these gentry. Probably the walls of several inns in the neighbourhood could have told tales of ” coaches robbed and plunder shared between Knights of the road and obliging landlords.” Beggars and other undesirable characters congregated round the recognized stopping places. One of these regular halts is shown on Leddiard’s Plan of the Road, 1769, just where the ” Duke of Clarence,” opposite Royal Crescent, still preserves its old-world character, with sign post and stone mounting blocks.

Such was the condition of affairs when the Turnpike Act of 1769 came into force. As the result of this Act the care of the road was vested in trustees, who met at the George Inn, Acton, four times a year. Toll gates and toll houses were erected, and glass lamps placed at intervals along the dark parts of the road, whilst ” fit and able-bodied ” watchmen were appointed to endeavour to prevent murders, robberies and other outrages. Fines and imprisonment were to be inflicted if lamps were broken, and should anyone refuse to pay toll, the toll-keeper was empowered to seize his beast or goods and sell them, giving the owner the balance of the profits, ” after reasonable charges ” had been deducted. A note or ticket was provided on payment of toll. No tolls were to be exacted on the day of a Parliamentary election, nor from citizens riding or driving to divine service on Sundays.

By 1801 the whole of London was parcelled out into Turnpike Gate Trusts. Bayswater Gate, near the Swan Inn, a picturesque rustic building standing beside the bridge over the Westbourne, as well as Kensington Gravel Pits Gate and other toll-gates further to the west, belonged to the Uxbridge Trust. One ticket freed the traveller for the day at all these gates. Kensington Trust covered a large area south-west of Hyde Park.There was a Gate at Tyburn even before the execution of criminals ceased at this spot.

Paul Sandby, one of the original members of the Royal Academy, who lived in St. George’s Row facing the north side of Hyde Park, made many charming water-colour drawings of the neighbourhood. Two drawings now in the Albert and Victoria Museum, dated 1790, show the wall of ” Kensington Garden,” and Bayswater Toll Gate with two or three small dwellings beside it. A wide country road stretches towards London and a coach is seen in the distance. In one drawing it carts and men on horseback are grouped by the ” Old Swan Inn,” and four young women are seen walking into town with flat baskets on their heads, baskets probably containing fruit picked in market gardens on the west side of London. This part of the road is in the parish of Paddington, but the description of Kensington Gravel Pits thirty years later agrees with Paul Sandby’s pictures. This description was meant to prove what a busy place it had become. Faulkner writes : ” The principal street runs along the north high-road for about three furlongs . . . and lying in the direct road from Uxbridge and Oxford it is enlivened every hour by the passage of mail coaches, stages and waggons.”

The Kensington Gravel Pits Gate, since then known as Notting Hill Gate, was the first of three successive turnpikes at this spot, and crossed the road east of the site of the Metropolitan Station. It seems probable that the toll-keeper’s house occupied the corner where that station is set back from the road. The very interesting view of this gate by Paul Sandby, R.A., dated 1793, faces west, and apparently shows the end of Portobello Lane and the Coach and Horses Inn.

Notting Hill Toll Gate

By this time a cluster of houses with gardens behind them stood opposite the end of the lane leading to Kensington, now Church Street. Between Nos. 50 and 60, High Street, the houses still show eighteenth century characteristics, although shops have been built out on to the present line of road. Two of these houses belong to the year 1790, and have curious brick bays. Unfortunately the remains of these handsome old buildings will soon disappear, as will also the picturesque, though tumbledown, shops at the north end of Church Street.

In 1711 the Gravel Pitts Almshouses were placed on the south side of the road, between Church Street and the Mall, in what was known as Greyhounds Row. But these tiny dwellings were demolished in 1821, when in a very dilapidated condition.

Beyond Portobello Lane the village straggled on past Montpelier House, a good-sized private residence, now Nos. 128 and 130, High Street, to the Plough Inn, the predecessor of the large tavern bearing that name, Pictures of several of these buildings are grouped together on page 58, and a drawing of the ” Academy ” by Mr. W. Cleverley Alexander, appears on page 92.

The Kensington Rate Books become available for research from the year 1760. By this time all trace of the Manorial system had disappeared, and the larger estates were being divided. It is only possible in these pages to follow up three or four of the most important landowners, and their properties. In 1675 the Manor of Knotting Barns belonged to Sir Richard Anderson, and covered 400 acres. Before 1820 the Manor House had passed to Sir William Talbot, indeed it would appear that the Estate had been owned by the Talbot family ever since 1712. Apparently Knotting Barns Farm had been let to Admiral Darby, who was succeeded by his son William Thomas Darby, Esq., ” the proprietor ” in 1795.’

Probably in 1795 Mr. Darby died, for ” Darby’s Land,” to the extent of some 230 acres, was acquired by three men : Abraham Adams, John White, and Bright Hemmings. Mr. Adams of Portobello Farm soon got the largest share into his own hands, and eventually, seems to have gained possession of nearly two-thirds of this northern pasture land. He only held it until 1816 when William Wise took over the property, the Talbots remaining as ground landlords.

In 1820 the Manor House of Knotting Barns was ” occupied ” by William Smith, Esq., of Hammersmith, who had been paying rates on 27 acres of ” Darby Land ” since 1771. In 1797 Mr. Smith became possessed of other land in the neighbourhood, and he continued to add field to field, until in 1809, he paid rates on at least 264 acres in the estates of Knotting Barns and Norlands. In 1811, Mr. William Smith, Churchwarden, and Mr. John Hall each advanced £200 towards the repair of Kensington Church, which amounts were afterwards refunded. Mr. William Smith’s name appears on the Rate Books until 1828, but it will be shown in Chapter X that Mr. Salter was probably then renting Notting Barns Farm. In 1828 Mr. Smith’s estate in Notting Barns was rated at 150 acres.

Already another important ground landlord had appeared on the scene. This was Richard Ladbrooke, Esq., who in 1760 owned two farms on the north side of the high road. The name is stamped all over the district which formerly had been covered by Notting Wood. Richard Ladbrooke must have been a son of Sir Robert Ladbroke, head of the firm of Messrs. Robert Ladbroke and Co., goldsmiths and bankers in Lombard Street in the year 1736. He was also Colonel of the City Militia, Member of Parliament, and Lord Mayor of London in 1747. The arms ” azure, a chevron ermine,” which appear on the gate of the path from Kensington Park Gardens into Ladbroke Square, are those borne by the Father of the City. The original Warwickshire family bear a plain chevron.’

In the year 1784, when he made his will, Richard Ladbroke of Tadworth Court, in the County of Surrey, Esq., owned lands in the parish of Reigate, and in Kensington, Paddington, Notting Barns, Westbourn, South Mimms, St. Sepulchre’s and Enfield Chase, etc. Being unmarried, he left his estates in trust for his mother and his four sisters. The freehold and copyhold property was to pass to his nephews, who were enjoined to adopt his surname. Failing male issue it was to descend to his executor and cousin, Robert Ladbroke and his heirs. Richard Ladbroke of Tadworth Court died in 1794, and was succeeded by Osbert Denton Ladbroke, the son of his youngest sister, who died ” a bachelor ” in 1810, and by Cary Hampton Weller Ladbroke, also a bachelor, who died in 1819, and his brother James Weller Ladbroke, sons of Mary Ladbroke and the Rev. James Weller. Mr. James W. Ladbroke had married in 1803, but he left no sons.

At his death in 1847, the property, therefore, passed to a distant cousin, Felix Ladbroke of Hedley, in the County of Surrey, Esq., born in 1802, a grandson of the Robert Ladbroke mentioned in the will. James W. and Felix Ladbroke will appear in the subsequent history, but no member of the family seems to have resided in Kensington. In 1763 Richard Ladbroke Esq., let part of Ladbrook’s Land to Mr. John Hall, who probably brought his wife and child to a farm-house on this property. Mr. Hall at once began to buy up piece after piece of land from different owners. In 1791 he died, and was succeeded by his son of the same name, then a man of twenty-nine years of age, having been born one year before his father moved into the district. John Hall, Junior, still further added to his possessions until his leasehold property equalled, if it did not exceed, that of Mr. William Smith. A house and large farm belonging to Mr. Hall was let, 1808-1812, to Colonel Lowther and family, and another was occupied by Lord Valencia in 1812. Already John Hall has been mentioned as advancing money for church purposes. ” John Hall, Esq., of Halkin Street, Grosvenor Place, and of Notting Hill in this parish,” died on August 10, 1816, aged 54 years. ”

An elegant marble tablet surmounted with an urn ” was placed to his memory on the west wall of the old church, ” over the Christening pew.” The inscription is given in full by Mr. Loftie. It is a happy example of the laudatory epitaphs of the period, and describes a worthy man : ” One, who in life by good works, and by fervent faith in death, proved that the source of virtue is in the love of God.” The name of Christopher Hall appears in the Rate Books from 1817 onwards. ”

"Notting Hill Farm", oil painting ascribed to "Mulready Junior"

“Notting Hill Farm”, oil painting ascribed to “Mulready Junior”

Notting Hill Farm was the residence of the late Mr. John Hall,” writes Faulkner in 1820. Loftie and later writers have asserted that this farm was ” an unpretentious homestead ” on the hill-top. This is incorrect. There was no solid building on the summit of the hill until the Church of St. John the Evangelist was placed there in 1845. The farm-house, which was of a fair size, was either a little way off the main road or was on the main road where the Mitre Tavern, No. 40, Holland Park Avenue, now stands. A small oil-painting of this farm, very carefully restored by Mr. Herbert Jones, hangs in the North Kensington branch of the Public Library.

It is there said to be Notting Barns Farm ; but it is entitled ” Notting Hill Farm ” and may depict the scattered farm buildings on the highway and the south end of the ” public road ” through the farmyard, now represented by Ladbroke Grove. This sketch is ascribed to William Mulready, Junior.

This is quite possible, for the farm-house does not seem to have disappeared much before 1830. Rocque’s map of 1745, and Fadon’s map of 1810, show the buildings of Notting Hill Farm, and also show how few other houses existed at this time north of the Oxford or Uxbridge Road.

No doubt the nature of its soil had much to do with the slow development of North Kensington. Wells sunk in gravel which rests on clay are soon supplied with ” pure ” water, whilst wells sunk in the clay itself only catch water from the surface, and this water is hard and often contaminated. The earlier settlers in and around London naturally chose sites where a good supply of drinking water was easily obtainable. It is only when water is brought from a distance, and domestic wells can be dispensed with, that a town is able to expand irrespective of its subsoil. Professor Prestwich worked out this point for the whole of London in his Presidential Address to the Geological Society in the year 1872, and he stated that this was the reason why such clay districts as ” Regents Park, St. John’s Wood, Westbourne Park and Notting Hill received town populations much later than . . . Paddington, Kensington and Chelsea, which were situated on gravel.”

From “Map Of The Country In The Vicinity of London” by W. Fadon 1810

It is true that long before the end of the eighteenth century water was being conveyed to the Palace and to the more fashionable parts of Kensington. In 1908 a wych-elm pipe was dug up in Uxbridge. Road, near Palace Gardens, belonging to about 1620, when Sir Hugh Middleton brought the New River water from Hertfordshire to London. Kensington had in more recent times been supplied with Thames water by the Chelsea Water Works Company, first started in 1723, and the West Middlesex Water Works Company inaugurated in 1809, but it is improbable that water was laid on north of the high road.

The boundary stream was useless as a source of supply, for it is significantly called ” the common sewer ” as early as 1599. Evidently the inhabitants depended on shallow wells and rain water cisterns, and these were becoming inadequate for the population.

At this juncture a man of public spirit and resource came into the neighbourhood.

It has already been stated that after the death of Mr. William Green in 1772 the Norland Estate was divided up. When Cary published his Road Maps, in 1790 (see note 10), Norland House and its large walled garden was being used as ” The Prince of Wales’s Military Academy.” This was a boarding school for boys under fifteen years of age, conducted by Thomas Marquois, Professor of Artillery and Fortification. An interesting prospectus of the Academy at Norlands ma be seen at the Kensington Public Library. Benjamin Vulliamy Sr. 98, Pall Mall, clockmaker to the Court, seems to have bought the place about 1794.

He may not have lived in the house, for, in the second edition of Cary’s Maps, 1801, the house still appears as the Military Academy. This, however, may be incorrect. It seems more likely that personal experience of the difficulty of obtaining good water determined his son, Benjamin Vulliamy, to sink a deep well similar to those in use in the Province of Artois in Northern France. In November 1794 a shaft four feet in diameter was dug through the clay for 236 feet, after which a 5¼ inch borer was inserted.

When the depth of 261 feet was reached water rose to the surface at the rate of 46 gallons per minute. It has been claimed that this was the first Artesian well to be sunk in England. The interest which it excited is shown by the elaborate description of ” Mr. Vulliamy’s Overflowing Well ” given in Faulkner’s History of Kensingtort. The ” spring ” stood in a square enclosure close to the road, and was leased for one guinea per week to three persons, who formed themselves into a small company under the pretentious title of the ” Notting Hill “Water Works.” These persons sold the water at 2s. 6d. a ton or ½d. a pailful.

The advertisement of the Company stated that the water was specially good for washing purposes : an indication that the ordinary domestic supply was ” hard ” water. Part of the shaft of this well, now covered by concrete, exists in the garden behind No. 130, Holland Park Avenue, but the remains of the engine room, visible in 1909, seem now to have disappeared.’ The well was covered in between 1830 and 1844 . In 1812 Mr. Henry Drummond, banker, of Charing Cross, became tenant of Norland House, though Mr. Benjamin Vulliamy continued to pay rates on the spring until 1819, and the names of Lewis and Benjamin, and Benjamin Lewis, and Mrs. Sarah Vulliamy are connected with this and neighbouring house property as late as 1838.

Although the following incidents belong chiefly to the first quarter of the nineteenth century, it seems best to finish this chapter with an account of the establishment of a little colony of brickmakers and pig-keepers on the low ground situated in the north part of the Norlands Estate.

The soil in this district is almost entirely composed of the malleable yellow clay from which London stock bricks are made. In 1781 a portion of land, perhaps seventeen acres in extent, had been taken for a brickfield by a certain James Watson, and some poor buildings were already put up. By 1818 part of this brickfield and eight or nine acres of adjoining land, was in the hands of Samuel Lake. Next year William Adams bought up the remainder of the original brickfield, and had a house on his land. It is impossible not to connect William Adams with Abraham Adams, the owner of Portobello Farm down to 1816. Adams’ Brickfield lasted for many years in Notting Dale, and probably it was Mr. W. Adams who started the ” Norland Pottery Works,” with its well-known kiln for the manufacture of tiles, Rower-pots and drain-pipes, which still stands in Walmer Road. The coming of the pigs is connected with Samuel Lake, a chimney-sweep and night-man of Tottenham Court Road, who had moved, in 1818, to this bare land beyond the outskirts of London, in order that he might continue his unsavoury profession without being a nuisance to his neighbours. A year or two later Lake invited a bow-string maker to share his solitude.

The Tile Kiln, 1824

The Tile Kiln, 1824

This man, Stephens by name, is said to have purchased part of Lake’s property for £100, and, giving up his former trade, to have taken to keeping pigs. In his enquiries after pigs, etc., he became acquainted with the troubles of a party of pig-keepers who inhabited land now covered by Connaught Square. These men fed their animals on broken food collected daily from houses in Mayfair. It can be readily understood that the gruesome memories connected with Tyburn for many years prevented the extension of London on the north side of the Park

But at last good houses were being built, and the pig-masters of the ” West End Establishment,” as they called themselves, recognized that the time had come when they must move elsewhere. Stephens offered these men a share of the refuge which he and his friend Lake had found in Norland Row. The offer was gladly accepted, and many of the ” masters either bought or rented small plots of land from the original proprietor, and removed their establishments of pigs and children to this favoured spot, where Lake assured them everybody should do as they liked, and he’d see that nobody meddled with them.” ‘ Mrs. Bayly, who wrote a charming account of the beginnings of the slum area known as Kensington Potteries and afterwards as Notting Dale, thought that the pig-keepers preceded the brickmakers, and that they arrived in the early years of the nineteenth century, but the Rate Books suggest that they settled on ” Brickland ” about the year 1820. The first houses were one-storied dwellings built by their owners and planted down ” in no street in particular.”

Tucker’s Cottage (see page 136), may be taken as a typical specimen. The illustration is from a drawing made shortly before it was pulled down in 1855. It consisted of ” two apartments, one for the family, the other for domestic purposes and such animals as were thought indispensable to the general welfare.” Its plot of ground was enclosed by a thick mound of earth, the domain of poultry, pigs and the donkey. In the rear was a pond overhung with willows, into which ” flowed the foul streams of the province,” for there was no proper drainage, and wells sunk in the back yards soon became contaminated. The means of approach from the main road was by ” the public way to Notting Barns,” afterwards Pottery Lane. Most of the settlers had their own horse or donkey-cart, and would make their way townwards early in the morning to collect kitchen refuse from houses or hotels in the West End. How this broken food was treated may be given in the words of old Mrs. Tucker : ” When we come home, we sorts it out ; the best of it we eats ourselves, or sells it to a neighbour, the fat is all boiled down, and the rest we gives to the pigs.” (The boiling down of fat, including offal of various kinds, was a local industry until very recent times.) These people, though uncouth and unlettered, were a self-reliant and a sober race, honest and industrious.

Their nearest neighbours were either at ” the farm opposite Holland Walk,” that is Notting Hill Farm, ” where the men sang at their work as they stacked the hay and the corn,” or at the other farm on the site of Royal Crescent, ” where milk could sometimes be obtained for the children.” See map of 1831 on page 100.

The brickmakers, on the other hand, were chiefly Irish labourers of a low type. A woman who had lived most of her life in the place once remarked to Mrs. Bayly. ” Now pig-keepers is respectable, but them brick-people bean’t some of them no wiser than the clay they works on.” The drawing of the Kiln (on page 66) is dated 1824, and ” The Kilns ” are marked on the map of 1833 (see page 40). After 1837 certain buildings are shown along the road which already was called Pottery Lane. But the little colony of brickmakers and pig-keepers kept themselves to themselves and were studiously left alone by their neighbours.

1 comment

    • Jackie Bonic on December 5, 2019 at 4:47 am
    • Reply

    Hi Scott,

    My great-grandmother was a gypsy who is registered as being born in Tent #3 Notting Hill common in the 19th century (I don’t remember the year). Her father owned a travelling fair. I have been trying to determine where the common would have been and what is there now. Would you know?

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