Did You Know That Notting Hill Used To Be A Racecourse?

By M@ Last edited 20 months ago
Did You Know That Notting Hill Used To Be A Racecourse?

Today it's associated with antique shops, carnival and Hugh Grant, but Notting Hill has surprising origins. The area was once dominated by a racecourse, built as a rival to Epsom and Ascot.

The Kensington Hippodrome was laid out by entrepreneur John Whyte in 1837 — the year Queen Victoria took up her throne. It covered 140 acres, a similar area to Hyde Park.

Public domain map from 1841.

Despite grand ambitions, the course only lasted five years. It bordered the impoverished 'Potteries and Piggeries' area of Notting Dale — more 'huge grunt' than 'Hugh Grant'. This once industrial area is today remembered in the street name of Pottery Lane.

An old kiln in Notting Dale — a unique survivor from the 'Potteries and Piggeries'. Image by the author.

Those living in this slum were described as 'dirty and dissolute vagabonds' by The Times. Certainly not the kind of people Mr Whyte wanted on his racecourse. How the poor folk of Notting Dale felt when their fields and footpaths were enclosed for the entertainment of posh people can only be imagined.

The taint of poverty put off the more well-to-do racegoers. The course was further blighted by hard clay, which deterred jockeys. Kensington Hippodrome closed in 1842 after just five years. It lingered on as a fairground for a while, and featured ostrich races and balloon ascents, but was soon built over with housing.

Echoes of the course can still be found in the area today. The grassy hillock that once served as a natural grandstand is now home to St John's church. The circular road layout north of the church recalls the curves of the course. Hippodrome Place and Mews are further hints to this vanished track.

In 2011, reader Kathleen McIlvenna sent in this hand-drawn map showing the racecourse superimposed upon a modern street plan.

You can read more about the Kensington Hippodrome in Fiona Rule's book Streets of Sin: A Dark Biography of Notting Hill.

Last Updated 17 May 2017