A Damnable History Of Notting Hill
Notting Hill has never been easy to pigeonhole. Even today, the chi-chi cafes and millionaires' townhouses rub shoulders with council estates, tourist shops and old-school market stalls. And then there's the annual carnival of multiculturalism that dances right through it all. From this rich melange it's possible for the historian to tease out almost any narrative — from the growth of rock music to the health-food revolution. Fiona Rule chooses crime, vice and extortion.
Streets of Sin: A Dark Biography of Notting Hill charts a 200-year history of the area, picking out choice cuts of wanton behaviour. The early chapters deal with a now forgotten district, when London's poorest lived pork-by-jowl with livestock, gravel pits and potteries. A long-vanished racecourse once looped around the hill. Ancient rights of way were blocked to stop the plebs scaring the posh folks' horses.
Unscrupulous property owners are a leitmotif of the area, reaching a nadir with the 'no coloureds' rent notices of the 50s, and the the rise of grasping landlords like Peter Rachman. Notting Hill has also seen its share of violence, with the 1958 race riots, 1976 carnival riots, and the infamous murders at 10 Rillington Place.
The author never sensationalises her dark material, but ties it together with clear, objective writing. This is a potent antidote to the polite, film-set Notting Hill that the tourists want to see, and a vital read for anyone with a connection to the area.
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Last Updated 24 August 2015