A Walking Tour Of Labrooke Grove And Notting Hill Carnival

By: Archy Ash

The Carnival is the biggest public festival in London, Caribbean in origin and inspiration but increasingly international and multi-racial in spirit and fact. It originated in 1966 as an unofficial response to race riots in Notting Hill in the later 1950s, as a simple street parade with music.

In one sense that is still its basis, but now the Carnival is a huge show on the August Bank Holiday weekend, with childrens costume parades on the Sunday and adults on the Monday, from morning till night. It is very crowded, noisy, joyful and just occasionally violent.

The area affected is only the northern part of the district, north and south of Ladbroke Grove station (which is closed for the day).

Press on past Westbourne Park Road to Lancaster Road: if you are still interested, go under Westway where the stalls stretch around into Golbourne Road on the right getting cheaper all the time.

Sooner or later you need to return, choosing a suitable point at which to cut through to Ladbroke Grove: Blenheim Crescent is suggested. Turn left to explore the Ladbroke Grove Estate.

As you now see, Notting Hill is indeed a hill, a comfortable mound. From the 1730s it was owned by the Ladbroke family, one of whom decided to open a race course called the Hippodrome here in 1837 erecting a circuit round the brow of the hill. It was not a success heavy going and unpopular with such local residents as there were, and closed in 1841.

That cleared the way for housing development which was placed in the hands of Thomas Allom and W.J. Reynolds. Between them, these two covered the hill with crescents in concentric circles with St Johns church slightly off-centre on the brow.

It is a spectacular estate, extravagant in style ambitious in scale and very green, with the innovation of large communal gardens between the blocks. At the same time it is fatiguing, mentally and physically.

Turn right at any of the crescents, maybe going as far as Lansdowne Crescent to get an impression of the houses. This is Reynoldss side, with coarse Italianate decorations and the inevitable stucco, but quite a lot of variety. You may spot tiny modern villas that lie on the upper side.

Go round to St John the Evangelist by Stevens and Alexander (1844), an early Gothic Revival church, that is to say of the Victorian variety advocated by A.W.N. Pugin, sited picturesquely on the ground once occupied by the Hippodromes grandstand. You need to see the other side of the hill to understand just how far Victorian stucco extravagance could go in the hands of someone like Thomas Allom. Stanley Crescent is the best example with how windows galore, balconies, pediments and big cornices. It is overpowering.

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