Welcome to the biggest antiques district in the world. That's right, it's Portobello Market. Despite living in London all my life, until recently I had never stepped foot onto Portobello Road. Before now the closest encounter I ever experienced was having elevensies with a bear called Paddington in Mr Gruber's shop. The timing of my vitit seems appropriate given the recent passing of Michael Bond, author of the brilliant Paddington books.
Could this be Mr Gruber's antique shop?
Even so, it was only in passing, as I was on my way to a gallery. Located at the very end of the road, it meant I got to experience the whole market atmosphere. Let me tell you now, there's a whole lot of road (half a mile) and a whole lot of atmosphere.
Portobello Market may seem like it's been around forever, but the bustling street we know and love today, did not truly begin to take shape until the 1940s. Back in the early 18th century is was nothing more than a country path called Green Lane, which had a farm called Porto Bello. And no, it wasn't a mushroom farm. Porto Bello was originally the name of a Spanish town captured by the British in 1739.
Around the late 19th/early 18th century shops and market stalls began cropping up to attract the wealth residents of nearby Paddington. It started out as just a food market, but around the 1940s gradually bric-a-brac emerged on the tables, and things just grew from there.
Portobello Market is best known for its antique dealerships, but it is far more than that. The market has everything from fruit & veg and street food to fashion and craft.
Apart from Sunday, there is always something going on at the market. Saturday - as I found out - is the busiest day of all with over a thousand dealers from 9am - 7pm.
The road is chock-a-block with tourists, collectors, and random shoppers, making it extremely difficult to move around. Unless you want to see absolutely everything, I would recommend choosing your area of interest and then picking your day to go accordingly.
It's not just the market stalls you want to see, however; the road is filled with shops and there are a few buskers too. The Saturday I went, there was a boy in his school uniform (yes, on a Saturday) playing his guitar, which is pretty impressive thing to do at that age.
For me, while most stalls were just interesting novelties to browse (vintage sports equipment, letter printing, furniture, etc) My dad and I both found a stall each that we were particularly interested in. As a philatelist, my dad stopped to look a the Portobello Stamp Company, which started trading there in 1994.
I, on the other hand, was drawn directly to a specialist book stall, featuring first editions of all the Harry Potter books. The bloke running the stall, however, was not the friendliest of folks. He was a bit aggressive towards some of the tourists and when I showed an interest in the Harry Potter books, he simply told me the price very matter of factly and without much enthusiasm for them.
If you are an antique collector then you can't miss a trip to Portobello Market, and if you enjoy looking at old curios, it is definitely worth a visit. If, however, you are more interested in food and fashion, you might as well go to a less crowded and higgledy pickled marketplace. It will be much easier to navigate.