The area of Notting Dale (Notting Hill as it is now known) in West London, originally Middlesex, has changed dramatically over the years, and so has the way in which the people there live their lives. It became known as ‘The Potteries and Piggeries’ because the first people to move into the area were brick and pottery makers for London, which was developing very fast, in the early 19th century. Next came the pig-keepers and gypsies. Hence the name ‘Potteries and Piggeries’. An old kiln still stands in Walmer Road today. With the arrival of all these pigs came poverty on a large scale, along with disease and very bad sanitation conditions. The area was fast becoming built up and there was nothing being done to improve the state of housing, health or educating the young as the population grew.
Notting Dale has been known by many different spellings: In the Patent Rolls for A.D. 1361 it was called Knottynghull, in 1462 Knottyngesbernes, 1476 Knottinge Bernes. The Manor House is known as Notingbarons in 1488, Nottyng Barnes in 1518, Notingbarns in 1519 and Nuttingbars in 1544.As many of my ancestors came from the area of Notting Dale and Kensington, I have heard several stories, mainly about a close knit community, pulling together whenever needed. Back in the 18th century the area was full of cottages and small houses. Large numbers of Irish families moved in to help with the building of railways in the surrounding areas in the early 1800’s. They became so large in number that a church was built for them, St Francis Catholic Church, which was built in Pottery Lane. Along with the church came a school, also St Francis, I have ancestors who attended this school.
Gypsy camps grew up in the 1800’s. It is reported that one in Latimer Road housed about forty to fifty families. They were somewhat seasonal as they moved around as a travelling circus, arriving usually in spring. It wasn’t until the late 1800’s that the gypsies started to leave their battered caravans to live in houses, but there were still some living in caravans as noted on the 1881 census. Some parked their caravans outside their newly acquired house, and used both!
There was a lot of petty crime going on in the area, and gambling was something most people did. The police had trouble in controlling these illegal activities, because conveniently, no one ever knew or had heard of, the people they were looking for! The ‘Black Boy’ and the ‘King’s Arms’ were two notorious public houses situated off James Street.The Potteries and Piggeries went from bad to worse as the multiplication of pigs meant that the conditions got very bad indeed. The smell was apparently unbearable and the health of the inhabitants, especially the women and children, deteriorated rapidly. The pig-keepers spread ever more into the pottery makers’ area and both alike were no-go areas, people who did not live there, avoided it like the plague.
Children worked the same hours as their fathers, sometimes as long as fifteen or sixteen hours a day, and sometimes seven days a week! They would carry heavy loads of clay, getting covered in the stuff. An Act of Parliament abolished this use of children in the workplace, calling it child slavery. A family working together in these conditions could earn £2-£3 a week, which was quite a sum in those days. It was very hard work, the men were heavy drinkers, and with work slackening off in the winter months, the families were quite often penniless during these months. Dogfights were common, dogs were kept for this purpose, and the inhabitants dared not venture outside whilst this activity was taking place!
There were open sewers and pools of stagnant and putrid water all over the area due to the pig keeping. One of these areas was known as the ‘Ocean’ because of its vast size, nearly an acre big!
Charles Dickens even felt moved by the state of affairs around the Potteries and Piggeries, so much so that he wrote an article in Household Words. He begins by saying: "In a neighbourhood studded thickly with elegant villas and mansions, viz.: Bayswater and Notting Hill, in the parish of Kensington, is a plague-spot, scarcely equalled for its insalubrity by any other in London; it is called the Potteries." Discussions took place in Parliament, and a road was constructed, possibly Princes Road, fresh water was also supplied. Drainage, however, still remained a huge problem. All the wells were contaminated and the water was black! A racecourse was opened in 1837, The Hippodrome,but from the start it was faced with enormous problems. Being built so close to the slums of the Potteries and Piggeries, police had to patrol the grounds to keep the unsavoury people attracted to that area, out of the racecourse. After only five years, and numerous problems, the racecourse was closed and the land was sold for development. The area expanded as more and more people moved in with different trades and it became known as Notting Dale.
In 1859, Norland Chapel was built, by 1879, the chapel was handed over to the Reverend W Booth, of the Christian Mission, otherwise known as the Salvation Army, it was renamed Norland Castle. I took a photograph of this building on fire and it appeared on the front page of the West London Observer, Thursday, September 10th 1964, I was eleven at the time. Damage was estimated at £25,000. It had been bought by a religious society and was due to open as a temple in November. The fire was so bad that thirteen people including seven children were evacuated from a house nearby.
In 1866, St Clement’s Church and school was built and opened for the community of Notting Dale. In 1888, the Kensington Public Baths and WashHouse opened. All areas were being built on and it was becoming a large community, but the area of the Potteries and Piggeries was still an area of slum houses, over-crowding and very poor sanitation.
The North Kensington Branch of the Public Library dates from 1891, but the Notting Hill Free Library was founded in 1874, positioned at No. 106 High Street, Notting Hill Gate.
Samuel Lake, a chimney sweep from Tottenham Court Road, moved into the Potteries in 1818. A couple of years later, a man named Stephens joined him and it is reported that he paid £100 for a part of Lake’s land and took to keeping pigs.
The owners of the pigs used to go to the West End, Mayfair, and collect refuse and waste food early in the morning on their horse or donkey and cart. This food was then sorted out, the freshest of it was kept for them to eat or sell on. The fat was boiled and the rest was fed to the pigs!
Cholera took the lives of many in 1849 and made the area even worse. If the children lived to reach their teens they were lucky! The authorities tried to have the pigs removed, for health reasons, but the pigs were the lifeline of their owners, so they turned a blind-eye! It seemed to be, keep the pigs and live in slums and poor health, or get rid of the pigs and have no income. When the Medical Officer in 1856 tried to get rid of the pigs, he came up against a very clever man. Samuel Lake had apparently foreseen this problem, and had added to the leases ‘for the purposes of pig-keeping’, so only a special Act of Parliament could overturn this and allow the pigs to be removed. Along with the outbreak of Cholera in 1849, and another in 1853, came Smallpox, which was said to be ten times worse in the Notting Dale area, than in any surrounding district! And with an outbreak of Scarlet Fever about 1870 and Influenza in 1889-1890, the death rate was extremely high!
The pigs did eventually go, but the poor conditions remained, overcrowding being the main reasons. The area started to change when the clay pits were filled in and Avondale Park was opened. But the death rate was still very high, babies were still dying in the 1890’s.
Old houses were deemed unliveable and were demolished, new houses went up and conditions improved. With all the new housing and development came a change in road names, too. My father used to live in Avondale Park Road, which was Tobin Street when he was born, and prior to that it was Thomas Street! So everything about the area was changing. Avondale Park was named in honour of Prince Albert, son of Edward, Prince of Wales. He became Duke of Clarence and Avondale in 1890 and died suddenly in 1892, aged 28 of pneumonia. His fiancée, the Princess of Teck, subsequently married his brother, the future King George V. Avondale Park was opened in 1892, known by the locals as the ‘Rec’. It housed a flower garden, a playground area for the children and a bandstand with a beautiful public Mortuary Chapel. Avondale Park Road, where my father lived, came about at a later date.
Another road, Blechynden Street crossed a 50-acre estate which a barrister, James Whitchurch purchased for £10 an acre, in the 19th century. He left his home in Blechynden in Southampton and built himself a house in Lancaster Road, North Kensington, now situated at No. 133. Streets were built on the estate in 1846, and the first were named Aldermaston, Silchester, Bramley and Pamber after four neighbouring villages near Basingstoke, which was where James Whitchurch’s daughter Florence Blechynden Whitchurch was living. After dividing the land into plots, he leased them to people like, John Calverley (Calverley St) a Notting Hill builder. Joseph Job Martin, the landlord of The Lancaster Tavern in Walmer Road, as well as the developer of Martin Street. Stephen Hurst, a builder from Kentish Town, who was responsible for Hurstway Street and James Fowell of Gray’s Inn Road, who moved to Ponders End with the profits from Fowell Street. James Whitchurch died near Blechynden.
My Grandfather worked in Pottery Lane as a general dealer, dealing in scrap-metal and used tyres and batteries. I have found several ancestors on census including the family of my 2xGreat Grandfather John George Worley that had a Marine Store in Walmer Road. Walmer Road first appeared in 1852, the year the great Duke of Wellington suddenly died at Walmer Castle in Kent.
The Kensington Workhouse was originally in Mary Place, situated behind the police station. In 1900, an act of the Kensington Borough Council was to purchase part of what used to be William Street, then Kenley Street. Houses for use as workmen’s flats and dwellings went up. District Nurses had a home erected in the same street for their use. Five streets known as the ‘Special Area’ were Bangor Street, Crescent Street, St Clement’s Road, St Katherine’s Road and William Street. This area differed very little from the Potteries in terms of health and well being. This ‘Special Area’ was largely overcrowded. In 1904, there was one quarter the amount of public houses to dwellings, which suggested heavy drinking. Lodging houses accommodated over 700 people, each paying about fourpence or sixpence a night. Houses for ‘ladies of the night’ were open from the evening till around mid morning, at a charge of roughly a shilling a night.
Stories of fighting in the streets, such as the one between two women, one of which I believe to have a connection to my family, an Annie Strutton, reached a local newspaper in 1913.
In neighbouring Shepherds Bush, where I have relatives and have lived myself, they had a hanging place known as Gallows Close. Two highwaymen were hanged there in 1748, the remains of the gallows are reported to have still been in existence until 1800.The original parish church of Kensington, St Mary Abbots, can be traced back to 1539 through its parish registers. It is thought that a church had stood here dating back to the late Saxon times. The St Mary Abbots school attached to the church is the school I attended from the age of five until I was eleven.
My Grandparents on my mother’s side used to manage several flats in a large house in Holland Park, which was quite a select area. As my mother was working, I spent a lot of my time with my Grandparents in this large house in Holland Park, playing in the garden and often spending the night. It is strange to think of the contrast between the two areas. Notting Dale/Notting Hill being a harsh place to live, with the slums, overcrowding, bad sanitation, illness and disease and just a few streets away, Holland Park, where the wealthy people lived in their huge houses with servants and good food. One map I have shows a colour-coded reference in accordance to wealth, ranging from the lowest class (destitute), through very poor, moderate poverty, poverty/comfort, fairly comfortable, well-to-do and wealthy. My Worley ancestors were divided amongst the lowest and very poor, and must have lived a hard existence. Whilst the house in Holland Park where my mother’s parents worked was amongst the wealthy.
Talking to family members and distant relatives,many from Notting Dale, they all have stories to tell, many of hardship and poverty, but many also of good times and outings and street parties, etc. They seemed to make the most of what they had.
My ancestors, the ‘Worley’s’, were very well known totters in the area of Notting Dale, they lived in Walmer Road, where the kiln still stands. They had horse-drawn barrows for collecting their wares. One Worley in particular was well known, Harriet, she would apparently take no nonsense from anybody, not even the police, a relative of mine remembers her very well! She would be outside in the street, overseeing what was going on.
Major changes happened around the 1970’s, new housing estates, roads and motorways were being built. It is now a very up and coming area, not like the days of slums and disease. There are reminders, like the kiln in Walmer Road, but it is also a reminder of some good times as well.
WEB SITES Ordnance Survey Maps Historic Maps Maps Greenwood's Historic Map of London 1827 Maps The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Site
BOOKS to read Notting Hill in bygone days by Florence M Gladstone and Ashley Barker The Story of Notting Dale. From Potteries and Piggeries to Present Times
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