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April 29, 2002
There are two cinemas on Notting Hill Gate which carefully coordinate there screenings, the only time both cinemas programmes have coincided was in May 1999 when both showed "Notting Hill." Just outside of the tube station at number 87 is the dull gray exterior of The Gate Cinema, opened in 1911 as the Electric Palace. The cinema is housed in the premises of a former restaurant which was converted by the architect William Hancock. The Gates programme draws heavily on the Foreign Language and art-house releases and can get very packed in the evenings.
Further up the road at number 103 is the far more ornate exterior of The Notting Hill Coronet built in 1898 by architect WG Sprague the Grade II listed former opera house now houses a two screen cinema. Screen one retains much of Sprague's original charm, with a large domed ceiling, a curved balcony and red velvet seating all awash with ornate gilt work. The recently added screen 2 is somewhat cramped and squalid by comparison and is best avoided. The Coronet tends to show more main stream releases, though screen 2 often plays host to some more obscure releases. This is also the last cinema in London to allow smoking.
A ten minute walk up Portobello Road lies the latest addition to the Notting Hill cinema scene. Constructed in 1910 this is the oldest operating purpose built cinema in England. It has a wonderful art deco exterior covered in cream tile with a sculpted fruit a theme which is continued within. As cinema declined in popularity the cinema survived by screening porn films and local serial killer John Christie, subject for the movie "10 Rillington Place," served as projectionist here for a while. Recently refurbished and re-opened the cinema now boasts a cafe and a private club as well as a solid programme of art-house films.
Afternoon matinees at the Coronet, packed evening performances at the Gate and Lazy Sunday double bills at the Electric have long been my way of escaping the cold winters, balmy summers and drizzly spring and autumns of West London.
From journal Notting Hill: My London Home
London, United Kingdom
June 24, 2001
Notting Hill has been around about a thousand years and was famous for its piggeries. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the rich built mansions in the area to take advantage of the royal connections at Kensington Palace. The gentry and aristocracy were the ones who mainly were responsible for laying out its mews, crescents and squares and some fine buildings were built. During the 20th century the area hit hard times and became a low-rent area populated by immigrants who had just arrived from the West Indies. Its Caribbean connection is still celebrated each August bank holiday with the famous Notting Hill carnival where reggae music and outrageous costumes take to the streets. Only in the last twenty years has Notting Hill cleaned up its act with most of the problems being pushed out to Ladbroke Grove or Willeseden and the rich and famous have returned. Notting Hill is now an area populated by pop stars, models and the super-fashionable. Hugh Grant himself lives not far away in Holland Park, as does John Cleese, and a Labour minister recently lost his job on the price of a house in Notting Hill. The place has now got that much cachet.
To reach its most popular attraction - Portobello Road Market - take the Circle/Central line to Notting Hill Gate and take the exit to the north side. On the corner will be the "Endsleigh Arms" pub leading to the Pembridge Road. Follow the Pembridge road past its cake-shops, pubs, greengrocers, Indian restaurants and the like and take a left onto Portobello Road. The road leading to the market is rather charming full of 18th century cottages (one of them once owned by George Orwell) and the first of the stalls start to appear.
Portobello Road itself extends half a mile northwards and goes under the westway. Only really at its best on a Saturday morning the part of the market that tourists mainly see is the first stretch where stalls are set up between Regency houses. This first part resembles an English country fayre and is a good place to buy that birthday present for your mother. On show will be pewterware, china-dogs, pub signs, silverware, paintings, furniture and brassware. There is always a busker or singer near this stretch which gives it a festive air.
If you take a left on Elgin Crescent you will come to a small unobtrusive bookshop. This is the bookshop from the movie and is full of Italian tourists asking where Hugh Grant is. But the staff are helpful and the range of travel guides is exceptional (I used to use it before it became famous). Back in the main market the tourists begin to thin and it becomes more authentic with stalls selling leatherware, reggae music, chinaware and fruit and veg (Do you wanna squeeze my mellons darling?) Even further on under the Westway the market becomes even bigger and spreads into the nearby roads. Here you can pick up televisions, furniture, kitchen equipment, clothing (I always end up with a pair of socks) and even computers and modems. If the market becomes too much for you, you can dip into the nearby leafy crescents and squares and try and guess which one of those mansions belongs to Tina Turner.
For a more relaxing break, I recommend the exquisite Holland Park just to the south. Set in a very patrician area full of white stucco mansions this area is inhabited by the rich and pampered and some of the last old-money still living in London. The park itself is beautiful and its nearness to Kensington Palace still gives it a certain snob appeal and is full of duck ponds, teahouses, nannies wheeling prams, woods, winding paths and exceptional rose gardens. Do not miss the ruins of Holland House in the centre of the park. The southern exit will lead you onto High Street Ken leading to the abode of Princess Diana. One morning back in 1996 I saw her get out of her Maserati on the way back from the gym, she got out and nipped into a nearby coffeeshop pursued by the paparazzi. A taste of things to come really...
From journal London - Cultural Powerhouse of Europe