2015 is the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the Portobello and Golborne Road markets. I’m sitting in the Golborne Deli with Wendy Mandy. “I grew up in Africa” she tells me, “and then I was brought back to England and led a very English life. When I was sixteen I got expelled from school and came to the Portobello Road and I cried for about three hours because, at last, I felt I was in a place of colour, community and life”. Wendy is between Acupuncture sessions. She has a studio on Golborne Road. Having arrived here at sixteen she is now sixty-three. “Every single client who walks through the door, it doesn’t matter if it’s a rich Saudi or a guy from Birmingham on a day trip, they all say, ‘Wow, this road is amazing’”.
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It’s Friday, market day on Golborne Road. The street is rocking. Coming up from Ladbroke Grove the road begins with a post office on one side and Hassan’s Moroccan Fish Grill on the other. Food vans run all along the left side, while the right is junk all the way. Stalls lead on past Rainbow News, where the iron bridge dips low and Trellick Tower rises up like a Phoenix on the horizon, the guardian of the street.
Almost everything a person needs to survive is here. Two butchers and a fish shop, an off license and a deli, a baker, two chemists and a bicycle shop. Along with a newsagent, a post office and a Cash & Carry, the corner shop sells everything from Manuka honey to burkhas. Two hairdressers and a travel agent, a solicitors, Golborne Road is a trading street serving a local community. Because people shop locally, it means they are out on the street and therefore become familiar with each other.
Then after a while I fell in love with the place, it’s a community you don’t witness in many places nowadays.
Tables tumble out of cafés, taking any space the stalls have left. After the Cash and Carry and the hairdressers comes the French Moroccan café. A dapper couple stop and talk to a woman in a green silk turban, her brown skin turning the silk to emerald. The couple smile, he sporting in a necktie and she wearing gold heels, black stockings and a large fur coat. The couple saunter on. Behind them a gypsy singer and guitar accompaniment set-up to busk. She pulls open a can of Super Tenants before breaking into country classics. A man in a Saville Row suit drops a five pound note into the hat. The singer looks at her guitarist and turns back, “Thanks mate” she calls, “that’s a game changer”.
Opposite the Golborne Deli in SPIC ‘N’ SPAN dry cleaners, Patron, Mohamed Sefti, stands behind the counter. Flanked by shoe laces and moth deterrent, he shares with me his observations, “It’s a place where a lot of money will mix with little money. When people come here they discover a bit of the rough and the smooth together, and it’s still here, it’s still going.” Mohamed is Algerian. He came to Golborne Road twelve years ago, “The best word it can think of ‘spice’, a bit of everything is happening on Golborne Road”.
On the pavement outside SPIC ‘N’ SPAN, Andrew Strutton and his uncle John are selling bric a brac. Everything from sewing machines to Edwardian mahogany chairs spread out across trestle tables and piled up on the street. Andrew’s been selling junk on the Golborne Road since he was a teenager, “ I’m forty-six now. I’ve had a stall here with my dad since I was fourteen.” There’s a cold wind and Andrew buries his hands deep into the pockets of his black puffer jacket, his eyes flick constantly towards his stall. A steady stream of people inspect the items; a jar of nails, a copy of Gibbon’s ‘Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire’, an ornamental dog. Andrew’s speech is punctuated with prices, “We used to have a lock up in Monro Mews – a fiver luv – but they’ve all gone now, made into million pound houses. So I’ve got one in Wornington Road round the corner.” This was also the road where Andrew was born.
Returning to the Golborne Deli, I meet with Charles Egerton, aka. ‘Edgy’. It’s 11am and the sound of banging eighties pop tracks fill the room. Edgy wears a waxed Schoffel jacket to match his friendly, plummy voice, “I’ve always known this area but I wasn’t aware of this street until Wendy moved here and I used to go to her for acupuncture. I would come up in the morning to have my acupuncture and often I had an hour to kill and some work to do, so I’d hang out in the street.” Our coffees arrive and he chucks a macaroon in my direction, “Have that. I shouldn’t eat sugar.” Despite resisting macaroons, Edgy still retains the spirit of a dedicated bon viveur. “Then after a while I fell in love with the place,” he continues, “it’s a community you don’t witness in many places nowadays”.
Back in the eighties Edgy moved from Chelsea to his roots in the Home counties where he trained race horses. “The one thing about horse racing,” he tells me “is it’s a great community”. According to Edgy the past twenty years have seen those communities destroyed; modern farming practices, disappearing council houses and property prices altering village life irrevocably, “The village where I came from there’s now no pub. The farm workers cottages are either owned or rented by retired accountants. The flower show and vegetable competition are completely gone”. I imagine how much fun a vegetable competition would be with Edgy back in the day. Right now, he looks forlorn. “But there’s a community here?” I ask, as much to lift the mood as anything else. “Yes, there is” his natural cheer returning. “And how would you define it?”. Edgy stares up at the ceiling. He thinks. An old Kylie Minogue song blares over the PA system. “Community is when human beings live amongst each other in a compassionate, non-judgmental and selfless way, where people are tolerant to other people’s beliefs and they connect with and support one another.” He looks at me for reassurance, “does that sound right?”
Support within the Golborne Road community comes in many forms, but one I hear about repeatedly is giving credit to customers. As the road is filled with independent shopkeepers who run their shops as well as own the lease, they can take decisions, like whether a customer can pay later or if they’ll agree to be a key holder. As a result, trust builds.
I've made quite a few friends since I moved here, all of whom I trust… I leave my keys with Reg in Clarkes.
“The residents that are my customers, they can walk in and walk out without paying” Mohamed tells me. “I have chits with everyone” exclaims Wendy, “everyone knows me”. Edgy has a similar experience, “I’ve made quite a few friends since I moved here, all of whom I trust… I leave my keys with Reg in Clarkes.” In a country increasingly of retail chains with high staff turnovers, Golborne Road retains the intimacy of a local high street. “If you come and ask me who is that person over there – within a certain area,” asserts Mohamed, “I should be able to know who he is. And to know him means I have links with him at some stage. Community is about links. It is like a chain”.
Many of the food stalls also serve the local community. Ahmad has a tent on Golborne Road under which he sells barbeque chicken. Edgy introduces me, “The best chicken kee-babs in London” he declares. Ahmad smiles appreciatively before turning back to his skewers, always moving, always in a hurry. Ahmad has been trading on Golborne Road for almost ten years, “21st April 2005 I came,” Ahmad recalls with some precision. During those ten years, Ahmad’s main custom has been key workers in the area, “I’ve got a few regulars since I started, mainly from schools: teachers, people working in the office. Kids I charge them half price, one pound a sandwich.”
Golborne Road has been a trading street for as long as anyone can remember. About half way up the Street is Clarkes, a bric a brac shop which began life in 1878 as a Corn Chandler, a posh term for pet food. Reg, the owner, sits at the window and surveys the scenes outside. Rotund, bifocaled and in his sixties, he has the face of a little boy. Reg was born in the area and remembers every shop all the way back to his childhood, just after the war.
“Down the bottom were the totters, rag and bone men: Billy Baton and Monty who was deaf in both ears. I started selling junk from a pram, my dad cleared houses and others gave you pieces. There never used to be food on the street, except eggs from Egg Man Tony and pre-packed cakes, and Stan Mason who sold seafood. Georgie Lantern had the flower stall and then Ron who did all the soap powder, brillo pads and that. On the corner Bella Baldhead brought a converted pram and sold Percy Dalton peanuts. She’d shout, “Peanuts! Peanuts! All roasted!”
Next to that was the shoe shop, a Jewish owner, ‘Reuben’s’ it was called, sold American baseball boots for fifteen shillings. Sundays, Mr Pratt – Prattie – would come with his pushcart and sell winkles and prawns. I liked the toffee apple man: four pence, or six pence for a big one. He used to shout, “Toffee ap! Toffee ap, yeah!”. Holmes bakery numbers 65 and 79, the best bread in the world. Emalia and Henry. She used to come over here for a smoke. People would come from miles to buy bread from the shop. The names are still in the stained glass. During the war they got a brick through the window as one of the panes said ‘German Bread”. They changed it after that. My whole time on the road has been memorable. I’ve been lucky.”
Layered on top of this vibrant local community are communities linked by nationality, culture and ethnicity. The four most prominent are English and Irish working class communities, Portuguese, West Indian and Moroccan. The Anglo-Irish working class community has existed in Golborne Road since the Second World War, when affluent families moved to the countryside and the area became working class all the way to Notting Hill Gate. The West Indian, Portuguese and Moroccan communities were invited by both the British government and recruited by private companies to staff public services and the burgeoning hospitality industry. Their descendants return to Golborne Road to connect with their culture and to hang out with others from their community. This creates interwoven layers of people and cultures making up the fabric of the street.
O’Porto café, one of two popular Portuguese coffee shops that attract people from all corners of the earth. Behind a glass cabinet filled with Portuguese custard tarts, coconut nibbles and biscuits I recognise vaguely from holidays in Lisbon, the blue-eyed young man and his team of brunettes fire instructions at each other in Portuguese, lubrication to this well-oiled machine. An elderly Moroccan man wearing a traditional jalaba in stylish lime green enters in a stately fashion. He orders a coffee and sits down slowly, carefully. Pointy shoes poke out from under the hem of his gown as he looks inquisitively through the window. A young man in a pair of trendy Ray-Ban sunglasses greets him in Arabic as he passes, switches to cockney as he pays for his coffee, and chats in French with the friends he joins for a smoke by the back door.
The Moroccan community have been part of Golborne Road since the late 1950s. In his basement office on the Golborne Road, Aziz Samih of the British Moroccan Assembly fills me in. “Initially Moroccans were invited to come, contracted to work in catering and the NHS, some from Gibraltar, others from Northern Morocco: Tangiers, Larache, which at the time had just gained independence from the Spanish protectorate (1912-1956)”. According to Aziz, it was the affinity to Spain that influenced the decision to settle in North Kensington, “The café culture, the food – these Moroccan’s were familiar with the Spanish language and, as the first settlers, they dictated the area and others joined them”. At that time, Golborne Road was also very cheap and there was lots of shared housing for young men who were here to work. To this day, Golborne Ward is still one of the poorest in the country.
Over the road at Lisboa café, I search the bottom of my bag for change. Somehow, I doubt the tiled bakery with cakes served fresh from the baking tray is going to accept a card payment for £1.20. I find a five pence piece, five to go. By the time the man behind the counter turns to me I’ve checked every inch of my bag, every pocket, every corner of my purse and only found a penny. “I’m short 4p” I confess “for a café latte”. He looks at me sternly, “Have here or take-away?” “Here” I say, biting my bottom lip in shame. “I’ll make you half a café latte… anything else?” he smiles at his joke, the charade is over. A full cup of coffee arrives and I take a seat outside. A neat little woman breaks away from her friend, looks past me through the window at the cakes behind, “I do better ones than that” she remarks and hurries off.
Beside me a table of women speaking Portuguese seem quite content to eat the cakes. Nelia, Anna, Maria and Katarina have traveled from outside the area to meet at Lisboa café. I ask how often they come “I think we come everyday…” Nelia hesitates and Maria laughs. “We do come everyday” she admits “with these two ladies we come everyday. We are friends”. Maria points to Anna and, in a baritone voice with a thick Portuguese accent, she clarifies, “This is my sister”. Nelia resumes, “We meet, we talk, we talk about our lives…” “Yes we do!” booms Maria. Nelia continues “and we have good bond with the members of staff here. We’ve been coming for many years… to be honest I find when we come here we live a bit of Portugal,” “Yeees!” Maria nods her head in resolute agreement.
When I ask about the history of the community I am directed over the road to ‘Mr Carlos’, the owner of the Lisboa café, along with the Portuguese Deli and the stationary shop next door where Nelia and Maria buy Portuguese magazines and gifts such as figurines of the Virgin Mary and pottery in the shape of cabbage leaves. Mr Carlos is formidable in his grey cable knit jumper and thermal body warmer. Over steel-rimmed spectacles he gives me a no nonsense stare, “I was the first Portuguese to come to Golborne Road,” he announces. I feel honoured. “I came in 1970 for a better life – and to avoid the army. At the time we were fighting a colonial war in Africa: Mozambique, Angola, and there was conscription. We were recruited to work in hospitality. I lived down the road in shared housing, worked in a ho-tel. When I saw the lease here was for rent I took it with two partners. People thought we were crazy. The street was dead then, like a ghost town. That was in 1978”. It came as no surprise to learn his was the first Portuguese business in the whole of England, “We lifted up the community”.
Arguably, the Portuguese cafes still do. Perched on a milk crate sipping a coffee outside O’Porto, I fall into conversation with a British-Jamaican who had left the area fifteen years previously but still comes back every week to drink a coffee there. Back in Goldborne Deli – this time with Will Wentworth the man who owns it – I find myself and the Jamaican are not the only ones, “I’ve been coming to Golborne Road for thirty years and I meet my sister at O’Porto every Friday morning. We have coffee there and wander down the market. Because I’ve been going so long, people pitch up from my life. Last Friday a friend of mine from New York just arrived there, didn’t call me, just came down. There’s a load of people who go there every Friday who do the same thing. I don’t know them. I nod and say hello but I don’t really know them, and for London that’s an unusual thing these days”.
“It’s not like Westbourne Grove” remarks Zima Amanda, one of the original tenants of Trellick Tower, “where there’s a winning population. Nor like Harlesden,” she continues “where there are still concentrations of large groups of different people. Golborne Road is not dominated by one group, there’s integration”.
This integration however, did not happen overnight and, as old time activist Eddie Adams points out, was not achieved without a struggle. In fact it happened gradually, over many years. Eddie, whose family have been in the area for almost a century, sits surrounded by taxidermy in his house behind Golborne Road. Herons in cases, an owl on the mantelpiece, a stag hangs majestically from the wall, “I shot that in Ladbroke Grove” he jokes. His heavy authoritative set means I almost believe him. Eddie Adams remembers the first Notting Hill Carnival. It came after the race riots of 1958 in the area and, a year later, the murder of Kelso Cochrane.
According to Eddie, the cause of the riots was opportunistic; “This mixed family had a row, and the Moselyites (followers of Oswald Mosley) used that as an excuse to hold a meeting and to stir up all the hate. They used all the things like: you’re taking our housing, taking our women, our jobs, which is not true. I was in Ledbury Road at the time… there was a group of white lads going around trying to beat up Black people, smash windows in houses where Black people lived. That brought on a group of Black youth protecting themselves”. According to local historian Tom Vague, “A war cabinet meeting was held at the Calypso club on Ledbury Road and… Totobag’s Caribbean café was turned into a fortress for the battle of Blenheim Crescent”.
A year later, a young Black student, Kelso Cochrane, was murdered on Southam Street, just off Golborne Road. Police ambivalence left many in the community angry. His funeral was organised by the Inter-racial Friendship campaign and Black and White people lined the route of his funeral procession from Ladbroke Grove to Kensal Green cemetery. Eddie Adams was there. “At his funeral there was a massive turn out of people against fascism and racism. That was one of the turning points in the civil struggle”.
That year, Oswald Mosley was defeated in his election bid for the North Kensington and the following year the first movements towards a West Indian carnival began under the stewardship of American civil rights activist, Claudia Jones. By 1966 Rhaune Laslett had launched the first Notting Hill Carnival with the children from her playgroup in Tavistock Crescent, and so began a decade of West Indian influence in Ladbroke Grove and Notting Hill. Black underground press writer, Courtney Tulloch, describes how the carnival gave an opportunity to local artists, “It was those same people, the ones who were called pimps and prostitutes and drug pushers, who created Carnival and keep creating it. We demonstrated that those people could come out of those basements and create their art and their music, which is what they’d always wanted to do.”
Artists were originally attracted to the area because of cheap rents and, since the 1960’s, it has been a hub for music and art;“Robert Wyatt said this was his favourite street in London and Robert’s seen a few places.” I’m sitting with Geoff Travis, founder of record company, Rough Trade, in his offices on Golborne Road. Geoff wears steel glasses and speaks softly. “I think it comes down to the obvious fact that life is being lived on the street. There’s lots of mythology about street life and art, but there’s not many places left where life is being lived on the street”. The first Rough Trade record shop opened around the corner on Kensington Park Road in 1976. “The shop opened and we were quite lucky in a way because about four or five months later punk started, and the shop became a centre for punk and new wave, mostly because we were importing the kind of music that people wanted to hear”. It was around that time that Pink Floyd began composing music from their flat on Powis Gardens and Bob Marley and The Wailers recorded their album ‘Catch A Fire’ at the Island Recording Studios on Basing Street. “It’s a mixture of high art and market traders, and that’s part of the magic.” says Geoff.
Artists are everywhere on Golborne Road. Striding down pavements in ankle-length mottled-gold raincoats, scribing notes in corners of cafes, clutching rolled up paintings in hands bejeweled with gypsy rings and wrists with charms. The creative community here give colour to the fabric of the street, patterns and shape to it. Coming towards me a flank of three young men in full make up, one with sculptured pixie ears powdered red, the second sporting sequined trousers patterned with skulls, the third indistinguishable in comparison. As they sail past, I overhear one telling the other, “Another thing I love…”
Off the cuff, Michelle, who has a furniture stall a little way down the street, describes a similar thing, “You can be weird here and you just fit in”. I gave Michelle some furniture when I was clearing out my flat a couple of years ago and we’ve chatted on the street together since, “Other parts of London they’d look at you strangely. But here you can just Be.” Geoff Travis likens the atmosphere to the King’s Road in the seventies when Vivian Westwood and Malcolm McLaren’s shop, Sex, was a focal point for what was going on creatively in London; “It’s about feeling free to be out of the norm, providing possibilities for something, giving you a bit of courage to be yourself”.
The cross-pollination of local people, different cultures and artists make Golborne Road an exciting place to come to. As a result, the street attracts visitors from other parts of London, as well as tourists, particularly from Europe. “It’s like a party” effuses Wendy, and people from outside want to be part of it. In turn, this draws money into the area. “To me Golborne is more special than Portobello Road because it’s more subtle,” explains Will Wentworth, “If you’re an Italian tourist walking down this road on a Friday morning, Golborne is more what you expect Portobello to be”. Whether sipping coffee languidly or on a quick fag break, people sit, stand, lean against any spare brick work, moan, joke with each other; a man stares in contemplation at the floor, looks up and is instantly distracted by the characters that are all around him.
Over the road from Rough Trade, cockney fruit and veg sellers banter with the passersby. Two blue-eyed brothers in their thirties and an older man, mixed race, bag up produce from an old fashioned wagon. A coiffured Arab woman in black shades and fur-trimmed coat walks past. “Hello Princess. What can I get ya?” she remarks how busy he is, “never too busy for you darlin’”. In the opposite direction a large woman in her sixties waddles over, “Hello young lady!” he shouts. She beams. The old mixed race man lets out a holler, “More bananas up! More apples up!” an armful of apples roll down the astro turf spread out across the wooden slats. An altercation starts, some confusion over change, “Look me in the eye, Boy!” the old mixed race man demands. The ‘Boy’ is a grey-haired Caribbean bloke of about seventy. “You’re lying!” he exclaims and then settles it by giving him the money. The wrinkled old customer, content with the verdict, walks away fingering the coins in his hand. Focus has already turned towards ‘The Box’, a collection box for charity wrapped in Christmas paper into which a woman in a Dalmatian-print veil with a shopping trolley has just placed a ten pound note. “Look! See that?” announces the blue-eyed brother, “a tenner in the box. See that? Thanks darlin’”. The woman smiles as she pushes her shopping trolly away
Although an example of the proverbial melting pot, Golborne Road somehow exudes a homogenous identity all of its own. Perched on a stool, elbows leaning on the counter, Peter Baker has a banter and a bowl of soup at Mustafa’s food stall just down from Clarkes. “I’m from Birmingham originally, in London for the last twenty-five years and I come to Golborne Road for the food and for the people”. From behind the counter Moustafa joins in, “He’s been coming twenty years!” Peter smiles, “It’s nice to go somewhere people know you, like a family. You come down, eat some soup, moan,” he laughs, “in and amongst the changing face of London over the last ten years it hasn’t really changed that much. It feels quite local whereas the rest of it has been bought out”.
On a bench in front of Moustafa’s stall I fall into conversation with the local homeless guy and artist, ‘Ricasso’. “I‘m a street artist. I do drawing and sell them on the pavement, mainly on Ladbroke Grove” he tells me. Ricasso sits in front of a bowl of lentils and holds a spoon as he talks, “That’s Moustafa,” he points “I painted his stall and now I get free lentils for life. You’ve got to eat sometimes…” Kensington and Chelsea council recently housed Ricasso in Earls Court so now he takes the 328 bus to come to Golborne Road, which he calls home. I ask what makes it feel like home. Ricasso twirls his spoon, “What makes it home is people like Moustafa and Gillian and Trellik Tower and Sam around the corner where I’ve been staying… and the sunset”.
It is this identification with home or family that somehow gives Golborne Road its homogeneity. Along with Ricasso and Mohamed Sefti, Edgy and Wendy Mandy, Mr Singh in the off licence also uses those words, as do Nelia and Maria from Lisboa café and Peter Baker who comes for soup. Wendy Mandy sums it up, “Everybody who lives on this road and works on this road feels like they belong. There’s a sense of belonging. And that sense of belonging has disappeared from our society”. As more high streets are geared towards serving people with spending power, Golborne Road seems to envelop everyone, and everyone who spends time here seems to feel as if they add something to this backdrop, their own personal stitch to the cloth.
“We didn’t care about money,” Geoff Travis says of Rough Trade’s beginnings, “and we still don’t. The pursuit of money is not a way of life for lots of the people around here, and that informs their attitudes and how they are with people”. Edgy sees it like this, ”Walking down the street, people engage, they connect. You feel acknowledged. It’s pretty simple really, people are treated as people rather than what they do or who they are.” Wendy Mandy goes further. For her, the money chase poses a real threat to the community. “An estate agent rang on my doorbell and told me my flat had gone up 350 grand in six months,” Wendy recounts, “and I told him to fuck off. He couldn’t understand it. He said I’ve never heard of anyone being annoyed that their property has gone up. I said because quite frankly what matters to me is community, not money and you guys are destroying our lives”.
Sitting in the Golborne Café & Restaurant with Tony from Arbon Interiors, I hear similar sentiments, “I used to have a shop in an upmarket part of Islington. It was smart, you can look at it and say ‘that’s nice’ but there was no atmosphere at all, totally soulless”. Customers come from across the country to buy fireplaces from Tony’s shop, some of which go for thousands. “I live in Chiswick and I don’t know my next door neighbour. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the people directly opposite. But when you come here in the morning and set up the shop all you do is say good morning to people and it gives you a sense of how it should be”. Fatima brings over two teas. “Here you go, Tony”. A coloured scarf wrapped tightly around her hair, Fatima is the proprietor of the Golborne Café and Restaurant, a working man’s caff where tea arrives in mugs with jokes written on them. Fatima is Turkish and every time she greets someone it’s like a little song.
“That is why people like Charles Egerton and Wendy Mandy live here. Tom Conran lives behind my shop”. Tony’s mobile rings, he answers it. His Army Captain-East End accent reminds me of Reggie from Only Fools and Horses, “I’m not there… a hundred and fifty, no less”. He rings off, turns back, “These people could live anywhere and they choose to live here. There’s one woman, her house up in Holland Park was in the newspaper, they were doing it for two years, underground parking and everything. Recently she said she had thirty-seven million and didn’t know how to spend it” He takes a sip of tea, “she comes down here to buy her fruit and veg”.
We make to leave, Tony walks over to the counter and puts down a pound. Fatima protests “Oh No, Tony!” On the way out we pass a scraggy market trader marching through the door; “Two teas love, but I’ve got no money on me”. Fatima’s tune rings out, “Hallo!” She starts to pour the teas, “Got some lovely lettuces down there. Do you want one? They’re giving ‘em away, giving ‘em away”.
Just as people choose to live on Golborne road, businesses also want to rent units on the street. “In Goldborne road” Will Wentworth tells me, “if you have a unit that comes empty you immediately have interest in it.” Will also owns the solicitors on the corner that has recently come up for rent. “In the office the phone is ringing off the hook”. In the context of other commercial streets in the area, where retail outlets are competing against each other, Golborne Road offers something valuable. “Westfield is a huge threat to High Street Kensington, for example,” Will explains “but the value of independent places like Golborne Road is they are all different. It’s a great feeling walking down a vibrant street. People come to have a coffee, have lunch, enjoy the street, and while they’re here they might buy something they didn’t realise they needed or wanted… These shops are very desirable and there’s nothing more valuable than a street that everyone wants to have a unit in.”
Outside Fatima’s Golborne Café and Restaurant, three girls sweep past me, their smiles framed by black headscarves, the third in full hijab has the smile in her eyes. A rastaman in gold spectacles walks the other way, encased in a wooly rasta hat, his head turned half an eye on the junk below. In O’Porto Café, I sit beside a noticeboard awash with local posters. A union jack catches my eye. It’s the background to an advertisement for the Portobello Dance Company’s Christmas show. In the foreground two mixed-race women in tutus stand on points. The name of the show is ‘Classically British’. It strikes me this could be a label for Golborne Road itself.
As I walk back, night falls. The iron bridge, mounted by a crest of blue lights, plunges down into the darkness below. At the foot of the street, orange beacons either side of zebra crossings welcome visitors like posts of an open gate. “This place is developing organically, all by itself” says Wendy, and it is. From the second world war, through race riots, the birth of Europe’s biggest Caribbean carnival, café culture, new money, old money, Golborne Road knits together people from different cultures, religions and languages into the scene of a tapestry in which rich and poor alike wish to occupy a place. With a style like no other street in the world, it hums a silent tune to freedom, to be truly itself. One has a sense that, were the cloth to be curated or engineered, re-cut into a pre-designed pattern, the whole precious scene might begin to unravel. Looking up at the ever-changing backdrop of Trellik Tower, tonight there is a green lamp glowing from a fourth floor window, a bicycle silhouetted against the balcony below, curtains throw a soft haze across a window on the top floor, on the left a bulb goes out, like a eyelid shutting. A chain of light descends the length of lift shaft, an emblem for the road it sits behind.
Photographs by Alice Bragg
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