Portobello Road

  1. Published on February 18, 2012

If you ever get to London then Portobello Road antiques market deserves a special mention. Like a Brownian broth of bizarre objects and the unusual people who collect and sell them, it pulses with random collisions and unpredictable interactions.

Contained in a tiny quarter of West London, it is bordered by sprawling council estates in the Carnival district at one end and the high society town houses of Notting Hill at the other.

Here there are stalls with objéts d’art and collectables in silver, gold, ivory, porcelain and pewter.

The level of expertise which accompanies them is staggering. Take silver as an example. Within 100 yards you can find experts each in British, European or Russian silver and more with specific knowledge of various periods.

There are specialists in dress materials, watches, canes, scientific instruments, furniture, ethnic art, Chinoiserie, paintings, prints, books – you name it. Some pieces date to Roman times and the Middle Ages, others were made yesterday. Unknown numbers of antique treasures are concealed within oceans of trinkets hauled from antique fairs throughout the UK and Europe. From 4 am on Saturday they await their discovery and rescue in deals struck from a few pounds to a fortune.

At the bottom end, cockney run vegetable and fruit stalls, Jamaican takeaways, ethnic arts-and-craft shops, shabby-chic boutiques and avant-garde pubs showcase the aspiring charisma of the London hoi polloi and are frequented by the trendiest.

Larger than life characters are drawn from a cosmopolitan soup of aristocrats and paupers, Jews and Muslims, curators and specialist dealers, academics, pick-pockets and tourists. Many of the sellers have been there for decades and a sense of community so often missing in other walks of life adds a degree of stability and warmth to the chaos. This magical place exudes an infectious vibrancy and joie de vivre to those who pass through. There is simply nowhere else like it.

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