The Ladbroke estate has always been well-supplied with pubs. There are now nine in total; and in the past there were as many as sixteen. All are or were strung out along or just off the four main north-south arteries through the estate – Clarendon Road, Ladbroke Grove, Kensington Park Road and Portobello Road – no doubt deliberately sited to attract passing traffic.
When an area was being developed, a public house was often the first building to be put up on a corner site, after which the builder would add a terrace of houses next to it. For developers, a pub provided a handy place where his workmen could eat, drink and be paid – in the words of Mark Girouard in his excellent book Victorian Pubs, “a combined site office and canteen”. Often the developer or builder became the licensee, and no doubt was not unhappy to see the wages he had just paid his workmen flowing back into the tills of the pub. The pub would then usually be sold on – for instance, Paul Felthouse, the builder of the Warwick Castle (now The Castle) in Portobello Road, was the first licensee but then sold the pub a year or so later in 1853 for £3,000 to the brewer Sir Henry Meux.
Development on the Ladbroke estate proceeded by fits and starts, as developers regularly ran into various financial difficulties, and it was not unknown for pubs to stand in isolation for a number of years before the houses they were intended to serve came to be built. As the periodical The Builder of 25 February 1854 said: “On the pastures lately set out for building, you may see a double line of trenches with excavation either side … and a tavern of imposing elevation standing alone and quite complete, waiting the approaching rows of houses”. One such tavern was the Elgin in Ladbroke Grove. It was built just before the financial collapse in 1855 of the main developer of the area, Dr Samuel Walker, which brought all building to a halt for several years. In 1860 a press article described it as the only building “in a dreary waste of mud and stunted trees… with wind howling and vagrants prowling in the speculative warnings around them”.
Pubs obviously benefited from being next to a transport hub. The Elgin was the terminus for horse omnibus line; and the Kensington Park Hotel was right next to the new Ladbroke Grove station (then known as Notting Hill Station) on the Metropolitan line. Typically, pubs had a billiard room and a club room on the first floor, the latter available for hire. Some offered rooms – hence the inclusion of Hotel in their names.
Almost all our pubs were built within a space of some 30 years between 1840 and 1870. The Ladbroke estate was developed from south to north, so our oldest pubs are in the south. Oldest of all is probably the Prince Albert in Pembridge Road, which dates from 1841, the year after Queen Victoria’s marriage to Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. It was the first building to be put up by William Chadwick, the developer to whom the Ladbroke family had entrusted the development of the area around the intersection of Kensington Park Road and Ladbroke Road, and he was also the first licensee.
The next oldest pub in our area is probably the Mitre in Holland Park Avenue, which dates back to the early 1840s, although it was rebuilt in the 1930s. The Ladbroke Arms is also an early pub, dating probably from the late 1840s or early 1850s. Clarendon Road was one of the first north-south roads to be developed and William Reynolds, one of the developers most involved, built a very grand pub at 85 Clarendon Road in 1846, the Clarendon Hotel. It sadly ceased operating as a pub in 1919 (it is now the Quest social centre), but remains one of the area’s most elegant buildings and has been given a Grade II listing.
The 1860s to 1870s saw a plethora of pubs opening in the more commercial areas of Ladbroke Grove, in Portobello Road and at the northern end of Kensington Park Road. The Clarendon Hotel may be a model of restrained elegance but, as the 19th century advanced, pub architecture became more and more florid and ornate, as can be seen in case of the Kensington Park Hotel. Some of the earlier pubs like the Elgin – which is now a treasure-trove of gold-engraved glass, crystal and ornate tiles – also gave themselves a makeover to keep up with the new fashion in pub decoration
Several of the pubs that opened in the 19th century have now disappeared. None of the pubs at the northern end of Kensington Park Road has survived. The Codrington on the corner of Elgin Crescent closed after the First World War and the building is now occupied by an estate agent, although its past as a pub can still be seen from the shape of the building. The charmingly-named Grasshopper in a pretty building at Nos. 216-218 Kensington Park Road closed around the same time. A pub called first the Arundel Arms and then the Blenheim Arms on the corner of Blenheim Crescent survived until fairly recently but is now the E&O restaurant.
The pubs in Portobello Road have until recently fared better. One pub – the Portobello Tavern on the corner of Lonsdale Road – closed many years ago. But in the part of Portobello Road that lies within the Ladbroke area, The Duke of Wellington, the Castle, Portobello Gold, Portobello Star and First Floor (formerly The Colville) are still in operation, although the Portobello Star in particular is now more of a cocktail bar than a traditional pub. Sadly, Shannons Market Bar (formerly the Golden Cross) has closed down and is reopening as a sushi restaurant.
The above is an extract from an article that appeared in the Spring/Summer 2015 edition of our newsletter, Ladbroke News.