Is this UK's most gentrified street?

Portland Road composite

House prices in desirable areas of British cities have rocketed, changing some inner-city communities beyond recognition through the process of "super-gentrification".

Across some areas of the UK, streets that once housed poor people are now beyond the means of all but the well-off.

The path to gentrification is clear when modern streets are compared with maps created by the Victorian social researcher Charles Booth a century ago.

It's particularly obvious in Portland Road in London's Notting Hill.

There are the multi-million pound houses, three-stories high, without so much as a curtain out of place. There's a beauty spa, a wine bar and a gallery selling artworks that cost tens of thousands of pounds.

It's hard to believe it used to be one of the worst slums in London.

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Portland Road

The Secret History of Our Streets is on BBC Two, Wednesday 27 June at 21:00 BST.

Read Joseph Bullman's blog on making the programme

Back in 1968, when Tim and Penny Hicks bought the dilapidated 157 Portland Road for £11,750, the latter's mother was shocked that they had chosen to move their family from up-market Chelsea into an area more known for rag and bone men than bankers.

Forty-four years later, their house is now worth more than £2m.

"I should think we were the second or third of the settlers," Penny Hicks says. "At the local primary school, one of the teachers when we were being shown around, said to me, 'You do appreciate Mrs Hicks, this is not working class. This is criminal class.'"

The houses on Portland Road were built in the 1850s on waste land between the downmarket Norland estate, home to the squalid piggeries and potteries, and the fancy new Ladbroke Estate, which became Notting Hill.

Maps created by Booth in 1899 show how two-thirds of the residents of Portland Road were classified as poor.

By the time Booth's map was updated in 1929, the residents towards the northern end of Portland Road had moved into a different category: "Degraded and semi-criminal".

Houses slipped into multiple occupation and became run down, with shared toilets and no bathrooms.

Average property prives Portland Road

The Hicks' future home at 157 Portland Road was one of those. It was where George Andrews lived with his family. There were eight of them in two rooms, paying a rent equivalent to 65p per week.

"Portland Road was a slum as far as other people were concerned. As far as we were concerned, it's where we lived," Andrews says. "When you look back, we lived in a shack. We lived terrible.

"They [the landlords] weren't getting two pounds a week rent from the house, so they did no repairs, they did nothing. My dad was offered that house for £300 - my dad had never seen £300 in his life."

Although living conditions were squalid in Portland Road in the 1940s, George Andrews and his sister have fond memories of their childhood

The abolition of rent control in 1957 was meant to encourage investment in property. But it led to ruthless landlords - like the infamous Peter Rachman - trying to cash in on the now lucrative housing market by bullying tenants into leaving.

It triggered the gentrification of Portland Road and was the beginning of the end of the street's working class community.

"As well as all these various rent acts and housing acts that impacted gentrification, it was also the fact that a new group of people, a new middle class emerged in society in the 1950s, who didn't want to live in the suburbs," says Loretta Lees, a professor at Kings College London, and gentrification expert.

"The suburbs were boring, they were bland, they were full of suburban families with two children. People wanted to live close to work, they wanted to live close to cultural facilities, like theatre, museums and art galleries."

The Hicks family still live on Portland Road, but many of the other original gentrifiers sold their houses to a new generation of exceptionally rich buyers.

It's a "super-gentrification", that has been fuelled by city bonuses and wealthy foreigner investors, says Lees.

Instead of the traditional view that the wealthy take flight from cities, Lees says the reverse seems to be happening in London, with the rich living in the centre of the city and the poor being displaced.

Portland Road offers a prime example of how gentrification changes the make-up of an area.

These super-gentrifiers, she adds, are different to the pioneer gentrifiers, like the Hicks family who sent their children to the local primary school and engaged with the existing community.

"Many of the early gentrifiers believed very strongly in comprehensive schools. They believed that their children should be mixing with poorer children and that their aspirations etc would rub off on those children, but also that their children would learn from these other children," she says.

Social housing

Winterbourne House, Portland Road
  • Local authorities required to provide social housing since 1919
  • Prime Minister David Lloyd George spoke of "homes fit for heroes"
  • Nearly a million houses were built after being destroyed by German bombers during WWII
  • Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government introduced the right-to-buy scheme in the 1980s

"And now the whole discourse has changed as gentrification has become more hegemonic."

The one part of Portland Road that was never truly gentrified is the northern end, where social housing replaced run-down tenement buildings that had housed brewery workers.

Built in the 1930s, Winterbourne House and Nottingwood House are just a few hundred yards from properties worth millions of pounds.

Flats cost an average of £340,000, compared with the average price for a house at the southern end of Portland Road of £3.5m.

A deprivation map produced by Kensington & Chelsea Borough Council in 2007 showed that while some of the top earners in the country live in the southern and central parts of Portland Road, some of the lowest 5% live at the north end.

Like other super-gentrified areas, middle income buyers - who can't afford houses worth millions of pounds and aren't eligible for social housing - might struggle to move into the area.

When Andrews went back to visit the street where he was raised, there wasn't much left to remind him of how Portland Road used to be.

The sweet shop had gone, the dairies had gone. Even the Portland Arms pub had been turned into a beauty spa.

The Hicks' gutted his old home at 157 Portland Road and turned it into a house worth millions. Although he's nostalgic, he has no doubt that leaving Notting Hill changed his and many of his neighbours' lives for the better.

"You moved out of one of those dumps and got a council flat - you've got a bathroom, you've got hot water, you've got central heating. Can you imagine that? After living in a dump like that? They couldn't wait to move, some of them.

"Not because they didn't like the area and the people. It's just that they were bettering themselves. They were coming up a step."

A selection of your stories will be published shortly.

Some years ago I took a gamble on run-down a property in Boscombe, Bournemouth. At the time the area was rife with drugs and prostitution, but I'd heard they were going to spend a lot of money cleaning the place up. Within two years, the worst offenders had gone and my £105,000 house was valued at £300,000. Not quite the same as Portland Road perhaps, but a significant change for me.

Phil Rogers, Bournemouth

I was born and brought up in the East Dulwich district of London. I was a child of the 1960s, and the area was generally working class. The local shopping area, Lordship Lane, reflected this. Some parts of the area were probably middle class, such as the homes bordering Dulwich Park (which also borders the affluent Dulwich Village on its southern side). Mostly though, the area consists of Victorian homes originally built for artisans. I lived away from the area during the 1980s, but returned by the mid-1990s. From that decade on, more and more middle class families moved in, and house prices rose accordingly. Shops such as Woolworth's closed decades before the company went out of the high street. Where Woolworth's once stood, yet another estate agent chain has taken its place. We are told that the local branch of Iceland is losing its lease, and that Marks and Spencer has an option on it. If this happens, then by the autumn we will have lost yet another shop representative of lower income earners to one associated with higher ones. Much more on these issues can be read on the East Dulwich Forum, which is always accessible online.

Alex Skinner, East Dulwich London England

I live in a small East-End street that was a microcosm of London's diverse post-war population. These neighbours have mostly moved or died, now the neighbours are becoming a set of bland, white, well-off "clones" with expensive cars and little in common apart from a healthy bank account. The troubled children's home round the corner was sold off and now has a Maserati parked outside. Kids who are driven to school in a taxi. I will in no way be able to afford to stay in the area. So much for "communities".

Neville, London

I live in North Street, in the Bedminster area of Bristol. I have grown up in South Bristol and so I have seen the massive changes that have taken place in this part of the city. My mum and I used to walk to North St to go to the post office, the bank, and the tobacconist. Only the bank is still there. It is now a thriving street of boutique shops, upmarket butcher's and deli's, and casual bars and restaurants. My friend's families that live in the area have watched their house prices rocket, while my parent's house in the suburbs stayed pretty stagnant. They find it funny that 30years ago they felt sorry for people who had to buy the cheaper, inner-city style terraced housing. The demolition of the tobacco factories kickstarted the gentrification process; one corner was saved and the beatiful red-brick building was converted into an oh-so-cool bar, leading to other similar ventures starting up. At the time we couldn't understand why they wanted to save this tired-looking old building - the fashion 10 years ago wasn't as conservation friendly as now. There is still a great contrast as you walk down North St towards East St, and on a Friday and Saturday night the 'old crowd' often come back to the pubs they used to be so comfortable in, but have now turned into gastro-style outfits with rustic wooden bars and arty pictures. I like this juxtaposition between the old guard and the new types though; it stops the area from becoming too pretentious.

Jenna Anderson, Bristol, UK

I don't live in the Settlement, but in the same village. Some time before the second world war the Co Op movement, Salvation Army, Quakers etc., got together and set up the Land Settlement Association to bring the out of work Durham/Scottish miners back to the land. Among other outcomes were the current Co Op Farms. In Cosby the LSA built "social housing" on the outskirts of the village. Each house being on a .75 acre plot which was set up with one third garden, one third vegetable patch and one third orchard (planted with 9 fruit trees). Families (had to have a teenage son to help with the vegetable garden) moved in. The houses themselves were pretty basic/cheaply built. After the war the project was abandoned and the houses were sold off at a discount. These houses, almost all now extended/rebuilt, with their large plots and their village edge position are now expensive and eagerly sought after. Not London prices of course, but certainly gentrified. Rags to Riches in 60 years. I remember an excellent Radio 4 programme on the Land Settlement Association some couple of years ago, this concentrated on the farms that were set up, rather than the hosing. What seems to be unique about the area in Cosby is that the Residents Association have been able to prevent additional houses being built in the gardens, thus maintaining the individual plot sizes.

Graham Anderson, Cosby, Leicestershire

Whilst this article highlights an urban problem, it is one which is strongly reflected here in Cornwall. In the '60s & '70s, local people were only too happy to sell their unmodernised houses and cottages in our towns and villages to the newly affluent middle classes from "up-country" as holiday homes, moving into council houses or the new estates which were growing up in the area and which were just about affordable. Today, these same properties, modernised, are selling for hundreds of thousands of pounds, way out of the price range of local people, whilst even the so-called "affordable" homes on new estates are beyond the reach of young families, even those in managerial positions. he Wimpey semi' which I bought for £3,000 some 40 years ago would now cost £140,000 whilst the average wage in Cornwall is only about £26,000. There are many villages in the county where over 30% of houses are second homes and, with only the older "locals" remaining, the whole community and economic structure of the villages is collapsing.

Cllr. David Hughes, Tywardreath, Cornwall

Pimlico is one of the most interesting examples of gentrification in London with a twist as it started out as a middle class area of London but deteriorated to poor status throughthe 1890s to the 1940s. It was very badly damaged in the Blitz, being one of the most damaged areas of westmister. It also used to have a lot of riverside industry with Millbank prison nearby and Uniform factories for the Vistorin army, Hovis warehouses and a dock near Chelsea bridge. It has some of the first purpse built council estates in London and fine examples of peabody trust housing for the poor. and It has "re-gentrified" since the 1950s and 1960s.

David Peach, London, UK

My parents bought their house in Midhurst Avenue, Muswell Hill for £5,000 about 45 ears ago. The same house is around £1.3 million now. At the time, Midhurst Avenue was more of a "working man's" road with mechanics, builders and other tradesmen living there. Not any more!

Kevin, London

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