Our stepfather Alfred Kasmir came over to England when he was six from the Ukraine with his parents and sister, Regina. We have not got a lot of the history of this time except that his father Isaac bought a house in Lancaster Road (Pat still lives there), and then opened a shop in Portobello Road, which we can only think was rented at that time. He sold second hand clothing and had an assistant who did alterations and tailoring.
Our stepfather learnt the violin. His father was very strict with him about learning this instrument and he started his working life playing in orchestras at various venues, one being the Lyons Corner House at Marble Arch which had silver service with afternoon tea (which we went to often). He had given up playing because of the lifestyle, so he said, as in between jobs (gigs) he had passed the time by gambling, to which he became a bit too addicted! Also his health had suffered after swallowing a mouthful of ice cream during a break whilst playing in the West End one summer, which had the effect of freezing his stomach.
He then became a ‘Tally’ man, going around collecting money from people for stuff they got on TICK (hire purchase). He had plenty of interesting stories to tell. The firm he was working for was called Evans, a furniture store on the corner of Cambridge Gardens and Ladbroke Grove, which is now a Tesco. He met our mother there where she worked in the office and when he was a Tally man. They married in 1948. Friday the 13th as it happens! The News of the World somehow heard of this and thought it so amusing that they published a tiny note about it on their front page! Wish we still had a copy of this.
When he and our mother got married, he opened 276 Portobello Road (his father’s old shop) and sold and bought second hand clothes with an assistant called Joan doing the alterations. This is now the men’s clothing shop called Tonic.
When they first opened our mother had to put a lot of her own clothes in the shop to stock up the rails, also countless pairs of small boys short trousers made by a friend of theirs.
She used to come and collect us each day from our primary school in Hammersmith, which was in St. Paul’s Church on Hammersmith Broadway, till we moved to Solomon Wolfson Jewish School in Lancaster Road.
Next door to this shop on the north side, towards Golborne Road, was a newsagent and sweetshop where our father bought his cigarettes and our sweets, and which also delivered our newspapers and comics (my first job was as a paperboy). This shop is now Honest Jons record shop.
There was a bakers on the corner of Cambridge Gardens and Portobello Road opposite our shop from which we had a cake each day on our return from school, one in particular sticks in my mind was a cream bun, with the synthetic cream of the time, pretty yucky.
Next door to his shop going South was a chemist, Mr. Fish, which is now Falafel King on the corner of Acklam Road. The next corner going down was a pub. And next to this another newsagent named Tommy Littles (the boxer), and next to this a rag and bone shop to which us kids took old newspapers, rags and lemonade bottles that we had collected and which we got a few pennies for.
Moving further down on the same side was a shop named Kirk’s selling workmen’s clothing. This was about the only place one could buy jeans at that time – they were Levi’s too! Trouble was you had to take them to an alteration shop opposite the Royalty cinema in Lancaster Road just past the KPH pub, because our father wouldn’t allow Ada, his alteration assistant to do them because he didn’t agree with narrow trousers (drainpipes)!
Still going South from Kirk’s just as you come from under the tube train bridge was our GP’s surgery, a very unprepossessing green wood clad structure, where now exists as a metal gate into a council area.
Opposite this are the two arched metal gates that led into North Kensington Central (Technical) School, the other entrance to the school being in Lancaster Road near the traffic lights, and which is now the private Chepstow School. You now go through these two gates on Portobello past some colourful clothes stalls into an Italian restaurant. Next to this, back on Portobello Road is the Grain Store which then was a pie and mash shop.
Many years later he was offered 259 Portobello Road to rent, so moved down to a new part of Portobello Road. This shop, now One of a Kind, in the 1950s used to be a very good toy shop. So when the leaseholders retired my father took it over, and moved his second hand clothes business down from no 276.
We were a lot older then so have much clearer memories of this shop.
He used to buy clothes from people in the shop, and then sell them on to other customers. People always needed money in those days. John Christie, the famous 1950s serial murderer came in sometimes and sold some of his wife’s (not only his wife’s!) clothing to our father, who had to record all items bought and sold in a large ledger. He later had a visit from the police to check this out. Also Timothy Evans’ mother used to come in to talk about her son (who was hanged for crimes committed by John Christie). She desperately wanted her son to be pardoned, which he was years later with the help of Ludovic Kennedy.
Our father died in 1978 from cancer, and our mother carried on running the shop for a few months, but her heart wasn’t in it. There was still about eleven years left on the lease, but she decided to hand it over to the landlady’s son. The landlady, Mrs Holland, was a really charming woman, but had died a few years previously. She probably wouldn’t have let our mother Anne simply hand back the lease. When friends asked what was happening to the shop, they were all aghast. How could someone simply hand back a leasehold shop in Portobello Road, with still eleven years to run on the lease? As far as they were concerned she was simply throwing away thousands of pounds a year in rental income.
But she was adamant that she wanted no more to do with it. And even though friends would ask if they could try to talk her out of relinquishing the property, they all failed. She never did take much interest in money! The landlady’s son then sold it on to the Notting Hill Housing Trust. I think the shop carried on selling second hand clothing for a while and then turned into the ‘Bead Shop’ run by Stephanie Heatherwick. And possibly after this it became ‘One of a Kind’, which it still is (see below).
More memories of Portobello from Mick
There was a stall outside the shop at 276 that sold some kind of cure for tape worms. On the stall was a huge collection of large glass jars containing various worms in formaldehyde, which I found so fascinating that I couldn’t stop thinking about them!
I remember one morning in 1956 having breakfast whilst listening to the Today programme, with my father shaving in front of the mirror with his cut throat razor, when they announced the news of the Russian invasion of Budapest. He immediately put down his razor, wiped the shaving cream from his face, put on his coat and went straight up to the newsagent and cancelled his Daily Worker. He had become a communist more from being an anti-Fascist than anything else. This being quite common during that time, being very left wing because repulsed by the other side.
I have a lot of memories of sitting at the back of the shop chatting to the amazingly varied collection of regular customers who often as not popped in to see the ‘guvnor’, making cups of tea on a small gas ring next to the gas fire. The customers varied from manual workers to out of work actors, with a few writers and artists chucked in for good measure.
My memories are from the late 1960s , early 70s.
Other shops alongside 259 were 257 which was the Dry Cleaners. It did change and eventually sold Jamaican Patties for a while and now after quite a few changes of trade, it’s a Tourist shop. No 255 was an English butcher, which then changed to a Halal butcher and now sells Japanese merchandise
Going the other way towards the railway bridge was a TV sales and repair shop which I think at some time before that was a Radio Rentals shop, then on to No 269, the famous Ceres natural food store. The first in the UK. Ceres stills sells lovely vegetarian food and is now called the Grain Shop. After Ceres was Isaac Newton School. Then came the betting shop which our father frequented regularly leaving a back in ten minutes sign on his own shop door. Going back towards Lancaster Road on the other side was Food for Thought, which was opposite 259 where they stir-fried food while you waited in giant woks. It was delicious.
Opposite was Tavistock Road with a café on one corner and a fabric shop on the other. Then came Kay’s children and ladies outfitters as it was called in those days. It is now Garcia’s Spanish Delicatessen. Then Food for Thought and Jacks Fish Shop for delicious fish and chips. Then, the Golden Cross Pub, a really thriving community premises where our father played cards and everyone knew each other, market stall holders included. They also had a Public Bar on the corner entrance, but we used the Saloon Bar entrance in Lancaster Road.
I used to help dress his windows which he really liked me to do for him. I also helped out with the customers on Saturdays, my Saturday job. He had a lot of characters popping into the shop to chat to him which made it very lively.
He was there in his shop till he died of cancer in 1978.