Saturday 30 January 2016

Book Review: Streets of Sin - A Dark Biography of Notting Hill by Fiona Rule

Last Updated: 30 May 2021

Streets of Sin A Dark Biography of Notting Hill by Fiona Rule book cover

AD* | A short walk away from London’s West End lies Notting Hill - one of the capital’s most exclusive residential districts and a celebrity hotspot. But this outwardly genteel enclave has its shocking secrets.

Streets of Sin delves into Notting Hill’s distinctly murky past and relates the deplorable scandals that blighted the area from its development until the late 20th century. Bestselling London historian Fiona Rule sheds new light on notorious events that took place amid the leafy streets, including the horrifying murders at Rillington Place, the nefarious career of slum landlord Peter Rachman, the Profumo affair, and Britain’s first race riots, and reveals what life was life in Notting Hill during its dark years when murder, extortion, and disorder were everyday occurrences.

Although I'm a voracious reader and book blogger, I've barely skimmed the surface of non-fiction. Most of the books I review seem to be either YA or your run-of-the-mill romances (because that's what I normally get asked to review) so it was nice to sink my teeth into something completely different for a change.

Exploring London

History fascinates me. I don't pretend to know a lot about it (I've barely even studied it) but I always jump at the chance to delve into the past when I get the opportunity. In addition to that, London has always been one of my favourite places. I'm lucky to live close enough that I can easily visit it by train, and as you may remember from my 2015 year in review, last year I was able to explore the city a lot more than I had previously.

My travels in London usually take me to more touristy hotspots, but on occasion, I do explore slightly further afield. One of these adventures took me to Notting Hill. My first impression of Notting Hill was one of comfortably affluent London townhouses, old iron railings (the sort people chain pushbikes to) and communal gardens, as mentioned several times in the book.

Shocking tales

I'm too young to remember even the most recent of events covered in Streets of Sin. In my lifetime, Notting Hill has been little more than the sought-after district I saw myself.

Perhaps that meant the more shocking events in the book had more of an impact on me as I didn't previously know about the vast majority of topics covered. Who knew the grand exterior hid such a murky past? I definitely didn't!

From dabbles in non-fiction history books before, I've found that a lot of them can be very dry and analytical. That's great for a reference book, but if you'd wanted to be reading something more like a historical narrative it can quickly put you off a book. However, I had no problems like that with Streets of Sin. 

Fiona Rule is a highly engaging writer, and it's clear she's very knowledgeable and passionate about the subjects she writes about. The book reads like a series of mini-stories, all interconnected by the common theme of Notting Hill. From the early days of Notting Hill Farm and James Weller Ladbroke's grand ideas, right through to the slums and later, the race riots and eventual upgrading of the area, Streets of Sin is packed with fascinating tales from Notting Hill's rich, vibrant history.

Rating: 4 stars

A must for history lovers and Londoners alike - Streets of Sin is available to buy now (paid link; commission earned).

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* I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review 

Will you be reading Streets of Sin? Let us know in the comments below!

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