London property: The rise of London villages
If it’s intimacy you’re after, move to London, says Caroline McGhie.
Do you want to live close to a good farmers’ market and a fine delicatessen, and meet the neighbours at the annual garden party? If you do, then you may find these days that the city offers more opportunities than the countryside. While rural communities have seen pubs and post offices close and church congregations shrivel, some of the best urban villages have begun to sparkle. Lark Rise to Candleford has moved to the city.
“London has always been a city of villages, and the better the village, the higher the value of the properties,” says Yolande Barnes, head of research at Savills. “At the very extreme it is about who is going to be your neighbour, the importance of address and who you want to be associated with.” Notting Hill, for example, has attracted the Cameroonies, while Primrose Hill pulls in the Millibands. Both areas have their sprinkling of film and music stars.
There are often fine distinctions, too, in how residents of the different villages earn their money. Some may attract those in the legal profession, others City money; like minds are drawn together. Fine architecture, garden squares, good schools and speciality shops are key ingredients. “People naturally confine themselves to quite small areas and use the same cluster of shops,” Barnes says. “But, if it is to work, a good village needs a hairdresser, newsagents, key-cutters, shoe repairers and dry cleaners.”
Life on the Commons
City bankers, their wives and children inhabit the Victorian and Edwardian terraces that flank the valley between Clapham and Wandsworth Commons, known as “Nappy Valley”. Little over two decades ago Northcote Road was no more than a parade of junk and washing machine shops. Now it bristles with designer names, yummy mummies and nannies.
Pop into Cabbages and Roses for handmade country dresses and artisan jackets, visit Crumpet for proper tea and cakes, queue at Gail’s bakery for handmade bread, or at Hamish Johnston for fine cheeses. You can even get your Botox done here. The market is an al fresco Harrods food hall, with a cupcake stall and pizza oven. “There is no anonymity. That is the price of being in a village,” says one resident. “The recession hasn’t happened here.”
At the heart of it are the green lungs of the commons and good schools – two state primaries, Belleville and Honeywell, are hugely popular. Houses now have the same cachet as Fulham or Chelsea, with prices to match. Savills’s Wandsworth office (020 8877 1222) has 32 St John’s Hill Grove, SW11, a four-bedroom semi-detached property, for sale with a guide price of £995,000.
“The village atmosphere of Hampstead and Highgate is the reason these areas are so desirable,” says Trevor Abrahmsohn of Glentree Estates. “On a summer’s evening it is like being on the Med. The crêperie sells pancakes, the ice cream parlours turn out beautiful ices, and outside life takes over.”
Everything you could want in a village is here. The hills and lanes, the old gas lamps, the pubs, the funfair on the heath. There are fishmongers, butchers, French bakers, an eclectic range of restaurants, the Everyman cinema where food is delivered to your sofa seat, summer concerts and exhibitions at Kenwood on Hampstead Heath.
The whiff of old bohemia is ever-present as arty and literary types mix with big new money and old Jewish wealth. It has its own circle of glitterati – Sting, Annie Lennox, George Michael, Ringo Starr, Lulu, Dame Judi Dench, Emma Thompson, Russell Brand, Ricky Gervais and others. The houses in the village are the diamonds. A mansion in Frognal Way, an unmade-up lane off Church Row, is on at £12.95m, and a contemporary four-bedroom house in Northend Road is on at £4.5m, both through Glentree (020 8458 7311).
The Grosvenor Estate has pulled out all the stops to draw residents back in and revive the village character. “Residents in an area give it the village feel,” says Barnes at Savills. “The Estate deliberately kept the small chemists and butchers, and Shepherd’s Market has always been a bit of a neighbourhood. Offices are being turned back into houses very successfully.”
At the end of June each year, members of the Residents Society of Mayfair and St James’s don their best frocks for the summer party in Mount Street Gardens – canapés by The Dorchester, Truc Vert and others. “Most people only see Mayfair as the most expensive property on the Monopoly board,” says Peter Wetherell of Wetherell. “But we have more of a community spirit than most people realise. We have two churches, a library and a primary school, and neighbours are always bumping into each other at the post office or Allens, the local butcher.”
Shepherd’s Market is now known for its bistros and restaurants rather than brothels.
The Handel Society maintains a steady stream of concerts and recitals in Hanover Square and Handel House. A third-floor flat in need of refurbishment in Mount Street is for sale at £2.25m through Wetherell (020 7493 6935). The Mount Street Deli is effectively your corner shop, making every night a gourmet event.
The Howard de Walden Estate’s firm hand has helped to create the unique, cosmopolitan, working village around Marylebone High Street. It organises the June Summer Fayre, full of bustling food and craft stalls, which now attracts thousands from all over London.
“For every big commercial name, the estate ensures there is a local establishment with rents charged at a reduced rate,” says Carlos Riveros of Chesterton Humberts (020 7298 5900). “This model ensures that the character of the area is not lost, and boutique businesses can contribute to the individuality of the area.” So niche food producers like Biggles Gourmet Sausages and La Fromagerie thrive.
“Every Saturday there is the Cabbages and Frocks market,” Riveros says. “In true Marylebone style it brings together organic farm produce and vintage clothing. There is also the weekly Sunday Farmers’ Market in Cramer Street.” He is selling a Grade II listed four-bedroom family house in Wyndham Place at £4.65m. Or you could buy a penthouse with a roof terrace that needs updating in Heron Place at £1.4m.
Blackheath has picture-book charm, twisting streets and a church on the heath that adorns local Christmas cards, but becomes the focus for sunseekers in summer. The heath also accommodates visiting circuses and kite festivals, and is the start of the London Marathon.
Butchers, bakers, delis and posh frock shops vie to service well-heeled residents, while the Blackheath Concert Hall sees to their musical life, and good private schools (Colfe’s, Eltham College, Blackheath High for Girls) educate the children.
“It is loved by families, as is Greenwich nearby,” says Mark Epps of Winkworth (020 8852 0999). City workers walk across the parks each morning to catch the DLR. Epps is selling a three-bedroom Victorian terrace in Southville Road at £675,000.
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