London’s moun­tain green

Hamp­stead is ‘the most nearly per­fect ex­am­ple’ of a gar­den sub­urb, says Eleanor Doughty

Country Life Every Week - - Property Comment - Edited by An­nun­ci­ata Wal­ton

SIX miles north of London’s Char­ing Cross lies a neigh­bour­hood rarely spo­ken about. An idyll in the north of the city, with no Tube lines rat­tling un­der­neath it, Hamp­stead Gar­den Sub­urb (HGS) has two ar­eas of wood­land: Big Wood and Lit­tle Wood, with des­ig­nated na­ture re­serves.

Gar­den sub­urbs, are, as Niko­laus Pevs­ner put it, the English ‘spe­cial­ity’—hamp­stead, he said, is ‘the most nearly per­fect ex­am­ple of that in­ven­tion’. HGS was con­ceived by Henrietta Bar­nett, the wife of an East End cleric, in 1907, fol­low­ing the ex­am­ples of Eal­ing’s Bren­tham and Chiswick’s Bed­ford Park in west London.

Bar­nett’s vi­sion was an Ar­ca­dian al­ter­na­tive to the pover­tys­tricken hous­ing of her hus­band’s par­ish; she set about build­ing a neigh­bour­hood at low den­sity, with houses separated by hedges on wide, tree-lined streets. More than a cen­tury later, her vi­sion has suc­ceeded: a pow­er­ful res­i­dents’ as­so­ci­a­tion keeps the sub­urb in good or­der.

Mark Pollack, a res­i­dent of 20 years and an agent at As­ton Chase (020–7724 4724), de­scribes liv­ing in HGS as a ‘genu- ine priv­i­lege’. How­ever, that doesn’t mean that HGS is a com­pound for the su­per rich: ‘Yes, there are some very high­value prop­er­ties in the area, but the beauty of it is that there’s a mix of cot­tages, apart­ments and houses.’

There are, nat­u­rally, pock­ets of ex­treme af­flu­ence. The Bishop’s Av­enue in N2 is re­ferred to as ‘bil­lion­aires’ row’ thanks to its large pro­por­tion of ex­trav­a­gant man­sions. On it, de­vel­oper Har­ri­son Varma has built Buxmead, a se­lec­tion of pent­houses, du­plexes and apart­ments with their own pri­vate swim­ming pool, spa fa­cil­i­ties and gym. Prices start from £6.9 mil­lion. Oth­er­wise, prop­erty val­ues are ‘slightly un­der­rated’, says Mr Pollack. ‘On av­er­age, a house in the sub­urb to­day goes for about £1,000 per square foot, but it can ex­tend to £1,200–£1,500 for heath­fac­ing prop­er­ties.’

The open space on of­fer in the sub­urb is a ma­jor at­trac­tion for res­i­dents. Aside from Hamp­stead Heath it­self, there’s the heath ex­ten­sion, Big Wood (18 acres) and Lit­tle Wood (three acres), plus Gold­ers Hill Park just to the south. ‘You only need to look at an aerial map of the area to see that the amount of green space is dis­pro­por­tion­ate to the num­ber of res­i­dences,’ Mr Pollack says. This el­e­ment of gar­den-sub­urb liv­ing is so com­pelling that, ‘once you live in the area, it’s quite hard to move out again. It’s such a high qual­ity of life’.

Hamp­stead is al­most, but not en­tirely, unique in be­ing a sliver Hamp­stead Gar­den Sub­urb is a se­cret slice of coun­try­side in north London of the coun­try­side in a big city. For its green space, Rich­mond, in south-west London, is al­most a con­tender, with its own park, as well as Bushy Park. How­ever, even if it were a gar­den sub­urb —and not tech­ni­cally a town— the con­ges­tion of Twick­en­ham Road and air pol­lu­tion from Heathrow air­port rule it out as a coun­try­side idyll.

Nowhere else in the coun­try has the gar­den-sub­urb move­ment taken off so well as in north London. Old­ham Gar­den Sub­urb in Greater Manch­ester, two miles south of Old­ham town cen­tre, was started by Mary Higgs, the wife of a Vic­to­rian min­is­ter and the first woman to study science at de­gree level (at what would later be­come Gir­ton Col­lege, Cam­bridge), and, in 1909, was of­fi­cially opened. Its res­i­dents’ as­so­ci­a­tion re­mains ac­tive, but the area is yet to achieve the fame of NW11 and N2.

Back in Hamp­stead, where the H2 bus winds its way in a leisurely loop from Gold­ers Green sta­tion, the world is at peace. This is truly the coun­try in the city.

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