The bar­gain homes now ap­proach­ing plat­form…

The new, high-speed rail link from Rams­gate to Lon­don will open up the pret­ti­est parts of north Kent to com­muters. So now is the time to buy, says Clive Aslet

The Daily Telegraph - Property - - Traintimet­able -

This year, the su­per-speed Class 395 Hi­tachi trains ar­rive from Ja­pan – the ser­vice that prom­ises to whisk pas­sen­gers from Dover and Rams­gate in south-east Kent to St Pan­cras sta­tion at speeds of up to 140mph. They will cut jour­ney times from Lon­don to Ash­ford from 83 min­utes to 36.5 min­utes; the tor­tu­ous Lon­don to Can­ter­bury West will be re­duced from 102 min­utes to an hour; the jour­ney from Folkestone will be the same, down from 98 min­utes. Towns such as Rams­gate, which now lie two hours from cen­tral Lon­don, will see jour­neys re­duced by a third.

This means that some of the pret­ti­est vil­lages and coun­try towns along the much-ne­glected north Kent coast – with house prices that so far re­flect their in­ac­ces­si­bil­ity – will be opened up to prop­er­ty­hun­gry Lon­don­ers ever-ready to snap up a bar­gain.

Ser­vices are set to start in 2009; and now could be the time to start house-hunt­ing. Robert Croft, di­rec­tor of es­tate agency Walker Croft, in Gravesend, says: “Prices haven’t re­ally gone up yet, though we’ve been wait­ing, won­der­ing when it’s go­ing to hap­pen. Trains are go­ing to go from Ebb­s­fleet di­rectly to St Pan­cras in the same amount of time that it cur­rently takes to get to Sevenoaks from Lon­don. So prices around here will be­come com­pa­ra­ble. Whereas, at the mo­ment, the top end of the mar­ket can be £3mil­lion or £4mil­lion in Sevenoaks,

around Gravesend we’d strug­gle to get £1mil­lion for the same kind of places. It’s go­ing to be­come in­cred­i­bly de­sir­able around here for peo­ple who work in the City.”

Ge­orge Bur­nand, from Strutt & Parker, be­lieves the dis­crepency be­tween prices in north Kent and other coun­ties out on the M3/M4 down into Sus­sex and Sur­rey will close. “Peo­ple are com­fort­able com­mut­ing about an hour to and from Lon­don and, as the link is cre­ated, it will open up north Kent, where there are some fan­tas­tic houses. I could see prices ris­ing about 15 or 20 per cent in value over and above what would be hap­pen­ing any­way.” He also points to “the good schools, beau­ti­ful coun­try­side and a good link to the Con­ti­nent.”

RAMS­GATE 84 min­utes (new high-speed com­mute to Lon­don)

Like nearby Mar­gate and West­gate, Rams­gate be­gan life as a “gate”, or open­ing, in the cliffs, which al­lowed fish­er­men ac­cess to the sea. Dur­ing the Napoleonic Wars, when Jane Austen’s sailor brother Francis raised a body of Sea Fen­ci­bles in this town, sol­diers passed through Rams­gate on the way to Water­loo. Af­ter 1815, the few old flint and Dutch-gabled cot­tages were en­gulfed in Qual­ity Street ter­races bear­ing names such as Nelson Cres­cent, Welling­ton Cres­cent and even, glo­ri­ously, The Plains of Water­loo. They were built at the top of the cliffs – West Cliff be­ing now rather more sought-af­ter than East Cliff, or so the peo­ple liv­ing on West Cliff say – giv­ing views of sea, har­bour and the ferry sail­ing to Os­tende. Once Rams­gate had dis­cov­ered the Re­gency style, it stuck with it: some bow-fronted ter­races were built in the 1840s, seem­ingly obliv­i­ous to the march of fash­ion.

William IV point­edly chose Rams­gate as the port from which he em­barked for Hanover in 1821, in pref­er­ence to Dover (guilty of hav­ing given his es­tranged wife, Caro­line, a warm wel­come on her re­turn for the coro­na­tion). Rams­gate com­mem­o­rated the event with an obelisk. The har­bour was granted the pre­fix “Royal”. It is now a ma­rina.

Wilkie Collins, au­thor of The Wo­man in White, di­vided his time be­tween Nelson Cres­cent and Welling­ton Cres­cent and his mis­tresses. The poet S T Co­leridge came ev­ery year. AWN Pu­gin, polemi­cist of the gothic re­vival, tor­mented him­self by build­ing his own house, The Grange, on the es­planade (re­cently re­stored by the Land­mark Trust): Rams­gate’s stucco-fronted ter­races rep­re­sented ev­ery­thing he most ab­horred. His trou­bled son, Ed­ward, went on to ruin him­self, build­ing an over­am­bi­tious ho­tel on the East Cliff, the Granville, now flats.

With the col­lapse of the Bri­tish sea­side hol­i­day in­dus­try and the clo­sure of nearby Bette­shanger col­liery in the 1980s, Rams­gate fell on hard times. With the help of EU struc­tural funds, it has been busily smarten­ing it­self up. Gaps in the streetscap­e, some­times caused by Ger­man shelling from France dur­ing the Sec­ond World War, are be­ing filled with new build­ing. Squads of Pol­ish builders are ren­o­vat­ing ter­raced houses, of­ten for Lon­don buy­ers. Prop­erty is still ex­cep­tion­ally well-priced by com­par­i­son with the rest of the South-East, though there is al­ready ex­cited talk of Rams­gate be­com­ing the new Brighton, if not per­haps the new Monte Carlo.

A pretty house, com­pletely re­stored, al­beit with­out much of a gar­den, will cost in the re­gion of £270,000 and £500,000 will buy a palace on Vale Square, Rams­gate’s best ad­dress. Miles and Barr is of­fer­ing one in the form of a fivebed­room, semi-de­tached villa. A unique at­tribute of the town is its Lawns, as in Liver­pool Lawn and Guild­ford Lawn. Th­ese are ter­races built around what must orig­i­nally have been fields, the name (not found else­where in Bri­tain) pre­serv­ing a sense of rus in urbe.

THANET (see Rams­gate for train link)

Thanet was an is­land un­til the Wantsum Chan­nel was drained in the 17th cen­tury. In prop­erty terms, it still has the feel­ing of be­ing a mar­ket unto it­self. A beach of pure white sand links Rams­gate with its more vil­lagey neigh­bour, Broad­stairs (don­key rides, Punch and Judy shows and one of Bri­tain’s big­gest folk fes­ti­vals in the sum­mer). The sand stretches around the tip of the promon­tory – North Fore­land is spec­tac­u­lar – to Mar­gate, a town now on its up­pers but, good­ness, look at the hand­some ar­chi­tec­ture. A good place to in­vest if you’re pre­pared to wait for the re­vival that is surely com­ing: Mil­ton Ash­bury has a five-bed­room, seafront, Vic­to­rian town­house on its books for £294,950. West­gate-on-Sea is worth look­ing at, too.

SAND­WICH (see Rams­gate)

Sand­wich lies only five miles from Rams­gate – but what a dif­fer­ence that makes. One of the Cinque Ports, Sand­wich was an im­por­tant place in the 13th cen­tury. Richard the Lion­heart docked here when he re­turned from the Cru­sades. There were churches, fri­aries and almshouses ga­lore. Then the River Stour silted up and the town went into pro­longed hi­ber­na­tion… “a sad town all tim­ber build­ing… run so to de­cay that ex­cept one or two good houses its just like to drop down the whole town”, ob­served the trav­eller Celia Fi­ennes in 1697. It opened one eye in 1911 when Ed­win Lu­tyens built The Salu­ta­tion for the lawyer Henry Far­rer; it has been full of lawyers and other pro­fes­sional peo­ple, of­ten re­tired, ever since. The sea is now two miles away.

Hid­ing be­hind Ge­or­gian façades of flint and brick, the houses are of­ten those same tim­ber struc­tures which Fi­ennes saw. They are ir­re­sistibly charm­ing, on a cosy scale. Golfers have long

Grace and favoured: St Mary of Char­ity church, in Faver­sham, which is bound to at­tract fresh num­bers of Lon­don com­muters with the ar­ri­val of the Hi­tachi high­speed train ser­vice (left)

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