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
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)