Comic and presenter Michael Palin has lived in this Camden district for nearly 50 years. The Monty Python star occupies three adjacent cottages in the charming Oak Village enclave. Other famous locals include Tony Blair’s former spin doctor Alastair Campbell and his journalist partner, Fiona Millar, who campaigns for state education and is chair of governors at William Ellis local boys’ comprehensive school.
Gospel Oak was named after an oak tree that stood at the junction of Southampton Road and Mansfield Road. It was here in the 18th century that preachers held forth to the farm workers who lived in what was then a largely agricultural community. By the 1820s the tree had disappeared and sadly a replacement tree, planted by Palin in Lismore Circus in 1998, suffered a similar fate.
For EastEnders fans who followed the BBC television series back in the early 1990s, St Martin’s Church in Vicar’s Road was where Bianca and Ricky got married. Soap stardom is not the only claim to fame of this Grade I-listed building. The esteemed art and architectural critic Nikolaus Pevsner (1902-1983) described it as the “craziest of London’s Victorian churches”, while Simon Jenkins listed it in his book, England’s Thousand Best Churches.
As part of the regeneration of the nearby Bacton Low Rise estate the church will finally get the setting it deserves with a new public square and pedestrian route through from Vicar’s Road to Haverstock Road.
Estate agent George Kett, head of sales at the Kentish Town branch of Keatons, says families buy in Gospel Oak for its state schools, and to be near Hampstead Heath. “It is cheaper than Hampstead, Dartmouth Park and Kentish Town, probably because it doesn’t have a Tube station, so still represents good value,” he adds.
Four miles north of central London, Gospel Oak lies due south of Parliament Hill Fields and Hampstead Heath, with Hampstead to the north-west, Highgate to the north, Dartmouth Park to the north-east and Kentish Town to the south.
The neighbourhood of Gospel Oak is one of two halves. The Mansfield conservation area covers the streets of three- and four-storey Victorian and Edwardian terrace houses due south of Parliament Hill Fields.
South of Mansfield Road, however, is mainly social housing — but it does include developments from the golden age of Camden council architects department in the Sixties and Seventies, such as Dunboyne Road, a listed scheme of 71 one- to three-bedroom flats designed by specialist modernist architect Neave Brown. Also in this patch are the locally listed long run of 64 low-rise flats and nine houses in Mansfield Road and Lamble Street. Right-to-buy flats sometimes come up for sale in both of these developments.
Oak Village, also south of Mansfield Road, has pretty artisans’ cottages. There is an enclave of mansion flats in Lissenden Gardens, off Gordon House Road, and family-size terrace houses in Glenhurst Avenue at the edge of Parliament Hill Fields.
New build homes
Camden, one of a handful of councils to turn property developer, is currently selling 19 one-, two- and three-bedroom flats at St Martin’s Walk in Vicar’s Road as part of the regeneration of the Bacton Low Rise estate. Priced from £420,000, the flats will be ready early next year. Call Savills (020 3320 8220).
Thirty2 in Lawn Road near South End Green is a Fairview New Homes development of 72 studios and apartments in white brick, borrowing the style of the Thirties modernist Isokon building, also in Lawn Road. In the current phase, studios start at £510,000, with one-bedroom flats at £650,000, two-bedroom flats at £875,000 and three-bedroom flats at £1 million. Call 0808 252 7187.
One Housing has 17 affordable flats at Thirty2 in Lawn Road. Call 0300 123 2034 for more information.
Who rents here?
Ross Fowler, head of lettings at Keatons estate agents, says Gospel Oak renters are a mix of professional couples and families who like the area for its schools and proximity to Hampstead Heath.
“This is not an area which attracts many buy-to-let investors,” adds Fowler. “Most of our landlords are either accidental because they have gone travelling or are working abroad, or are in the position to let to buy, keeping their home as a rental investment after moving.”
Gospel Oak station entered pop music history when Sinéad O’Connor named her 1997 EP Gospel Oak and a picture of the station’s railway arches appeared on the cover.
On the Overground network, Gospel Oak is where two routes meet. The Gospel Oak to Barking line, known locally as the Goblin line, is closed until February for electrification, with new trains from early 2018. There are also trains on the North London line with connections to the Tube and trains to Moorgate at Highbury & Islington, and to the Jubilee line and Thameslink at West Hampstead.
Some commuters choose to walk to the Underground at Tufnell Park or Kentish Town, both on the Northern line. Gospel Oakers also appreciate the No 24 bus which starts at the Royal Free Hospital and goes down Mansfield Road before heading for Camden, Tottenham Court Road, Trafalgar Square, Westminster and Victoria.
Estate agent George Kett of Keatons says the number of buyers trading up in Gospel Oak shows it’s an area where people put down roots.
Gospel Oak is in the NW5 Kentish Town postcode but close to South End Green, it strays into the very desirable and more expensive NW3 Hampstead postcode.
The ladder of roads in the Mansfield conservation area between Savernake Road and Mansfield Road are particularly popular. “They are close to both the shops in South End Green and the Heath,” says George Kett.
Up and coming
Right-to-buy flats in Dunboyne Road, one of the social housing developments from the golden age of Camden council architects department, still represent good value. Two right-to-buy flats currently for sale in Weedington Road, a social housing estate with well-maintained communal gardens, are half the price of a similarly-sized flat in a converted Victorian house in popular Savernake Road. With right-to-buy it is important to check the service charge and the council’s long-term plans for the whole estate.
Camden is Labour controlled. Band D council tax for 2016/2017 is £1,336.81.
Shops and restaurants
Gospel Oak’s most intriguing shop is an unmarked toy shop in Mansfield Road near the station. A magical kingdom of miniature toys for dolls’ houses, it is run by Kristin Baybars who is in her eighties and to gain entry you must ring the doorbell.
There is a market in Queen’s Crescent on Thursdays and Saturdays and local shops along Malden Road and Mansfield Road, with more interesting shops in South End Green, though most people would call this area Hampstead. Fleet Road has two delis — Beetroot Deli for Polish food and Giacobazzi for Italian food — and Ravel’s Bistro, which gets a mention in comedian Russell Brand’s My Booky Wook.
In South End Road there is an M&S Food Hall; Silverberry Deli and Kitchen; the Hampstead Tea Rooms; two bakeries — Karma Bread and Euphorium — and a branch of Daunt Books. In Highgate Road, the Southampton Arms is a real ale and cider pub, while the Bull & Last is famous for its food both in the downstairs bar and in the upstairs restaurant. The Stag in Fleet Road has a large garden that’s popular in summer.
Parliament Hill Fields, the section of Hampstead Heath closest to Gospel Oak, has a café, an athletics track and a lido, and leads directly on to the Heath’s 800 semi-wild acres.
Leisure and the arts
The nearest cinema is the Everyman in Hampstead. St Stephen’s Church on the corner of Pond Street and Rosslyn Hill, designed by the great Victorian architect Samuel Sanders Teulon and recently restored, hosts art exhibitions, concerts and craft and vintage fairs.
There is wild swimming in the various ponds on Hampstead Heath and the nearest council-owned swimming pool is at Swiss Cottage Leisure Centre.
The local primary school, Gospel Oak in Mansfield Road, is judged “outstanding” by Ofsted. The other local primary schools, judged “good” by the education watchdog, are Carlton in Grafton Road, St Dominic’s RC in Southampton Road, and Fleet in Fleet Road.
Education campaigner Fiona Millar is chair of governors at William Ellis (boys, ages 11 to 18), one of three comprehensive schools in Highgate Road, Gospel Oak. The others are Parliament Hill (girls, ages 11 to 18) where Millar is also a governor, and La Sainte Union RC (girls, ages 11 to 18). All three get a “good” Ofsted rating. Together with Acland Burghley School in Burghley Road, they share a sixth form, called LaSWAP.
There are two French bilingual schools: La Petite École Bilingue (co-ed, ages three to 11) in Vicar’s Road, and Collège Français Bilingue de Londres (co-ed, ages five to 16) in Holmes Road.