Wigs and gowns are a common sight in the streets of Holborn, London’s legal quarter. Radiating out from the ancient Royal Courts of Justice in Strand, Holborn is home to two of the capital’s four Inns of Court — Lincoln’s Inn and Gray’s Inn — where some of the country’s top legal brains practice in quaint suites of rooms known as chambers.
These peaceful green oases contrast with the brash new offices that have transformed the triangle north of Fleet Street between Chancery Lane and Fetter Lane over the last 10 years.
The area is now home to modern offices for top legal firms and the headquarters of supermarket giant Sainsbury’s, and there are new shops, cafés and restaurants where once there were none.
Holborn used to be able to add insurance to its list of major employers but since Pearl and Prudential moved out, their two famous landmark buildings in High Holborn have found new uses.
There is a Rosewood five-star hotel in the Pearl building, while English Heritage moved to the High Victorian Gothic Prudential building, designed by Alfred Waterhouse.
The centre of the country’s diamond trade, Holborn’s Hatton Garden hit the headlines in dramatic fashion at Easter two years ago when a gang of mainly elderly thieves drilled through 20 inches of concrete and stole an estimated £25 million from the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit company.
Most of the gang are now behind bars although much of their haul is still unrecovered and one gang member, nicknamed Basil, remains at large.
Estate agent Guy Passey, from the local branch of CBRE Residential, says that Holborn is now seen as an extension to the prime central London property market.
“It is well placed halfway between the City and the West End but remains about 20 per cent cheaper than nearby Covent Garden and Fitzrovia.
“It is popular with barristers and solicitors and the area is becoming more residential. And whereas it used to be dead at weekends, now more shops, cafés and restaurants remain open.”
Holborn is in travel Zone 1 with St Pancras and King’s Cross to the north; Clerkenwell to the east; Fleet Street to the south and Covent Garden and Bloomsbury to the west.
The property scene
Large Georgian houses are found in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, Bedford Row, Ely Place, John Street, Doughty Street and on the Rugby Estate around Great Ormond Street Hospital.
The most expensive house currently for sale locally is a three-bedroom early Georgian property in Great Ormond Street, priced £6 million.
Most Holborn homes are flats, whether in new developments — including some office-to-residential conversions; in converted period houses and warehouses, or in mansion and tenement blocks.
The largest new homes development is Lincoln Square between Carey Street and Portugal Street. This new-build block of 10 storeys with 200 studios, one-, two-, three- and four-bedroom flats and penthouses will be ready in autumn next year.
It has been built around a communal courtyard by Indian developer Lodha. Call 020 3129 9967.
Chancery Quarters in Chancery Lane is an office-to-residential conversion with 33 one-, two- and three-bedroom flats and a restaurant and bank on the ground floor. Homes will be ready at the end of summer.
Prices start at £825,000. Call CBRE Residential (020 7420 3050).
The Grays in Gray’s Inn Road, by developer Merchant Land, is another office-to-residential scheme, with 12 one-, two- and three-bedroom flats and a penthouse. Four remain, from £900,000. Call 07739 788306.
Pinks Mews at Dyers Buildings off High Holborn is a boutique scheme of 35 flats and duplexes, ready at the end of summer, from developer Sons & Co. Prices start at £1 million. Visit pinksmews.co.uk or call CBRE (as before).
One Housing Group has five shared-ownership flats at St Pancras Place, the Regal Homes development at the King’s Cross end of Gray’s Inn Road. Call 020 8821 5300. Camden council will be offering shared-ownership flats as part of its regeneration of the Bourne Estate.
Rental manager Luke Mellor, from estate agents CBRE Residential, says there is huge demand from students every summer for rental homes in Holborn, especially foreign students enrolled at the London School of Economics.
Their parents, often wealthy, tend to seek out two-bedroom flats so they have somewhere to stay when they visit.
At other times of the year, City workers and barristers are looking for one-bedroom flats, which are often only occupied during the working week.
The Rugby Estate has homes to rent in the roads around Lamb’s Conduit Street, some of them in fine early Georgian houses, and these are popular with doctors at Great Ormond Street Hospital.
Estate agent Guy Passey of CBRE says shops and restaurants staying open over the weekend is evidence that people are putting down roots in Holborn.
Holborn is in the massive central London WC1 postcode which also includes New Oxford Street, Bloomsbury, St Pancras, parts of Clerkenwell, Covent Garden and Leicester Square.
There are fine Georgian houses and period conversions in John Street, Doughty Street, Bedford Row and Great James Street, and mews houses in Kings Mews and Brownlow Mews.
Up and coming
Guy Passey says small courts such as Warwick Court off High Holborn and Bell Yard off Carey Street, which add such character to the area, are little known and worth exploring.
Holborn and Chancery Lane are on the Central line with Holborn two stops from Oxford Circus for the West End and Chancery Lane one stop from St Paul’s and two stops from Bank for the City. Holborn is also on the Piccadilly line.
It is a short walk to Farringdon which is due to get the Elizabeth line in December next year. All stations are in Zone 1 and an annual travelcard costs £1,296.
Camden council is Labour controlled. Band D council tax for 2017/2018 is £1,417.46
Shops and restaurants
High Holborn is the high street, with a Little Waitrose, M&S Simply Food and branches of lunchtime favourite chain eateries Itsu, PizzaExpress, Byron, Paul and Leon. The high point is Rosewood London, the five-star hotel with restaurants and a delicatessen in the former Pearl Assurance building.
Holborn’s back streets are where the retail excitement resides. Lamb’s Conduit Street, and the streets off it, on the Rugby Estate, offer a charming local shopping quarter that’s a destination in its own right, with Folk for casual menswear and womenswear; The People’s Supermarket, partly run by volunteers; Pentreath & Hall for interiors; Persephone Books, publishers of forgotten novels in trademark grey covers; Spanish restaurant Cigala, and award-winning wine bar Noble Rot, which also publishes a magazine.
The Rugby Estate is holding a street festival on April 28 to celebrate the 450th anniversary of the founding of Rugby School, which owns many of the properties in the area.
Leather Lane Market has an interesting selection of street food stalls at lunchtime and some of London’s best independent coffee shops, including Department of Coffee and Social Affairs, now a small chain, and Prufrock Coffee, both of which train baristas. There’s also a tea specialist, Good & Proper Tea.
Round the corner in Clerkenwell Road, International Magic sells tricks, books and DVDs and describes itself as “London’s Magic Centre”, while Forest has a good selection of fashionable mid-century furniture.
The Hoxton, Holborn, a hotel on the Covent Garden side of High Holborn, has a restaurant, a coffee shop and a branch of Chicken Shop.
Holborn relies on its garden squares for its green open spaces. The loveliest of these is Lincoln’s Inn Fields but there is also tiny Red Lion Square. Coram’s Fields in Guilford Street is a famous children’s playground where adults can only enter if accompanied by a child. It includes sand pits, a duck pond and a pets corner.
Leisure and the arts
Holborn has some of London’s most interesting small museums. Sir John Soane’s Museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields displays the art collection of the distinguished neoclassical architect (1753-1837), who designed the Bank of England and the Dulwich Picture Gallery, and was his home.
In Doughty Street, the Charles Dickens Museum is in the house where the novelist lived between March 1837 and December 1839, while the Foundling Museum in Brunswick Square celebrates the work of “the UK’s first children’s charity”. The West End’s theatres and cinemas are a short walk away.
The Oasis Sports Centre on the corner of High Holborn and Endell Street in Covent Garden is the local council-owned swimming pool, with an indoor pool and a popular heated outdoor pool.
All of Holborn’s state primary schools are rated “outstanding” by Ofsted. They are: St George the Martyr CofE in John’s Mews; St Joseph’s RC in Macklin Street; St Alban’s CofE in Baldwin’s Gardens; Christopher Hatton in Laystall Street and St Clement Danes CofE in Drury Lane, Covent Garden.
The two nearest state comprehensive schools are Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (girls, ages 11 to 16) in Donegal Street — rated “outstanding” and visited several times by Michelle Obama when she was US First Lady — and Maria Fidelis RC (co-ed, ages 11 to 18) in Phoenix Road which is rated “good”.
WKCIC (co-ed, ages 16-plus), the further education college that resulted from the merger of Westminster Kingsway College and City & Islington College, has a campus in Gray’s Inn Road and is rated “good”.
Two of London’s Specialist Designated Colleges for adult education, the Mary Ward Centre and City Lit, offer a wide range of day and evening classes. Both colleges get a “good” rating from the education watchdog.
Among London’s growing number of bilingual French schools, École Jeannine Manuel (co-ed, ages three to 14) is in Bedford Square.
There are two top-performing academic private schools in the City. These are City of London (boys, ages 10 to 18) in Queen Victoria Street and City of London School for Girls (ages seven to 18) in the Barbican.