When they are ready for a more settled lifestyle — but not quite prepared to abandon the capital’s bright lights completely — many north Londoners will weigh the advantages of a move out to Loughton in Essex.
The town sits on the edge of Epping Forest, 15 miles north-east of central London at the apex of what is known as the “Golden Triangle”, with Chigwell and Buckhurst Hill to the south. The nightlife and culture of the West End is still within easy reach thanks to the Central line, but country walks are on the doorstep.
The triangle is what propelled glamour model-turned-bodybuilder Jodie Marsh to stardom in the ITV documentary series Essex Wives in 2002, and it features now in the long-running reality soap The Only Way Is Essex. It is also a great place to spot footballers’ wives.
Thriving Loughton grew up in the middle of the Victorian age with the arrival of the Eastern Counties Railway in 1856 and its history has been shaped by its proximity to Epping Forest. In 1878 the management of the forest was taken over by the City of London.
In 1884, to compensate locals for the loss of the right to lop firewood in the forest, the City provided funds to build the town’s public hall, calling it Lopping Hall. As the town rises to the west to meet the forest, there is a hilly area of pretty cottages and country lanes, with fine views over London to be enjoyed from the terrace of the Gardeners Arms pub.
Thanks to the best-selling crime fiction writer Ruth Rendell, this part of Loughton is now known as Little Cornwall. Rendell — Baroness Rendell of Babergh — who died last year aged 85, had been a pupil at Loughton County High School for Girls and coined the name Little Cornwall in her 1974 novel The Face of Trespass.
The last of Rendell’s novels to be published in her lifetime, The Girl Next Door, is set in Loughton and in February, the town council unveiled a blue plaque on her modest childhood home in Millsmead Way.
According to estate agent James Lamb from the local branch of Savills it’s the large houses which attract north Londoners to Loughton, plus good schools and a quick and easy commute into the City on the Central line Tube.
Loughton has period cottages from its time as a small village, plus Victorian and Edwardian semi-detached and terrace houses, and houses dating from the Twenties to the present day.
The Roding estate south-east of the station is interwar, while Great Woodcote Park is a modern gated estate on the southern edge of town and Goldings Manor covers a series of leafy roads on the northern edge.
Sovereign Place in Church Hill is a McCarthy & Stone development of 11 two-bedroom retirement flats which will be ready to move into this summer. Prices start at £609,950. Call 0800 201 4847.
Landmark is a Higgins Homes scheme of 64 one- and two-bedroom flats in a seven-storey block, with retail on the ground floor, in The Broadway in nearby Debden. The development launches this autumn, with the first residents due to move in next spring. Call 020 8003 1294.
Loughton is not a particularly busy rental area, and there are twice as many homes for sale as there are to rent. Most rental homes are one- and two-bedroom flats, the most popular of which are close to Loughton Tube station.
North Londoners who move to a large house with plenty of land are making a long-term commitment to Loughton.
Debden, on the western edge of Loughton, is a large estate built between 1947 and 1952 by the old London County Council. It has its own Central line Tube station and a shopping centre, and homes in Debden are generally cheaper than in Loughton itself.
Alderton Hill has large detached houses, including some “knock-down-and-rebuild”; Nursery Road has views over the open countryside of Epping Forest.
IG10 is the Loughton postcode, bordered to the south by IG7 for Chigwell and IG8 for Buckhurst Hill.
Close to the junction of the M25 and M11, Loughton also has a Tube station on the Central line, with trains to Liverpool Street in 28 minutes and Oxford Circus in 37 minutes.
It is in Zone 6 and an annual travelcard to Zone 1 costs £2,364.
Epping Forest district council is Conservative-controlled, although the Loughton Residents Association has 13 councillors. Band D council tax for the 2016/2017 year is £1,547.86.
Shops and restaurants
Loughton has a busy shopping street along the High Road where there is a mix of independent shops and chain stores and restaurants. There is a large branch of Sainsbury’s between the Underground station and the High Road.
On the High Road itself there is an M&S Foodhall and a branch of Morrisons. Other chain stores include Clarks, Halfords, Body Shop, Benefit, Space NK, Fired Earth, Percy Ingle and New Look.
Smiths of Loughton is a stand-out kitchenware shop. Chain restaurants and cafés include Café Rouge, Nando’s, Caffè Nero, Starbucks, Wildwood, PizzaExpress, Loch Fyne, and Zizzi. There is also a branch of Belgique, a patisserie with eight branches in the north-east London suburbs and Hertfordshire.
Popular independent restaurants include The Olive Tree for Mediterranean cuisine with an emphasis on Greek food; Louie Pauls Bistro, a daytime restaurant that also opens in the evening on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays; Two Kitchens serving both pizza and sushi — an unusual combination that seems to work — and Molen’s, a popular sandwich bar. The Pan-Asian Restaurant at Loughton Golf Club in Clays Lane gets good reviews.
LuXe Essex, a nightspot in the High Road which featured in a TOWIE storyline with James “Lockie” Lock, had its opening hours restricted last year after local complaints.
Epping Forest, London’s largest open space, managed by the City of London, is a short walk from Loughton town centre, and proximity to its miles of walking, cycling and horse-riding trails is one of the main reasons families move to the area.
The park, which straddles the M25, starts north of Epping and ends in London at Manor Park.
There are two visitors’ centres near Loughton: the Epping Forest Visitors’ Centre in Nursery Road, High Beach and Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge in Ranger’s Road, a rare surviving timber-frame hunting lodge built on the orders of Henry VIII.
Leisure and the arts
Lopping Hall in the High Road puts on amateur dramatic shows and films and the adjacent art centre is available for art exhibitions. The East 15 Acting School, in Rectory Lane, now part of the University of Essex, has the Corbett Theatre, named after former pupil and benefactor, the late Steptoe & Son star Harry H Corbett.
Loughton Golf Club is in Clays Lane, while Chigwell Golf Club is in High Road, Chigwell, and Woolston Manor Golf & Country Club is in Abridge Road, Chigwell.
The local council-owned swimming pool is the Loughton Leisure Centre in Traps Hill.
Loughton has a good choice of state primary schools which get good results. Only one, Hereward in Colebrook Lane, is judged “outstanding” by the Ofsted schools watchdog. Most of the rest are judged “good”, including the very popular Staples Road Primary in Staples Road; Alderton Infants and Juniors in Alderton Hall Lane; White Bridge Infants in Greensted Road; Thomas Willingale in The Broadway and High Beech CofE in Mott Street.
The “outstanding” comprehensive school is Davenant Foundation (co-ed, ages 11 to 18) a Christian school with a history dating back to the 17th century, in Chester Road. The two other comprehensive schools, Roding Valley High in Alderton Hill and Debden Park High (co-ed, ages 11 to 18) in Willingale Road, are both judged “good”.
There are two private primary schools: Oaklands (co-ed, ages two-and-a-half to 11) in Albion Hill and Loyola Preparatory (boys, ages three to 11), a Catholic school in Palmerston Road in nearby Buckhurst Hill. There are also two popular local private schools: Chigwell (co-ed, ages four to 18) in High Road, Chigwell, and Bancroft’s (co-ed, ages seven to 18) in High Road, Woodford Green.