Forest Hill, the south London location of the quirky Horniman Museum, with its world-famous taxidermy collection, is used to jokes about being stuffed. Certainly it is a well-preserved place, with some landmark Victorian architecture and a sprinkling of Art Deco gems, yet for years it has suffered from being dissected by the often noisy and clogged South Circular road.
But much better transport links are about to change its fortunes: homebuyers will welcome the arrival of a new Tube-like train service offering frequent, direct "Overground" services to Docklands, with easy connections to the capital's Tube network. In anticipation, Lewisham council has a masterplan for regeneration.
A dozen estate agents have now set up offices within spitting distance of Forest Hill train station, which is poised for an upgrade as part of the East London line extension from New Cross to Croydon, due to launch in 2010.
Big-name housebuilders, such as Berkeley Homes, have arrived on the scene, joining local niche developers.
Even Manhattan Loft Corporation, creator of designer apartments in trendy Bankside and Clerkenwell, has ventured outside its central- London domain to make an appearance in the area.
Gentrification, spreading from nearby East Dulwich, has taken hold, with foodies in the vanguard.
'Better value than Clapham and Battersea, soon it will be quicker to Docklands, too'
The Dartmouth Arms is one of the capital's noted new-era gastro pubs, and there is also emerging a community of live/workers and artisans an entirely different breed to the dotcom fashionistas who inhabit, say, Shoreditch. The creatives will fit comfortably into Forest Hill's position as an unpretentious inner suburb. Kitchen-sink-drama actor Timothy Spall is a long-time resident; the queen of TV property makeovers, Linda Barker, is another..
Views to rival Hampstead's
One of Lewisham council's aims is to improve public space and the look of Forest Hill's often cluttered streets. There is no "cohesive sense of quality around the station area", it observes. Yet only moments from this busy hub are quaint passageways, mews cottages and private roads with splendid views of London to rival Hampstead's.
Forest Hill Central is being built on the edge of railway land at Perry Vale and will bring 46 new flats with up to three bedrooms. Prices will start at £250,000 when homes are launched next month. Call Berkeley Homes on 020 8291 9499.
Already, Forest Hill has good train connections to London Bridge (15 minutes) and Charing Cross (23 minutes) but the extended East London line will establish an axis with Canary Wharf, providing a boost to the local housing market, says Akin Kara of estate agent Acorn.
"It's an area in transition. People are moving to Forest Hill from Clapham and Battersea because it's better value and the links to Docklands [with up to eight trains an hour each way] will be quicker than from south-west London," he says.
Live/work units are for sale at The Printworks, just behind the station at Clyde Terrace. These are one- and two-bedroom apartments above a groundfloor work zone with a separate entrance and will offer up to 1,300sq ft of space. Zest, the developer, is an offshoot of housing association London and Quadrant. Prices from £305,000. Call 020 8663 4466.
Shared-ownership flats are also for sale via Tower Homes as part of the Government's low-cost Housing Options initiative. Call 0845 230 8099.
Phoenix Works, in Bird in the Hand Passage, is another tucked-away town-centre scheme by North Star. It has 10 live/work units priced from £300,000 and 14 two-bedroom apartments priced from £200,000. Call estate agent Kinleigh Folkard & Hayward on 020 7491 2055. Meanwhile, established properties are keenly priced. The same agent is selling a pretty end-terrace house on Kemble Road for £359,950 and it is still possible to buy twobedroom resale flats for less than the £250,000 stamp-duty threshold, according to long-established local agent Scotchbrooks. Call 020 8699 0841.
Sweeping views of London and the Kent Downs can be had from the summit of Taymount Rise.
Perched at the top is Taymount Grange, a Modernist apartment complex and an early example of an upmarket concierge development.
When built in 1935, the spacious mansion flats were advertised with the enticement: "servant problem solved", having on-site porterage, a restaurant, lounge, guest rooms, tennis courts, swimming pool and putting green.
Structural engineer Howard White was born there in the winter of 1955. "It was an ice-cold, snowy day and the ambulance couldn't get up the hill," he says. He has lived in the area ever since.
Five years ago, White bought a pair of 1940s bungalows on land bordering Taymount Grange. After a protracted planning battle with local residents he won permission for demolition of the bungalows and the construction of a new block of 14 flats.
Called Vantage Heights, it is a modern, white-rendered building with glass and stainless-steel touches. Prices range from £250,000 to £600,000 for a penthouse-style flat. Call Acorn on 020 8663 4466.
Cashing in on the Rye
Forest Hill Road, which rises up from the wide open space of Peckham Rye, has become a development hotspot. Honor Oak Church is being converted by Manhattan Loft Corporation 10 apartments plus four houses created from the old church hall..
Apartments are priced from £285,000 to £585,000 and include triplex three-bedroom properties. Call 020 7631 1888. Workshop spaces will also be available.
A closed-down Victorian school overlooking the Rye is earmarked for the new Harris Academy for secondary pupils, which is likely to push up values of family houses in the neighbourhood. Probably the most expensive and imposing property for sale is The Elms, a listed Georgian villa with five bedrooms set within a walled garden bordering a park.
Refurbished, and with planning consents for garaging and a swimming pool, estate agent Property In is inviting offers in the region of £1.7 million. It is perhaps an early opportunity for a bonus-wielding banker with a young family to buy a trophy house in an up-and-coming area. Call 020 8693 8000.
Pictures by Barry Phillips