It's a brave new world

A new frequent train service will transform the fortunes of London's overlooked south-east
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SOUTH-EAST London is the capital's last frontier: its absence from the London Tube map has for too long left it isolated and ignored. The result is that this part of the capital has some of the lowest-priced homes in South-East England, yet it boasts tree-covered hills, panoramic views, good schools, majestic open spaces and a host of quiet, well-kept conservation areas.

But the days of cheap housing there may be numbered. In three years, Transport for London's £1 billion southern extension of the East London line - part of a new East London Link network - will stride across the capital's south-east with up to eight trains an hour running north and south, connecting with the City at Shoreditch and the Jubilee line at Canada Water. The service will be part of TfL's new London Overground service, which starts in November with the takeover of the North London line.

With the Tube map redrawn, places such as Brockley, Forest Hill, Sydenham and Crystal Palace will suddenly be no more difficult to commute to and from than Clapham, Wimbledon, Richmond or Hampstead.

Here, we begin a series looking at the areas along the line that will benefit. We start with the route from New Cross Gate to Forest Hill.

New Cross Gate: arts and drama

On the face of it, New Cross is no more than a pollution-choked traffic island on the A2 to Dover. But there is more to it than meets the eye. The centre is dominated by Goldsmiths, a college with strong art and drama departments.

Its new Will Alsop-designed building, with its giant sculptural metal "squiggle", dominates the skyline, while the area's vibrant arts and music scene - the Klaxons are the latest success story - has led New Cross to be dubbed the Shoreditch of south London, or more startlingly by Time Out, as the new Haight-Ashbury.

The busy centre of New Cross, where you will find New Cross Gate station, couldn't be further removed from the quiet tranquillity of the nearby Telegraph Hill conservation area. This hilly neighbourhood of two- and three-storey Victorian houses gets its name from the 18th century semaphore telegraph station that stood there.

Now it is a favourite with families who want to be close to the excellent Haberdashers' Aske's comprehensive school.

New Cross estate agent Jim Power, of Peter James, says first-time buyers can find two-bedroom ex-council flats for less than £170,000; however, similar flats in converted houses on Telegraph Hill start at about £250,000.

Family houses in the conservation area start at about £425,000 for a three-bedroom house and £675,000 for a three-storey house with five bedrooms.

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Brockley: understated gem

Next down the line is Brockley. The Brockley conservation area is one of south London's hidden gems. An area of about 4,000 households, it is bounded by Lewisham Way to the north, Adelaide and Montague Avenues and Hilly Fields Crescent to the south, Rokeby Road and Brockley Road to the west and Tyrwhitt Road to the east. The area has fine, spacious, four- and five-storey stucco houses arranged on wide tree-lined streets. It is a good place to find flats with large rooms and high ceilings.

The centre of Brockley - known as Brockley Cross - is not much more than a giant crossroads, though a number of new coffee shops and restaurants have opened. There are more interesting shops, and the Brockley Jack, a well-known pub with its own theatre, further down Brockley Road, close to Crofton Park station.

Brockley has a strong sense of community, holding an annual summer fayre on Hilly Fields and Brockley Max, a music festival held every June; while the Brockley Cross Action Group is campaigning for a new station on the high-level line to Victoria.

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Honor Oak: magnificent locations

Brenchley Gardens and One Tree Hill are on the summit of the hill in the middle of Honor Oak, which is the next station on the line. On the eastern side there is a ladder of streets off Grierson Road with terraces of three-bedroom Thirties houses that sell for £360,000 upwards.

On the western side of the hill there are four magnificent roads named after locations in the Crimea: Mundania, Therapia, Scurari and Marmora. These are lined with large detached and semi-detached houses with interesting Gothic details; they frequently sell for more than £1 million and are all a short walk from one of London's oddest golf courses, the Aquarius, a nine-hole course built on a reservoir.

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Forest Hill: not just a museum piece

The centre of Forest Hill, the next stop on the line, is situated around a kink in the South Circular. The Horniman Museum is a local treasure; its beautiful Art Nouveau building was built by a Victorian tea merchant to house his ethnography collection. It also has a beautiful Victorian conservatory, handsome gardens and a modern grass-covered Centre for the Understanding of the Environment.

Forest Hill doesn't have much of a town centre, but interesting new boutiques, such as Bunker, have moved in; the Dartmouth Arms is a much-loved gastropub, and local sculptor Jeff Lowe has transformed Havelock Mews into an artistic live/work community.

Raj Tanner, of the Forest Hill branch of Kinleigh Folkard & Hayward, says that families like the Thirties houses in the roads behind the Horniman that start at £425,000.

More Victorian terraces are found south of the South Circular, towards Catford. A three-bedroom house there starts at about £400,000, with two-bedroom conversions at about £250,000. Houses built by local builder Ted Christmas, who built homes all over Forest Hill in the first three decades of the 20th century, are particularly sought-after. But seek out, too, Art Deco Taymount Grange, a local landmark, with large, two-bedroom flats that sell for about £300,000.

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