Plunge into Herne Hill

Brixton's neighbour Herne Hill has one of the best green spaces in London, a lido and velodrome, and up-scale boutiques and bars.
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With quiet residential streets, one of London's best parks and a growing selection of upmarket bars, boutiques and galleries, it is no surprise that properties in Herne Hill went up in value by a third last year.

Next door to Brixton, Herne Hill is both calmer and, for the time being, cheaper. It is a suburb full of first-time buyers, young professional couples and fledgling families.

It is less multicultural than it was, more middle-class, more affluent. Victorian and Edwardian houses have been chopped into surprisingly spacious flats. There are still bargains, especially if you like the idea of putting your own mark on a property. It is definitely an area for DIY enthusiasts.

Transition is the word most often applied to Herne Hill. Old-fashioned south London boozers compete with zinc bars. People buy a rung on the housing ladder for a few years but rarely stay for ever.

It has been called anonymous, which is a bit unfair as there is lots to love about Herne Hill. Brockwell Park, formerly the grounds of the manor house in the middle of it, is one of the best green spaces in London, with one of the capital's few lidos. There is nowhere better to spend a sunny day, or to observe Londoners, 3,000 of whom visit every day in the summer.

Herne Hill also has London's last full-scale concrete cycling track, the only Olympic venue from 1948 still in use. Residents praise the transport links, the proximity to Dulwich and the excellent schools. By London standards, it is affordable.

Post-First World War "homes for heroes" on Sunray Estate
Post-First World War "homes for heroes" on Sunray Estate
Herne Hill has always been at the confluence of roads: in the valley, ancient routes lead to Dulwich and Norwood, and at one time the pilgrim route followed the River Effra towards Canterbury. Herne Hill itself was covered with trees but after the English Civil War, many were cut down for shipbuilding and domestic use, clearing space for farms and smallholdings.

As late as the 1760s the area was still very rural. But as London expanded south, it became popular with the wealthy, who built many fine houses. Only with the arrival of the railway in 1862 were smaller houses for workers and artisans built. Between the First and Second World Wars Herne Hill saw further development, with the construction of the unusual Sunray Estate built to provide "homes fit for heroes".

Then the large Grade II listed Dorchester Court estate was built in 1936 on the site formerly occupied by large 19th century villas. The whole area was badly hit during the Blitz, and after 1945, priority was given to repairing damaged properties. However, new houses were built on the vacant bombsites and many of the larger houses were converted into flats.

Later, the local authority built new estates, including tower blocks such as the ones off Dulwich Road. The result is a broad mix of architectural styles.

Peter Jenkins, a PR account director, bought a two-bedroom ground-floor flat for £170,000 last year after renting in Brixton.

He expects it to fetch £270,000 within 12 months. "I think Herne Hill is part of a ripple effect, like Streatham, where Brixton's the centre and the areas around it are beginning to soar in popularity," he says.

"When I saw the flat, I thought, 'wow'. It was a shell but huge, and I really liked the area. Brockwell Park is the nicest green space in London, and one of the few places I can use my BMX bike. The transport is incredible it takes me 25 minutes to get to work in Clerkenwell."

'Transition is the word most often applied to Herne Hill'

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Life outside Herne Hill station buzzes with cafes, including Pullen's
Life outside Herne Hill station buzzes with cafes, including Pullen's
Local councils: the area falls under both Lambeth council (020 7926 1000) and Southwark (020 7525 5000).

Council tax: Lambeth charges £791.49 a year for Band A properties to £2,374.46 for Band H. Southwark charges £787.30 for Band A and £2,361.88 for Band H.

Schools: St Jude's Church of England Primary has a good reputation, as does Jessop Primary. For secondary schools, The Charter School in nearby Dulwich was awarded "outstanding" status in its Ofsted inspection for October 2006. There are also private schools on the doorstep, notably Dulwich College.

Eating and drinking: Pullen's Café (020 7274 9163) is right by the station, with friendly staff. The Half Moon (020 7274 2733) is a traditional south London pub but does a decent pizza. Locals rate the 3 Monkeys (020 7738 5550) for Indian fare. Olleys (020 8671 8259) is one of the best fish-and-chip shops in London. Also recommended are Café Provencal (020 7978 9228), The Escape Bar (020 7737 0333), which is half-gallery/half-bar, and The Commercial (020 7501 9051), another traditional pub.

Clubs: Simply head down the road to Brixton, arguably London's edgiest club district.

Transport: Herne Hill is well served by trains and numerous train stations: Brixton, Herne Hill, Tulse Hill and West, East and North Dulwich. There have been rumours of an extension of the Victoria line towards Herne Hill, although the nearest Tube station remains Brixton. The area is served by many buses.

Leisure: at the Brockwell Park Lido (020 7274 3088) there are classes in Capoeira, acrobatics and yoga. With the Herne Hill Velodrome London's only cycling track nearby, there is plenty of scope for burning calories. The Brixton Recreation Centre (020 7926 9779) is probably the closest public gym.

Pictures by Barry Phillips

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