Discover the lost suburb that Blyton and Bowie called home
Beckenham is a hidden gem with some of London’s best late-Victorian, Edwardian and Twenties homes, says Anthea Masey
This is an attractive south London suburb that time appears to have forgotten. Sandwiched between South Norwood to the west and Bromley to the east, Beckenham deserves a much higher profile than it presently occupies — not so much for its town centre, which is varied and busy but in need of a nip and tuck, but for the sheer abundance of its splendid domestic architecture.
According to Maxine Harris of estate agents Kinleigh Folkard & Hayward, a four- or five-bedroom family house in Beckenham (20 minutes from Victoria) is half the price of a similar house in Dulwich (15 minutes from Victoria). “Beckenham is a hidden gem,” says Maxine.
You might remember it as the suburb where author Hanif Kureishi’s novel of teenage angst, The Buddha of Suburbia, was set. It is also where the children’s author Enid Blyton grew up; she lived in Clock House Road and was baptised at the Elm Road Baptist Church. David Bowie lived in Beckenham for part of the Sixties and played his first gigs at The Three Tuns (now Zizzi’s restaurant) in the high street.
Until the middle of the 19th century, Beckenham was a small village centred around a green and St George’s Church with its historic 13th-century lych gate. Its most prominent features today are an old weatherboard pub, The George, on a bend in the high street; a war memorial where Beckenham Lane meets the high street, and a listed Chinese garage — an oriental-style car showroom selling Peugeot and Kia cars at the roundabout where South Eden Park Road meets Wickham Road.
What you can buy
Beckenham has a good choice of homes, from large detached and semi-detached Victorian and Edwardian houses to detached Twenties and Thirties houses on large garden estates, to modern blocks of flats built from the Sixties onwards on sites where large houses have been demolished to make way.
There are also small enclaves of artisans’ cottages. It is worth seeking out the numerous conservation areas. For example, in the Elm Road conservation area, close to Clock House station, there are 40 semi-detached late-Victorian houses that sell for about £650,000. In the Downs Hill conservation area there are detached Arts & Crafts-influenced detached houses for between £500,000 and £850,000.
In Park Langley, south-east of the town centre, there are large detached Edwardian houses built along garden suburb principles. The styles are mainly Tudor, Kent farmhouse or colonial; the pavements are red-brick and there are high privet hedges. Last year the price paid for a detached house varied between £570,000 and £1.35 million.
In the Barnmead Road conservation area around Kent House station there are fine Victorian semi-detached houses with delicate ironwork porches that sell for between £550,000 and £650,000. The roads north of Beckenham town centre are a good place to look for modern, purpose-built flats in leafy roads, with two-bedroom flats starting at about £250,000.
The best roads
Beckenham Place Park, where estate agents George Proctor (020 8650 3454) and Kinleigh Folkard & Hayward (020 8650 8268) are selling a seven-bedroom detached Twenties house for £1.85 million.
Who comes and who stays
The area attracts young professionals and families moving from more expensive areas of south-east London who want a house and garden. Croydon commuters are also drawn here and the good schools mean families tend to stay.
No major new developments, but Kinleigh Folkard & Hayward (020 8222 7200) is selling two-bedroom homes in a new-build block of 26 flats at Arona House in Oakwood Avenue, with prices starting at £274,995.
Families move to Beckenham for the good state schools. The primary school of choice is Balgowan in Balgowan Road, which is judged “good” by government education watchdog Ofsted. Other primary schools with a similar rating are St Mary’s RC in Westgate Road and Unicorn in Creswell Road. Marian Vian in Shirley Crescent in the Elmers End area of Beckenham is judged “outstanding”. But it is the two secondary schools — Langley Park for boys and Langley Park for girls, both judged to be “outstanding” — which are the big draw. Bishop Challoner is a co-ed private Catholic school in the Shortlands area, for children aged three to 18.
Shops and restaurants
The high street has lost out to nearby Bromley, but there are several gems. Le Traiteur is a delicatessen and coffee shop; Gallery Seventeen sells prints and frames; Village Fine Sausages has a wide variety of bangers, and Jumping Bean is the best for unusual gifts. The big supermarket is a Waitrose.
Chain restaurants such as Zizzi, Pizza Express and the Gourmet Burger Kitchen are on the high street, as is La Rascasse, a French and seafood restaurant, and Mello, Beckenham’s smartest eaterie. El Molino in Beckenham Road between Kent House and Clock House stations is a popular tapas bar, while locals recommend L’Aragosta in Eden Park Avenue.
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Kelsey Park has a lake (one of the best places to see herons in south-east England), a mini-golf course, tennis courts and a café. Beckenham Place Park, on the Green Chain and Capital Ring walks, has more than 200 acres of parkland and woodland, a pay-and-play 18-hole golf course and a fine listed 18th-century mansion, currently used as the clubhouse.
Beckenham has good links to central London and also to Croydon. There are nine rail stations:Beckenham Junction, Beckenham Hill, Clock House, Eden Park, Elmers End, Kent House, New Beckenham, Ravensbourne and Shortlands (all but one are in Zone 4; the exception is Eden Park, which is in Zone 5). These stations offer services to Victoria, St Pancras, Charing Cross, Cannon Street and London Bridge. The journey time from Beckenham Junction to Victoria is about 24 minutes. Trams to East Croydon station depart from Beckenham Road, Beckenham Junction and Elmers End.
Leisure and the arts
The Spa at Beckenham is a new council-owned leisure centre in Beckenham Road with two pools, a gym and a children’s soft play area. David Lloyd has a sports club with a swimming pool in Stanhope Grove. Breeze is a recently opened new yoga centre offering traditional forms of yoga and hot yoga. Beckenham Theatre Centre is a thriving amateur dramatics group with its own 47-seat theatre, close to the town centre in Bromley Road. The Odeon is the local multiplex cinema.
Bromley (Conservative); band D council tax for 2011/2012 is £1,301.
One-bedroom flat: £168,000
Two-bedroom flat: £224,000
Two-bedroom house: £254,000
Three-bedroom house: £339,000
Four-bedroom house: £506,000
One-bedroom flat: £750 to £850 a month
Two-bedroom flat: £900 to £1,100 a month
Two-bedroom house: £1,100 to £1,300 a month
Three-bedroom house: £1,300 to £1,500 a month
Four-bedroom house £1,600 to £1,800 a month
Source: Kinleigh Folkard & Hayward
Photographs by Barry Phillips