When in July 1996 Nelson Mandela dropped in to thank the people of Brixton in south London for their support during his long years of incarceration, it felt like the second coming.
Two weeks ago Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg dropped in to deliver a lecture marking the 30th anniversary of the Scarman report into the 1981 Brixton riots. His reception was somewhat more muted.
Despite its own contribution to this summer’s riots, something has clearly happened to Brixton in the past 30 years — it has grown up. It has lost none of its vibrancy and energy, which is why, after the East End, it has become the place where young Londoners like to congregate in shared flats and houses.
But it has learned about community. It offers a lively nightlife, a well-designed, newly refurbished town square and quirky shops and restaurants that make living there a pleasure rather than an endurance test. It even has its own currency, the Brixton Pound, an alternative to sterling which was launched in 2009 for spending exclusively in local shops with the aim of boosting the local economy. Brixton, while not unscathed by the summer’s riots, came off a lot better than most. This time round, it knew what it had to lose.
Properties in Brixton: most housing in Brixton is late Victorian, although there are pockets of early Victorian houses along Vassall Road, Lorn Road, Groveway, Trinity Gardens, Loughborough Park, Brixton Water Lane and Archbishop’s Place. Twenties terrace houses can be found where Brixton meets Tulse Hill in roads such as Craignair Road and Athlone Road. The area has a high proportion of social housing.
The area attracts:Brixton’s lively street life makes it popular with young sharers who rent large flats or houses, while its Victorian houses attract families who can’t afford nearby Clapham where prices are far higher.
Staying power:Brixton’s diversity ends up exerting its influence on families who thought they would only stay for a year or so.
Postcodes:Brixton has two main postcodes: SW2, the Brixton code proper, includes Streatham Hill and Tulse Hill; SW9 is technically the Stockwell postcode but it extends right into the heart of Brixton, east of Brixton Road.
Best roads:the most expensive property currently for sale is a large three-bedroom converted warehouse in Blenheim Gardens, off Brixton Hill, with views of the historic Brixton windmill which Foxtons (020 8772 8000) is selling for £1.6 million. Trinity Gardens is a lovely early Victorian Square tucked away behind the high street, with two- and three-storey, flat-fronted cottages which sell for between £487,500 and £740,000. Josephine Avenue has large three-storey houses with big front gardens. Most are converted into flats but Oliver Burn (020 7274 3333) is selling a six-bedroom house here for £765,000.
The poets’ roads conservation area (Chaucer, Spenser, Shakespeare and Milton) — is a pretty enclave of Victorian exhibition houses, although most residents would say they live in Herne Hill. Houses sell for between £500,000 and £950,000.
What’s new:Clapham Road is a mixed-use redevelopment of the former Freemans mail order catalogue building and site in nearby Stockwell by Galliard Homes (020 7582 5517). The old building has been converted to offices and there are 260 new-build flats and houses (90 of which are affordable for rent and shared ownership). One-bedroom flats start at £325,000 and three-bedroom houses from £750,000.
The Park in Robsart Street is a development of private and affordable shared-ownership homes by housing association Network (0843 315 0226). The second phase of 46 flats (10 private and 36 shared-ownership) is being launched early next year and there are two more phases to come.
The redevelopment of the enormous Guinness Estate in Loughborough Park starts early next year. The development has proved controversial as a number of long-term assured shorthold tenants will lose their homes. Brixton Green is an innovative, community-led concern which would like to build a mixed-use development on council-owned land between the railway and Somerleyton Road. A decision on this potentially ground-breaking development is expected early next year.
Up and coming:the roads around Elm Park Road near the top of Brixton Hill make up a little-known enclave which contains the charming cottages in Archbishop’s Place. The area around Loughborough Junction station where there are large, four-storey houses, mostly converted into flats, and Victorian terrace houses close to Ruskin Park, are also worth exploring.
Getting an education:Brixton and the surrounding area have a good number of primary and secondary schools which are judged “outstanding” by the government education watchdog Ofsted.
The outstanding primary schools are: St Jude’s CofE in Regent Road; Stockwell in Stockwell Road; Sudbourne in Hayter Road, and Corpus Christi in Trent Road. The outstanding secondary schools are: the Charter School (co-ed ages 11 to 18) in Red Post Hill; Sacred Heart RC (co-ed, ages 11 to 16); Stockwell Park (co-ed, ages 11 to 16), and St Martin-in-the-Fields (girls, ages 11 to 18). The new Zaha Hadid-designed Evelyn Grace Academy in Loughborough Park, which won this year’s Stirling Prize for architecture, is judged “satisfactory” by Ofsted.
Shops and restaurants:Brixton is a busy shopping centre with one of London’s most vibrant Caribbean markets. Morleys is the much-loved independent department store with Topshop and MAC concessions.
The part of the market now known as Brixton Village (but which locals will always know as Granville Arcade) between Coldharbour Lane and Atlantic Road has been transformed into foodie heaven. The big draws are Kaosarn, a Thai restaurant; Cornercopia, which specialises in locally sourced food, and the Honest Burger, serving some of the capital’s best burgers.
* MORE ON THE BOROUGH OF LAMBETH:
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Open space:Brockwell Park between Brixton and Herne Hill occupies a hilly site with views over London. It plays host to the Lambeth Country Show every year and is currently undergoing restoration. Myatts Fields between Brixton and Camberwell has recently completed its restoration and there is a new children’s playground and one o’clock club. Ruskin Park, also on the Camberwell side, is named after John Ruskin the Victorian writer.
Leisure and the arts:the café at the Ritzy cinema spills out on to the newly landscaped Windrush Square, while the Brixton Academy is a leading music venue. The DJ and dance scene is served by Plan B in Brixton Road, Mass and Babalou in St Matthew’s Church, Jamm in Brixton Road and the Electric Social, in what used to be the Fridge nightclub.
Great transport links:Brixton is in Zone 2 (annual travel card £1,104) and the Tube station is the last stop on the Victoria line, ensuring a rush-hour seat on the way to work.
There are two train stations — Brixton with trains to Victoria, and Loughborough Junction with Thameslink trains to Farringdon and St Pancras.
Council:Lambeth (Labour-controlled); Band D council tax for the 2011/12 year is £1,235.11.
Buying in Brixton
One-bedroom flat £218,000
Two-bedroom flat £299,000
Two-bedroom house £422,000
Three-bedroom house £450,000
Four-bedroom house £514,000
Renting in Brixton
One-bedroom flat £180 to £320 a week
Two-bedroom flat £280 to £425 a week
Two-bedroom house £375 to £450 a week
Three-bedroom house £400 to £650 a week
Four-bedroom house £500 to £700 a week
Five-bedroom-plus house £550 to £750 a week
Photographs: Graham Hussey