Forest Hill in south-east London, between pretty Dulwich and Sydenham, is one of those easy-to-miss spots that deserves a closer look. Situated on a sharp bend on the South Circular Road, Forest Hill, like so many other places in south London, is named after the Great North Wood that once covered much of Kent and Sussex.
Its three greatest assets are the Horniman Museum, housed in a landmark Arts and Crafts building, which has had £17 million spent on it in the past decade; the panoramas from its vertiginous hills — the views from the top of Canonbie Road are breathtaking and not for the faint-hearted; and its transport links to central London via the suburban network to London Bridge and now to Canary Wharf and the City via the extended East London Line.
What there is to buy
Forest Hill has some fine, large, Victorian and Edwardian houses, which, if they haven’t been divided into flats, make spacious family homes. There are also two-bedroom Victorian cottages, Twenties semi-detached houses, artists’ studio houses in a converted mews, Art Deco flats and newer blocks around the station.
One of the most expensive houses currently for sale belongs to David Cameron’s former spin doctor Andy Coulson. His five-bedroom Edwardian house near Wood Vale is on the market for £1.525 million through Savills (020 8877 1222) and Harvey & Wheeler (020 8693 432); the most expensive long-term rental (not priced for the Olympics) is a three-bedroom newly refurbished Victorian house in Kilmorie Road, £2,000 a month through Kinleigh Folkard & Hayward (020 3280 3544).
The area attracts: people who can’t afford East Dulwich or Dulwich village, end up looking in Forest Hill and are pleasantly surprised. It attracts first time-buyers and young couples. According to Martin Timms of the Forest Hill branch of Kinleigh Folkard & Hayward the extended East London Line has brought new buyers to the area. “I saw my first buyer from Shoreditch the other day,” he says.
Staying power: families who want to educate their children in the state sector tend to move out to Beckenham and Kent once their children start approaching secondary school age.
Renting: Bobby Rana, the manager of Winkworth’s Forest Hill branch, says renters are mainly young couples looking for flats and sharers looking for houses. “The area seems to attract a lot of young actors who are sharing.”
Postcode: Forest Hill is SE23.“It can be a struggle to get people to look in SE23 if they have set their heart on SE22, but we are beginning to persuade people, especially as the transport links are now better than in East Dulwich”, says Timms.
Best roads: Woodvale, and the roads close to Fairlawn primary school, such as Benson Road, Dunoon Road, Canonbie Road and Devonshire Road.
What’s new: Kinleigh Folkard & Hayward (020 8222 7200) is selling three small developments. Sienna Place between Lessing Street and Ballina Street is a small mews of five houses and two refurbished stables; prices range from £299,950 to £425,000. Olympic Heights on Waldram Crescent close to the station is a development of eight one and two-bedroom flats ready for occupation in July; prices range from £219,950 to £294,950. And on Stanstead Road there are 12 new one, two and three-bedroom flats in the converted Forest Hill Hotel, with prices ranging from £215,000 to £250,000.
Up and coming: The Perry Fields conservation area including Garlies Road and Allenby Road off Perry Rise is an attractive enclave with some fine double-fronted detached Victorian houses. One of these recently sold for £720,000. In East Dulwich it would have cost 50 per cent more.
Getting an education
Forest Hill has a good choice of primary schools rated “good” by the Government’s education watchdog Ofsted; however, the two primary schools rated “outstanding” are Eliot Bank in Thorpewood Avenue and Fairlawn in Honor Oak Road. The two comprehensive schools are Sydenham (girls aged 11 to 18 with boys in the sixth form) and Forest Hill (boys ages 11 to 18 with girls in the sixth form). Both are rated good by Ofsted. Sydenham High (ages four to 18) is a private girls’ school that gets good results at GCSE and A-level.
Dulwich, with its selection of private day schools — James Allen’s Girls’ School (JAGS), Dulwich College and Alleyn’s School — is a short bus ride away.
Shops and restaurants:
Forest Hill’s shops and restaurants are clustered around the station, and it is an area undergoing change with new independent shops, coffee bars and restaurants opening up. There is a Sainsbury’s and a cavernous Wetherspoons in the old Art Deco Capitol Cinema. Bunka is a small boutique chain selling women’s and men’s clothes which started life in Forest Hill but now has branches in Earlsfield and Balham while the Stag and Bow has an eclectic mix of vintage homewares and craft items and runs craft workshops.
Canvas & Cream is a new restaurant and art gallery which recently hosted an event at which Charles Saatchi and Nigella Lawson were the star guests. The Sylvan Post is a popular pub in the old Post office; and the Dartmouth Arms is the best local gastro pub.
The gardens at the Horniman Museum are undergoing a £2.3 million facelift including a newly-refurbished Victorian bandstand on a new terrace with views over London and a sound garden where visitors can play on giant musical instruments. The Devonshire Road Nature Reserve is home to rare plants on a cutting on the Forest Hill to New Cross railway embankment.
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Leisure and the arts: Havelock Walk is an artists’ colony of renovated mews houses where there are often art exhibitions and the Hob is a pub which hosts a local comedy club. The Forest Hill Pools will soon open after a rebuilding programme which saved the Victorian facade but controversially did not save the Victorian swimming pool, although two new pools have been included.
Travel: The south circular road runs through Forest Hill. Forest Hill station (Zone 3 annual travelcard £1,368) is 15 minutes from London Bridge and around 35 minutes to Victoria. The East London Line connects with the City at Shoreditch and Canary Wharf with a change at Canada Water.
Council: Lewisham (Labour-controlled); Band D council tax for the 2012/2013 year: £1,348.83.