This village has you hooked
Hampstead’s winning combination of heath, village and ponds just a few Tube stops away from the centre of town makes for luscious photos in every London guidebook.
But this affluent corner of north London also inspires great loyalty in its residents, many of whom have lived in Hampstead for generations. Philip Green, director of agents Goldschmidt & Howland (020 7435 4404) says: “There is a strong community here, and people care if lamp posts change or about what trees are planted.”
The active and articulate Heath and Hampstead Society can be a formidable opponent, as burger giant McDonald’s learnt when it tried to open a branch in a Grade-II listed building and was forced to tone down its plans. If Hampstead looks beautiful, it is partly due to residents’ ongoing battles against insensitive development, unwelcome shops and too many 4x4s cluttering up the roads on the school run.
A Hilltop spa
Properties: Hampstead village and East Heath are paradise for lovers of period domestic architecture, with every street opening up new Georgian or Victorian pleasures and reminders of the area’s history as a hilltop spa above London. Georgian cottages with large front gardens overlook the heath in South End Road, around the corner from stucco Regency houses in Downshire Hill, east of the high street. West of Heath Street a cluster of steep, narrow streets opens out at the Victorian red brick façade and mansard roofs of Mount Vernon, once a consumption hospital and now flats. More ordinary Victorian terraces line the grids of streets east of Hampstead Heath railway station. The rich international set clusters in detached houses in the soulless and expensive roads near Kenwood, where Hampstead turns into Hampstead Garden Suburb.
The area attracts: affluent young professionals; successful creative types and artists who can afford high prices; intellectuals or aspiring intellectuals; internationals (though Americans are less prominent these days); families moving up from Islington or down the Northern line from High Barnet and Totteridge. The ex-Islingtonians prefer Hampstead Village, says Grant Alexson of estate agent Knight Frank (020 7317 7950). “They like the historic properties, which are quite similar to Islington, whereas people moving from places like St John’s Wood go for Hampstead Garden Suburb because it has big, detached houses and gardens.”
Staying power: formidable. Once people move in, they stay, watch their children and grandchildren grow up locally and then hand on their property to the next generation.
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Postcodes: Hampstead NW3 is one of London’s most desirable postcodes and covers the whole of the village and the heath. If you can’t afford Hampstead proper you can get a slice of the action by buying in Belsize Park, which is 15 to 20 per cent cheaper than Hampstead proper but is still in NW3.
Best streets: for some of Hampstead’s best period properties, try Hampstead Grove west of Heath Street, or Keats Grove, Downshire Hill and Gainsborough Gardens, a stone’s throw from the heath. Church Row and Holly Walk are also sought-after but keep your car small in Holly Walk — residents have problems squeezing their BMWs up the street.
Up-and-coming areas: nowhere in Hampstead is cheap but the grid of streets between Constantine, Savernake and Agincourt Roads by the Royal Free Hospital is cheaper than the village proper.
New developments/regeneration: new developments have to be very subtle to get past vigilant residents, and much of Hampstead’s appeal is in its unchanging nature. Developments close to the heath are a particularly sensitive area for the Heath and Hampstead Society, which is fighting plans by developers to demolish the handsome Athlone House, formerly a hospital, to make way for a new mansion. The society decribes the plans as “intrusive in size, scale, colour and detail”.
Schools: Hampstead has a big clutch of private schools as well as some good state schools close by, which is partly why so many families move there. Private schools include University College School (boys) and South Hampstead School (girls). Good secondary state performers include La Sainte Union RC (girls).
Shops and restaurants: Hampstead High Street is a bit more ordinary than it used to be, with more chains, but it is still an interesting place to shop, with individual clothes shops, patisseries and delis. In Flask Walk, off the high street, Keith Fawke’s second-hand bookshop has shrunk but is surviving the onslaught from Amazon with a steady stream of erudite customers. There are restaurants to suit most tastes but younger people looking for something less staid than Hampstead Village head for West End Lane in West Hampstead.
Green space/culture: With the heath on the doorstep, you never have an excuse not to go for a walk and the 791 acres of wood and heathland don’t feel like part of London at all. For a thorough workout, walk uphill to Parliament Hill Fields, which has views across to Canary Wharf and the O2, then loop down to Hampstead Ponds for an outdoor swim. Indoors, the independent Everyman cinema has serious and arty films and there are exhibitions, concerts and the Hampstead museum at the Grade I listed Burgh House off Well Walk.
Transport: the Northern line Tube station at Hampstead is the deepest in London and certainly feels like it as the lifts (no escalators) plunge underground. Finchley Road and Swiss Cottage Tube stations are not far away. There is also Hampstead Heath station on the North London line from Gospel Oak to Richmond. Tube-phobics can rely on the 24 bus from South End Green, a reliable if lengthy journey into the West End.
Council: Camden (no overall control) Band D council tax is £1,332.
Average sale prices: NW3
One-bedroom flat: £351,198
Two-bedroom flat: £534,818
Two-bedroom house: £877,190
Three-bedroom house: £1.19 million
Four-bedroom house: £1.5 million
Stocks of property to rent are at their lowest for a long time, says Hannah Chaudhury of Goldschmidt & Howland. “People are staying where they are, a lot of people are renewing and some landlords are selling now that prices have come up a bit.” If you find something you like, expect to have to move quickly and pay the asking rent.
Average lettings prices: NW3
One-bedroom flat: £275+pw
Two-bedroom flat: £350+pw
Three-bedroom house: £575+pw
Four-bedroom house: £750+pw
Photographs by Barry Phillips