Highbury and Islington are about as close to the City as you can get without having to live in a flat, which is why bankers and lawyers wanting an elegant house and a quick commute are still queuing up to buy.
Despite the recession and a slower market, one agent reports receiving 10 offers in a week for a £750,000 house in Highbury.
Over the past 20 years the area has become both more upmarket and blander as affluent professionals move into a part of London previously considered a bit arty and dodgy. Tony Steer of estate agent Kinleigh Folkard & Hayward (020 7226 2487) says: “In the past decade, people born and bred in Islington have moved out and you’ve got the City bankers and lawyers coming in.”
‘If you live in Islington you never have to leave it because everything’s there’
But Islington remains socially mixed. More than half its residents live in social housing, and state schools are generally poor. Expensive terraces stand next to drab council estates. For many Islington fans, this edginess is part of its appeal. Paul Williams of Savills (020 7226 1313) says: “Islington is criticised for being a bit scrappy, but this is what makes it exciting.”
Highbury and Islington: area file
Properties: Highbury and Islington are often linked together as one area (H’n’I to locals) but architecturally they are quite different. Flat-fronted Georgian terraces, many with original fanlights and iron railings, line the streets and squares of Islington and Barnsbury, to the west of Liverpool Road. By contrast, Highbury is mostly Victorian and Edwardian, with solid red-brick houses along Calabria and Baalbec Roads close to Highbury Fields.
The area attracts: wealthy professionals (bankers, lawyers, City workers and politicians); first-time buyer, childless couples with two incomes and access to parental funds; wealthy international students; successful creative types.
Staying power? It depends. Families with children often move further out to greener suburbs, such as Crouch End or Muswell Hill, nervous of Islington’s poor schools, says Tony Steer. Downsizers move closer into town to Clerkenwell or Bloomsbury, says Anne Currell of Currells estate agents (020 7226 4200). But there is area loyalty. “People move within the area — Islington operates as quite a local market,” says Currell.
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Postcodes: Islington and Canonbury, a quiet Victorian enclave by the New River, are generally more expensive than Highbury. N1 (Islington) is on average about 10 per cent more expensive than Highbury (N5). Prices depend on a host of factors such as views or modernisation, says Currell. “You get bigger houses in Highbury but those red-brick houses in roads like Calabria aren’t everyone’s cup of tea — they can be a bit forbidding.”
Best streets in Islington: Duncan Terrace and Colebrooke Row (where Mayor Boris Johnson bought a £2.3 million house last year), just behind Angel Tube station and a stone’s throw from Upper Street. Also sought-after are Cloudesley Square and Lonsdale Square in quieter Barnsbury.
Best streets in Highbury: Highbury Place and Highbury Terrace, overlooking Highbury Fields.
Up-and-coming areas: Tatty Essex Road used to be Angel’s poor relation but no longer. “We always used to think Angel stopped at the green but it’s stretching up Essex Road now,” says Paul Williams. Busy, sometimes seedy, Holloway Road is practical, with lots of buses and the Piccadilly line.
What’s new? New homes are still taking shape along Islington’s canals and in former warehouses. The big action is at City Road Basin on the Regent’s Canal, where ugly warehouses have been demolished and the water space opened out to a public plaza. There are plans for two tall blocks of luxury flats of 28 and 35 storeys at the south end of the basin. Work could start later this year on a neighbouring 16-storey block of affordable flats, says Alastair MacFarlane, director of project management at Miller Developments. Call 0870 336 5000.
Islington Green has had a facelift, with new sculptures and seating, and improvements to Angel are set to continue under the government-funded Angel Bid improvement scheme.
Schools: Islington’s secondaries scored worst of any inner-London boroughs in GSCE league tables this year and affluent residents are sending their children to private schools in Hampstead, Highgate or central London. The best state performers are St Aloysius RC (boys), Central Foundation (boys) and Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (girls).
Shops and restaurants: Upper Street has got smarter and duller over the past 20 years as hardware stores and second-hand bookshops gave way to predictable chains along Upper Street and in the Angel Shopping Centre. But antique shops and designer clothes boutiques still line the narrow streets of Camden Passage, and there’s a dizzying range of restaurants. Resident Sheila Durr says: “What I like about living in Islington is that you never have to leave it — everything’s there.”
Green space/culture: Islington is one of the most urban boroughs in London and green spaces are small and subtle. But one of the loveliest stretches of the Regent’s Canal (with the longest tunnel) runs behind Duncan Terrace. Further north, the New River Walk, tracing the route of the river that used to bring fresh water into London from Hertfordshire, runs through Canonbury. Theatres include the King’s Head, at the back of the eponymous pub in Upper Street, and the trendy Almeida Theatre in Almeida Street.
Transport: This already well-connected area will get even better next year when Highbury and Islington’s new station on the East London line extension opens, linking to Shoreditch, Hackney and south London. Agents have already taken the new station into account in prices but it will be a useful addition to existing Northern, Victoria and North London line links.
And the local council? Islington is Liberal Democrat-controlled and scores four out of four under Audit Commission performance scales.
Average sale prices
One-bedroom flat: £277,378
Two-bedroom flat: £391,279
Two-bedroom house: £663,406
Three-bedroom house: £890,133
Four-bedroom house: £1.05 million
One-bedroom flat: £246,282
Two-bedroom flat: £373,467
Two-bedroom house: £601,000
Three-bedroom house: £669,190
Four-bedroom house: £899,563
The rental market is busy and tenants need to act quickly, according to Lauren Rapacioli, lettings manager at Kinleigh Folkard & Hayward (020 7359 3636)
Average lettings prices
Two-bedroom flat: £450pw
Three-bedroom house: £850pw
Four-bedroom house: £1
Two-bedroom flat: £375pw
Three-bedroom house: £500pw-plus
Four-bedroom house: £850pw-plus
Pictures by Barry Phillips
All details correct at time of publication (3 February 2010).