The über-smart village of Highgate, nestled between woods and parkland six miles north of central London, can lay claim to being the home of the capital’s first drug rehabilitation clinic. It was 1817 and the patient was the opium-addicted poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who came to live — and detox — at the home of Dr James Gillman.
Coleridge so enjoyed the clean air of the pretty hilltop village that he spent the rest of his life there, becoming known as the sage of Highgate before his death in 1834.
The doctor’s home was a beautiful double-fronted Georgian house in The Grove, which last year was bought for more than £7 million by supermodel Kate Moss. George Michael and Sting are among her neighbours.
Other writers and poets celebrated with blue plaques or older brown plaques in Highgate include JB Priestley, Mary Kingsley, AE Housman and John Betjeman, while its romantic cemetery is famed as the last resting place of George Eliot, Christina Rossetti and Michael Faraday and is where, to the amusement of many, the bust of Karl Marx stares down at the grave of philosopher Herbert Spencer.
Highgate is also the scene of one of London’s most intriguing property mysteries. Witanhurst is the largest private house in the capital after Buckingham Palace. It stands at the junction of The Grove and Highgate West Hill opposite The Flask pub and for a year an endless stream of lorries have been removing tonnes of earth as a large underground extension is excavated.
This 25-bedroom Queen Anne-style house, which for a brief period in 2002 was home to BBC’s Fame Academy, is undergoing a multimillion-pound restoration, but who is paying the bill remains shrouded in secrecy. Even the architect, Robert Adams, is reported not to know the identity of his client.
If London, as it is claimed, is a city made up of villages, then Highgate is one of its most charming. Where else in London would you find community noticeboards crammed full of news of events on almost every street corner? Estate agent Nick Walker of Goldschmidt & Howland says people who once gravitated to Hampstead now prefer Highgate because of its elegant architecture and village life.
Property hunting in Highgate
The centre of the village is dominated by fine Georgian architecture but there is a surprisingly wide range of properties. It has everything from Victorian houses to the mock Tudor houses and flats on the Holly Lodge Estate, to flats in art deco Cholmeley Lodge, with its sweeping curves, or the modernist High Point I and II, designed by Berthold Lubetkin.
The Highgate Society is one of the capital’s most active and progressive amenity groups and rather than opposing development, it has encouraged good-quality modern architecture, so Highgate has a number of adventurous modern houses.
The area attracts: according to Goldschmidt & Howland’s Walker, it is hard to characterise the typical Highgate buyer. “People are drawn here by the village atmosphere, proximity to Hampstead Heath, and the schools.”
Staying power: Highgate people are passionate about their neighbourhood and once here, they stay. There is a variety of housing stock which allows people to trade up or down.
Renting: Glenda Nesbitt, the rental manager at Goldschmidt & Howland says rental demand outstrips supply. “We are increasingly seeing corporate renters from overseas who can get better value for money in Highgate than in nearby Hampstead.”
Postcode: N6 is the Highgate postcode and it closely defines the area.
Best roads: the Kenwood Roads —Courtenay Avenue, Compton Avenue, Sheldon Avenue, Stormont Road and Denewood Road — command high prices. These mainly Twenties and Thirties large family houses are popular and the best sell for between £4 million and £10 million.
In the village itself, and with so many celebrity endorsements, the Georgian and early Victorian houses in The Grove make this one of London’s most desirable roads. Millfield Lane and Fitzroy Park are secret roads close to Hampstead Heath which feel like country lanes.
West Hill Park is an enclave of Sixties houses designed by Ted Levy which has a strong following; they start at around £1.2 million. Two-bedroom flats in Highpoint and Cholmeley Lodge start at around £575,000.
What’s new: Camden council is converting three blocks of bedsits on the Holly Lodge Estate into 46 self-contained flats for rental, part-ownership and open market sale. Contact the authority on 020 7974 3139.
Up and coming: Nick Walker tips the Miltons — avenue, park and road — an enclave of Victorian houses east of Archway Road and usefully close to Highgate Tube station, where flats start at about £300,000 and terrace houses are priced from £900,000.
Schools: Highgate is dominated by two high-achieving private schools: Highgate School (co-ed ages three to 18) with its distinctive blue and pink blazers and Channing School (girls ages four to 18). All the local state primary schools do well: St Michael’s CofE in North Road and St Joseph’s RC in Highgate Hill are both judged “outstanding” by the Government’s education watchdog Ofsted, while Highgate Primary in North Hill is “good”.
The two nearest state secondary schools are both judged good — they are: St Aloysius’ RC (boys ages 11 to 18) and Mount Carmel (girls 11 to 16).
Shops and restaurants: there’s a mix of high street chains and independent shops in Highgate village. Tesco Express, Pizza Express, Caffè Nero, Strada, Côte and Café Rouge head the roll call of the chains. Interesting independents include Hair of the Dog designer pet shop, an excellent bookshop, a tea shop called High Tea, Not So Big for children’s clothes, the Village Deli, and for gifts and handmade furniture, WCD Furniture.
The Angel, the Flask and the Red Lion and Sun are gastropubs, while the Wrestlers in North Road is a favourite old-fashioned boozer. There is more of an alternative feel to the shops and cafés on Archway Road close to the Tube station, with a second-hand bookshop Ripping Yarns; Selvege, the spin-off shop from the textile magazine, and Quarters Café.
* MORE ON THE BOROUGH OF CAMDEN:
For more local restaurants, pubs, bars, theatres, cinemas or attractions; or to book a table or tickets for a night out, visit LondonLive.co.uk/Camden.
Search properties, jobs or dates in any London boroughs.
Highgate residents are spoilt for choice when it comes to open space. Waterlow Park, Hampstead Heath and the swimming ponds, and Highgate and Queen’s Woods are within walking distance, as is the Parkland Walk connecting Finsbury Park with Alexandra Palace.
Leisure and the arts: the Archway Leisure Centre is the nearest council-owned pool; it has a flume, wave machine and water jets. There is also a swimming pool at the Mallinson Sports Centre at Highgate School which is open to the public out of school hours.
Upstairs at the Gatehouse is the local fringe theatre; and Jacksons Lane in a converted church is an arts centre specialising in theatre and circus. Highgate Golf Club at the end of Denewood Road is a private members club with an 18-hole course.
Travel: Highgate (Zone 3, annual travelcard to Zone 1 £1,368) and Archway (Zone 2, annual travelcard £1,168) are both on the Northern line. Highgate Tube is a hike from the village but the number 143 and 271 buses run from the village to Archway Tube.
Council: most of Highgate falls into Camden (Labour controlled); Band D council tax for the 2012/2013 year is £1,328.25.
Buying in Highgate
One-bedroom flat £279,000
Two-bedroom flat £447,000
Two-bedroom house £472,000
Three-bedroom house £1.17 million
Four-bedroom house £1.39 million
Renting in Highgate
One-bedroom flat £300 to £375 a week
Two-bedroom flat £350 to £575 a week
Two-bedroom house: rarely available
Three-bedroom house £700 to £1,000 a week
Four-bedroom house £900 to £1,700 a week
Five-bedroom plus house £1,100 to £4,000 a week
Source: Goldschmidt & Howland
Photographs: Graham Hussey