The central London quarter of Holborn, Fleet Street and the old jewellery district of Hatton Garden is in for a surprise. It has already had a name change, re-christened by hand-rubbing estate agents as “Midtown”, an area nestling between the City and the shopping mecca of the West End. But billions of pounds worth of regeneration is now on its way, promising to turn this location — bang in the heart of London — from an almost homes-free commercial district into a serious residential area.
Already a legal quarter, he found plenty there to horrify him — including a dysfunctional legal system that kept litigants in the court of chancery for years on end. This is where Dickens did his research for the famous fictional case of Jarndyce vs Jarndyce in Bleak House.
What was the Dickens family house became the Dickens Museum, and though it’s now closed for renovations, it played a major part in the writer’s bicentenary celebrations in February, hosting a visit by Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall for a reading from Great Expectations by American actress Gillian Anderson, who played Miss Haversham in the BBC’s recent adaptation.
Holborn is home to two of the great legal inns of court, Gray’s Inn and Lincoln’s Inn, where barristers have their offices, still quaintly referred to as chambers. Its other great contributions to the capital are insurance — and dissent.
For nearly a century, two giants of the insurance industry, the Pearl and the Prudential, occupied impressive Victorian and Edwardian buildings at either end of High Holborn. Both companies have now departed the district, with the Pearl building converted into a luxury hotel, while the Prudential has a modern office block built behind its red gothic revival façade.
Since 1929, the South Place Ethical Society, which began life as a dissenting church in 1787, but is now a leading humanist organisation, has been based at Conway Hall in Red Lion Square, where it holds concerts and radical debates.
What there is to buy in Holborn
“Holborn is an area in transition,” says Guy Passey, of Covent Garden estate agents EA Shaw. “It’s acquiring a character of its own and becoming an extension of the West End.” Outdated office blocks built in the Sixties and Seventies are creating big redevelopment opportunities. A Midtown Business Improvement District has been established by local companies and Camden council, which together with two new Crossrail stations at Tottenham Court Road and Farringdon that bookend the area, has given this change momentum.
Law and accountancy firms are relocating from the City, which is boosting demand for new homes. New developments include Lincoln’s Inn Court (prices from £599,950) and 93 Judd Street (prices from £439,950). Call 020 7240 2255.
Holborn has some fine Georgian and mews houses but this is an area that is dominated by flats, either above shops or in purpose-built blocks including former council flats.
There is a wide variation in prices in Holborn. For example the most expensive home currently for sale is a five-bedroom Georgian house in Bedford Row with an extension by Future Systems — the architects of Selfridges in Birmingham — which is on the market for £8.5 million through estate agents Savills (020 7871 4406).
The cheapest is a one-bedroom flat at Bevan House in Boswell Street — a fifth-floor walk-up — on the market through Banbury Ball (020 3370 7477) for £335,000.
Passey says Holborn is becoming increasingly popular and prices are catching up with the West End. And with a lot of new office building going on, the commercial estate agents have started branding the area Midtown.
The area attracts
Holborn is obviously very popular with lawyers, who can walk to work, while buyers from Southeast Asia are keen on any local new-build developments.
Holborn is not much favoured by families as yet, but its future looks very different. Coram Fields, in Guilford Street, is a unique playground where adults are only admitted if accompanied by a child.
Renting in Holborn
Hannah Read, the lettings manager at EA Shaw, says renting in Holborn is popular with wealthy overseas students at the LSE, King’s or SOAS, and with professional couples, singles, sharers and City workers who can hop on the Central line. Holborn station is two Tube stops from Bank.
Lincoln’s Inn Fields, Bedford Row, John Street and Doughty Street all have large Georgian houses.
In Whetstone Park, the aforementioned Lincoln’s Inn Court, available through EA Shaw, (020 7240 2255) is a development of six one-bedroom flats overlooking Lincoln’s Inn Fields.
Up and coming
The Bourne Estate between Clerkenwell Road and Portpool Lane, close to Leather Lane, is a listed tenement estate dating from the early 20th century. Flats here have sold in the past year for between £239,000 and £410,000.
Getting an education
Holborn’s primary schools get excellent results for their pupils at age 11, so it is a surprise that so many couples move out of the area once they decide to have children.
Christopher Hatton, in Laystall Street, is judged “outstanding” by the government education watchdog Ofsted. St George the Martyr, in John’s Mews, St Joseph’s RC, in Macklin Street, and St Alban’s CofE, in Baldwin’s Gardens, are all judged “good”.
There are no state secondary schools in the area, although local parents are campaigning to open a free school. The two private high-achieving City of London Schools — the girls’ school (ages seven to 18) in the Barbican, and the boys’ school (ages 10 to 18) in Queen Victoria Street — are both close by.
Shops and dining out
Lambs Conduit Street has developed into one of London’s quirkiest shopping streets. The People’s Supermarket, the subject of a TV series, is here, and look out for Persephone Books, which publishes neglected books in its trademark grey covers with colourful printed endpapers; Dark Room which sells unusual homewares, and Cigala, a Spanish restaurant. In nearby Rugby Street, Ben Pentreath specialises in English interiors, and newcomer Thornback & Peel sells printed textiles, while in Great Ormond Street, Volte Face sells unusual gifts.
The area has some historic pubs. The Olde Mitre is a hard-to-find gem between Hatton Gardens and Ely Place, a historic corner of London which within living memory was still in the jurisdiction of the Bishops of Ely. The Cittie of York, on High Holborn, is another local landmark. Hatton Garden is the centre of London’s diamond trade, but these days it is also the place to find an engagement ring or other special pieces of personal jewellery. Leather Lane, parallel to Hatton Garden, has a completely different feel. One of London’s favourite street markets, it has plenty of food stalls, plus Prufrock Coffee, one of the capital’s best coffee shops, and Kate Kanzier, who sells stylish shoes and bags at reasonable prices — a real find.
Holborn is a close-grained inner-city area and green space is at a premium. Lincoln’s Inn Fields — laid out by Inigo Jones — and Bloomsbury Square are the two largest public garden squares; Gray’s Inn is private but open to the public and has opened a summer pop-up restaurant, the Garden Room, in the historic Walks, which were originally laid out by Francis Bacon.
* MORE ON THE BOROUGH OF CAMDEN:
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Leisure and the arts
You have everything central London can offer within easy reach, but right on your doorstep are the British Museum and the John Soane Museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, both major tourist attractions. Holborn also has a range of smaller museums including the Hunterian Museum, a collection of anatomical specimens, also in Lincoln’s Inn Fields; the Dickens museum in Doughty Street, and the Foundling Museum in Brunswick Square. The nearest council-owned swimming pool is the Oasis in Endell Street, Covent Garden, which has heated indoor and outdoor pools. There is a Curzon art house cinema at the Brunswick Centre, while West End theatres are a walk away.
Travelling and commuting
Tottenham Court Road, Holborn and Chancery Lane Tube stations are all on the Central line. Russell Square is on the Piccadilly line. All are in Zone 1 and an annual travelcard costs £1,168.
Mainly Camden (Labour controlled). Band D council tax for the 2012/2013 year is £1,328.25.
Pictures by: Graham Hussey