Traffic thunders along the boundaries of Kennington at such a pace that most house-hunters could be forgiven for not noticing that this part of south London contains neighbourhoods of great character and with a noble history.
The hidden Kennington is graced with fine architecture and quiet terraces and squares, all within walking distance of the South Bank and the Houses of Parliament.
Its place within the Division Bell has made it a popular haunt for politicians - including Liberal Democrat David Laws, who left the coalition Government after he was found to have claimed the cost of renting a room in his boyfriend’s Kennington home.
Unlike so much of the rest of London, Kennington was not shaped by the coming of the railways. Instead, the catalyst for development was a busy road: the opening of Westminster Bridge in 1750. Kennington Road followed, then fine Georgian houses appeared, and a few years later Cleaver Square was built.
Until 20 years ago, the Duchy of Cornwall owned large areas of Kennington and it is not hard to see where Prince Charles got his inspiration for Poundbury, his new Dorset village. In the run-up to the First World War, the Duchy built a number of attractive terraces, squares and crescents in neo-Georgian and Dutch styles.
Kennington is bookended by two monumental landmarks: to the south there is The Oval, the home of Surrey county cricket and a Test match venue, and to the north by the old Bethlem Royal Hospital, which now houses the Imperial War Museum.
What is there to buy?
Kennington has plenty of fine period property. There are Georgian terraces on the main arterial roads, in Cleaver Square, West Square and Walnut Tree Walk; early flat-fronted Victorian terraces in Walcot Square and St Mary’s Gardens; terraces of three- and four-storey Victorian houses with unusual brickwork in Methley Street and Ravensdon Street, and converted warehouse buildings around Stannary Street.
There are pretty former Duchy of Cornwall houses and flats in Cardigan Street, Courtney Square, and Denny Street and Crescent. There are also affordable homes among the many council flats that were purchased under "right-to-buy".
Justin Bhoday, of local estate agents Kinleigh Folkard & Hayward, said it is hard to categorise buyers."People move to Kennington when they realise how central it is. We have buyers from the media, the law, doctors from St Thomas’ Hospital and MPs, though these days they rent rather than buy."
People put down roots in Kennington, and it is increasingly popular with families. "The pram count has definitely gone up while I have worked in the area," said Bhoday.
Kennington is SE11, but close to Waterloo it becomes SE1. Beyond The Oval it becomes SW8 or SW9, and east of Kennington Park Road it becomes SE17, the Walworth postcode.
The SE17 postcode used to be much cheaper but buyers have discovered the attractive bow- fronted, three- and four-storey Victorian houses in roads such as De Laune Street and Sharsted Street.
Among the best roads are Kennington Road, where house prices ranged between £975,000 and £1.7 million last year; Cleaver Square, where houses sold for between £1 million and £1.5 million, and West Square.
The Water Tower (020 7735 9422) in Renfrew Road is a Bellway Homes new development, but only a few one- and two-bedroom flats and a three-bedroom house remain, prices ranging from £230,000 to £345,000.
Developer First Base has launched Printworks (020 7613 1888) in Amelia Street, part of the Elephant & Castle regeneration scheme. There are 164 one-, two- and three-bedroom flats, of which 42 will be affordable. Prices of the 19 remaining open-market flats range from £270,000 to £520,000.
Kennington has a high percentage of social housing, and this has an effect on school results but the following primary schools are judged "outstanding" by Ofsted: Archbishop Sumner CofE in Reedworth Street, Reay in Hackford Road, and St John the Divine CofE in Warham Street.
There are three comprehensive schools: Lilian Baylis (co-ed, age 11 to 16) is rated "good with outstanding features", Archbishop Tenison’s CofE (boys with girls in the sixth form) is "good", and Notre Dame RC (girls 11 to 16) is "outstanding". Parents who want private schools either opt for the Dulwich schools or Westminster for boys, or Queen’s College in Harley Street for girls.
Shops and restaurants
Kennington Cross, where Kennington Lane crosses Kennington Road, is the shopping hub. There are independent cafés, curry houses, a good bookshop and a branch of Pizza Express.
The Lobster Pot is a good but eccentric fish restaurant on the corner of Kennington Lane and Kennington Park Road; the Courtyard Café is a Buddhist vegetarian and organic café in Renfrew Road; there is another vegetarian restaurant at the Beaconsfield art gallery in Newport Street, while Italo on the corner of Vauxhall Grove and Bonnington Square is an Italian deli and small café.
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Open space and leisure
Kennington Park is the local park with a long history of dissent. In 1848 the Chartists gathered there before marching on to central London, and in March 1990 it was where the poll tax march, which ended in a riot, started from. The residents of Bonnington Square, a hippy enclave in the Eighties and early Nineties, made two beautiful communal gardens, one on the square itself, the other off Harleyford Road.
The nearest council-owned swimming pool is in Brixton. Kennington has a strong modern art scene, with the Beaconsfield gallery (now showing Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin); the Gasworks in Vauxhall Street, and Danielle Arnaud who runs a gallery from her home in Kennington Road. The Oval House is an innovative community theatre and arts centre, and the White Bear is a well-respected fringe venue. The facilities of the South Bank are not far away.
There are three Tube stations: Kennington and Oval, both on the Northern line in Zone 2, and Lambeth North on the Bakerloo line in Zone 1. Elephant & Castle, also Zone 1, has a station on Thameslink connecting the area to the City and St Pancras. An annual travelcard for Zones 1 and 2 is £1,104. Boris Bike stands are everywhere, and it is rarely difficult to get a black cab.
Lambeth council (Labour); Band D council tax for 2011/2012 is £1,235.
Buying in Kennington
One-bedroom flat: £233,000
Two-bedroom flat: £322,000
Two-bedroom house: £538,000
Three-bedroom house: £623,000
Four-bedroom house: £679,000
Renting in Kennington
One-bedroom flat: £250 to £350 a week
Two-bedroom flat: £300 to £425 a week
Two-bedroom house: £400 to £500 a week
Three-bedroom house: £500 to £700 a week
Four-bedroom house: £600 to £1,000 a week
Source: Kinleigh Folkard & Hayward
Pictures by Barry Phillips