In the Sixties, girls of slender means arriving in London for the first time would find cheap digs in Kensington’s Cornwall Gardens or adjoining Lexham Gardens.
These days two- or three-bedroom flats in these majestic and leafy squares start at around £1 million and they are no longer home to impoverished students, secretaries and aspiring actors. Instead they belong to wealthy professionals or are snapped up by overseas buyers.
Fine period houses, spacious flats, a good choice of private schools and easy access to central London and Heathrow airport has made Kensington one of London’s choicest locations for international buyers.
Garden squares, plenty of top shops and restaurants and the careful stewardship of the big estates - the Phillimore and the South Kensington Estates, the latter now owned by the Wellcome Trust - ensure that Kensington keeps its place among the world’s most desirable places to live.
On the Phillimore Estate there are fine Victorian stucco houses and terraces. Elsewhere the area is dominated by much larger houses, most of which have been divided into spacious maisonettes or flats, but there are also mews homes. Apartments also range from mansion flats around the Albert Hall to art deco Thirties blocks.
The area attracts: international buyers. Buyers from the UK are mainly entrepreneurs or hedge funders.
Staying power: overseas buyers see London property as a long-term investment. Europeans are used to living without gardens but some UK families move out in search of their own patch.
Postcodes: W8 is the Kensington postcode and SW7 is South Kensington. There is a lot of blurring of the Kensington boundaries though, with Chelsea (SW3) to the south and Brompton (SW10) on the east.
Best roads: Kensington Palace Gardens is still owned by the Crown Estate. One of the most, if not the most, exclusive roads in the world, the majority of the mansions are occupied by foreign embassies, but in 2004 the Indian steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal, reputed to be the world’s fourth-richest man, bought numbers 18 and 19 for £57 million.
Also desirable, but not quite in the same league is the Phillimore estate, north of Kensington High Street. A house in Phillimore Gardens sold for £13.65 million last year. South of the high street, Edwardes Square and Earls Terrace are much sought after.
In South Kensington the best roads for houses are Thurloe Square, Pelham Crescent and Egerton Crescent, and for flats Onslow Gardens and Square (right), Cranley Gardens and Queens Gate Gardens.
What’s new: De Vere Gardens is a large residential development of 97 flats by Lancer overlooking Hyde Park. Designed by award-winning architect David Chipperfield, there is a striking modern façade along the main road but many of the flats will be tucked in behind the retained frontages of older buildings. To be finished in 2014.
Up and coming: Caroline Anderson, of estate agents Douglas & Gordon, suggests short leases of under 30 years. “Many short-lease properties need money spent on them and if you can get a lease extension on favourable terms, there are bargains to be had, especially on basement flats.”
Schools: as you would expect of such a privileged area, Kensington has many private schools but its state schools are also highly rated.
The following state primary schools are judged “outstanding” by the Government’s education watchdog, Ofsted: Fox in Kensington Place; St Mary Abbots CofE in Kensington Church Court; St Barnabas & St Philip’s CofE in Earls Court Road, and Oratory RC in Bury Walk. State comprehensives do well, too. Both Holland Park (co-ed ages 11 to 18), which is currently being rebuilt, and Cardinal Vaughan RC (boys — with girls in the sixth form) get above-average results and are judged “outstanding”.
French children and children of other nationalities come from all over London to attend the Lycée Français Charles de Gaulle which educates more than 3,700 pupils at its main South Kensington campus and three smaller outposts in Fulham, Clapham and Hanwell.
It is judged “good with outstanding features”. Private schools judged “outstanding” are Thomas’s Kensington (co-ed ages four to 11); Ashbourne Independent College (ages 13 to 20), and St Philip’s (boys ages seven to 13). Fashionable Wetherby School (boys ages four to 13) is in nearby Notting Hill. Queen’s Gate (ages four to 18) is a popular girls’ school.
Shopping and dining out: Kensington High Street is the main shopping street. It has many big names and Whole Foods, the country’s largest organic grocery store, on three floors. There are more interesting independent shops and restaurants in Kensington Church Street between the High Street and Notting Hill Gate.
Top restaurants Clarke’s and Kensington Place are here. In nearby Holland Street find Rifat Ozbek’s cushion shop Yastik (Turkish for cushion) and Willer, an eclectic interiors shop. Close to Gloucester Road Tube station there is a Waitrose, while Slightly Foxed is the kind of bookshop which every neighbourhood should have. Serious money can be spent at Brompton Cross which is based around the crossroads of Brompton Road, Draycott Avenue and Pelham Street, where the landmark Michelin building houses the Conran Shop.
Joseph, Chanel, Ralph Lauren, Nicole Farhi and Margaret Howell are all here. The design shops have got together and now call themselves the Brompton Design District. Look out for quirky interiors shops Mint and Priscilla Carluccio’s Few and Far but also Boffi, B&B Italia and Skandium. Top gastronomic restaurants are Bibendum in the Michelin building and L’Etranger in Gloucester Road.
* MORE ON THE BOROUGH OF KENSINGTON AND CHELSEA:
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Open spaces, the arts and leisure: Kensington Gardens, with its palace (now full of theatrical events), the Serpentine Gallery (look out for this year’s Peter Zumpthor pavilion and Piet Oudolf garden), and famous Peter Pan statue, and adjoining Hyde Park with the Serpentine and the Princess Diana fountain, are all on the doorstep.
The concentration of museums at South Kensington leaves no time to be bored. The Victoria & Albert Museum is currently on a roll with many sell-out exhibitions, and the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum continue to be the best places to take small children on a wet Sunday afternoon.
Transport: three Tube stations serve the area: Kensington High Street, South Kensington and Gloucester Road, all on the District and Circle lines, with the Piccadilly line at South Kensington. All are in Zone 1 and an annual travelcard for Zones 1 and 2 costs £1,104.
Council tax: Kensington & Chelsea (Conservative); Band D is £1,079.12.