Today, Kew welcomes nearly one and a half million visitors a year, making it one of the country’s top tourist attractions.
From the great Victorian architectural wonder of Caxton’s giant steel-and-glass palm house and the newly-restored palace, to the collection of rare and unusual trees and plants, there is nowhere else in Britain quite like it.
Gone, though, are the days when visitors got in for a penny. Today, a visit to Kew costs as much as a trip to a stately home - though local residents have unlimited access to what is London’s most beautiful and interesting park for less than £1 a week if they opt to take out an annual membership, which many of them choose to do.
Kew is on the south side of the Thames - providing lots of good riverside walks - and south-west of central London between Richmond (providing lots of parkland walks) to the south, and Brentford and Chiswick to the north.
Apart from the traffic, which builds up to a bottleneck at the point where Kew Road meets Mortlake Road - especially on Friday afternoons as Londoners head out to pick up the M4 - this is a peaceful, well cared-for and leafy suburb with some fine Georgian and Victorian architecture.
Kew Green, with its Georgian houses, cricket pitch, pond and church, feels almost rural. There can’t be many places in London where residents care about the fate of a couple of nesting swans, but here, attached to the pond’s railings, there is a notice with the information that they have gone to Kew Gardens.
The bustling centre of Kew is around Kew Gardens Tube and railway station where there is a little triangle of smart shops, cafés and restaurants with a real community feel. The local flower shop is campaigning against a dam in the Brazilian rainforest, while signs are pinned to trees advertising a fair trade sale in a local church hall.
Property for sale in Kew: there are fine Georgian houses on Kew Green and along Kew Road, small Victorian cottages off Kew Green and in Sandycombe Road, and Victorian and Edwardian terrace, semi-detached and detached houses including some very large double-fronted ones.
Scattered among all this period property are large blocks of Thirties flats and Sixties townhouses and flats. On the river near the National Archives, there are modern houses and flats in two large new developments.
Kew is an area much-loved by families, and people who come here tend to stay, says Jonathan Glover of local estate agents Antony Robert. “People are either buying a larger house or downsizing.”
Postcode: TW9 is the Kew postcode and it includes the triangle between Lower Richmond Road, the railway and Mortlake Road which is technically North Sheen, although most people call it Kew.
Which are the best roads? Kew Green, where Georgian houses cost about £2 million, is the loveliest area. A four-bedroom semi-detached Georgian house on Kew Green is on the market now through Savills for £2.25 milllion. Call 020 8614 9100.
The Avenue, Ennerdale Road, Lichfield Road, Broomfield Road and Pensford Avenue have large detached and semi-detached Victorian and Edwardian houses. A large double-fronted detached house in one of these streets would set you back by between £2.5 million and £3 million.
Savills is currently selling a seven-bedroom house on The Avenue for £4.5 million. Priory Road is the best road off Kew Green; here a four-bedroom terrace house is over £1 million.
Up and coming: at the southern end of Sandycombe Road there is a small enclave of Fifties former council houses. A three-bedroom house in Dudley Road, Gordon Road, Burdett Road or Temple Road costs about £475,000 and a two-bedroom flat about £240,000. This is considerably cheaper than elsewhere in Kew.
What’s new: Kew Bridge (020 8995 6669), by the bridge but on the north Brentford side of the river, is a development of 164 apartments and penthouses from St George. Prices start at £479,950 for a two-bedroom flat, ranging to £2 million for a three-bedroom penthouse. There will be a riverside piazza with room for cafés and bars.
Schools: Kew’s two best-performing state primary schools are Kew Riverside in Courtlands Avenue, and Queen’s School, a CofE school in Cumberland Avenue. Kew Riverside, which only opened in 2002, is already judged “outstanding” by the government education watchdog, Ofsted. Queen’s School is judged “good”.
Orleans Park in Richmond Road is the best-performing local comprehensive school. It is judged “outstanding” by Ofsted but it doesn’t have a sixth form, so most pupils go on to Richmond College, one of the largest further education colleges in the country, which is judged “good”.
This is an area where prep schools are plentiful. Kew Green, Unicorn, Kew College and Broomfield House are all co-ed and take pupils up to age 11. Children from these schools have a wide choice of top private schools in Hammersmith, Barnes, Wimbledon and Putney.
Shopping and going out: around Kew Gardens station there is a busy village atmosphere with cafés, restaurants and shops including a Tesco Express, a bookshop, a flower shop, a wholefood store and a butcher. Mia Wood is good for interiors accessories and gifts.
The Glasshouse has a Michelin star and Ma Cuisine is a popular local bistro. Around Kew Green there lots of pubs, including The Botanist with its stunning display of window boxes, and Antony Worrall Thompson’s Kew Grill restaurant. There are more shops and restaurants along Sandycombe Road; look out for Zita Elze, a renowned florist, and Tikki for patchwork enthusiasts.
The Kew Retail Park close to the National Archives building on Mortlake Road has Marks & Spencer, Boots and Gap. The Original Maids of Honour on Kew Road is a quaint old bakery and tea room serving Maid of Honour cakes. The recipe is reputed to have been a favourite of Henry VIII.
* MORE ON THE BOROUGH OF RICHMOND UPON THAMES:
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Open space: as well as Kew Gardens, there’s the Duke of Northumberland’s Syon House, garden and great conservatory on the opposite bank of the Thames, and Richmond Park is not far. There are riverside walks along the Thames which are outside Kew Gardens, and so are free.
Leisure and The arts: the two nearest council-owned pools are the Brentford Fountain Leisure Centre, which has a flume and wave machine, and Pools on the Park in Richmond which has a teaching pool, an indoor pool and an outdoor pool.
For drama lovers there’s the Richmond Theatre and the Orange Tree, a fringe theatre. The Waterman is an arts centre in Brentford which has a cinema and theatre. The Odeon Richmond is the nearest multiplex cinema. The Kew Bridge Steam Pumping Museum, in Brentford, has the large collection of steam pumping engines.
Transport: Kew Gardens (on the boundary of Zones 3 and 4) is on the Richmond branch of the District line, and the Overground trains go to Waterloo with a change at Richmond - journey time between 27 and 38 minutes. There are direct trains from Kew Bridge (Zone 3), on the Brentford side of the river, which take 32 minutes to Waterloo. An annual travel card is £1,288.
Council: Richmond upon Thames (Conservative controlled). Band D council tax for 2011/12 is £1,597.21.
Buying property in Kew(Average prices)
Two-bedroom flat: £372,000
Two-bedroom house: £516,000
Three-bedroom house: £607,000
Four-bedroom house: £1.4 million
Renting property in Kew(Average rates)
One-bedroom flat: £1,000 to £1,200 a month
Two-bedroom flat: £1,400 to £2,500 a month
Two-bedroom house: £1,800 to £2,100 a month
Three-bedroom house: £2,800 to £3,800 a month
Four-bedroom house: £3,500 to £4,500 a month
Five-bedroom-plus house £4,000 to £6,000 a month
Source: Antony Roberts
Pictures by Graham Hussey Reuse content