Don’t mention ITV’s The Only Way is Essex in Loughton. Known as Towie to its fans, the reality show is entering its seventh series and two of its stars have opened shops in the town yet, despite an abundance of local wine bars and beauty parlours, most residents prefer to relish Loughton’s community spirit and artistic and radical past rather than its celebrity-strewn present.
Loughton sits at the apex of Essex’s “golden triangle” formed with Chigwell and Buckhurst Hill, and offers a good mix of town and country.
The wild acres of Epping Forest are on the doorstep but there is a lively town centre with high street stores as well as independent shops and good cafés and restaurants. There is also the very considerable advantage of a direct and easy commute into the City and the West End via the Central line.
The Hills is the area north of the town centre, also known as Little Cornwall, where there are pretty winding lanes, country cottages and jaw-dropping views to Canary Wharf.
In the late 19th century and early 20th century this network of roads was home to numerous artists and free thinkers. The American-born sculptor Sir Jacob Epstein lived in Baldwins Hill for 30 years until his death in 1959.
Living nearby were the Lester sisters, Muriel and Doris, leading peace campaigners and philanthropists who actively supported Gandhi’s campaign for Indian independence, as well as running a hostel for East End children visiting Epping Forest.
What there is to buy in Loughton
There are large period houses and smaller cottages in The Hills area; the cottages sell for between £285,000 and £500,000. South of the town, the large Edwardian semi-detached houses in roads such as The Avenue and The Crescent sell for around £750,000.
On the east side of town in roads such as Alderton Hill, Spareleaze Hill and Tycehurst Hill there are large five- and six-bedroom Twenties and Thirties houses, some of which are being knocked down and rebuilt, which can sell for up to £3 million. The town also has areas of semi-detached Twenties and Thirties houses which sell for between £350,000 and £550,000.
The area attracts: estate agent Catherine Bransgrove, from Hetheringtons, says most of her buyers work in the City and come here in search of better value for money than in the south-west London banker belt.
“We also get returners who were brought up in the area and people who have discovered it through visiting friends.”
Best roads: the most expensive roads are Alderton Hill, Tycehurst Hill and Spareleaze Hill. Buyers who want the feeling of living in the countryside head for the roads in The Hills area.
What’s new in Loughton: Vogue Essex (01992 574629) is a new development of one- and two-bedroom flats from developer Bellway on Church Hill with shops on the ground floor. Prices range from £249,995 to £399,995 and the development will be ready next spring.
Loughton-based Higgins Homes launched Artisan Apartments (020 8508 0147) in Lower Park Road, a development of seven one-and two-bedroom flats and a two-bedroom duplex, at the weekend. Prices range from £299,500 to £425,000 and the development will be finished in November.
Oaklands (01480 484040) is an already-completed development of three five-bedroom family houses on Warren Hill. Prices start at £2.25 million.
Up and coming: Debden, to the south east of Loughton, is a former London County Council estate built after the Second World War to house bombed-out East Enders. It has its own station and high street and the mainly terrace housing is far cheaper than in Loughton itself. Terrace houses range in price from £200,000 to £350,000.
Getting an education
Staples Road is a popular local primary school. Others judged “outstanding” or “good” by the Government’s Ofsted education watchdog are Hereward in Colebrook Lane, St John Fisher RC in Burney Drive, The Alderton Infants School, and White Bridge Infants School in Greenslade Road. Oakland School (co-ed, ages two to 11) in Albion Hill is the local private prep school.
The Davenant Foundation School in Chester Road is the best performing local comprehensive school. It has a strong Christian ethos and is judged “outstanding” by Ofsted. There are three local private secondary schools: Bancroft (co-ed ages seven to 18) in Woodford Green; Chigwell (co-ed, ages seven to 18), and Forest School (co-ed ages four to 18, but with separate girls’ and boys’ schools for ages 11 to 16) in Walthamstow.
The E15 Acting School has one of its two campuses in Rectory Lane — the other is in Southend. Now part of the University of Essex, it grew out of the work of Joan Littlewood at the Theatre Royal, Stratford, hence the postcode-related name.
Shops and restaurants
Loughton’s main shopping street, the High Road, has a mix of high street names but also independent shops and restaurants. The Only Way is Essex star Lydia Bright and her sister Georgia own Bella Sorella boutique and Jessica Wright has lingerie and swimwear store With Love Jessica.
Also worth seeking out are traditional toy shop With Love & Hope, Nomad for outdoor clothing and Zee & Co, for both women’s and men’s fashions, the last two being branches of small chains.
Nu-Bar and Luxe Essex are the two top nightspots serving the Towie wannabe set. The Gardener’s Arms is a picturesque pub in York Hill with a terrace and views over Canary Wharf.
Open space: there is direct access to the 6,000 acres of Epping Forest. Maintained by the City of London, it runs 12 miles from Manor Park to north of Epping.
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Leisure and the arts: there is a strong tradition of amateur dramatics with a number of companies putting on shows at Lopped Hall, which is currently undergoing refurbishment. The hall was established after Loughton residents lost the right to lop wood in the forest at the end of the 19th century. Loughton Cricket Club with its thatched clubhouse is on the High Road where it meets Church Hill.
The Corbett Theatre in a converted barn is on the E15 Acting School campus. The Loughton Golf Club has nine challenging holes; nearby High Beech Golf Club has two nine-hole courses.
Travel: Loughton is close to the M25 and the M11 motorways. It is on the Central line with direct trains to Bank in 30 minutes and Oxford Circus in 38 minutes. It is in Zone 6 and an annual travel card to Zone 1 costs £2,136.
Council: Epping Forest district council (Conservative-controlled, although 12 of the 58 councillors are from the Loughton Residents Association); Band D council tax for the 2012/2013 year is £1,487.83.