One can only guess what the Knights of St John would have made of the minaret at the Regent’s Park Mosque, so clearly visible from St John’s Wood High Street. This wealthy north London neighbourhood owes its name in part to this band of crusaders who owned the land from the middle of the 14th century to the dissolution of the monasteries when it was all seized by King Henry VIII.
St John’s Wood, NW8, emerged as a distinct neighbourhood several hundred years later. Development started in earnest in the 1840s when the Eyre family — who still own much of the land — planned the arcadian suburb within walking distance of Regent’s Park, and gave St John’s Wood its own architectural character, making it a much sought-after upmarket family area and sophisticated suburb.
The renowned architectural historian Sir John Summerson described it as “the first part of London and indeed of any town, to abandon the terrace house for the semi-detached villa — a revolution of striking significance and far-reaching effect.”
St John’s Wood has plentiful blocks of mansion flats and many Twenties mansions, but it is the wide, leafy streets and the fine early Victorian detached and semi-detached villas sitting in large gardens in roads such as Acacia Road, Clifton Hill and Carlton Hill which give the area its charm. And as sports fans will tell you, it is comfortingly close to Lord’s Cricket Ground.
Beatlemania and the residential elite
Ever since the Beatles put Abbey Road on the tourist map with that iconic image of the Fab Four on the zebra crossing outside their recording studio, Paul McCartney has had a home in the area, with aristocrats and supermodels as neighbours.
James Simpson of estate agent Knight Frank says that over the past five years, St John’s Wood has joined London’s residential elite: “We are now getting around £2,000 a sq ft for houses, with up to £3,000 a sq ft achieved for the very best, which is on a par with older, established prime areas such as Knightsbridge and Belgravia. St John’s Wood is the nearest village to central London where you can get houses with sizeable gardens, off-street parking and lovely, leafy streets.”
What there is to buy
The typical St John’s Wood house is white stucco, early Victorian, detached or semi-detached, though there are others in the Victorian Gothic style and those large Twenties mansions. Edwardian, Art Deco and modern blocks of luxury flats dominate Wellington Road and parts of Grove End Road and Abbey Road. Prices east of Wellington Road, close to the high street, are higher than the quieter roads west of Wellington Road. A house in Clifton Hill or Carlton Hill now costs between £3 million and £5 million.
The St John’s Wood Synagogue in Grove End Road, and the Regent’s Park Mosque and the American School in Loudon Road make this a truly international and multi-faith neighbourhood. According to Knight Frank’s Simpson, buying a house in St John’s Wood is the pinnacle of most people’s achievement, so once here, there is nowhere better for them to go.
NW8 is the St John’s Wood postcode; it also includes parts of Primrose Hill and parts of less-desirable Lisson Grove.
The best streets — and what’s up and coming
East of Wellington Road, the best roads are Avenue Road, Acacia Road, Queen’s Grove and Norfolk Road. West of Wellington Road they are Hamilton Terrace, Marlborough Place, Carlton Hill and Clifton Hill.
James Simpson tips Alma Square for investment.“It is a beautiful little enclave to the west of Abbey Road. We have recently taken on a house that we are selling for £3.75 million — it has 3,000sq ft of space, so is valued at about £1,250 a sq ft, much cheaper than elsewhere in the neighbourhood. And there’s a communal garden.”
There is also an Arts & Crafts council estate, built in 1924 under the “Homes fit for Heroes” programme on Fisherton Street. It is protected by its status as a conservation area and flats there sell for about £250,000.
The King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery, the Queen’s main ceremonial troop, is moving from its historic barracks in Ordnance Hill, and the five-acre site is being redeveloped by the Eyre Estate. Planning permission was granted late last year for 133 new homes that will be mostly flats though there will be eight semi-detached villas and seven terrace houses. The stables will be turned into a leisure centre.
Getting an education
Even though St John’s Wood has good state schools, many parents prefer to choose one of the many local private schools. American families live here because they want their children to go to the American School in Waverley Place. Abercorn School (co-ed, age two and a half to 13) is in Abercorn Place; St Christina’s School (girls age three to 11; boys age three to seven) is a Catholic school in St Edmund’s Terrace; Arnold House (boys age five to 13), distinctive for its bright red blazers, is in Loudon Road; St John’s Wood Pre-prep (co-ed, age three to seven) is in St John’s Hall, close to the Lord’s roundabout. Francis Holland (girls age 11 to 18) is in Ivor Place.
In the state sector: Gateway Primary School in Capland Street is judged “outstanding” by government education watchdog Ofsted; George Eliot in Marlborough Hill is “good”, as is Robinsfield in Ordnance Hill, although this school only takes pupils up to age seven. King Solomon Academy (age three to 18) in Penfold Street is a relatively new all-through school which is judged “outstanding” as are the two comprehensive schools Quintin Kynaston in Marlborough Hill and St George’s RC in Maida Vale, which went through a difficult time after the murder of its headmaster Philip Lawrence in 1995.
Shopping and leisure
The shops in St John’s Wood High Street and Circus Road are chic but the atmosphere is relaxed, with the well-dressed inhabitants out window shopping or nibbling a salad in the sun at one of the many cafés. Panzer’s on Circus Road is a long-standing supermarket with an outstanding fruit and vegetable stall and in the high street there are upmarket chains such as Whistles, Space NK, Joseph and Comptoir des Cotonniers.
There is a recently opened farmers’ market every Saturday morning in Bridgeman Street.
There are more shops and restaurants at the junction of Abbey Road and Boundary Road. Oslo Court is a restaurant in a block of flats of the same name in Prince Albert Road — decor and foodwise it is caught in an Eighties timewarp. People love it or loathe it.
* MORE ON THE BOROUGH OF WESTMINSTER:
For more local restaurants, pubs, bars, theatres, cinemas or attractions; or to book a table or tickets for a night out, visit LondonLive.co.uk/Westminster.
Search properties, jobs or dates in any London boroughs.
Getting around: St John’s Wood is in Zone 2 but it is only two stops on the Jubilee line from Bond Street and an annual travel card costs £1,104.
Council: Westminster council (Conservative controlled); Band D council tax for the 2011/2012 year is £687.62.
Buying property in NW8
One-bedroom flat £354,000
Two-bedroom flat £534,000
Two-bedroom house £1.5 million
Three-bedroom house £1.68 million
Four-bedroom house £2.26 million
Renting property in NW8
One-bedroom flat £375 to £800 a week
Two-bedroom flat £500 to £1,800 a week
Two-bedroom house £850 to £3,000 a week
Three-bedroom house £900 to £4,000 a week
Four-bedroom house £1,500 to £4,000 a week
Five-bedroom house £2,500 to £10,000 a week
Source: Knight Frank
Photographs: Graham Hussey