In its heyday at the end of the 19th century, more than 6,000 people worked in the railway yards in the East End suburb of Stratford. When the yards closed in 1963, the land lay derelict for nearly 50 years, but it is now occupied by Westfield Stratford City, Europe’s largest shopping centre, which provides work for more than 10,000 people.
Westfield in Stratford opened its doors to great fanfare last Tuesday. It cost £1.45 billion to build, covers 180 acres and provides 1.9 million square feet of shopping space. This glitzy retail palace will be the gateway to the Games for most of next summer’s Olympic visitors, but many Londoners will have made the pilgrimage to this resurgent suburb well before then.
What there is to buy in Stratford
Stratford is the main beneficiary of the building boom which winning the 2012 Olympics has unleashed. For five years now, the cranes have been hovering above the Olympic site in the lower Lee Valley next to Stratford town centre. As well as the main stadium, the velodrome and the aquatic centre, there is the athletes’ village, which when the Games are over will undergo a £147 million refit providing more than 2,800 new rental homes.
Add to this the 2,000 new homes which have been built in Stratford on the back of the Olympics and a picture of a modern, thrusting new town emerges. Except this is only half the story. Some 40,000 new homes were built in Stratford between 1840 and the beginning of the First World War in 1914 to house workers in the railway yards and the Royal Docks. As a result, Stratford has a supply of Victorian terrace houses which range in price from as much as £450,000 for large four-bedroom houses to under £200,000 for two-bedroom cottages.
The area attracts: local buyers trading up, families looking for value-for-money houses with gardens, buy-to-let investors, young City professionals and essential workers taking advantage of affordable shared-ownership offers.
Staying power: some East End families move out to Essex, but many have strong family ties in Stratford and like to stay. For young City professionals, Stratford may be a first foot on the home-ownership ladder which eventually takes them in search of good schools to the area around Victoria Park in Hackney, or to more moneyed suburbs in the west and south-west.
Postcodes: E15 is the Stratford postcode, although it also covers parts of Leyton and Leytonstone. E20 is a new postcode covering the Olympic Park.
Best roads: Stratford Village is the name which local residents (not agents) have given to the area of cottages south of Romford Road. Look in White Road, Shirley Road, Glenavon Road and Vernon Road, where houses can still be picked up for under £200,000. Ham Park Road overlooking West Ham Park is also sought-after — a house here sold for £485,000 last year and Keatons (020 8534 7788) has a five-bedroom house on Carnarvon Road, north of Romford Road, on for the same price.
What’s new: there are three big housing association schemes on the high street. Aurora (020 8502 5758) is a development of 173 one-, two- and three-bedroom flats by One Housing Group, designed by architects Stock Woolstencroft, prices from £190,000.
Genesis is building one of the highest residential tower blocks in the country at Stratford Halo (020 7563 0298). The scheme, on the site of the old Yardley soap factory has 704 homes, and prices will be announced next month.
L&Q (0844 406 9800) is building Artemis. Details to be announced.
Up and coming: Darren Rebeiro, of estate agents Keatons, says Stratford hasn’t yet recovered from the property downturn, so still represents value for money. “We can’t predict if the Olympics and the opening of the Westfield centre will have a positive effect on house prices, but there is a lot of excitement in the air.”
Getting an education
Newham is the sixth most deprived local authority in the country, and it is a struggle to find a top primary school in Stratford. Manor Primary gets a “good” rating from Ofsted, and the best performing comprehensives are the two Catholic schools in Forest Gate — St Bonaventure’s (boys ages 11 to 18) and St Angela’s Ursuline (girls ages 11 to 18), both rated “outstanding” by Ofsted. Stratford School Academy (mixed, ages 11 to 16) also in Forest Gate has recently become an academy. Newham Sixth Form College has more than 2,500 students on three sites and is rated “good”, and in September 2013, central Stratford gets a new £33 million university college. Forest School (mixed, ages four to 18) in Snaresbrook is the top-performing private school.
Shopping and dining out
Westfield has upped the game in terms of shopping and eating out for the whole of east London and beyond. The high street and Stratford Centre now look lacklustre, although there is a branch of Tiger, the fast-growing and stylish Danish variety store. The area has traditional pubs and the best is the Edward VII on the Broadway which has a Dickensian feel and good food.
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Open spaces and leisure
Stratford is on the River Lee, so there is access to one of London’s loveliest walks through the Lee Valley Regional Park, a 26-mile linear park. South of Stratford it passes by Three Mills Island, where there is a fine collection of old industrial buildings.
Stratford Park has a bowling green, tennis court and paddling pool. The larger West Ham Park is owned by the City of London and has a seven-acre ornamental garden and its own plant nursery. The Olympic Park opens next year.
Theatre Royal Stratford East, the famous theatre run in the Sixties by Joan Littlewood, still puts on experimental plays. It is now part of Stratford’s cultural quarter, clustered behind the Broadway in Gerry Raffles Square, where there is a four-screen picturehouse cinema and the Stratford Circus, a performance space managed by Newham Sixth Form College. There is a Vue multiplex cinema in the new Westfield centre. The Atherton Road leisure centre in Romford Road is the nearest council-run swimming pool.
Stratford is east London’s biggest transport hub; in Zone 3 an annual travelcard costs £1,288. The Jubilee line and the DLR go to Canary Wharf; the Central line to the West End; the North London Overground line to Dalston Kingsland and Highbury & Islington; and trains between Liverpool Street and East Anglia, Essex and Hertfordshire stop here.
Crossrail will connect Stratford with Heathrow in 2019. There is now a DLR link from Stratford station to Stratford International, where Javelin trains between Kent and St Pancras stop and where there will be a special super-fast seven-minute Javelin service to St Pancras during the Olympics.
Council tax: Newham (Labour controlled); Band D council tax for 2011/12 is £1,255.45.
Buying in Stratford
One-bedroom flat £167,000
Two-bedroom flat £212,000
Two-bedroom house £225,000
Three-bedroom house £268,000
Four-bedroom house £281,000
Renting in Stratford
One-bedroom flat £195 to £240 a week
Two-bedroom flat £240 to £290 a week
Two-bedroom house £250 to £300 a week
Three-bedroom house £295 to £335 a week
Four-bedroom house £395 to £440 a week
Pictures: Graham Hussey