London’s elite — including, it is said, George III — used to make the journey to south-east London to take Sydenham’s restorative spa waters — there were even reports of upper-class rowdiness as the foul-tasting water was liberally mixed with brandy at the local hostelries.
Such drama put Sydenham on the map before many other London suburbs. The hilly streets are dotted with large houses built by wealthy Regency rakes and later Victorian merchants who sought refuge from the city and its soot. But it was the arrival of Paxton’s Crystal Palace, transported from the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park, and the coming of the railways which brought the biggest surge in development.
Today, Sydenham is, as the travel writers say, “a place of great contrasts”. There is hardly a street that does not feature one or two fine period houses, but in many cases they will sit cheek by jowl with Sixties townhouses and council estates.
What’s on offer in Sydenham
Sydenham offers real value for money. Houses here are half the price of nearby Dulwich and at least 20 per cent cheaper than Forest Hill next door. It’s a good place to look for flat conversions in large houses, Victorian family houses, and Sixties townhouses that start at about £250,000. There are also two-bedroom cottages in the pretty Halifax Street conservation area which sell for about £300,000, and quiet little country-like lanes off Sydenham Park Road.
The Sydenham Hill conservation area has two- and three-bedroom early Victorian houses in Mount Ash Road, selling for about £400,000. Victorian terrace houses close to Sydenham station — south of Sydenham Road and west of Newlands Park, in roads such as Venner Road, Byrne Road and Wiverton Road — sell for between £500,000 and £550,000.
The area attracts: first time buyers in search of value for money — though a shortage of mortgage finance means few sales are being completed at the moment — and families looking for houses who have been priced out of Forest Hill.
Staying power: Sydenham has a strong sense of community, while the wide range of properties gives scope for both trading up and downsizing.
Postcodes: Sydenham is SE26, though a few streets in the north-eastern corner trespass in to SE23, the Forest Hill postcode. Around Sydenham Hill station, some of the streets stray into the SE21 the Dulwich postcode.
Best roads: the most expensive streets are Woodhall Avenue and Woodhall Drive, close to Sydenham Hill station, where large Sixties detached houses with spacious gardens sell for between £1.4 million and £1.6 million. And in Cator Road, on the Beckenham boundary, lovely big double-fronted Victorian houses sell for between £1 million and £1.6 million. Roads close to Sydenham’s attractive parks, many of which have green flags, are particularly popular.
The red-brick three-, four- and five-bedroom Edwardian houses in the Sydenham Thorpes conservation area (where the roads bear names such as Queensthorpe, Kingsthorpe, Bishopsthorpe, and Princesthorpe) are much sought-after and sell for between £600,000 and £680,000. Twenties houses in Longton Avenue overlooking Sydenham Wells Park sell for about £400,000 and the Victorian terrace houses in Maitland Road and Alexandra Road, close to the Alexandra Recreation Ground, sell for between £300,000 and £500,000.
What’s new? The local housing association, Hexagon, is building a mixed development wrapped around the landmark Greyhound pub at the roundabout by Kirkdale and Westwood Hill. There will be 40 affordable flats for rental, shops, a piazza, a car club and the Greyhound is being renovated as a gastropub. Hexagon hopes the scheme will start to regenerate the high street. Renaissance (Call Pedder on 020 8659 0220) is a development by Mantle in Trewsbury Road of nine two-bedroom flats with prices starting at £285,000.
Up and coming: mid-century design is going through a revival and Sydenham’s well-designed Sixties townhouses, especially those built by Span or Wates, are attracting interest. Find Wates houses in Crescent Wood Road and Peckarmans Wood overlooking wild Sydenham Hill Wood nature reserve; these start at about £450,000.
Schools: Eliot Bank in Thorpewood Avenue and Alexandra Infants School in Cator Road are primary schools judged to be “outstanding” by the education watchdog Ofsted. St Michael’s CofE in Champion Road, Adamsvill in Adamsvill Road, St Bartholomews’s CofE in The Peak and Kelvin Grove in Kirkdale are all judged “good”.
The two local comprehensive schools, Forest Hill (mixed) and Sydenham School (girls with boys in the sixth form) are both judged “good”. The highest-rated local state school is Harris City Academy in nearby Crystal Palace which is judged outstanding.
The two nearest private schools are Sydenham High (girls, ages four to 18) and St Dunstan’s (co-educational, ages four to 18) in Catford. The Dulwich private schools aren’t far, either.
Shops and restaurants: Sydenham high street is a shabby mix of high street chains, nail bars, burger bars and charity shops. The Blue Mountain Café, Sugarhill Café Gallery and the Kirkdale Bookshop, all close to the Kirkdale roundabout, and The Dolphin gastropub with its formal, box-hedged beer garden are the street’s four exceptions. Further up Kirkdale, close to the junction with Dartmouth Road, the local traders are determined to improve their small shopping enclave. There are antique shops, a piano restorer, and Alhambra, a tea room, art gallery and gift shop with a Spanish theme. The shops here have branded themselves Kirkdale Village and have won local funding for street improvements, while Christmas events are planned.
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Sydenham is blessed with lovely local parks. Sydenham Wells Park, Mayow Park and Alexandra Recreation Ground are all well maintained. There are wooded walks in Dulwich Wood and Sydenham Hill Wood, and pockets of woodland along the railway line at Dacre’s Wood, and the locally maintained Albion Millennium Green off Albion Villas. The huge Crystal Palace Park is close by.
Leisure and the arts: residents are spoilt for choice when it comes to swimming. The love-it-or-hate-it listed Sixties National Sports Centre in Crystal Palace Park has a rare 50-metre pool. The nearest council-owned pool is at the Bridge Leisure Centre in Lower Sydenham. Next year the council is reopening the lovely Victorian Forest Hill Pools, and LA Fitness is a private gym with a pool on Kirkdale. The Sydenham International Music Festival takes place every year in June — this year’s star performer was Sir Willard White — and in July there is an annual arts festival.
Commuting made easy
Sydenham received a big boost when the East London line reopened in May last year and brought a “Tube-like” connection between north London, Docklands and the south-east of the capital. The line offers a quick link to Canary Wharf via Canada Water. There are fast trains to Victoria (14 minutes) and London Bridge (17 minutes), and slower trains to Charing Cross.
Pretty Sydenham Hill station is set in a nature reserve, with trains every 15 minutes during the day to Victoria. Trains from Lower Sydenham station run to Charing Cross and Canon Street. Sydenham and Sydenham Hill are in Zone 3, annual travel card to Zone 1 £1,288; and Lower Sydenham is in Zone 4, annual travelcard £1,576.
Council: Lewishham (Labour controlled); band D council tax for the 2011/2012 year is £1,351.93.
Photographs: Graham Hussey