Living up to its name, Forest Hill, in the south-west corner of Lewisham, has some of London’s steepest roads. Driving over the summit of Canonbie Road has all the thrill of a roller coaster when you start the stomach-churning descent. Looking north, the view sweeps across from the City to Wembley Stadium, taking in planes landing at Heathrow, while to the south lies Croydon, the South Downs and beyond.
This leafy south London district’s quick commute to the City and many Victorian houses have long attracted young families, but the world-class Horniman Museum and Gardens put it on the map.
It was donated to the people of London by Victorian tea merchant and philanthropist Frederick John Horniman, whose mission was “to bring the world to Forest Hill”.
Housed in a fine Art Nouveau building, the museum opened in 1901 on what is now the busy South Circular road. It was designed by Charles Harrison Townsend, who also gave London the Whitechapel Gallery and the Bishopsgate Institute, and its 16-acre garden has an aquarium and a dinosaur exhibition.
There is a large collection of artefacts from around the world plus musical instruments, a conservatory, a sundial walk and a nature trail, not forgetting the popular Saturday farmers’ market.
Seven miles south-east of central London, Forest Hill has Honor Oak and Brockley to the north; Catford to the east; Sydenham to the south and Dulwich Village to the west.
Local estate agent Javaid Ahmed, of Kinleigh Folkard & Hayward, says the neighbourhood is often overlooked. “People travel through it on the South Circular and don’t stop. If they did, they would find a remarkably pleasant place with the advantage of the Horniman Museum, good schools and fast transport links.”
Some of Forest Hill’s Victorian houses and terraces are the work of Lewisham-born master builder Ted Christmas, renowned locally for his work here and in Sydenham. The area also has many larger houses from the Victorian period, most of which are divided into flats. There is a handful of Georgian houses, along with Thirties semis, Art Deco flats and live/work mews houses.
Dickens Developments, a local firm, launched The Red House SE23 in Gaynesford Road last month. It is the conversion of a large Victorian house into six one-, two- and three-bedroom flats. The house was once owned by Ted Christmas. Prices of the one-bedroom flats start at £350,000 and the two-bedroom homes start at £485,000. Through Pedder — call 020 7737 1464.
The nearest large development is Catford Green, a Barratt Homes scheme in Adenmore Road, Catford, overlooking the 54 acres of Ladywell Fields. The development has 588 one-, two- and three-bedroom flats, starting at £314,000 for one-bedroom homes, with two-bedroom apartments from £379,000. Call 0844 225 0032.
London Help to Buy is available at Catford Green. The minimum deposit is five per cent, the minimum mortgage is 55 per cent of the value of the flat and the remaining 40 per cent comes in the form of a government-backed equity loan, interest free for five years.
Shelley Matczak, rental manager at Kinleigh Folkard & Hayward, says Forest Hill is so popular with tenants that homes are snapped up in under a week. Young professionals, couples and sharers working in Canary Wharf rent here, along with students who find it cheaper than nearby Brockley and Dulwich.
The area is becoming more popular with renting families. Matczak says of home owners she dealt with recently, who only wanted to let to a family: “Other agents told them they would only get sharers but we found them a family almost immediately.”
Forest Hill is on the A205, the South Circular. Forest Hill and Honor Oak Park Overground stations have 18-minute trains to Canary Wharf via Canada Water. Trains from Forest Hill to London Bridge take 12-15 minutes and services to Victoria take 32-44 minutes, slightly faster from Honor Oak Park. Both stations are in Zone 3 and an annual travelcard to Zone 1 costs £1,520.
Local estate agent Javaid Ahmed, of Kinleigh Folkard and Hayward, says the trend used to be for local families to move further out into the suburbs when their children reached secondary school age. However: “The local comprehensive schools now have a better reputation and more families are choosing to stay”.
SE23 is the Forest Hill postcode; it also includes Honor Oak.
Wood Vale has large, mainly semi-detached Victorian houses. Javaid Ahmed particularly likes Canonbie Road and Westwood Park where semi-detached Thirties houses are being extended from three-bedroom homes into five-bedroom, two bathroom houses.
Up and coming
Taymount Grange and Forest Croft are two little-known Art Deco blocks of flats in Taymount Rise.
Lewisham is Labour controlled and Band D council tax for 2016/2017 is £1,378.66.
Shops and restaurants
Forest Hill town centre is along London Road — where there is a branch of Sainsbury’s, a butcher and a JD Wetherspoon pub, The Capitol, in a former cinema — and Dartmouth Road, where there are a growing number of independent shops and cafés.
In Dartmouth Road find the local gastropub, The Dartmouth Arms; BOnA for sourdough pizza; Sylvan Post, a pub converted from the former post office; The Montage café and art gallery with a children’s playroom; two delicatessens; Stag & Bow, which says it supplies craft, history and haberdashery; The Archie Parker, an independent coffee shop; Bunka, which sells women’s and children’s clothes and gifts; and Wild Horses, which advertises itself as selling vintage lifestyle.
Opposite the station there is The Signal pub in Devonshire Road, with St David coffee house in David’s Road. Canvas & Cream in London Road is a coffee shop and art gallery with artists’ studios to rent round the corner in Havelock Walk.
The Horniman Museum gardens has a bandstand, conservatory, a collection of sundials and a nature walk among other attractions. Devonshire Road Nature Reserve is open the second and last Sunday of the month during summer.
Leisure and the arts
This Saturday the Forest Hill Society is celebrating St George’s Day and the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death with a promenade performance of Much Ado About Nothing in the town centre.
For the last two years Forest Hill has hosted an Edible High Street event with a trail of fruit trees and edibles lining the town centre streets. The artists in Havelock Walk hold regular open weekends — the next will be over the weekends of May 7-8 and May 14-15. St George’s Players is the local amateur dramatic group, and its next show, from June 2-4 is Oh! What a Lovely War.
The fine Victorian Forest Hill Pools, recently restored and extended, is the local council-owned swimming pool.
All the state primary schools in Forest Hill are judged “good” or better by the government education watchdog, Ofsted. Rated “outstanding” are Eliot Bank Primary in Thorpewood Avenue and Fairlawn Primary in Honor Oak Road.
The two local state comprehensive schools are Sydenham School (girls, ages 11 to 18) in Dartmouth Road and Forest Hill (boys, ages 11 to 18) in Dacres Road. SFH6 — Sydenham and Forest Hill Sixth Form — is the schools’ shared sixth form. Both schools are judged “good”.
Rose House Montessori (co-ed, ages three to 11) in Vancouver Road is a private primary school. Sydenham High (girls, ages four to 18) in Westwood Hill is a private all-through school. There are three top private schools in nearby Dulwich.