Commuter watch: Canterbury takes centre stage

The ancient Kent cathedral city, often overlooked by buyers, steps into the limelight with a new arts complex
Taking a boat trip along the picturesque River Stour is one of the more relaxing ways to experience the city
© Rex features
Taking a boat trip along the picturesque River Stour is one of the more relaxing ways to experience the city
Within the sound of the bells of Canterbury Cathedral, the finishing touches are being put to a significantly more state-of-the-art landmark: a £25.6 million theatre - all glass and columns, and with an eye-catching fin on its roof - that will open its doors in the historic city in October, 2011.

Like the Turner Contemporary gallery, which opened in Margate in the spring, the Marlowe Theatre will turn a spotlight on a Kent community that has stood in the shadows of the county's more ritzy stars - Sevenoaks and Whitstable - for too long.

In reality, Canterbury has always had much to recommend it. Unlike Margate, it has never needed huge regeneration. It is a charming cathedral city, highly affordable, and stuffed with period property.

It also has excellent schools, and stacks of bars and restaurants, thanks to both the tourists who flock there and the presence of four university campuses, including the University of Kent and the University College for the Creative Arts.

"Come and explore Canterbury. It is not just a historic place with Chaucer connections, but a lively town heaving with tourists and students," pleads Martin Jordan, an associate director of Chesterton Humberts. "The suburbs are great and only three quarters of a mile away, and the high-speed rail line means you can do the journey into London in less than an hour. Not enough people get that message."

Bargain buys


Kent is an expensive county, but property in Canterbury is significantly cheaper than average - £229,000 compared to £243,000 in Kent as a whole. The price differential is particularly marked when it comes to detached houses, according to research carried out by Savills. An average detached home in the town costs £310,000, compared to £397,000 across Kent.

The new £25.6 million Marlowe Theatre, designed by Keith Williams, will help to put Canterbury on the buyer's map
The new £25.6 million Marlowe Theatre, designed by Keith Williams, will help to put Canterbury on the buyer's map
Buying a home within the city walls might sound a charming idea, but in fact much of the period stock here belongs either to the cathedral or to The King's School (which dates to 557, making it arguably England's oldest school) and so property rarely comes up for sale.

Celine McGee, of Regal Estates, says you might pick up a one-bedroom cottage for around £190,000 in the heart of the city - but competition from prospective buyers will be fierce.

A key area for commuters to look at is St Dunstan's, because of the proximity of Canterbury West station, with trains to London St Pancras taking just under an hour. An annual season ticket costs from £4,372.

St Dunstan's is stuffed with Victorian and Georgian terraces. McGee says you could find a two-up, two-down cottage for around £190,000, while a three-bedroom townhouse would cost in the region of £270,000.

Parents love south Canterbury with a trio of strong grammar schools - the Simon Langton Grammar School for Boys, rated good by Ofsted, the Simon Langton Girls' Grammar School, which is rated outstanding, and Barton Court Grammar School (mixed), rated good.

£295,000: in London Road, Canterbury, a charming two-bedroom cottage with private parking and garden (01227 456645)
£295,000: in London Road, Canterbury, a charming two-bedroom cottage with private parking and garden (01227 456645)
Most of the housing here is 20th century, and Jordan says you could buy a five-bedroom detached house for between £450,000 and £550,000. On the best streets - like the tree-lined Nackington Road - similar-size houses cost up to £700,000.

The walled city


Tourists and students have their pluses and minus points. The walled city centre is crowded with them but they bring nightlife. Canterbury is said to have more nightlife per square foot than almost anywhere else in the country. It's also worth sampling the cafés and bars - like popular Café des Amis (Mexican) and Café Mauresque (Moroccan) for food, and either The Ball Room or The Loft for a (largely student-free) drink.

Top spot: there is a first-class cricket ground, St Lawrence Ground, home to Kent County Cricket Club, which has hosted several one-day internationals, and football and rugby clubs. The Kingsmead Leisure Centre has a pool and sports hall.

Dane John Gardens is an oasis within the city walls, a lovely surprise which has a new children's play area and a bandstand, while Westgate Gardens, beside the historic West Gate Towers Museum, has 11 landscaped acres along the banks of the River Stour.

£1.35 million: in St Stephen's Road, one of Canterbury' loveliest houses is for sale with five bedrooms (01227 451123)
£1.35 million: in St Stephen's Road, one of Canterbury's loveliest houses is for sale with five bedrooms (01227 451123)
Black spot: the ring road is a congested nightmare, so getting around the city is slow going, and Canterbury has no decent shopping centre. Greedy landlords are also pushing up rents and pushing out private shopkeepers around the cathedral. The new theatre, designed by the architect Keith Williams, will bring a welcome cultural fillip to the city.

The first season will include a production of The Madness of George III, starring David Haig, the Olivier Award-winning actor; performances by Canadian circus company Cirque Eloize, and an hour-long version of Comedy of Errors by Ed Hall's company, Propeller.


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