Think of Beaconsfield - and the desirable nearby villages of Seer Green and Penn - as a place of two distinct characters. Sitting on the edge of the beautiful Chiltern Hills, 30 miles north-west of the capital, you will find an old town built around the former stagecoach route to Oxford and the new town a mile to the north.
An extremely comfortable and well-heeled Buckinghamshire commuter destination has been moulded by its transport links. The quaint old town still has its coaching inns and mellow red-brick cottages, impressive St Mary’s parish church and a cluster of manor houses.
The new town, with its thriving shopping centre (and a Waitrose built on the site of the old Earl of Beaconsfield pub) developed around a railway station which arrived in 1906.
Writer GK Chesterton and political theorist Edmund Burke are buried in the churchyard of St Mary’s, and Queen Victoria’s favourite prime minister, Benjamin Disraeli, who lived at nearby Hughenden Manor, took the title Earl of Beaconsfield when he was ennobled. Famous Five and Noddy author Enid Blyton also lived here and the nostalgic now make the pilgrimage to the Red Lion at Knotty Green, where there is a room dedicated to her memory. The recently expanded National Film and Television Centre gives the town a contemporary creative edge.
Bekonscot, the model village which has given joy to parents and children alike for decades, and where visitors wander among six miniature towns that are forever stuck in a Thirties time warp, is Beaconsfield’s major tourist attraction. Another draw is the famous Royal Standard pub, a mile north of the new town and much-visited by Londoners in the spring and summer. It is reputed to be the oldest freehouse in the land.
in the old town there are picturesque medieval and Georgian houses and cottages, unfortunately sliced through by the Oxford Road, while in the new town, the houses are huge, and growing ever bigger (there is a real touch of the Jones’s here) as knockdowns are replaced by mansions and gardens are divided up to provide more building land. Architecture ranges from late-Edwardian Arts & Crafts cottages to Mock Tudor Twenties mansions, a few modest modern houses and many modern mansions.
The area attracts: Beaconsfield is a successful commuter town, and families come here for the fast commute (soon to be 20 minutes) to central London. If you get on at Beaconsfield you get a seat; if you live one stop down the line at Gerrards Cross you don’t. If you want to fly it’s a 20-minute drive to Heathrow; if you want to walk at weekends the Chiltern Hills are beautiful. The town is safe, well-maintained and manicured, and the schools are good - especially the state grammar.
Staying power: most families stay in the area, and with a number of luxury flat developments between the old and new towns, there is now scope for families to downsize to lock-up-and-leave flats once the children have left home and the parents want to spend more time at second homes abroad.
Postcodes: HP9 is the Beaconsfield postcode.
Best roads: the roads south-west of the station are known locally as the golden triangle. Burkes Road, Burkes Crescent, Furzefield Road, Cambridge Road, Westfield Road, Chiltern Hills Road and Grove Road are situated in a patchwork of green and leafy streets.
They have large Twenties houses built on big plots, although many of these houses have now been knocked down and rebuilt as large, modern mansions in a style which can only be described as "new baronial". The most expensive house in these roads sold for £4.6 million in June 2010, in Burkes Road.
Hamptons (01494 677744) is selling a three-quarters-of-an-acre plot in the same road for £2.5 million which, when a house is built, will be worth in the region of £4.5 million. Dragon Peter Jones from TV’s Dragons’ Den is selling one of his local homes, a six-bedroom detached house on Furzefield Road, for £3.1 million through Ashington Page (01494 680018).
What’s new: no large new developments; most developments in the area comprise of one-off houses. For example, local developer Oakeve (01494 737461) has recently completed a huge 19,000sq ft, eight-bedroom house on Burkes Road for a private client. On the open market it would be worth about £7million.
Up and coming: Beaconsfield has long ago up and come, although you can buy a two-bedroom period cottage in the old town for around £325,000 or a one-bedroom flat in a Sixties block in the new town for under £250,000.
Schools: Beaconsfield has three primary schools: St Mary and All Saints CofE is judged "outstanding" by government education watchdog, Ofsted; Butlers Court in Wattleton Road is "good", and Holtspur, on the edge of the old town in Cherry Tree Road, is "satisfactory". There are two prep schools: Davenies takes boys from age four to 13 and High March takes girls from age three to 11.
The county of Buckinghamshire still operates the 11-plus exam which determines entry to its grammar schools. Beaconsfield has a top-performing girls’ grammar school, and the nearest boys’ grammar school is in nearby High Wycombe. Wycombe Abbey, also in High Wycombe, is one of the country’s best girls’ boarding schools. It also takes day pupils.
Shops and restaurants: there is a traditional high street in the new town with three supermarkets and a mix of high street names and independent shops. The high street names include top teenage brands White Stuff and Crew, while Space NK Apothecary is good for personal pampering, and there’s Smallbone for designer kitchens. Jungs is a smart, modern patisserie and restaurant.
In the old town, locals buy their over-stuffed sofas from Knights; their antiques, clocks and painted furniture from Worboys; their new kitchens from John Lewis of Hungerford and their paint from Farrow & Ball - which has recently opened in the old town not far from the delightful antique and fine furniture shop Hearne’s, with its irresistible smell of beeswax.
The Saracens Arms is an old coaching inn with a smart bar and restaurant; other restaurants include The Bear, Loch Fyne, The Swan, and Achimi for Japanese food. There is also food to be had at the Royal Standard of England in Forty Green. There is a Tuesday market and a farmers’ market on the fourth Tuesday of the month in the old town.
Open space: the Chilterns area of outstanding beauty is on the doorstep. The hills, which run from the Thames in South Oxfordshire to Hitchin in Hertfordshire, offer miles of walks, riding and cycling, with the magnificent forktailed red kites swooping overhead.
Leisure and the arts: the nearest council-owned swimming pools are in Amersham and High Wycombe. The Beaconsfield Golf Club is a private members club at Seer Green.
There is a strong tradition of amateur dramatics. The Beaconsfield Theatre Group puts on plays at the Beacon Theatre; the Beaconsfield Operatic Society puts on musicals, and the Young Theatre is a young people’s company. The latter two operate from the Curzon Centre. The Chiltern Shakespeare Company puts on an outdoor production of a Shakespeare play in June every year in the grounds of Hall Barn.
Travel: the frequent train service to Marylebone station takes between 30 and 38 minutes (soon to be reduced to 20 minutes). Beaconsfield is now such a popular commuter station that it has a multi-storey car park with space for more than 500 cars, and the charges are £6.50 a day or £880 for the year. The cost of an annual train season ticket is £2,580.
Council: South Bucks district council (Conservative controlled); B and D council tax for the 2010/2011 year is £1,476.12.
Pictures by Barry Phillips