The lock at East Molesey stars in Three Men in a Boat, one of the funniest books ever written on the subject of messing about in boats, whose Victorian author Jerome K Jerome, said: “I have stood and watched it sometimes when you could not see any water at all, but only a brilliant tangle of bright blazers and gay caps, and saucy hats.”
The Victorian craze for boating has faded, but even today the pretty riverside village of East Molesey has a festive air, while cafés, restaurants, boutiques and antiques shops cluster in the streets around the station.
Cardinal Wolsey and Henry VIII’s magnificent Hampton Court Palace is a short walk across the bridge from the station, but those who stray into the East Molesey hinterland find roads of imposing Victorian and Edwardian mansions, smaller flat-fronted cottages, semi-detached Thirties houses and bungalows, modern houses and flats, and floating riverside homes moored in the Thames at Taggs Island.
East and West Molesey are sandwiched between the Thames to the north, and the river Mole - and some of London’s largest reservoirs - to the south and west. The area has the atmosphere of a small island and yet it is only a short bus ride to bustling Kingston and less than 15 miles from central London
These villages can track their past back to before the Domesday Book and in Bell Road there are some remarkable surviving medieval buildings. The Bell Inn with its wonky windows dates from the late 15th century, and in the same road the Manor House and adjoining Quillets Royal date from the 16th century.
Ian Ralph, of local estate agents Rawlinson & Webber, says as many as half a dozen different styles of architecture are found in almost every street in East and West Molesey.
Property in East Molesey: there are large, impressive Victorian and Edwardian mansions and smaller villas and cottages in the Molesey Kent Town conservation area around Palace Road and Kent Road, and in the Molesey Old Village conservation area south of Walton Road. Large family houses in these areas start at around £1.25 million.
Property in West Molesey: which is more isolated and where residents rely on their cars or the bus service, there are affordable Thirties semi-detached houses ranging between £300,000 and £400,000. Hurst Park is an Eighties Wimpey development of houses and flats where three-bedroom houses start at about £300,000.
There are flats in large converted houses and blocks of self-contained flats. Kingfisher Court on Bridge Street is an art deco Thirties development where prices of the one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments range between £250,000 and £350,000.
The area attracts: everyone from wealthy professionals to first-time buyers can find a home here within their budget. West Molesey, due to its isolation, attracts mainly people who work locally. The local market is strong with people moving within the area.
Best roads: Palace Road, Wolsey Road, Vine Road, Arnison Road, Beauchamp Road, Seymour Road and Matham Road.
What’s new: a large mixed-use development around the station known locally as the “Jolly Boatman site” got planning permission three years ago in the teeth of strong local opposition. The development included a home for disabled ex-servicemen to be rehoused from the Star and Garter home in Richmond. However, the charity pulled out in 2010 and the whole scheme is on hold.
Schools: there is only one primary school in East and West Molesey judged “outstanding” by Ofsted - the Orchard Infant School in Bridge Street. But it only takes pupils up to age seven, after which most go on to St Lawrence CofE Junior School, which is only judged “satisfactory but improving”. The picture is brighter when it comes to state secondary schools.
The nearest comprehensive school is Esher CofE (co-ed ages 11 to 16) which is judged “outstanding”, as is the other Esher comprehensive Hinchley Wood (co-ed ages 11 to 18), and there are two highly academic Kingston grammar schools, Tiffin School (boys ages 11 to 18) and Tiffin Girls’ School (ages 11 to 18). Local pre-prep schools include Emberhurst in Esher and Athelstan House in Hampton. Prep schools include Weston Green in Thames Ditton (co-ed ages two to 11); Twickenham Prep (co-ed ages four to 13) and Hampton Court School (co-ed ages two to 16). There are top-performing private schools in Hampton, and in Kingston there is Kingston Grammar (mixed, 11 to 18).
Shops and restaurants: there are antiques shops, restaurants including chains Pizza Express and Zizzi, cafés and gift shops in and around Bridge Road. Mada Deli, in particular, is a lovely place to hang out and watch the world go by.
East Molesey’s main shopping street, however, is tucked away in the middle of the community along Walton Road. It has a Tesco Express and a Kent Pharmacy with its original mosaic shop front, but there are too many charity shops to indicate a shopping street in rude health. There is a large Tesco on Hurst Road.
Shabby chic is a popular interiors look, with Kira and The Bothy on Bridge Street and Belle Epoque and Margaret McCloy on Walton Road. Cult shop Langley Records on Walton Road in West Molesey sells vinyl records.
Open space: Hurst Park is a large riverside area with the Moulsey Hurst, a historic ground where cricket has been played since 1731. There are secret walks among the reservoirs and along the River Mole; the Molesey Reservoirs, west of Hurst Park are being turned into a nature reserve.
Leisure and the arts: the nearest council-owned swimming pool is the Hurst Pool in Dunstall Way; the Pavilion Club on Hurst Lane is a popular private sports club where there is another swimming pool. The Island Barn Reservoir Sailing Club is based on the reservoir of the same name and the Molesey Boat Club is a top rowing club next to the cricket ground in Hurst Park.
Travel: Hampton Court station (Zone 6; annual travelcard £2,136) is in East Molesey. Trains to Waterloo take around 38 minutes. West Molesey residents especially rely on the 411, 461 and 514 bus routes which all go to Kingston.
Council: Elmbridge borough council (Conservative-controlled, although it is a measure of Molesey’s independent spirit that its nine councillors come from the residents’ association rather than any political party).
Band D council tax for 2012/2013 is £1,552.34.
Pictures by Graham Hussey