Townies love this seven heaven
Beautifully positioned on the wooded slopes of the North Downs in Kent and in an area of outstanding natural beauty, Sevenoaks is only a few miles south of the M25, yet it is the vast station car park, crammed full of Porches, Mercedes and four-wheel drives, that tells the real story of the town.
Mark Sparrow, of local estate agent Chesterton Humberts, says the station is crucial to understanding the local property market. “At six in the morning the platforms are packed with City traders making their way to work. Sevenoaks has nine toes in London and only one in the country.”
Some 85 per cent of the 20,000 inhabitants of this well-heeled town are professional and the station is the fifth busiest in the county. The arrival of the railways turned Sevenoaks into a commuter town, with one building boom in the second half of the 19th century and another in the Twenties.
The town is named after seven oak trees that were planted in Knole Park on the edge of town in the Middle Ages. Much later, in 1909, seven oak trees were planted to commemorate the coronation of Edward VII on the northern edge of The Vine, a landmark cricket ground in the centre of town, one of the oldest in the country. Six of these mighty oaks were lost in the great storm of 1987. It will be some time before their replacements will fulfil their symbolic purpose.
For years the town was dominated by the Sackville family, who still live at Knole House, even though it is now owned by the National Trust and open to the public. The great Knole deer park on the southern and western edges of town is a very appealing feature.
Know the area
Properties: there is a plentiful supply of large Victorian, Edwardian, Twenties and Thirties family homes. Most are built of red brick and tile, although there are corners of more traditional Kentish ragstone. There are also enclaves of smaller cottages. For older period homes, families head for the pretty surrounding villages such as Otford, Plaxtol and Penshurst in the heart of Darling Buds of May country.
The area attracts: this is a family area; couples may arrive when they are first planning to have children.
Staying power: families settle down here for the long term.
Best streets: The Wildernesse on the north-eastern edge of Sevenoaks is the best area. It has large, mainly Twenties houses set in spacious grounds, some designed by the renowned Arts & Crafts architect HM Baillie Scott. Last year houses in Parkfield, one of the premier roads, sold for between £2 million and £2.6 million.
Two adjacent conservation areas —Granville and Eardley Roads and Kippington and Oakhill Roads — each have large detached and semi-detached Victorian houses.
On the southern edge of town The Rise is a popular road, where houses last year sold for between £610,000 and £1.14 million. And on the north-western edge, Montreal Park has classic, detached Thirties houses which last year sold for between £646,000 and £975,000.
Up and coming: Sparrow says there is no undervalued area in Sevenoaks itself. “I think the nearby town of Hildenborough is undervalued. It has its own railway station and house prices are 20 to 30 per cent cheaper than Sevenoaks.”
What’s new: Sackville Place is a development in central Sevenoaks on the site of a former BMW showroom. There are 10 flats, a rear block containing two flats and a large detached house. Prices range from £775,000 for a two-bedroom flat to £1.85 million for the house. Savills (01732 789700) is the selling agent.
Schools: three out of five Sevenoaks primaries — Lady Boswell’s CofE in Plymouth Drive, Sevenoaks in Bradbourne Park Road and Amherst in Witches Lane — are “outstanding” according to government education watchdog Ofsted. A fourth, St Thomas in South Park, is rated as “good with outstanding features”.
Although Kent has grammar schools, Sevenoaks doesn’t — the nearest are in Tonbridge. Sevenoaks’s comprehensive schools have been reorganised with Wildernesse and Bradbourne closing and reopening as Knole Academy in September of last year, on a split site but with a new building promised for 2012/2013.
The outstanding private school is ancient Sevenoaks School (mixed), which pioneered the International Baccalaureate in place of A-levels.
Shops and restaurants: Sevenoaks has an attractive town centre with a mix of architectural styles from medieval to Georgian to more modern, but for such a wealthy town, the shopping doesn’t set the retail pulse racing. There is a Waitrose, some boutiques in the medieval lanes off the High Street and a small shopping centre with a Monsoon, Gap Kids and a Phase Eight.
Valentina, a branch of the long-standing East Sheen Italian deli and restaurant, is a welcome recent addition. The Vine is a popular contemporarily styled restaurant — all bare tables and white walls — overlooking the cricket ground. Nearby villages offer good pub food; well-liked are the Bottle House in Penshurst and the Plough in Ivy Hatch.
Leisure and the arts: The Sevenoaks Leisure Centre in Buckhurst Lane is the local council-owned swimming pool. The Stag Community Arts Centre in the old Majestic cinema building puts on films, plays and concerts and the Ship Theatre at Walthamstow Hall school holds concerts and community events. Golfers are well-served with both Knole Park and Wildernesse Golf Clubs almost on the doorstep. As well as Knole House, the area is thick with historic houses and gardens, in particular Sir Winston Churchill’s Chartwell, Squerryes Court, Lullingstone Castle and Roman villa, Penshurst Place, Hever Castle, Riverhill House Gardens and Emmetts Garden.
Transport: trains from Sevenoaks take around 32 minutes to Cannon Street and 36 minutes to Charing Cross. An annual season ticket costs £2,816.
Council: Sevenoaks district council (Conservative controlled); band D council tax for the 2010/11 year is £1,501.21.
One-bedroom flat £141,000
Two-bedroom flat £192,000
Two-bedroom house £268,000
Three-bedroom house £354,000
Four-bedroom house £608,000
One-bedroom flat £565 to £665 a month
Two-bedroom flat £775 to £885 a month
Two-bedroom house £945 to £1,045 a month
Three-bedroom house £1,950 to £2,050 a month
Four-bedroom house £2,200 to £2,300 a month
Five-bedroom house £2,950 to £4,000 a month
Source: Chesterton Humberts
Photographs: Barry Phillips