The pretty and popular commuter town of Esher in Surrey sits on the old London to Portsmouth road, 14 miles south-west of central London, and attracts loyalty from Londoners who move out for country air and good comprehensive schools.
One of its architectural star attractions is Claremont, the grand 18th-century house a short distance from Esher town centre. It demonstrates that today’s fashion for knocking down perfectly sound houses and replacing them with large mansions is nothing new.
In 1768, Clive of India, the founder of the British Empire, bought Claremont and set about demolishing the house which architect and playwright Sir John Vanbrugh, also responsible for Castle Howard and Blenheim Palace, had built just 50 years before.
In its place, Clive commissioned Capability Brown — more famous as a landscape gardener than an architect — to build him the grand Palladian mansion we see today. Clive never lived in the house. Instead, after his death and a succession of new owners, it was given by the British nation to Princess Charlotte, daughter of George IV, as a present on her marriage to Leopold Saxe-Coburg.
It was the beginning of Claremont and Esher’s royal connections. The young Princess Victoria — later Queen — often stayed, and after the French revolution in 1848 she lent the house to the exiled French King Louis Philippe and Queen Marie-Amelie. It is now owned by the National Trust, with one of the finest landscaped gardens in the UK.
What there is to buy
Esher has mainly Twenties and Thirties detached houses on private estates and leafy surburban streets. There are also spacious modern flats and a few streets of Victorian workmen’s cottages. Of particular note are the fine Arts & Crafts houses in Clive Road and Clare Hill, featuring mellow red brick, leaded windows, gable ends and long sweeping tiled roofs — the work of the famed local architect George Blair Imrie.
The most expensive home currently for sale is Mulberry House, a six-bedroom house overlooking Claremont Park Golf Course — it’s on the market through Knight Frank (01372 231141) for £3.95 million. The most expensive rental property is historic five-bedroom Wayneflete Tower, a Grade I- listed Tudor tower in Pelham Walk which can be rented for £13,000 a month through CHK (01372 231107).
Richard Winter, of the Esher office of estate agents Savills, says the market for houses up to £2 million remains strong, as does demand for houses in the £3 million-plus price bracket on the private estates.
The area attracts: Richard Winter says the area has benefited from the “south-west London effect”, with many families cashing in on the growth in property prices in areas such as Wandsworth and Putney and moving out to Esher to get more outdoor space. This is also an area popular with footballers — the Chelsea training ground is in nearby Cobham — who buy large, newly built mansions.
Staying power: once settled in Esher, people do tend to stay as there is scope to trade both up and down.
Renting: Charlotte Howard, lettings manager at Savills, says there is demand across the board, from two-bedroom cottages to spacious flats to family houses. “There is a shortage of homes to rent and the choice is limited, so good properties are snapped up in days, often before they are even advertised,” she explains.
Best roads: Blackhills, Clare Hill, Esher Park Avenue and Claremont Park Road.
What’s new: Princess Square is a development of six townhouses, 12 two- and three-bedroom flats, plus nine flats in the restored Milbourne House in Copsem Avenue, south of Esher town centre, by developer Royalton. Prices range from £975,000 for a two-bedroom flat to £2.35 million for a four-bedroom townhouse. Contact Knight Frank (01483 340622).
Hinchley Park (0845 026 4105) in Hengest Avenue, in nearby Hinchley Wood, is a Taylor Wimpey development of one-bedroom maisonettes and three-, four- and five-bedroom houses on sale for between £299,995 and £984,995. Aiselle Place on Esher High Street is a development of five three-bedroom modern townhouses by Latchmere Properties. They are for sale through Grosvenor Billinghurst (01372 231 271) with prices starting at £825,000.#
Up and coming: around Esher station and in Hinchley Wood, there are smaller semi-detached and detached Twenties and Thirties houses on smaller plots which represent value for money.
Schools: Esher has a good choice of both state and private schools: Esher CofE primary school in Milbourne Road is judged “outstanding” by the Government’s education watchdog Ofsted. The other primary school, Cranmere, in The Drive is judged “good”.
The two local comprehensives — Esher CofE High School (co-ed, ages 11 to 16) in More Lane, and Hinchley Wood (co-ed, ages 11 to 18) in Claygate Lane — are both judged “outstanding”. Esher College in Weston Green Road, in nearby Thames Ditton, is a large sixth-form college which is also judged “outstanding”.
There are a number of private schools within easy reach: Shrewsbury Lodge (co-ed, ages three to seven) is linked to Shrewsbury House (boys, ages seven to 13) in nearby Surbiton; Milbourne Lodge (ages four to 13) is in Arbrook Lane; Rowan Prep (girls, ages two to 11) is in Fitzalan Road and Gordon Road and Claremont Fan Court (ages two to 18) occupies Claremont.
Shops and restaurants: two top fashion boutiques — Oki-ni for men and Bernard Boutique for women — sit next to each other in the High Street, while Lily & Bow is a boutique with its own café. Esher is also a good place to search for a new kitchen, with a number of kitchen design shops.
There are branches of chain restaurants Pizza Express, Côte and Carluccio’s as well as Japanese, Nepalese, Thai, Indian and Lebanese restaurants. The Bear, a local landmark, is an old coaching inn with two bears surveying the High Street from their perch on the roof. Marney’s is a popular gastropub at nearby Weston Green.
Open spaces: Esher Common and Arbrook Common are popular with dog walkers. There is a cricket green at West End Village and the National Trust-owned Claremont, with its lake, grotto and grass amphitheatre, offers one of the country’s finest landscape gardens.
Leisure and the arts: as well as racing and concerts, there is a ski slope and go-karting at Sandown. St George’s Church — a fine, mainly Tudor church where the young Princess Victoria worshipped on her visits to Claremont — is now the local arts centre, while the Esher Odeon is one of few surviving art deco cinemas.
The nearest council-owned swimming pool is at the Xcel Leisure Centre in nearby Walton-on-Thames. Moore Place is the local nine-hole golf club and there are nine-hole courses at Sandown Park and Claremont Park.
Travelling and commuting: Esher is close to the A3 and the M25, giving quick access to Heathrow and Gatwick airports. Trains are from Esher (23 minutes to Waterloo) and Claygate (32 minutes to Waterloo); the annual season ticket allows travel from either station for £2,012.
Council: Elmbridge borough council (Conservative-controlled); Band D council tax for the 2012/13 year is £1,514.09.