Holborn's residential renaissance: London's legal quarter reborn with new lateral homes from Smithfield to Covent Garden - and Crossrail on their doorstep

New boutique apartments and luxe penthouses are springing up in the historic streets of the capital's elegant legal district, transforming this central London location into a top address.

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Few parts of London have as much medieval magic and history as Holborn, once a borough in its own right.

The district stretches from Smithfield to Covent Garden, taking in the Hatton Garden jewellery quarter and Chancery Lane’s Inns of Court.

It has been “urban” since the Middle Ages and still hosts ancient trades guilds, but has always changed with the times. It is not an area that springs to mind as residential, which is something of a mystery given its convenient central location.

Now however, it is having its day in the sun. Holborn is finding a new identity as a top address, with tasteful homes for a new generation of local employees — wealthy lawyers and accountants as well as successful creatives — who want to live close to their global companies.

Much of the new housing is niche — boutique developments in keeping with the area’s individuality, though bigger projects, including the huge Mount Pleasant postal depot, are in the pipeline, while the new Crossrail station being built at Farringdon will bring an added dynamic.

And whereas in the past the few new homes that were built were mostly modest crash pads, the latest crop are bigger and more luxurious, designed for seven-day living.

Atmospheric: Pink Mews, EC1

A rare new scheme, Pinks Mews, offers 35 homes in what could be a film set for a Dickensian drama.

Indeed, Charles Dickens himself wrote about the passageway’s sense of sanctuary in the novel The Mystery of Edwin Drood. “It is one of those nooks, the turning into which, out of the clashing street, imparts to the relieved pedestrian the sensation of having put cotton in his ears and velvet soles on his boots.”

Hidden behind listed Staples Inn, a splendid timbered Tudor structure, the gated cul-de-sac of Victorian warehouses was originally owned by the Worshipful Company of Dyers, a guild of textile dyers dating from the reign of Henry VI whose coat of arms features three bags of madder, a plant that produces the bright red pigment once used to dye hunting jackets, known as “pinks”.

Alex Stocker, boss of developer Sons & Co, says: “Remarkably, the mews is a conservation area in its own right, and is so quiet and private that even local estate agents didn’t know it existed.” For the first time, tellingly, Sons & Co has ventured a little east from its normal patch of Mayfair and Knightsbridge. “I can’t emphasise enough how unusual this development is — and how challenging the construction project,” adds Stocker.

Lined on both sides by six-storey buildings, the cobbled mews between is only 9ft 8in wide. A high scaffold with conveyer belts for hoisting materials and workers temporarily fills the void, while the road itself has been removed for excavation below and will be reinstated later. The dig has revealed medieval storage vaults and brick culverts where wool was washed.

From £900,000: homes at Lincoln Square, set around a garden square between the Royal Courts of Justice and the London School of Economics

Only the façades of the original buildings are being kept — renovated and enhanced by new Mansard roofs. More than 300 tons of steel provide the support structure for the new properties, a mix of lateral flats, duplexes and double-height, three-bedroom penthouses. One property has 15 windows and all of the homes have high-quality interior design, with stone, oak and marble surfaces, bespoke joinery, comfort cooling, underfloor heating and a Sonos AV system. “It’s the same spec we would put into a £10 million Mayfair home,” says Stocker. Prices start at £995,000 and rise to £2.65 million. Call CBRE on 020 7240 2255.

Midtown mansions: Lincoln Square, WC2

Since the Sixties, Holborn has been at the heart of the so-called “Midtown” commercial district between the City and West End. Alex Carr of estate agent Knight Frank says the area has evolved into a residential micro market, what might be called “the luxury fringe”.

Lincoln Square fits this description. Sandwiched between the Royal Courts of Justice and the London School of Economics, this stylish new-build scheme of 202 homes set around a garden square with woodland planting and a large lawn has a package of residents’ amenities — spa, swimming pool, gym, business club and library, snooker room, private cinema, concierge, underground parking and smart home technology. Restrained “contemporary-classic” architecture reflects the many heritage buildings that surround it. Prices from £900,000. Completion is due in 2018. Call 020 7004 0910.

A new boulevard: Princes House, WC2B

Holborn property values have increased by 162 per cent since 2003, more than better-known neighbours, but there remains room for growth as the area becomes more established, believes Jamie Gunning of CBRE.

The superb and successful regeneration at once-seedy King’s Cross and a residential revival in Bloomsbury have helped boost Holborn, which roughly divides into two sides — the more noisy and congested chunk on the boundary with the West End and Covent Garden, and the quieter eastern flank, towards the Old Bailey, where shops still close at weekends.

From £1,075,000: 20 new apartments at Aldwych Chambers

Drab office blocks from the Sixties and Seventies have created some windswept corners where the environment is less inviting. But there are some fine commercial buildings being converted into homes, especially along Kingsway, which city planners want to upgrade by turning it into a Parisian-style boulevard with grand flats above shops, cafés and restaurants.

Princes House, one of the handsome neoclassical stone buildings that line the street, now has 54 apartments on the upper floors. Prices from £999,995. Call CBRE on 020 7205 2165.

Legal quarter: Aldwych Chambers, WC2

Kingsway is perhaps best known for its underpass, which follows the route of a defunct tramway that was built in 1898 with the purpose of connecting the systems north and south of the Thames. 

This idea is being revived by Transport for London, which is looking into a cross-river tram link between Euston and Elephant & Castle. Step beyond the main road and you will discover small and intimate conservation pockets where the medieval street pattern survives, especially by the ancient Inns of Court. Aldwych Chambers sits in a cul-de-sac with an arched entrance to the Inner Temple enclave of barristers’ chambers and gardens, and also has “secret” steps down to the Embankment. 

This scheme of 20 flats has a new in-keeping brick façade that slots neatly into the terrace. Prices from £1,075,000 to £4,725,000. Call JLL on 020 7583 0793.

Historic Lincoln’s Inn Fields, where imposing properties overlook the largest garden square in London, is another hotspot, with several buildings being appraised by developers, who can draw inspiration from Number 13. This marvellous classical townhouse, a powerhouse of interiors ideas, was built and lived in by the distinguished English architect Sir John Soane (1753-1837), and is now the famed, fascinating museum of his life and work. As the Oxford Dictionary of Architecture says, the museum has one of “the most complex, intricate and ingenious series of interiors ever conceived”.

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