© Rex Features
London has many attractive urban villages, from high profile Wimbledon to Hampstead with its lanes and cottages, mansions and acres of common land. But its most atmospheric inner city enclave must surely be Limehouse, an east London Thameside postcode so intriguing that it inspired both Charles Dickens and Conan Doyle to imagine grisly goings on in seedy opium dens.
This former dockyard is today so painfully cool that slick apartments sell for almost prime central London prices (a duplex in Narrow Street, where Gordon Ramsay owns a gastropub, The Narrow, is currently on the market for £2.5 million) while tiny period houses sell for about £550,000.
'A pocket of affordability has been discovered in an area that is very expensive'
So, Limehouse is out of bounds for first-time buyers, then? Well, this month housing association A2 Dominion New Homes launches a collection of 32 shared ownership flats at its Aspire @ E14 development, giving young Londoners a chance to live the Limehouse lifestyle for less than £90,000. The flats will be ready to move into in June, and a 40 per cent share of a one-bedroom flat will cost £88,000.
Monthly rent for the portion of the flat retained by the association will be £220 per month, plus about £95 in service charges. A 40 per cent share in a two-bedroom flat will cost £106,000, with monthly rental of £265, and the service charge. There are also some three-bedroom flats, and a 40 per cent share of one of these larger units will cost £126,000 plus a rent of £315, as well as the service charge.
Tariq Qureshi, sales and marketing director of A2 Dominion, says that it is this affordability which is the major benefit of the scheme — he points out that renting a one bedroom flat in the area costs around £1,000 a month.
Developers do have a habit of being a little imaginative when it comes to describing the location of their schemes and it has to be said that CQ London is on the wrong side of Commercial Road to be described as right in the heartland of Limehouse.
"What we have done is discovered a pocket of affordability in an area that is very expensive, so that you can get the same lifestyle and hopefully there will be some market growth in the next four to five years," says Qureshi.
And to be fair the development is only a five-minute walk to the centre of Limehouse and its excellent transport links via the Docklands Light Railway direct to Canary Wharf and the City (both less than 10 minutes' travel time) which will make the homes very appealing to young workers in the finance sector.
The specification of the scheme is also good — contemporary kitchens by German manufacturer Alno, neutrally tiled bathrooms and wood and carpet floors. Solar panels will provide hot water to the development and at a cost that will undercut power company prices.
The vast majority of the flats have private outside space — balconies, terraces or sunken gardens — and some have en suite bathrooms. The development has some parking space and there is also access to a car club.
And Gordon Ramsay is not the only household name with a pub in the area. Sir Ian McKellen, a long-time resident, is the co-owner of The Grapes, a historic pub where Dickens once drank.
This part of Limehouse is spectacular, with some handsome early Georgian terraces, and a great Hawksmoor church, St Anne's Limehouse (quirkily a pyramid that the great architect intended to place atop the church's tower was for reasons now forgotten never erected and now stands in the graveyard).
The Limehouse Basin is picturesque, with a great walk along the Limehouse Cut canal to Mile End Park. There is also talk of launching a boat service to take visitors direct from Limehouse to the Olympic Park.
The Thirties Troxy Cinema has music, sporting events and — a recent and popular addition to the programme — screenings of Bugsy Malone where the audience is encouraged to dress up and attack each other with splurge guns.
While east London schools don't enjoy the most stellar reputation, the Sir William Burrough Primary School and the Sir John Cass Foundation and Redcoat Church of England Secondary School have both been judged as "outstanding" by Ofsted.