© Gareth Gardner
One of the most inspiring things about London is its constant cycle of invention and reinvention. Take Clapham, which has evolved from a semi-rural enclave where wealthy merchants in search of some country air built fine villas around its leafy common. Then, with the building of Clapham Junction railway station, it became a magnet for middle-class commuters and a very byword of respectability.
More recently it has been a favoured destination for young house-sharers looking for affordable homes and young professional families — all of whom have been very firmly priced out of Chelsea and Fulham.
Which brings us to today, when SW4 is enjoying something of a coming of age, with a cosmopolitan community, exciting regeneration plans coming to fruition, a new generation of sophisticated bars and restaurants — and all within incredibly easy reach of the rest of London.
Compared with its neighbours, Clapham remains affordable. An average two-bedroom flat costs £381,000 (and prices are doggedly keeping up with inflation, with a three per cent increase in the past year). In Fulham a two-bedroom flat costs an average £560,000, while in Battersea you would pay £454,000. In Putney, an average two-bedroom flat costs £394,000.
For first-time buyers on a budget a great new option is Grove Park — 28 apartments being sold via shared ownership by housing association Metropolitan (mho.co.uk).
The flats are, priced from £64,500 for a 30 per cent share in a one-bedroom flat with a full price of £215,000; £90,000 for a 30 per cent share in a two-bedroom flat (£300,000); or £109,500 for a 30 per cent share in a three-bedroom flat with a full market price of £365,000.
The properties are open to buyers with an annual household income of no more than £64,300 for the one-and two-bedroom flats, or £77,200 for the larger homes. And while first priority will go to members of the armed forces and those already living in public housing in Lambeth, applications from all prospective buyers are being encouraged.
The closest station to the development is Clapham South, less than a mile away (Zone 2) and with Northern line services to the City or West End. It is a couple of miles to Clapham Junction for services to Victoria or Waterloo in just seven minutes. It is also a mile from Clapham Common, one of London's most popular commons and scene of the annual South West Four electronic music festival in August.
Clapham Old Town — an area with so many bars and restaurants that Lambeth council has recently declared it completely saturated — is within walking distance.
To the future, and the whizzy new library by architects Studio Egret West, which opened in July on Clapham High Street, is a statement of intent.
This landmark building, part library and part gallery, has irregular windows studded into its curvy white façade. The library is opposite a new leisure centre, which has a 25m swimming pool and 100-station fitness gym.
Meanwhile, Clapham's café culture has been enhanced by the recent creation of a piazza outside the Clapham Picturehouse, which has a market at weekends, and housing association Peabody has just won planning permission for a £120 million regeneration of the St John's Hill Estate. Once complete there will be about 500 homes, of which 278 will be earmarked as affordable units for young buyers.