This area, once unloved by renters and buyers, is now a first-choice address brimming with smart new apartments for the growing community of young creatives and bankers who suffer from the new-homes famine in the City itself.
Aldgate and Whitechapel, Shoreditch and Spitalfields, Farringdon and Fleet Street, Borough and Bermondsey — all are booming and will be hotspots for some time yet due to what Knight Frank calls the “unstoppable momentum” east. The estate agent forecasts 118 per cent price growth by 2016.
“Urban” since the Middle Ages, few parts of the capital have such a fascinating history as these City-fringe districts now in the forefront of a new enterprise economy.
It is easy to forget that this City fringe was a semi-industrial belt barely 20 years ago. Around 1990, most of the capital’s 29,000 printers worked in Clerkenwell, alongside metalworkers, clockmakers and jewellers. Shoreditch was famous for rag-trade sweatshops, Bermondsey for tanneries. Then, as clean technology arrived, redundant warehouses and factories were converted into fashionable lofts, homes and offices followed by bars, eateries, fashion boutiques and galleries.
Clerkenwell led the way with discreet expansion among its historic ecclesiastical buildings, and the pace of change has accelerated beyond expectation, despite the credit crunch in 2008. The fringe used to be in the shadow of the City, now it is in the spotlight, with showpiece architecture, most notably the Shard, advertising its arrival.
“Even in recent years the area used to be quite tatty, with backstreet workshops and companies working from shipping containers, but it has smartened up and is now hugely popular,” says Carl Schmid of Shoreditch estate agent Fyfe McDade. “City workers who previously headed west want to live here, and they have bigger budgets, which is pushing up prices and raising the quality of new-builds.”
A government-backed initiative to turn the patch around Old Street into a world-beating hub of digital and internet companies has provided extra impetus.
Bishopsgate Goodsyard, described as the world’s first “pop-up mall”, is a line of 60 recycled shipping containers, now retail units, forming a new “independent” street market. Eventually, the site will be redeveloped into 2,000 new homes, shops and offices, but that is at least five years down the line. Like revitalised Spitalfields Market, with its swish corporate offices and retail parade, the site is likely to become a place where bankers co-exist with the more bohemian designers.
Factory lofts are a Shoreditch staple but there can be quite big price differences between addresses within a two-minute walk of each other. The heartland around Hoxton Square and the so-called Shoreditch Triangle commands the biggest prices. The best apartments with much-prized outside space cost from £800,000 and rise to about £2 million.
Paul Street, very close to the City borderline, is a new scheme of nine warehouse-style apartments. Prices from £460,000. Call 020 7613 4044.
Hoxton Square is an attractive urban space shielded from council estates and the busy traffic swirl that surrounds it. Most of the square has been redeveloped and you pay a premium to live there. Coming soon is 20 Hoxton Square, a scheme of six large apartments and a penthouse. Prices from £1.25 million. Call 020 7613 4044.
Another trendy hub has formed around Redchurch Street, where gentrification was kick-started by Conran’s Boundary restaurant and Shoreditch House, an outpost of the trendy Soho members club. Values there are touching £1,000 a square foot, unthinkable a couple of years ago.
Redchurch Lofts, with nine apartments, is due for completion in spring 2013. Buyers may be able to buy a shell to fit out themselves.
Ixia in East Road is a much larger development of 48 apartments and has a distinctive façade of anodised aluminium gliding shutters. Prices from £384,950. Call Hurford Salvi Carr on 020 7250 1012.
Clerkenwell has become synonymous with cool urban design. It now has more than 100 architect firms, dozens of furniture showrooms and homeware stores, a cluster of advertising agencies and new media companies.
55 Gee Street is smack bang in the middle of this “design village”: six apartments (from 1,056 sq ft) with white resin floors, Lutron lighting, air conditioning and underfloor heating. Stylish communal parts include a specially cast concrete spiral staircase. Prices from £660,000. Call Fyfe McDade on 020 7613 4044.
With 170 apartments, Central Square is the area’s biggest project in a decade. Crisp-looking apartment blocks with ground-floor commercial premises are grouped around open courtyard gardens. Apartments have decent-size terraces, floor-to-ceiling windows and white gloss kitchens. Two-bedroom flats from £610,000. Call Savills on 0845 177 1711.
At Aldgate, bank admin centres are being snapped up for residential use. This is helping to animate a formerly anonymous district that was dead after office hours.
Until 2008, seven-acre Goodman’s Fields in Alie Street was a gated business park occupied by Royal Bank of Scotland. Berkeley Group, the new owner, is opening up the site as a new “urban quarter” — a mix of homes, shops, restaurants plus a public park and plaza. To register, call 020 3217 1000.
A cluster of high-quality towers is in the pipeline on the Aldgate-Whitechapel boundary, which planners want to reinvent as a commercial precinct called Eastside. Altitude, a 27-storey tower, has 235 flats due for completion in 2014. Prices from £432,000. Call Barratt on 0844 8114334.
One Commercial Street occupies a prominent corner site. This 21-storey tower has 133 apartments priced from £395,000. Call Redrow on 020 3441 2000.
The City’s western boundary ends at Fleet Street, which has acquired a fresh identity since the departure of the newspaper industry in the Eighties. Legal and accountancy firms have moved, triggering demand for homes from higher-earning career professionals. At the same time, old-style office buildings and workshops are coming up for redevelopment and spawning more residential space.
Coming soon are 14 apartments at Red Lion Court, close to Fleet Street. Prices from £650,000. Call Galliard on 020 7620 1500.
Five new apartments and a duplex penthouse are part of a big commercial scheme backing on to Lincoln’s Inn Fields by developer Hines. Another residential project is a redevelopment of Bupa offices in Gough Square. Call EA Shaw on 020 7240 2255.