Few parts of London have such a fascinating history as the City-fringe districts of Lincoln's Inn, Hatton Garden, Chancery Lane, Old Bailey, Smithfield, Temple and Fleet Street. They have been urban since the Middle Ages, as the surviving taverns and alleyways, old churches, chambers and almshouses testify.
The rich mix of architectural styles and periods — from medieval to modern — has given these neighbourhoods a distinctive flavour and charm. Until recently these have been commercial addresses, where established professions, guilds and trades — from law to journalism to jewellery making — have flourished. But this part of London has always moved with the times.
Investment bank Goldman Sachs has moved in, triggering demand for homes — main residences as well as crash pads. At the same time, old-style office buildings and factories, inappropriate for modern businesses, are coming up for redevelopment and spawning more residential space.
Many are small schemes of boutique flats, in keeping with the area's individuality, but larger developments, including towers, are in the pipeline.
'There is a definite drift east towards the City. Developers are realising how central and undervalued the area is'
Developers are targeting what has become known as the "Kingsway corridor", a patch lying either side of the road that runs from Aldwych to High Holborn, and tipped as a future hotspot by Jamie Gunning, head of residential investment at West End estate agent EA Shaw.
"There's an unmistakable development drift east towards the City," he says.
"Even Mayfair-based developers are looking for opportunities. More people are realising how central and undervalued the area is — close to the river and unusually quiet at weekends. We are genuinely upbeat and predict strong growth over the next few years."
Pinstriped commercial property surveyors call the area "Midtown" because it lies between the City proper and the West End.
Berkeley Group is soon to build 206 apartments at Aldwych, replacing a Sixties office block with six new buildings around two courtyards, while Galliard's Marconi House, with 79 flats behind a listed façade, is nearing completion.
Both schemes are moments from the BBC's Bush House broadcasting complex, the LSE and King's College university campuses, the Royal Courts of Justice and the Australian and Indian high commissions.
By incorporating a five-star hotel, Marconi House introduces a new ingredient to this location - top-level designer homes with 24-hour concierge services and a fabulous entrance foyer.
Such a package chimes particularly with international buyers (often parents of children studying in London), who see it as a cachet address. Prices range from £665,000 to £3.2 million. Call 020 7620 1500.
Kingsway/Holborn is cheaper because it is an unestablished address with less of a neighbourhood feel.
Several indifferent office blocks from the Sixties and Seventies create windswept corners where the environment is less inviting. Most of the best new homes are tucked away down narrow lanes and passageways.
Fetter Lane has acquired a fresh identity since newspapers left in the Eighties. The world's biggest "courts complex" (29 courtrooms) has been built at 110, evidence of the area's resurgent legal sector. Inner and Middle Temples nearby, with their barristers' chambers, are London's oldest live-work estate.
Coming soon are 14 apartments at Red Lion Court, close to Fleet Street. Prices from £650,000. Call Galliard on 020 7620 1500.
And historic Lincoln's Inn Fields, where imposing buildings overlook a garden square (the largest in London), is poised for a residential renaissance: it could emerge as the area's top address, according to EA Shaw's Gunning. Several buildings are being appraised by developers, who can draw inspiration from No 13, the wonderful Georgian house, now a museum, built by architect Sir John Soane.
Ten flats have been squeezed on to a pint-size plot at Great Turnstile, a passageway off Lincoln's Inn Fields, while five new flats and a penthouse are part of a big property scheme backing on to Lincoln's Inn Fields by developer Hines.
Another residential project is a redevelopment of Bupa offices in Gough Square, a courtyard address famous for Dr Johnson's House. Call 020 7240 2255.
Office buildings in Kingsway have struggled to attract top rents, which is why developers are keen to convert them. With intelligent planning, the wide street could easily become a Paris-style boulevard with pavement cafés, shops and designer flats.
© Glenn Copus
Kingsway is perhaps best known for its now-defunct tramway underpass, which was built in 1898 and coincided with a slum clearance programme in the Holborn area.
Hatton Garden remains the centre of London's diamond and gold trade, with 300 local businesses, many hidden away in workshops above retail premises. Despite the verdant name, there is no greenery, but plenty of sparkle to tempt homebuyers.
A warehouse once owned by Bank of England assayer Johnson Matthey, which established its precious metals business there in the 19th century, has been transformed into Sweeps Building — 14 flats with double-height ceilings — while an Art Deco corner building at 44 Hatton Garden has eight new flats and two duplexes with three bedrooms, all with views of St Paul's. Resales and rentals through Hurford Salvi Carr (020 7250 1012).
STRAND TO THE THAMES
Hideaway addresses in streets bordering Covent Garden are in demand, too. The pocket between Strand and the Thames is something of a residential secret.
Royal Society of Arts on John Adam Street is a telltale sign of the area's academic heritage, and surrounding it are some delightful listed Georgian terraces, including Craven Street, which cuts down to Victoria Embankment.
Apartments are being carved out of listed Aria House, including a stunning three-bedroom penthouse with great views that extends above the Playhouse Theatre next door. Priced £2.25 million. Call 020 7240 2255.