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Hot Spot The Tonsleys, Wandsworth: The suburbs that time forgot

THERE MUST be a sewage treatment plant around here somewhere. The Tonsleys have just about everything else, from a solid waste transfer station to an overstuffed multi-lane one-way system and monstrous roundabouts. Until recently, even massive gas works separated the Tonsleys from the nearby Thames.

The closest that most people get to the Tonsleys is when the Waterloo- bound train stops at Wandsworth Town station, on Old York Road. The station marks the northern edge of this self-contained pocket of period cottages and other houses, which have remained unchanged as the modern world whizzed by.

Even neighbours who live elsewhere in Wandsworth tend to be unaware of the Tonsleys, and for good reason. You have to dodge persistent heavy traffic to get to them and, until recently, outsiders had little reason to go there. For some, a spate of good restaurants is now reason enough.

"The Old York Road used to be the South Circular," says Sheila Fernando, of Realm Estate Agents. But then grants were made available "to do up the shop fronts and widen the pavements". A potentially charming area started to realise its potential.

For hundreds of years, up to the early decades of this century, Wandsworth was a busy industrial centre, and the Tonsleys housed local workers. Now, with Waterloo Station less than 15 minutes away by rail, the Tonsleys are attracting a different kind of breadwinner.

Pete Shorthouse, a City stockbroker, rented before buying a little over a year ago. "The Tonsleys have changed from desolate to bustling during the last 10 years." he says. "On Old York Road, there are five restaurants, convenience stores, three hairdressers, two estate agents and three pubs."

It is not easy to move into the Tonsleys. "There are only about 600 homes in all," says Nick Cound, who, with his sister Sarah, runs Cound estate agents. There are some four- and five-bedroom homes, but three-bedroom homes and small, two-bedroom cottages predominate.

Homes therefore change hands frequently. "The average turnover is three to four years," says Fernando. Because of the village atmosphere and convenient transport, the Tonsleys attract young professional couples who, living in small properties, have to begin thinking of moving when they start planning to have children. Some move to a larger house within the Tonsleys, but when the next child arrives they have to move again, out of the Tonsleys altogether.

On the other side of the tracks, more than 400 luxury flats are rapidly rising at Riverside West, on the site of the former gas works. The development, by St George, features one-bedroom flats for pounds 125,000, rising to nearly pounds 400,000 for three-bedroom apartments.

The Low-down

Prices: Prices are high. Two-bed room cottages start at pounds 245,000; 3-bed houses are pounds 280,000, and a fourth bedroom costs an additional pounds 30,000. Flats are rare, but a recent conversion on Marcus Street has sprouted five apartments priced from pounds 165,000 to pounds 189,000, with the garden flat going for pounds 199,950.

Coming Soon to a River Near You: In addition to the 434 flats at Riverside West, St George's new development will include restaurants and cafes, a hotel, a health and leisure centre, a piazza, and a riverside walkway and bicycle path.

Transport: Wandsworth Town station is one stop from Clapham Junction, which connects to trains to Olympia and Willesden Junction. Clapham Junction is within (longish) walking distance, as is East Putney station on the District Line. Bus service over Wandsworth Bridge into Fulham is yet another option.

Council tax: For the Tonsleys (Wandsworth has two council tax areas), Band A is a mere pounds 212, and Band H is pounds 637.

Schools: Few children of school age means few schools. St Faith Church of England primary school is in the Tonsleys, and Allfarthing School and Swaffield School are just outside it, as is South Thames College.

Gastronomy: The pubs, especially the Alma and the Royal Standard, are as popular as they are attractive. A fish, a Mexican, a bistro and other restaurants "are full most nights," says Sarah Cound.

Estate Agents: Cound & Co (0181 877 1166) and Realm Estates (0181 871 2633) are within the Tonsleys. Bushells (0171 924 3888) is outside but its coverage area includes the Tonsleys, along with neighbouring districts.