Property: Hot Spot Kennington, South London - Nice and sleazy does it

Charming houses in quaint garden squares at relatively low prices, say the estate agents. Dodgy neighbourhood, says a jockette of our acquaintance who plays one-eyed hockey in the area. Her equipment bag attracts the attention of passers-by, so she keeps one eye on the ball and her other eye on her belongings.

High sleaze and high prices generally don't mix, but a large Victorian or Georgian house in a pleasant square sells in the vicinity of pounds 400,000. A council flat can cost a tenth as much.

This is Kennington, an area with gorgeousness thanks to the Duchy of Cornwall Estate, and with grimness courtesy of Adolf Hitler. Not coincidentally, Parliament is just across the Thames.

Over the centuries, the City attracted London's commercial activity, and Westminster attracted royalty. Until a few years ago, the Duchy of Cornwall (in effect, the Prince of Wales) owned hundreds of houses on 45 acres in Kennington, including the nearby Oval cricket ground. Most of these, many of which are handsome Regency and neo-Regency garden-square terraces, have now been sold, primarily to housing associations.

MPs have always had Kennington in their sites because of its proximity to Parliament. Luftwaffe pilots had Parliament literally in their sights, but they missed their target far more often than they hit it, and many of their miscues found Kennington, thereby preparing the ground for post- war council construction.

A price tag of pounds 400,000 is good value, says Johnny Male of Daniel Cobb estate agents, in that "equivalent properties in Clapham and on the other side of the river sell for twice the price, or even more." Some three- bedroom houses in the area sell for less than pounds 200,000, and a converted Victorian school on Kennington Road has yielded large bright flats which have vaulted ceilings.

Few shops and good schools are the area's weak points, although the former is palpably improving. "The area has changed dramatically in the last 10 to 15 years. Kennington used to be virtually all rented," says Mr Male. "Now, with some Duchy of Cornwall properties for sale, many more homes are owner-occupied. And with that, shops are coming in."

Kennington Park Road, Kennington Lane and Kennington Road intersect to form a small triangle. Prime Kennington is within the three sides and on its borders (such as Denny, Sancroft and Courtenay Streets).

The council estates dotted throughout the area vary in age and architecture but still tend to be predominantly council tenanted. As one local agent notes: "Your next-door neighbour can move out and be replaced by the neighbours from hell." These properties appeal to investors and also to owner-occupiers on extremely limited budgets.

Robert Liebman

The Low-Down

Prices: Three-storey early-Victorian houses can sell for as little as pounds 150,000-pounds 160,000 but, says Johnny Male of Cobb estate agents, in the squares and nice pockets, houses start at pounds 250,000 and "the lowest prices are really creeping toward pounds 300,000". A decent two-bedroom flat costs about pounds 135,000.

Bottom Fishing: Alan Fisher estate agents sells one-bedroom ex-council flats for less than pounds 50,000, and two- and three-bedroom flats for not much more. They also sell inexpensive split-level maisonettes and shop- flat combos with interesting residential or live/work possibilities.

Transport: If you are anywhere in Kennington, you are near good public transport. Kennington station (Northern Line, zone 2) is on Kennington Park Road, just down from Elephant and Castle (Bakerloo and Northern Lines, zone 1). Vauxhall Station is nearby, and several bus lines serve the West End.

Ministry of Funny Walks: A plaque marks the house at 287 Kennington Road where Charlie Chaplin lived. It is one of several Chaplin family residences in Kennington, including 39 Methley Street (through Daniel Cobb for pounds 299,950, also apparently with a Chaplin plaque) and 3 Pownall Terrace, which was destroyed during the Blitz.

A Clarion Call for Clarity: Some Kennington property particulars boast of being within the Division Bell Area, which (says a local estate agent) means 20 minutes by horse and cart or (says Our Woman in Parliament) eight minutes by foot.

Council Tax: Kennington falls between two stools: Lambeth exacts pounds 431 for Band A and pounds 1,294 for H, and Southwark insists on pounds 524 and pounds 1,573 respectively.

Estate Agents: Alan Fraser 0171-587 1004; Daniel Cobb 0171-735 9510

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