Hot Spot: Nunhead: Back from the dead

A FEW years ago, if an area were said to be near Peckham, it would elicit the question: "How near?" Very near meant too close to a place best known for its high crime rate. But supersonic gentrification has zapped Peckham, and its spillover is helping to transform Nunhead, which had been a nondescript sleepy community mostly unknown and ignored except for its famous cemetery.

"Five years ago it was difficult to sell anything in Nunhead," recalls Martin Pascall, senior negotiator with Kinleigh Folkard & Hayward.

"Now, if anything decent comes on the market, we sell it within 24 hours."

Decency depends on the property's condition and location within Nunhead, the northern end of which has the overground rail station, whilst the Brockley-Honor Oak side is solidly residential. Separating the two sections of Nunhead is a green belt consisting of Nunhead Cemetery and Waverley Park, Peckham Rye Common and Peckham Rye Parks.

"The further north in Nunhead, the less pretty it is," says Mr Pascall.

"There are more council estates here, but they are not rough. This was not always a desirable area, but now, when the smaller houses come up for sale, they are really good value. Some are council owned."

Quieter, prettier and greener are the roads off Ivydale Road as it swings around the famous cemetery.

Houses in Nunhead "are the biggest houses in my entire area of coverage, which includes Peckham, East Dulwich, Camberwell and New Cross", Mr Pascall notes.

Chris Best, sales negotiator for Burnet Ware and Graves, also emphasises size.

"In East Dulwich, the third bedroom is a box room. Here it is a proper double bedroom."

Who lives here? "The older people made money on their houses and are moving out of London altogether. Coming in are young to middle-aged families, or young couples with one or two children. Many of them want more property for their money than they can get in Clapham or Battersea," Mr Best observes.

The newcomers are the original-feature set. Mr Best notes: "In many houses the original sash windows, floorboards and fireplaces are being restored."

On the other extreme are ex-council houses in Rye Hill Park, including high-rise buildings where mortgages are hard to come by. But with two- bedroom flats selling for less than pounds 50,000, a mortgage might not matter. "You could easily rent it if you couldn't or didn't want to sell it," says Mr Best. "Rentals are strong. A lot of people are buying to let."

The Low-down

Prices: Rock-bottom honours go to one-bedroom flats for less than pounds 40,000, but these are really glorified studios. Proper one-bedroom flats more typically sell for a minimum of pounds 45,000 but are scarce. Two-bedroom flats in good condition sell for pounds 75,000. A two-bedroom house is in the pounds 100,000 region, and the occasional four-bedroom house fetches pounds 140,000.

Transport: There's not much local transport, but then again Nunhead covers a small area, so not much is needed. A bus service along Ivydale Road provides interconnection to the overland station for the 15-minute journey to London Bridge Station.

Sports: Several tennis courts and a golf course are in Nunhead. Old-fashioned swimming baths are in Dulwich, and the new, ultra-modern Peckham Pulse health and fitness sports centre is in Peckham.

Nunhead on the Web: A search on the Internet brings up two web sites focusing on Nunhead, Friends of Nunhead Cemetery and St Thomas the Apostle College, "a self-governing Roman Catholic community for boys and young men".

Nunhead Cemetery: The London Cemetery Company opened two cemeteries in the 1800s - Nunhead Cemetery (1840) and its more ornate cousin to the north, Highgate Cemetery. The LCC gave up the ghost, the council now owns the Nunhead Cemetery, and the Friends of Nunhead Cemetery conduct tours.

Pointy heads: Nunhead Cemetery and area parks are patrolled by Southwark park rangers. A council spokesperson said, "the rangers are not men with pointy sticks who pick up litter". They organise nature walks and help maintain the borough's green spaces.

No heads: Legend has it that Henry VIII ordered the beheading of a mother superior, then an aptly named Nun's Head pub was built on the convent site. On some old documents, the area is labelled None Head.

Council tax: Park rangers don't come cheap. Southwark's council tax is on the higher end of the scale: Band A is pounds 524; Band H is pounds 1,573.

Shopping: The baker and many other shops on Nunhead Lane are excellent or improving. Supermarkets are located in Peckham and New Cross. Estate agents: Burnet Ware and Graves 0181-693 4201; Kinleigh Folkard & Hayward 0171-639 2029.