For those with lofty ideals ..: The rise and rise of Clerkenwell

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The Independent Online
It is a long time since anywhere in London was described as being on the up. At one time gentrification was like a contagious disease which swept through unfashionable districts. Over the past few years, however, it has slipped out of use. Places such as Camden, Islington and Notting Hill, - the first to succumb - have retained their popularity and prices. But other areas which were still climbing up the ladder when recession struck have slipped back down.

Now there are signs that one previously ignored place is ripe for the process: step forward Clerkenwell. Here trendification is of a distinctly urban, metropolitan nature. Instead of Edwardian and Victorian terraces, newcomers are taking over old industrial premises. The feel is more of raw-edged, New York loft living than the cosy English street.

You may have to look at a map to work out exactly where Clerkenwell is. Its main points of reference are the increasingly trendy Clerkenwell Green development, with the Cafe St Pierre and Lesley Craze's jewellery shop, relocated from Islington, and the monolithic Mount Pleasant sorting office.

To the west it borders Bloomsbury at Gray's Inn Road; to the north is Islington, to the south lies the City and to the east are the similarly indistinct city fringe districts of Shoreditch and Hoxton. Into this no man's land have come media groups, design and architectural practices and the less conventional partnerships of conventional professions such as the law. Offices came first; now homes are following. Incomers are moving to an area that has always had its residential quarters, tucked in behind old industrial works. Those most closely associated with Clerkenwell are the Italians. People who know the area in business hours are familiar with the delicatessens of Terroni and Sons and Gazzano and Sons.

The other established locals are the Jewish jewellers in places like Herbal and Saffron Hill. With the Italians, they give some of the roots and soul impossible to graft on to emerging areas, as some Docklands developers have discovered.

Two years ago the pioneering Manhattan Loft Corporation took over an industrial building in Summer Street to create its first development of apartment shells. You bought the space and services and fitted it out yourself.

Now, one of the men involved, Joss MacLeod, is taking the idea a step further. He has bought Warner House just up the road from Summer Street. A yellowing board inside the front door recalls its former occupants - Raybeck International. Inside, the two projects are broadly similar. You get a large, white space with high ceilings and vast Thirties-style windows which you divide.

But where the Summer Street site stuck faithfully to its original appearance, The Warner Building is to be transformed from its worn brown brick into a stunning white facade, crowned with flying buttresses - a look reminiscent of the most recent Thirties-inspired developments in Miami and Atlanta, Georgia. The lofts will be large - starting at about 700 sq ft, compared with 450 sq ft for most new one-bedroom flats. All have parking and most have a terrace.

For a large two-bedroom apartment of about 1,000 sq ft you would pay about pounds 145,000. That is before fitting a kitchen and bathroom. A comparable amount of floor space in the Barbican would cost about pounds 220,000 and have three or four bedrooms.

The people most likely to occupy the 25 apartments are those whose jobs have moved into the area. Around the corner from The Warner Building is Exmouth House, home to such fashionable businesses as The Face and Arena, the architects Munkenbeck and Marshall, and Isometrix lighting, which is doing the new Calvin Klein store in New York.

As workers have come, so have restaurants. Where once there was just the Kolossi Grill, now there is the transformed Quality Chop House, The Eagle - two minutes walk from The Warner Building - The Peasant and Stephen Bull's restaurant in St John Street.

Clerkenwell is also well-placed to attract some of the emigres to Canary Wharf who cannot face living in the Isle of Dogs, but don't want a 50-minute journey to work. A year ago Winkworth spotted the area's potential and opened an office in New Oxford Street. John Knox, who covers Clerkenwell, thinks prospects are good. 'You only need a few hundred people to turn the

corner in an area like this. They are enough to keep the restaurants open in the evenings and keep the newsagents going.

The main drawback is Clerkenwell's lack of green spaces. The view out from The Warner Building is unremittingly urban, but then so is the lifestyle on offer. The one patch of green is next to the church by Exmouth Market. If the property market continues to expand that may be under threat.

For details of The Warner Loft Building contact Pilcher Hershman, 071-486 5256.

(Photograph omitted)

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