Hot Spot: Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire

With a charter dating back to 1539, this 'family town' is one that was well thought out from the start. And it continues to improve, says Robert Liebman
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The Independent Online

Just when you thought you had seen the last of them, three outdoor loos arrive in a row. They are included in a terrace of four period houses that has finally come onto the market in the Piccotts End section of Hemel Hempstead. More remarkable than the primitive plumbing are the ancient wall paintings that the current owner accidentally discovered, a series of 500-year-old floor-to-ceiling jobs dating from the late Middle Ages.

Just when you thought you had seen the last of them, three outdoor loos arrive in a row. They are included in a terrace of four period houses that has finally come onto the market in the Piccotts End section of Hemel Hempstead. More remarkable than the primitive plumbing are the ancient wall paintings that the current owner accidentally discovered, a series of 500-year-old floor-to-ceiling jobs dating from the late Middle Ages.

Hemel Hempstead is "a family town that is improving all the time", says Barry Draper, of Poulter & Francis. "As a new town, they did it right. They just threw up bricks in new towns like Stevenage and Harlow, but here they gave it some thought, setting areas aside for commons and football pitches." Hemel is also a new town that, seeing as its charter was issued by Henry VIII, has a smattering of old as well as modern properties. In both types, indoor plumbing is the norm.

"Most buyers are job relocators or locals moving within this area, and about three in ten are from outside the area," says Mr Draper. "The fast train to Euston takes only 20 minutes. House prices went through the roof, jumping about 25 per cent last year and early this year."

Less than 30 miles from central London, Hemel is seven miles north of Watford and an equal distance west of St Albans. Mr Draper notes that Hemel attracts buyers who find St Albans too expensive. Keith Giblin, of Michael Anthony estate agents, adds: "People buy here to get away from extortionate prices in London and Watford. Hemel is roughly 10 per cent cheaper than Watford and 30 to 40 per cent cheaper than St Albans." The prime areas within central Hemel are Boxmoor for period properties, and Leverstock Green for "large detached homes on well-spaced tree-lined streets", says Mr Giblin.

"We have good schools but Hemel lags behind Watford and St Albans for shopping and needs improved facilities," he adds. To remedy this deficit, £35m has been allocated for a new shopping centre.

The Low-Down

Transport

Junction eight of the M1 is adjacent to the main industrial area and only a short distance from the town centre. The M25 is three miles away, and the A41 primary trunk route has recently been improved.

Property

Housing stock is primarily two- and three-bedroom homes, with starter homes and ex-council properties also available. The most expensive detached homes with land are in villages such as Boxmoor, Apsley, Redbourne, Piccotts End, Bourne End and Potton End.

Prices

Studio flats, which are scarce, start at about £40,000 and one-bed flats at £60,000. A one-bed starter house costs £80-£85,000, three-bed terraces are £110-£115,000 and four-bed detached houses sell for £225,000 to £400,000. The very top will set you back £1m. Location within Hemel is important: a three-bed terrace selling for £100-£110,000 in Grove Hill might sell for £25,000 more in Gadebridge.

Very new

Fairclough has released four of an eventual eight homes being built in the formal gardens of Shendish Manor Golf Club; from £359,950. Selling agent is Cesare Nash, 01442 863000 or www.fairclough-homes.com.

Very old

Three of the four properties in the terrace at 132-138 Piccotts End are 16th century Grade I and the fourth is Grade II Regency. They comprise 5,656sq ft, in addition to a 32ft garage and 50ft workshop. The wall paintings, some two storeys high, had been covered by six layers of wallpaper and lime wash until they were discovered by the present owner in 1953. Guide price £800,000, from Lane Fox on 01582 764343.

Shopping

The new shopping centre will be located near the existing Marks & Spencer and will have an anchor store, hotel, fitness studio and pedestrianised link with Marlowes shopping centre. Crest Nicholson Properties has been designated by Dacorum Borough Council as the preferred development partner. Work is due to begin in 2001.

Dropping

Hemel Hempstead Sports Centre offers swimming, athletics and health and fitness, and Rank LeisureWorld has an eight-screen cinema, ten-pin bowling, a piano bar, a soft play area for small children, a leisure ice rink and two nightclubs, one of which is a waterworld equipped with flumes and slides catering for the younger wet set.

After Henry

"Like the other new towns in the post-war programme to rehouse one million Londoners recovering from the worst effects of the 1935-45 war, the rapid expansion of Hemel Hempstead began with the New Towns Act passed in 1946," says the council. Hemel's current population is 80,000.

From the charter

In the words of the charter granted by Henry VIII on 29 December 1539: "Wherefore we will command for us and our heirs aforesaid that the same bailiffs and inhabitants within the vill of Hemelhamsted for ever can have and hold the aforesaid market and fair... to be held in form aforesaid with the said Courts of Piepowder."

Estate agents

Michael Anthony, 01442 260025; Poulter & Francis, 01442 230600.

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