The train station says Hampton Court, and a nearby palace answers to that name. But the town is East Molesey. Hampton Court Palace is on the north side of the Thames, whereas East Molesey's high street, train station and residential areas are clustered on the south.
Cited in the Domesday Book, Molesey has mostly been a small, anonymous village that flooded occasionally. Its modern history, and its prosperity, begin with the railroad, which steamed into town in 1849. Family homes, many of them large, appeared on previously barren meadows and fields. "East Molesey is 75 per cent Victorian," says Luke Stagg, of Townends estate agents.
The town also has its share of 1930s homes, as well as houses and flats built in various periods and styles after the Second World War. The developers mostly had it their own way until a group of concerned locals noticed, almost too late, that a large swathe of period properties was about to get the chop. They formed a political action group, fought off the developers and formed the Molesey Residents Association (MRA) to ensure front-row seats at future planning meetings. "Those houses are now within the East Molesey Conservation Area," says Nigel Cooper, the president of the MRA. "Half of the town is Green Belt, but government pressure to build new homes is enormous, and we fight against high-density housing and other inappropriate proposals."
Cooper has strayed far from his native West Riding in Yorkshire. "I'd been working in Australia for six years, and before that I was based in Germany," he says. "When I returned to the UK, I had a wife and young children, and was working in central London. We wanted to live in an area that was attractive and convenient for commuting, and St Albans and East Molesey were the only locations that interested us. East Molesey is very green, two rivers pass through and three train stations are nearby. Our children went to the local schools and did well there."
Even after his job in central London ended, the family stayed put. "All of us enjoyed it here," he says. "Our children liked it here, too, and had an antipathy to the north. Don't ask me why."
What do properties cost?
"Whilst property in East Molesey is cheaper than in Esher, West Molesey is further out and is cheaper still," says Stagg. Although small flats requiring work can sell for less than £100,000, average prices are considerably higher. "Prices average £154,000 for a studio, £170,000 for a one-bedroom flat, £270,000 for a two-bedroom house, £378,000 for a three-bedroom house and £580,000 for a four-bedroom house," says Stagg. Houses at the top of the ladder sell for more than £5m.
What kinds of properties are available?
Period family homes dominate, but there are also purpose-built and conversion flats. There are also one- and two-bed starter homes. Taggs Island, between East Molesey and Hampton, has a large and well-established houseboat community.
Tell me more about the family homes...
A large Victorian four-five-bed semi with 50-foot garden and overlooking the Thames is £649,950 at Townends. Larger homes - 3,000 to 4,500sq ft - are available for between £1.075m and £1.25m at Savills. In West Molesey, a grade II-listed, five-bed, double-fronted house believed to date from the late 1600s has three receptions and a large garden, c. £850,000 at Curchods.
... and modern properties
A three-year-old, four-bed townhouse is £429,950 at Tredinnick & Bower, who are also selling a 1950's double-fronted detached house with 92-foot garden, and a modern four-bed townhouse with 30-foot garden, both for £640,000.
How's the transport?
Hampton Court station - a Jacobean building designed to be in sympathy with the Palace - is the last stop on a line from Waterloo via Wimbledon, which links with the District Line and Clapham Junction. A good bus service links East Molesey with Kingston.
What about shopping and other amenities?
The town has a Tesco Metro as well as a superstore, and Kingston, three miles east, has everything else. Popular restaurants include New Anakali (Indian), Palazzo (Italian) and Chu Chin Chow (Chinese). The Bell pub dates to the 16th century. Entertainment venues include the Barn Theatre in East Molesey, and Hampton Court Palace hosts a wide variety of events.
How do the schools perform?
The primary St Lawrence Church of England-Aided Junior School in East Molesey and the secondary Hinchley Wood School and Sixth Form Centre in Esher have results comfortably above the national average. The Orchard (ages four to seven) and St Albans Catholic Primary (four to 11) are also highly regarded.
What about green spaces?
Compact recreation areas and common grounds in East Molesey are supplemented by the huge Bushy Park across the river. The palace charges an entry fee, but non-members can play on the golf course, and its riverside path is open to the public and extends all the way to Kingston.
And one for the pub quiz
What links Peter Pan author J M Barrie to this area?
Barrie lived for a short period on a rented houseboat on Taggs Island, and one of his works was originally titled "The Houseboat".
Curchods, 01372 462000; Savills, 01372 461900; Townends, 020 8979 7773; Tredinnick & Bower, 020 8979 3111Reuse content