MORE FOR YOUR MONEY: Forest Hill, SE21; At home with the Horniman

A new series for aspiring house-hunters begins today with Robert Liebman's lowdown on affordable yet attractive spots

The forests of Forest Hill are ancient history, but its panoramic views exert the same allure that enticed the wealthy tea-trading Horniman family to the area centuries ago. Frederick Horniman (1835-1906) was an obsessive collector of natural history objects and curios. Today, prime central Forest Hill accommodates the new, improved, award-winning Horniman Museum and its gardens.

Despite its museum, Forest Hill's profile has always been low. Overshadowed by leafy posh suburb Dulwich, and dwarfed by Crystal Palace to the west, it also suffers a double transportation blight: no underground and the A205 South Circular that cuts through its heart.

For local property owners, however, these shortcomings are a mixed blessing. Prices are lower than would be the case if Forest Hill were more cheerful or convenient. Six-figure sums can land even the largest, most desirable houses on the hill, and prices drop sharply the further south and east you go.

"Most of the homes between Forest Hill and Catford are small two- and three-bedroom Victorian and early Edwardian houses, so the area attracts small families with young children," says estate agent Julia Russell, of Wooster & Stock. On most of these roads, the noisy South Circular is a distant memory.

What's on the top rung of the ladder? Under offer on Ewelme Road and offering panoramic views is a four-storey eight-bedroom red-brick detached Victorian house with conservatory, a 150ft garden and a lower-ground floor that can be used as a self-contained studio, pounds 750,000.

...and if my budget is limited?

The numerous quiet side roads of Forest Hill East are bursting with two- and three-bed maisonettes and terraces costing between pounds 175,000 and pounds 275,000. A few larger houses flirt with pounds 500,000 price tags, similar to the price of a four-bed double-fronted Victorian houses on the hill behind the museum gardens. Studios and one-bed flats start at between pounds 90,000 and pounds 110,000. The closer you get to Catford, the lower the prices.

What's the transport like?

Forest Hill station is under 15 minutes to London Bridge. Catford's two stations serve Waterloo and Lewisham, which links to trains serving Canary Wharf and Stratford. Lots of car parking is available on the speed-bump- laden side streets.

Can you shop till you drop?

No. Forest Hill has a good local deli, and there's a Sainsbury at Bell Green east of Perry Hill. Otherwise, it's a schlep to busy Lewisham.

Where can I send the little darlings? Fairlawn Primary on Honor Oak Road, Stillness Junior on Brockley Road, and Prendergast Secondary for Girls in Hillyfields are highly regarded, says Julia Russell. The co-ed Sylvan School near Crystal Palace, non-fee paying with an entrance exam, is also popular, as are the fee-paying St Dunstan's College near Catford station, and Haberdashers' Aske's Hatcham College in New Cross.

Green bits - good or bad? Forest Hill is near to Dulwich Park, Dulwich Wood and Sydenham Hill Wood nature reserve as well as Horniman Gardens. A swimming pool is on Dartmouth Road, and Mayow Park has tennis courts and a bowling green. Nearby are Dulwich & Sydenham Hill golf course and Crystal Palace Park.

What's the local attraction? The 2004 Good Britain Guide awarded the Horniman Museum of the Year.

And one for the pub quiz: Who was a close friend of Irish poet William Butler Yeats, helped subsidise and found the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, and founded the Gaiety Theatre, Manchester in 1908? The answer: Annie Elizabeth Fredericka Horniman (1860-1937), daughter of museum founder Frederick.

Kinleigh Folkard & Hayward, 020 8699 1596; Wooster & Stock, 020 8613 0060.

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