At first glance, the Hillmarton Conservation Area in the Lower Holloway section of north London has more than its share of unsavoury neighbours: Holloway and Pentonville Prisons occupy opposite borders, and the troubled Market Estate and the similarly grim Caledonian Park form the southern boundary: once the location of a cattle market, this park has more recently been heaving with drug addicts and prostitutes.
Well insulated from the hubbub surrounding it, the conservation area is a pocket of attractive 1860s and 1870s period houses on pleasant tree-lined roads. And the broader area is improving dramatically. The Market Estate is being rebuilt and the park is being regenerated, Arsenal's new stadium is rising nearby and, just beyond that new facility, the old stadium's listed grandstands will become luxury flats.
The Kings Cross regeneration will transform the entire area to the south and this retail-rich district will get still more restaurants, shops and leisure facilities.
A native north-Londoner who had been living nearby, Nicky Leaper was unaware of the conservation area until she started flat-hunting: "I had been renting in Tufnell Park and wanted a flat in a similar area as near to central London as I could afford. I'd never heard of the Hillmarton Conservation Area, and only learned about it from the estate agent."
The area had instant and broad appeal: "Although the main roads are busy, you never hear noise within the conservation area. It is very green, there are nice old houses and trees, and good shops and pubs. When I bought the flat, I was working in Essex, and it was convenient to drive to work."
Now a project director for Imagination, a graphic design company on Tottenham Court Road in central London, her commute is even easier. "Caledonian Road tube is only a three-minute walk, and it is 20 minutes door to door," she says. "I always feel safe walking home from the tube station, and I still have my car, which has never been broken into or vandalised."
Nicki, now yearning for the kind of spacious garden that is rare in densely populated Holloway, has put her flat on the market. "I realise that the outdoor space that I want is a bit further out from the city centre," she explains. "I found a similar group of roads near Blackheath with old houses and nice shops. The buildings are two storeys instead of the four that we have here, and it is a conservation too."
What about properties and prices?
Hillmarton is dominated by converted flats in three- and four-storey Victorian houses; unusually wide, Penn Road is the most prized. Also in the area are small post-war local authority blocks. Two-bed former council flats start at about £180,000, rising to about £340,000 for a three-bed period conversion.
What entry-level flats are available?
A one-bed flat with sizeable reception and kitchen in Staveley Close on the northern edge of the area, adjacent to City & Islington College, is on sale at £189,950, and another one-bed in Hungerford Road, roughly similar in size, is asking £199,950, at Foxtons. A large two-bed maisonette with sole use of the garden at £339,995 is slightly more expensive than a three-bedder with part of the rear garden, £320,000; both at Drivers Norris.
What about houses?
A few buildings remain as whole houses but the trend toward conversion continues. Of two houses recently sold by Drivers Norris (both for more than £600,000), one went to an owner-occupier, and the other to a developer for conversion into flats. Foxtons are selling a three-bed, two-storey terrace with small (13ft) garden on Williamson Street, just north of the conservation area for £320,000. In the conservation area, roughly the same price buys a split-level, two-double-bed conversion flat on Freegrove Road which has a 28-ft southeast-facing garden; it is £310,000 at Benham and Reeves.
What about Nicki Leaper's flat?
Nicki's spacious two-bed flat with cast-iron fireplace and modern fitted kitchen is on the top floor and has a converted loft with skylight that she uses both as an office and as a guest room. The entire flat is about 827 sq ft (600sq ft excluding the loft); £279,950, with £125 annual ground rent and £50 service charge. The agent is Foxtons.
How good are the transport connections?
Caledonian Road (zone two) Piccadilly Line station is only one stop from Kings Cross/St Pancras. Camden Road and Holloway Road provide quick access to Camden Town, Highbury and Islington, and Archway.
What about shopping and dining out?
There is an enormous range of restaurants and clubs to be found in nearby Islington and Camden Town, and along the Holloway Road, which also has supermarkets and department stores. Nicki Leaper rates Shillibeers, a bar/restaurant which is also home to the fringe Pleasance Theatre, particularly highly.
How much local greenery is there?
The 19-acre Caledonian Park will continue to retain its original cast-iron railings and Grade-II-listed clocktower. Nearby, the smaller, four-acre Paradise Park on Sheringham Road has a football pitch and children's playground, and is adjacent to Freightliners City Farm.
Benham Reeves, 020-7284 0101; Drivers Norris, 020-7607 5001; Foxtons, 020-7704 5000.Reuse content