More For Your Money: Life next to the dinosaurs

Robert Liebman discovers Gothic architectural treasures and Victorian beauties in South London
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Penge wins few races in the familiarity stakes, but this compact south London district enjoys solid communications, a healthy selection of watering holes and restaurants, and a major amenity in its next door neighbour, Crystal Palace Park.

It also offers a wide range of properties that cost much less than similar houses and flats in nearby areas such as Dulwich and Norwood.

Affordable flats lure first-time buyers who work in Docklands, the City and the West End, and spacious period houses attract growing families and empty nesters from pricier surrounding areas.

In 1839 the railway steamed into Penge, and Victorian terraces soon followed. A dozen years later, Crystal Palace was reassembled on the adjacent hill, starting an even greater housing boom.

Penge sustained extensive bomb damage during the Second World War, and several apartment blocks were built on derelict land in the 1950s.

One block is on a site that took a direct hit from a V1 rocket, which also damaged a Methodist Church. It never reopened as a church and was converted to flats a few years ago. Fortunately undamaged were several almshouses - Penge's gothic architectural treasures.

Helen Hughes, her partner and their two children moved to Penge when their home in South Norwood became too cramped: "We always lived around Anerley and South Norwood, wanted a bigger house and found this great five-bed detached house near the almshouses.

"Our Dulwich friends wonder how we can live in a place like Penge, then they visit and are really impressed. We got a lot of space for our money, and love Crystal Palace Park."

An administrator with the World Health Organisation, Helen works in central London and often flies to Geneva. "I can get into town very quickly and Penge is also ideal for Gatwick and City Airport," she adds.

Roger Taylor and his wife Jean moved to Penge 22 years ago after they got fed up with constantly rising service charges on their Forest Hill flat.

"We looked in Bromley until Jean found this Victorian house just down the road from Penge station. We are in a back road actually, a quiet area not too close to the station. Penge is in the middle of things, only 15 minutes to central London and, in the other direction, to the hills in the Coulsdon area. We have the best of both worlds."

What do flats cost?

A studio flat selling for £80,000 needs work and is above a shop. If it were in better condition and in a purpose-built block rather than over a curry joint, it would sell for about £115,000. One-bed conversion flats can sell for as much as £175,000, which is more expensive than many two and three-bed flats.

What about houses?

Two almshouses converted into one in Waterman's Square has two receptions, new kitchen and two double bedrooms, and has just come on to the market; £279,950 at Kinleigh Folkard & Hayward.

Also unusual is an 1880 end terrace, originally used by an ironmonger, with a full-height converted basement, three bedrooms, two receptions, a garden and a garage; £307,000 at Mann Countrywide.

A modern three-bed with off-street parking is listed at £214,995 with agents TudorPark, although small cottages and three-bed period houses generally sell for at least £250,000.

How's the transport?

Penge West station links with the underground at New Cross Gate en route to London Bridge. Penge East serves Victoria with the Victoria Line at Brixton on the way.

How's the shopping?

Penge has a Sainsbury's, Beckenham has a Waitrose, and Elmers End has a Tesco. Helen Hughes can do all her shopping locally in Penge and Crystal Palace, and she has shifted her fruit and veg allegiance from Penge market (daily on Maple Road) to two new local Turkish supermarkets.

Also getting her custom regularly are Black Sheep, a pub and cocktail bar, and several restaurants - St Germain, Lorenzos and Tamnag; respectively, French, Italian and Thai - in Crystal Palace.

What about Crystal Palace Park?

The dinosaur area has been restored, but much restoration work remains in the park, which is listed.

In addition, some proposals are already highly controversial, such as allowing residential housing and a tram line in the park.

The campaign group that defeated attempts to build a major cinema complex in the park is gearing up for another possible fight.

How are the local schools?

St John's CofE Primary on Maple Road scored well above the national average, whereas Malcolm Primary on Malcolm Road scored well below. Cater Park Secondary School for Girls was also considerably below par.

And one for the pub quiz

How did singer David Bowie and writer John Mortimer commemorate Penge?

Kinleigh Folkard & Hayward, 020-8780 8725; Mann Countrywide, 020-8676 9201; Tudorpark, 020-8659 1005.

Where to find it

In his song "Did You Ever Have a Dream", Bowie says you can wander in New York while sleeping in Penge. Mortimer wrote Rumpole and the Penge Bungalow Murders.