Located where the A316 segues into the M3, Sunbury is sandwiched between pricey neighbours such as Twickenham and Teddington on one side, and more modest communities such as Hanworth and Feltham on the other.
A similarly sharp socio-economic divide characterises Sunbury itself. The train station is in the shadow of the motorway in the more congested and downmarket part of town known variously as Sunbury Common and Upper Sunbury. To the south is Lower Sunbury, with its larger houses, numerous green spaces and, at its border, a large park alongside the Thames. First-timer buyers go for Sunbury Common, primarily for its affordability, and, later, aspire to prettier, posher Lower Sunbury.
Although Sunbarie is mentioned in the 11th-century Domesday Book, and despite it having Victorian and even older homes, most properties were built during different periods in the 20th century. An array of purpose-built apartment blocks and starter homes cater for first-timers and young families, and older, larger houses occupy the higher rungs of the ladder.
Phillipa Tutt is a Sunbury native: "I lived here for eight years as a child, moved away with my family for 10, and then returned when I was about 20 and engaged to be married." Tutt and her husband, Gordon, a computer systems analyst with British Airways, are still in the Upper Sunbury house they bought 32 years ago, now sharing it with one of their two grown daughters and a grandchild.
Tutt admits to occasional bouts of restlessness. "Over the years, I've been tempted to move. Sunbury used to be a quiet backwater, and now it is busy, bustling, noisy. But Gordon works at Heathrow, and he doesn't want to drive too far to get to work." Retirement, however, will remove the commute factor. "At heart I'm a country person. When we retire, I want something quieter. We will probably move a lot further out."
Tutt is conscious of being part of a vanishing breed. "The houses in our part of Upper Sunbury were built after the war, and during the last 10 to 15 years, the last of our group who moved in here when we did have died or moved away," she explains. "Younger people are moving into their houses." Among the newcomers is their other daughter, who works in Chertsey and also lives locally, on the Sunbury-Ashford borders. "For young families, property prices are ideal and it is excellent for commuting to London or the airport," adds Tutt.
What properties are available in Sunbury?
The modern mix includes many small purpose-built apartment blocks as well as the 13-storey Isabelle House and its seven-storey twin, Priscilla House. Canary Wharf is visible from the upper floors.
How much will it set me back?
Studio flats start at about £100,000, two-bed flats at about £130,000, and three-bed semis hover just below the £250,000 stamp-duty threshold. A few detached houses have sold for well over £1m, but most large family houses don't exceed £800,000. A five-bed detached house costing about £350,000 in Sunbury Common might be £150,000 dearer in Lower Sunbury. Confirming the shift to a buyers' market, Tutt reveals that, recently, several nearby properties have not found buyers, even after price reductions.
What's currently available for first-timers?
A 12th-storey two-bed flat in Isabelle House is priced at £119,950 at Regents. The apparently bargain price - elsewhere in Sunbury £120,000 buys only a studio flat - reflects the relatively short lease (63 years), high maintenance charges and location. Regents manager James Whurr says that a lease extension costs £6,000. A two-bedder on the eighth floor is £127,500.
What about family homes?
A cottage-style three-bed, two-reception Victorian semi is on the market at £209,950 at Townends. A three-bed with original features and adjacent to open fields is £374,950, and a four-bed detached with integral garage, about £460,000, are being sold by Halifax. In Lower Sunbury, a three double-bed riverside house dating to about 1697 has 16-foot moorings; it costs £699,950 at Townends.
How's the transport?
Train times are about 20 minutes to Kingston and another 20-25 minutes to Waterloo. Heathrow is 10 miles, Portsmouth is 60.
How's the shopping?
Local shopping is adequate, with a Tesco superstore and an M&S food store, as well as a range of small shops at Sunbury Cross. Regional shopping is excellent, with Staines and Kingston on Sunbury's doorstep.
What about other amenities?
The Riverside Arts Centre hosts plays, films, concerts and poetry readings. The 32-acre Sunbury Park has a wild area, a walled garden, and Sunday afternoon concerts. Kempton Park racecourse is nearby. The Thai/ Chinese Blue Dragon restaurant is very popular, as is the Italian Café Capriccio.
How about the schools?
Chennestone Primary School is comfortably above average in English (88 per cent compared with the national average of 78), maths (77 vs 74 per cent) and science (95 vs 86). St Paul's Catholic College, a secondary, is only one per cent above average, with 55 per cent of 15-year-olds gaining five or more GCSEs with Grades A* to C.
And one for the pub quiz?
Why did the Queen visit Sunbury in June 2001?
She viewed the Sunbury Millennium Embroidery, a nine-panel tapestry worked on by 150 members of the community. It is on display at Riverbank, Thames Street (01932 788101)
Halifax 01932 785788; Regents 01932 787070; Townends 01932 785171Reuse content