More For Your Money: Sydenham SE26

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The Independent Online
Just north of Crystal Palace, and that little bit closer to central London, Sydenham is subdivided into Lower, Upper and plain-vanilla Sydenham. Cheaper than Dulwich on its northern border, Upper Sydenham has an enviable array of large character homes, the best offering panoramic views and massive gardens. Properties cost less in Lower Sydenham, which is closer to Catford and generally less convenient and prestigious. This is the bargain location for smaller period homes.

Just north of Crystal Palace, and that little bit closer to central London, Sydenham is subdivided into Lower, Upper and plain-vanilla Sydenham. Cheaper than Dulwich on its northern border, Upper Sydenham has an enviable array of large character homes, the best offering panoramic views and massive gardens. Properties cost less in Lower Sydenham, which is closer to Catford and generally less convenient and prestigious. This is the bargain location for smaller period homes.

After eight years in a flat in Forest Hill, Ian Jessop is buying a house near Sydenham train station. This time round, he chose his location after extensive legwork and methodical calculation.

"My father was a steeplejack so we moved around the country and lived in a caravan. But when he worked on the Post Office Tower in London, we lived in Forest Hill. I was a child then but I remembered the area, and when I returned to London that is where I went," he explains.

As the managing director of Interact, a firm that provides theatre skills to the corporate world, Jessop did consider moving closer to his office in Kennington. "I looked at properties in a corridor from Sydenham to Kennington. For the same square footage that I could get in Sydenham, if I went two miles toward Kennington, the price would rise by as much as £100,000. Sydenham also has wider streets and bigger-proportioned houses," he says.

Square footage per pound was not his only consideration. "In Sydenham, you can still feel the way that London grew, as a series of villages. You get a sense of a complete community, and you also get access to London generally. The shops here are improving all the time. Sydenham's demographic has changed in the last five to 10 years. Many people living there now are self-employed or work in the arts, and this is reflected in the bistros and other shops that are opening."

Jessop is buying a four-bedroom Victorian house that does not need any work, "but is getting it anyway. I want to change the configuration of the house and am already discussing it with builders. The work will take about four months, and we will remain in our flat while the work is being done.

"The house is large, about 1,900sq ft, with many original features and a south-facing garden. The average bedroom is around 15ft x 12ft, with high ceilings. One thing that attracted me enormously is that it is a house without any small rooms."

What kind of properties are available?

New luxury flats at one extreme, 1820s cottages at the other. Sydenham also has some small houses that were once occupied by the workers who erected Crystal Palace in the early 1850s, mini-mansions and an array of Victorian and Edwardian houses. Gypsy Hill offers panoramic views, and Halifax Street is a conservation area.

What are the prices like?

Purpose-built, conversion and above-the-shop studios and one-bedroom flats cost between £100,000 and £150,000. Two-bedroom flats start at about £150,000, which also buys a three- bedroom split-level ex-council maisonette in a low-rise block (the agent is Galloways). A three-bedroom conversion flat, on the other hand, in a castle-like pile built in 1896 for the German ambassador, is under offer for £360,000. The largest houses with gardens attract seven-figure prices.

Is transport as dismal as rumoured?

Not according to Ian Jessop, who clocks 15 minutes into central London. On suburban national rail lines, trains from Sydenham Hill and Penge East stations go to Victoria Station, and those from Sydenham station in Lower Sydenham go to London Bridge. But big changes are being planned for this Tube-deprived area.

Tell me more

"The proposed Crystal Palace extension - from the tram terminus at Beckenham Junction to Crystal Palace - would provide interchanges at the train station with the East London line, and additionally at the bus station," says a spokesperson for the London Development Agency.

How's the shopping?

"Not brilliant," admits Julia Russell of the agents Wooster & Stock, citing only "Safeway on Sydenham High Street and a Sainsbury's Savacentre in Bell Green. A lot of our buyers ask whether we are in an area where Ocado delivers for Waitrose. We are."

What about amenities?

Great for walkers, golfers and the outdoorsy set. Dulwich Park has woods, a nature reserve, a golf course, tennis courts and playing fields. The smaller Mayow Park in Lower Sydenham and Sydenham Wells Park in Upper Sydenham each have a bowling green and tennis courts. Dulwich College is just west of Sydenham Hill station.

What about Crystal Palace Park?

The 200-acre park has lakes, playing fields, a concert bowl, a maze, the National Sports Centre, a television mast, and more than two dozen dinosaurs. The London Development Agency is taking responsibility of the park's sports centre early next year, and has an option for the entire park by 2009.

Might they banish the dinosaurs?

Unlikely. The oversized 150-year-old brick, iron and stucco sculptures are Grade I-listed and were recently restored. Victorian palaeontology had little concern for Mesozoic accuracy, but these imaginative creatures appeal to visitors of all ages.

And one for the pub quiz?

Which famous cricketer lived in SE26? (Extra credit if you can name the road on which he lived.)

Answer: W G Grace (1848-1915) lived on Lawrie Park Road. (Yet more credit: What names do the initials W G stand for? Answer: William Gilbert.

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