Nothing happens very much in Winchmore Hill, a sleepy north London dormitory, but when something does, residents notice.
For a short period in 1998, several new dog walkers appeared in Grovelands Park. "They wore trenchcoats and tried to appear casual. It was funny because they were obviously security men," says Audrey Kirby, who lives near the park.
The security detail was protecting the Chilean general Augusto Pinochet, who was being treated in the Priory Hospital for back pain and who was wanted in Spain for murder. When his medical treatment finished, the hospital wished he would leave "as quickly as possible". An increase in dodgy dogwalkers was subsequently noticed in Wentworth, Surrey.
The spacious Grovelands Park forms the core of Winchmore Hill, and the heart of the park itself is the hospital building, originally built as a private estate in 1797. Despite a pedigree including the architect John Nash and the landscape gardener Humphry Repton, the Grade-I-listed Regency mansion became vacant in the 1970s. "We were worried it would catch fire or be destroyed," says Kirby, who is a member of the Southgate District Civic Trust. "Priory Hospitals Group rescued it."
A senior lecturer at St Martins who has nearly completed a PhD in design history, Kirby lives in a three-bedroom terrace that, like the hospital, needed more than a lick of paint. "We bought it about 25 years ago, when our son was five. We were living in Enfield and wanted something bigger. I'd long admired this house, which had not been modernised and still had its original features."
These original features were the mod cons of the 19th century. "It had five coal-bins, a gaslight and an outdoor toilet, which my son thought was great fun. Fortunately it was summer." The house had electricity, recently installed by the developer from whom the Kirbys bought the house.
Winchmore Hill has excellent state and public schools, good road and rail links, several shopping areas, and numerous small parks in addition to the massive Grovelands.
Paul Mason, the manager of Townends estate agents, notes that "it also has an east/west divide at Green Lanes. The west side is more expensive because it is closer to transport and has older and nicer houses. The snob value is greater too. Frank Ifield and Rod Stewart used to live there, and Jamie Redknapp and his pop-singer wife Louise are residents."
How much do flats cost?
Studio flats are rare and start at about £140,000. Townends are selling a first-floor conversion flat on Haslemere Road for £174,950, and a ground-floor conversion with 33ft garden on Compton Road for £199,950. A two-bed conversion on Elm Park Road with 65ft garden and shared freehold is £245,000.
What about entry-level three-bed houses?
A mid-terrace with downstairs bathroom, garage and 40-foot garden east of Green Lanes is £264,995. Also east of Green Lanes and £20,000 dearer is a semi with garage and slightly larger garden and first-floor bathroom, £285,000; both at St Marks estate agents.
And larger family homes?
A four-bed semi on Ridge Road on the "wrong" side of Green Lanes, but on the right side of two sizeable parks with tennis courts and playing fields, is £499,950. Smaller (1,494 square feet) but more expensive at £519,950 is a four-bed on Green Moor Link near the train station. Larger (2,115 square feet) at £639,950 is an extended four-bed on the prestigious Oaklands. All are at Townends.
What's on the next rung?
A five-bed, three-reception, detached house with 90ft garden and integral garage in a cul de sac on Beaulieu Gardens is near £825,000. The house is convenient for the Paulin Ground, a park with tennis courts and a wooded area. The agent is Bennett Walden.
What about transport?
For the City, Winchmore Hill national rail station serves Moorgate (Kings Cross at weekends). For the West End, Finsbury Park is six stops south of Winchmore Hill, on the Piccadilly and Victoria Lines.
And wining and dining?
Several shopping precincts in Winchmore Hill offer supermarkets, various ethnic and family restaurants, a butcher and other local shops. Nearby Enfield is a major shopping centre.
What about greenery?
Grovelands has a bandstand, numerous football pitches, and other athletic facilities and children's playgrounds. Just north are Oaklands and Bush Hill Park, which has a golf course. The Paulin Ground is one of several recreational areas east of Green Lanes.
How good are the schools?
Highlands is a specialist school for technology and modern languages. Several primaries - including St Paul's, Grange and Eversley - score 20 or more points above the average in English, maths and science.
And one for the pub quiz
Born in Coventry to Australian parents, Ifield was: (a) a ventriloquist (b) a contortionist; (c) a magician: (d) a yodeller (e) a juggler.
Answer: (d). He had hits including "I Remember You", "The Wayward Wind" and "Lovesick Blues."
Bennett Walden, 020-8886 1666; St Marks 020-8373 7777; Townends, 020- 8360 8111Reuse content