Property: East End's secret garden: Anne Spackman discovers an unlikely haven of tranquility in the heart of Stepney

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Bellevue Place, Nos 1-11. It looks like the entrance to a private tennis club. Step tentatively through and you find yourself in the property equivalent of the secret garden.

The path runs along the side of a high wall thick with Virginia creeper. In spring, daffodils poke through the green curtain. On the other side, behind a picket fence, runs a row of cottage gardens. The lilac, roses and hydrangeas are still there, joined by the odd hebe, clematis, buddleia and ceanothus, and borders of bright bedding plants.

The houses run behind, a row of neat, flat-fronted cottages, originally built to house workers at Charrington's brewery. As you walk past, faces appear at many of the windows. Some of them belong to Charrington pensioners, who still occupy a third of the terrace.

The scene is more reminiscent of a cathedral close than the harsh East End. It is completely isolated from its surroundings by high walls, which block out the noise, the ugliness and the aggravation of living in London.

John and Ruth Bell are typical of the newer inhabitants of Bellevue Place. He is an environmental researcher, she works in advertising. Their neighbours include a barrister, a clothes designer and a computer consultant.

When the Bells moved in six years ago there were no children in the terrace. Now there are several. Four of them were born within 18 months, including the Bells' eldest daughter Eleanor, aged three. The arrival of the children has turned a friendly street into an old-fashioned, thriving community. In the heart of Stepney, you can leave your front door open and let the children out to play in the garden, or up and down the path on their bikes.

'The older people love to see children around again, said John. 'They all brought up huge families here. They like to see things starting up again.

Most modern couples would baulk at bringing up a large family in a small two-bedroom house. There is one large living room, a kitchen, a downstairs bathroom, cellar and the two bedrooms upstairs.

Bellevue Place is Grade II listed, as are the fireplaces and the wooden panels on the stairs in the Bells' house. Although small, it is perfectly formed and very pretty. But they do not live in splendid isolation, cut off from the realities of their surroundings beyond the wooden gate. They came here, not just because they liked the house, but because they liked the whole area.

When Mr Bell was at college many of his friends lived in Stepney. He was familiar with the restaurants, Brick Lane, the markets such as Columbia Road and places like Rinkoff's Bagel Bakery. 'There are 40 Indian restaurants within a few minutes walk of here and a couple of Thai and vegetarian ones too. The Tube stations of Whitechapel, Bethnal Green and Stepney are all in walking distance and the City is 15 minutes down the road.'

These tend to be bonuses for young singles rather than parents of young children. What is life like now, as a family? 'This is a brilliant environment for small children, said Mr Bell. 'There is a park with swings around the corner. There's Victoria Park five minutes' drive away and there is a city farm over the road. Eleanor has probably had more contact with farm animals than most children living in the country.

They will soon find out if this is true. The Bells are moving to Worcestershire for John to take up a new job. No 5 Bellevue Place is up for sale for pounds 115,000.

Just along the Mile End Road is Mile End Place, another last vestige of Charrington's patronage. The houses are even smaller, often with staircases leading straight from the living room.

For those who cannot afford Bellevue Place there is a smaller cottage there on the market with Prevost for pounds 87,500.

John and Ruth Bell can be contacted on 071-791 2945.

(Photograph omitted)