Eel pie meets haute cuisine. Yesterday, Old Ford linked Roman London with Colchester. Tomorrow, it gets a lot closer to Paris and Brussels. Pas mal, non? Mais oi...er, oui.
Old Ford was named for an ancient River Lea crossing. In modern times, this enclave in the borough of Tower Hamlets has boundaries determined by two immovable objects - Victoria Park and the A102(M) Blackwall Tunnel approach - and two high roads: Grove and Roman.
Across the motorway is Stratford, destined to become a massive building site, even if the 2012 Olympics hurdle London. The Channel Tunnel and other major regeneration construction will proceed independently of the Olympics. Building work stops dead at the A102, however. Old Ford will remain a relatively quiet residential haven.
Gwyneth Holland made a huge leap socially as well as geographically when she moved from her native Cheltenham, first to Wanstead, Essex, and then to a period house near Grove Road, sharing the rent with friends. Now she is on the property ladder.
"I moved to the East End because I wanted to be near friends in Bethnal Green and near Old Street, where I was working," says Holland, a fashion journalist with website WGSN. "Commuting to the City from here was easy, and it is also good for Edgware Road, where I now work."
The area's appeal extends beyond convenience. "I thought the East End and Bow would be too expensive, so I looked in Hackney. But I found a two-bed Victorian conversion flat with a roof terrace on Roman Road that needs work," she says. "I prefer this area to Hackney and it is also better for the Tube. Roman Road is the real vibrant East End." She also rates Victoria Park and the area's abundant Victorian architecture.
Her six years in the East End have been marked by gradual gentrification. "When I first came here, the area was a bit dodgy, gritty, down-at-heel. But I've had no problems with safety or street crime. None of my female friends in the area had any problems, either. The many new people have given the area a new spirit and lease of life."
What kind of properties are available?
The mix includes period homes, brownfield conversions, purpose-built flats and houses, and low-rise council estates.
What's on the bottom rung?
One-bed ex-council flats start from £115,000, and private purpose-built one-bedders from £135,000. On Old Ford Road near Victoria Park, a recently built gated development has one-bed flats (450-500sq ft) from £165,000 to £180,000, and two-beds (650sq ft) at £220,000. On many of the roads, most of the three-storey Victorian houses contain flats.
What about houses?
Modern two-double-bed terraces with south-facing gardens on Annie Besant Close cost about £250,000. Unconverted houses sell for about £400,000 - less if they need work; but more if they have, for example, a basement that is or can become a separate flat.
What are the house conversions like?
The typical period conversion has two flats; the lower enjoying the near garden, and the maisonette above having a stairway to the far garden.
And the warehouse conversions?
At Connaught Works, near Victoria Park, the second and final phase of a warehouse conversion with new-build has loft apartments from 630 to 1,300sq ft, penthouses and four-bed houses (all sold). Bridge Estates is selling a 640sq ft one-bed for £249,995. Second-hand flats in earlier conversions are available at several developments, including Bow Quarter, with more than 700 flats inside the former Bryant and May match factory.
How's the transport?
The Central Line's Bethnal Green station is to the east on Roman Road, and Mile End station is south on Grove Road. Bow Road station on the District and Hammersmith and City Line is also nearby. The Channel Tunnel is scheduled to open in 2007.
What about shopping?
Gwyneth Holland gets just about everything from the local shops and Roman Road market. Also nearby are Columbia Road flower market and Brick Lane.
How will the Olympics affect Old Ford?
"A lot of people are already looking in this area because of the Olympics bid and the improvements in Stratford," says André Harriott, of estate agent Winkworth. If London is disappointed, work on the Stratford City residential/commercial regeneration and the Aquatics Centre will continue.
And one for the pub quiz
What is unusual about the "cabbages" sold at Roman Road market?
Answer: Here, "cabbages" refers to new and used clothing, as well as the vegetable. Bon appetit, mate.
Bridge Estates: 020-7749 1400
Winkworth: 020-8519 0006
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