More For Your Money: St John's SE8

On the road to recovery
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The Independent Online

Now, St John's is a conservation area, but not many years ago this area had much in common with New Cross, a notoriously rough part of Lewisham with which it shares yet another border.

"When I first moved here 20 years ago, it was like the Wild West," says Peter Cottage, who manages the Oliver Bond estate agency in Greenwich. "There were drunks and drug dealers, and drug-takers. They would play chicken, scooting up and down the road and bumping into cars in the middle of the night. I've even seen people walking around with cutlasses."

What was it about St John's, then, that attracted him? "It has good period property, and at that time the prices were good," he explains. "I bought a corner site for £38,000 - an old scrap-metal yard with a corner shop and warehouse, and little stables off to the side. I converted the shop into a shop with a flat above, and the refurbished stable is where I live. I am building another unit in the annexe now. Prices have gone up no end, but St John's is still cheaper than central Greenwich. It is on a par with east Greenwich and Brockley."

A virtuous circle of increasing property values has enabled St John's to shed its Dodge City past. "This area is now quite genteel," Cottage explains. "It changed because it has good period properties. A lot was council-owned, and the tenants had the right to buy. They bought, and sold, and professional classes moved in. The Docklands Light Railway extension from Canary Wharf has also had an enormous impact. There's a small primary school in Albyn Road and the parents drive up in 4x4s."

The few roads adjacent to Brookmill Road were designated a conservation area in 1972, and enhancements continue. A new educational centre honouring Stephen Lawrence - the young black man who was murdered in 1993 - will open in a year or two near Brookmill Park. The centre will offer facilities for learning, mentoring and business development, a creative arts laboratory and urban-regeneration programmes. Lewisham Council also intends to improve Broadway Fields, an old recreation area bordering Brookmill Park.

What kind of properties are available?

"The conservation area consists of only six or seven roads, mostly with two- and three-bedroom Victorian homes," says agent Doug Norris of John Payne. "There are a few four- and five-bedroom houses, and one or two infill sites with flats. Many are owned by the council or a housing association, and the area never gets flooded with properties for sale."

What are the prices like?

Two-bedroom homes sell for between £240,000 and £250,000, and three-bedroom homes for up to £300,000 and £350,000.

Who is buying here?

"Our buyers are Canary Wharf types, young professional couples buying their first house together and planning to start a family. Ashmead Road has some bigger houses and a popular primary school, and couples with small children buy in this more family-orientated road," says Norris.

What is currently available?

A two-bedroom mid-terrace with 35ft garden on Brookmill Road is £229,950. A three-bedroom Victorian mid-terrace with a 70ft rear garden including patio and shed is £265,000; both are on the books at John Payne. Currently being refurbished is a three-bedroom, two-reception period house with a large kitchen/dining room (24ft 10in by 11ft 6in), small study/nursery (6ft 2in by 5ft 10in), and 50ft rear garden on Leathwell Road, offered at £299,950 by James Johnston.

What's available outside the conservation area?

On the immediate border, prices and properties are fairly similar. On Breakspears Mews in Brockley, SE4, a three-bedroom mews house with integral garage and 25ft rear garden is £275,000 at John Payne.

How's the transportation?

St John's is served by two Docklands Light Railway stations: Elverson Road and Deptford Bridge. The overland rail station is two stops from London Bridge.

How are the schools?

Ashmead Primary School scored slightly below the national average in English and maths but a tad above in science, whereas St Stephen's on Albyn Road was appreciably below average in all three categories. Addey & Stanhope secondary scored five points above the national average for GCSE results. Perhaps more important is the latter's fairly steady improvement, from 32 per cent in 2002 to 59 per cent in 2004.

What about recreation?

Long, narrow Brookmill Park runs the length of several roads along the northern end of St John's. The park contains an ornamental garden, refurbished lake, play area and nature reserve. The River Ravensbourne, a tributary of the Thames, runs alongside.

And one for the pub quiz

Why is the River Ravensbourne once again part of St John's?

The St John's section of the Ravensbourne had been isolated by a concrete channel. When the DLR was extended, the channel was opened and this section of the river was liberated.

James Johnston: 020-8858 9986; John Payne: 020-8858 9911.