Who needs the rest of London?

Bedford Park residents live in a world of their own
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The Independent Online

At the start of the last century, it was marketed as "the healthiest place in the world". "Annual death rate of under six per thousand," boasted one estate agent's advertisement, adding for good measure: "The estate is built on gravelly soil and has the most approved sanitary arrangements."

At the start of the last century, it was marketed as "the healthiest place in the world". "Annual death rate of under six per thousand," boasted one estate agent's advertisement, adding for good measure: "The estate is built on gravelly soil and has the most approved sanitary arrangements."

When it came to seeking out residential areas with the highest standards of hygiene and the lowest risk of communicable disease, nowhere fitted the bill better for the average Edwardian homebuyer than beautiful Bedford Park, in Chiswick. And even though cholera no longer stalks the capital's streets, this small corner of London continues to offer healthy returns, 130 years after it was built.

In 1875 wealthy cloth merchant Jonathan Carr had the idea of creating what Sir John Betjeman later called "the best and earliest of garden suburbs" on a 24-acre patch of land next to Turnham Green tube station.

Opting for quality rather than quantity, Carr hired some of the most talented designers, including Richard Norman Shaw, who went on to build Albert Hall Mansions and New Scotland Yard. The result was spectacular and symmetrical, suburban and bohemian.

Take a walk today around the 23 streets that make up Bedford Park, and it's like travelling from Copenhagen to Hampton Court via Amsterdam. Rectangular Tudor chimney stacks sprout dramatically from curved Dutch gables, while towering red-brick frontages present a pointy-roofed, lobster-like appearance to the passer-by below.

Distinctive? Individual? Absolutely. "If you were brought here with a blindfold over your eyes, you'd know where you were the minute it was taken off," says Lee Mohammed, of Faron Sutaria estate agents.

But baronial though these residences are (anything from £900,000 to £1.5m), they don't, it seems, encourage a castle-like mentality. "There's so much popping round to people's houses here that my dog seems to think it lives next door," says long-term resident Judit Teunissen High, who lives with her family in a five-bedroom house in Lonsdale Road. "Sometimes I'll ask my sons where they're off to, and they'll say they're going across the road for a bath.

"My husband and I held our wedding party in the street - everyone brought out food and tables. For the past eight years, we've held the Christmas carol concert in our house. Our neighbour built the tree house in our garden, the taxi driver down the road drove my son to casualty when he knocked himself out - it's just such a friendly road."

Unfortunately, Judit's husband, David, has a new job in Dorset, and they have to move. "We're looking for a place in the countryside outside Wimborne Minster," says Judit. "But I'm sure we'll never find a village as friendly as Bedford Park."

Another Bedford Parker who's sad to be going is David Salter, who's selling up after 32 years in Marlborough Crescent, one of the showpiece streets on the estate (along with Woodstock Road, The Orchard, Queen Anne's Gardens, The Avenue and Priory Gardens). "Our sons have grown up and my wife and I work in America a lot, so it doesn't make sense to keep on this great, big house," says Mr Salter. "But we'd love to buy a little flat here, just to keep a toehold. You've got everything you could want in one small area. If you live in Bedford Park, you don't need the rest of London."

Within easy shopping-carrying distance, there's half-a-dozen clothes shops, three patisseries, two prep schools and a delicatessen; plus two fishmongers, one greengrocer and the sort of butcher's where the queue is full of women telling the proprietor their dinner party plans and asking for advice on rack of lamb as against calf's liver.

There are estate agents everywhere. The annual, Bedford Park Festival has three estate agent sponsors (Bushells, Fletchers, Faron Sutaria). The Chestertons "for sale" signs announce the firm's financial backing for the new playground fund at Grove Park School, and Featherstone Leigh signs trumpet sponsorship of Chiswick Choir's St Matthew Passion.

In the 1960s, most of today's grand family homes were divided up into ill-thought-out bedsits, and were in danger not just of getting dilapidated - but getting demolished. Then along came Betjeman. An exhibition was held, under his patronage, to highlight the estate's illustrious past, and soon some 300 Bedford Park houses were accorded Grade II-listed status.

To this day, the Bedford Society, an all-seeing, all-knowing group of local residents, make it their business to advise on everything from gable repairs to colours considered suitable for the ubiquitous wooden fencing (ie white). The society has identified 35 types and sub-types of house in Bedford Park. Many of these were built in accordance with plans drawn up by Norman Shaw, who also designed the estate's church (St Michael and All Angels) plus matching pub (The Tabard).

The philosophy underpinning Bedford Park was one of aesthetic practicality: a marriage of rural charm and urban functionality. Within a few years of construction, Bedford Park had become a byword for attracting the artistically inclined: among its residents were the Shakespearean actor William Terriss (4 The Avenue), the family of WB Yeats (8 Woodstock Road, then 3 Blenheim Road), and Lucien Pissarro, son of artist Camille Pissarro (62 Bath Road).

But the people who create art tend to use a place and move on - whereas those who love art tend to stay put and look after the child left behind. In Bedford Park, that parenting has reaped rich rewards. Now 130 years later, this is a child that still brings pleasure to everyone who knows it.

BETJEMAN TERRITORY

* £1,495,000, six-bed, Grade II listed, Norman Shaw-designed house, The Avenue (Barnard Marcus Sequence, 020 8994 5432, www.sequencehome.co.uk).

* £1.2 million, five-bed house, Blenheim Road (Chestertons 020 8995 3443, www.chesterton.co.uk).

* £995,000, four-bed, Grade II listed, Norman Shaw-designed house, Marlborough Crescent (Kinleigh Folkard & Hayward 020 8742 8686, www.kfh.co.uk).

* £975,000, five-bed house, Lonsdale Road (Faron Sutaria, 020 8994 4111, www.faronsutaria.co.uk).

* £725,000, three-bed flat, Bedford Park Mansions, The Orchard (Barnard Marcus Sequence, 020 8994 5432, www.sequencehome.co.uk).

* £699,950, four-bed home, Esmond Avenue (Featherstone Leigh, 020 8994 6567, www.featherstone-leigh.co.uk).

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