Historic Sites and Canalside Walks, with an Easy Commute; spotlightberkhamsted'Berko' Is a Pretty Little Town in the Herts Hills with a Big History of Dukes, Kings, Canals and Writer Graham Greene, Says Anthea Masey

The Evening Standard (London, England), June 12, 2013 | Go to article overview

Historic Sites and Canalside Walks, with an Easy Commute; spotlightberkhamsted'Berko' Is a Pretty Little Town in the Herts Hills with a Big History of Dukes, Kings, Canals and Writer Graham Greene, Says Anthea Masey


Byline: Anthea Masey

WANDERING down Berkhamsted's pretty high street or along its picturesque canal towpath, it is hard to imagine that this is the town where the author Graham Greene spent his formative years before creating characters such as the psychopathic Pinkie Brown in Brighton Rock, or the guiltridden and jealous Maurice Bendrix in The End of the Affair. Greene's father was the headmaster of Berkhamsted School, a private school just a few steps from the high street.

This small Hertfordshire town -- know by locals as Berko -- sits in the Bulbourne Valley, with the surrounding hills creating a green backdrop. It is 30 miles north-west of the capital between the towns of Tring and Hemel Hempstead on the A41 to Aylesbury.

Edgar the Aetheling, King Harold's heir, capitulated to the advancing forces of William the Conqueror at Berkhamsted in 1066. William's half-brother Robert then stamped his authority on the town by rebuilding the castle, the ruins of which are still a major local landmark.

Berkhamsted played a significant role in the history of Britain's canals. For many years the town was an important port handling everything from coal to grain and building materials including timber. The Duke of Bridgewater, known as the canal duke, pioneered the construction of canals. He lived at nearby Ashridge where a Grade II-listed monument built to him in 1832 -- a local landmark -- stands on land now owned by the National Trust.

WHAT THERE IS TO BUY Berkhamsted has a long high street with a mix of properties from medieval to Georgian to Victorian and later, and most of the town is protected by its conservation area status. North-east of the town centre, between the high street and the canal, there are Georgian terraces and flat-fronted early Victorian houses.

Two-bedroom Victorian terrace houses in roads such as Manor Street, Chapel Street and Bridge Street start at about [pounds sterling]280,000. To the south-west of the high street there are larger, later five- and six-bedroom Victorian houses off the King's Road, which, if they have off-street parking, sell for between [pounds sterling]850,000 and [pounds sterling]950,000.

Hall Park is an area of Thirties and later detached and semi-detached houses in the area of town closest to Hemel Hempstead, where prices range from [pounds sterling]500,000 to [pounds sterling]770,000. There are period properties in the outlying villages -- the most desirable are Little Gaston, Frithsden, Alderbury and Potten End.

Estate agent Christopher Raper, from the local branch of Fine & Country, says house prices in Berkhamsted are now above the last peak achieved in autumn 2007 and price per square foot is between [pounds sterling]375 and [pounds sterling]400.

The area attracts: the conservation area attracts young professionals from London who can exchange a flat in the capital for a house in Berkhamsted.

A lot of couples seem to move back to Berkhamsted to be close to family when they think about having children of their own.

The town also attracts downsizers from larger houses in the surrounding countryside. "We are also attracting buyers from St Albans and Harpenden, where house prices are 10 to 15 per cent higher than in Berkhamsted," said Christopher Raper.

Staying power: Berkhamsted has a firm following and, once here, families tend to stay.

Postcodes: Berkhamsted is in the Hemel Hempstead postcode HP4; towards Tring it becomes HP23, where property prices are cheaper and the postcode less desirable. …

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Historic Sites and Canalside Walks, with an Easy Commute; spotlightberkhamsted'Berko' Is a Pretty Little Town in the Herts Hills with a Big History of Dukes, Kings, Canals and Writer Graham Greene, Says Anthea Masey
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