London commuter homes in good primary school areas: where to find family-sized houses within 45 minutes of the capital
Parents of primary school pupils seeking a place to put down roots but with central London still within commuting distance have great options beyond the M25.
Where to buy for up to £500,000
With its pretty, historic town centre, proximity to the Chiltern Hills and great schools, the Hertfordshire town of Hitchin is a good-value alternative to swankier St Albans.
With a budget of up to £500,000 Joshua Bland, valuation manager at Country Properties estate agents, says buyers could choose between a three-bedroom Victorian terrace in walking distance of the town centre, or a Thirties semi with parking and a larger garden.
Hitchin is a user-friendly town with a good choice of shops and a full complement of family-friendly chain restaurants. Rush-hour trains to King’s Cross take half an hour and an annual season ticket costs £5,440.
As a big town there are 15 state primary schools in Hitchin, which Bland says are a “massive” draw to the area. Three have “outstanding” Ofsted reports: Samuel Lucas Junior Mixed and Infant School, St Andrew’s CofE Voluntary Aided Primary School and William Ransom Primary School. Another 10 are rated “good” by the schools watchdog. The other two “require improvement”, however, so parents will need to be choosy about catchment areas.
As an added inducement the area’s single-sex senior schools are also very high-performing. “Hitchin has got a fantastic community feel about it,” adds Bland. “Everyone who lives in Hitchin really loves Hitchin, it is just a nice place to live.”
Heart of Tunbridge Wells: The Pantiles is a Georgian colonnade now noted for its cafés and galleries (Alamy Stock Photo)
Where to buy for up to £650,000
The village-style suburb of Hawkenbury in south-east Tunbridge Wells has a great mix of period and new homes, and it is hugely popular with families because of the presence of two cracking primary schools — St Peter’s CofE and Claremont, both rated “outstanding” by Ofsted. Later in their school career, pupils can try for one of the town’s excellent grammar schools.
With a budget of £650,000 Ross Davies, a partner at Knight Frank, says buyers could opt for a four-bedroom semi, from Victorian to Fifties. Buyers who prefer new homes could look at Hollyfields (berkeleygroup.co.uk) where prices start at £580,000 for a three-bedroom house.
Davies believes families like Hawkenbury for its schools and its convenience. It is within walking distance of the centre of town and the station, there are a couple of local shops including an excellent butcher, and a popular recreation ground. The slightly spit-and-sawdust local pub, The Spread Eagle, has just been sold and is in line for a much-needed upgrade. “It is like living in a village in the centre of town,” says Davies. “You can walk into the centre of Tunbridge Wells, but if you go the other way you are in open countryside.”
The heart of Royal Tunbridge Wells is The Pantiles, a Georgian colonnade built when it was a spa town, and now containing shops, galleries, cafés, and restaurants. As for the commute, trains from Tunbridge Wells to London Bridge take from 44 minutes. An annual season ticket costs £5,508.
Where to buy for up to £800,000
For an affluent small-town vibe, leafy Oxted in Surrey and its neighbouring village of Limpsfield make a great choice, set at the foot of the North Downs and with a high street full of pretty timber-framed shops and pubs.
Property ranges from olde worlde cottages in Old Oxted to Victorian and Edwardian houses in “new” Oxted, which was developed after the arrival of the railways, along with some lovely cottages and farmhouses in Limpsfield. More recently housebuilder St William has been at work in the area, building Courtyard Gardens, 111 one- to three-bedroom homes around a central courtyard (berkeleygroup.co.uk). Three-bedroom homes start at £747,000.
As a practical plus point, commuter services from Oxted station to London Bridge take just over half an hour and an annual season ticket costs £2,356.
Between them, Oxted and Limpsfield have everything from a brass band to a theatre, a tennis club, plus an annual beer festival. There is a decent parade of shops close to the station and some cosy country pubs in Old Oxted, the heart of town.
Of particular interest to young families, Oxted’s primary school, St Mary’s CofE, gets the “outstanding” rating from the schools watchdog, as does Limpsfield’s primary school.
How one family found their forever home near an “outstanding” school
Taylor Dalton has just turned five and one of the great milestones of his life is fast approaching — he starts school next month. It has already been a big year for Taylor’s family. His parents, Claire Bradford and Warren Dalton, swapped the commuter town of Crawley earlier this year for a new house in a village on the edge of High Weald, West Sussex.
The initial driver of the move was the need for more space for the family, which also includes Louie, aged two. But as every parent facing their eldest child starting school knows, their choice of location was dictated by catchment areas.
Claire, 32, a hairdresser, and Warren, 36, who runs his own company, First Glass Windows, found their perfect home and ideal school almost by chance.
They were out for a country drive last November when they spotted a sign for Shanly Homes’ Clock Field development, 33 houses in Turners Hill on the northern fringes of High Weald.
“We were blown away, and we already knew we had to move,” says Claire. “Our old home was a two-bedroom coach house but a week after we reserved it I found out that I was pregnant with Taylor. So it was already going to be too small when we moved in.”
Having fallen in love with a £505,000 three-bedroom end-of-terrace house at Clock Field, the couple immediately put the coach house on the market and to their delight, the first buyer who saw it made an offer.
Simultaneously they checked out the local schools and were thrilled to discover that Turners Hill Church of England Primary School, within walking distance of their new home, is rated “outstanding” by Ofsted.
In February they moved house and the following month Taylor’s place at the school was confirmed. “I couldn’t be happier,” says Claire.
“I wanted to live somewhere with a village feel, and I can walk to the school, the local shops and the park, and there is a really good pub in the village.
“We have visited the school and it is lovely. They have got an orchard, they have chickens, and Taylor has been to a ‘settling in’ day already and he loves it. As far as I am concerned this is now our forever home.”