Independent spirit

KFH opened their new Sydenham office in 2021, so we caught up with those in the know to find out why the area offers something special.

3 May, 2022

The past couple of years has seen an influx of central Londoners looking to move out to Sydenham, but this migration is nothing new. The Crystal Palace was a truly stunning construction first erected in Hyde Park in 1851 to house the Great Exhibition, a rather elaborate international showcase of artwork from across the globe. Within three years, it had been painstakingly reconstructed on Sydenham Hill, remaining there until a devastating fire in 1936 completely destroyed the building.

Even today, looking at photographs of the structure up in flames brings a lump to the throat. Just as that building dominated any aerial shots of Sydenham at that time, Crystal Palace the area has generally been seen by property hunters as the more desirable place to set up home rather than Sydenham down the hill. But something has been stirring in SE26: schools are being widely praised by Ofsted, the independents have moved in, there’s a wide variety of properties on offer, and to cap it off, KFH opened a sparkling new office back in September 2021.

The time is right

“KFH have been market leaders in Crystal Palace, Beckenham and Forest Hill for over a decade now,” explains Julian Peak, KFH’s Sales Director for South East London. “Whilst we have enjoyed some success in SE26, we needed an office there to complete the puzzle.” Having been active in the area already, Peak is well placed to break down how and why Sydenham has suddenly become a property hotspot. “There has been significant investment in local shops, schools and transport in this area of south east London for a number of years, but Sydenham has always lagged behind its more progressive Crystal Palace, Beckenham and East Dulwich neighbours.

Over the last three years, though, buyers have seen Sydenham as representing better value for money with direct trains to Victoria in 15 minutes, some excellent shops, and great cafés, restaurants and bars.” “It’s a vibrant and thriving area with lots of green open spaces and good transport links into the City, and there’s also a good selection of schools to choose from,” adds Sarah Mitchell, KFH’s Lettings Director for South East London. “One of the biggest attractions is the wide range of different property types on offer – there is something for everyone.” Peak agrees. “In Sydenham, you will see a wide selection of one and two bedroom conversion and purpose built apartments, with many period cottages and family houses – but don’t be surprised to see some very imposing period mansions that have preserved much of their original charm, character and features.”

It’s a vibrant and thriving area with lots of green open spaces and good transport links into the city.

Changing face

To explain the housing stock and its variety, a look into Sydenham’s past certainly sheds plenty of light on how the area has evolved. For a place that throws up some intriguing finds off the beaten track, it’s rather apt that Hidden London offer up a concise overview of its history.

The area was known as Chipeham in 1206, probably the farmstead of a man called Cippa, and the name evolved in stages over several centuries. The last change, when the ‘p’ became a ‘d’, did not occur until the late 17th century. By this time two distinct settlements had evolved: one around Bell Green in present-day Lower Sydenham and the other in what is now Sydenham Wells Park, where the presence of springs with alleged medicinal qualities was drawing visitors. These two halves of Sydenham were subsequently divided by the Croydon Canal, which was constructed from 1801, and by Westwood Common, which was enclosed in the 1810s.

“That’s one of the historical facts I love about the area,” Peak says. “The canal used to stretch from Croydon to London Bridge and went straight through Sydenham and South Norwood. This was the main transport mode for transporting goods and smuggling, but in 1836 it was closed and the railway was built on the old canal bed.” When the canal company went bankrupt, a railway line was laid along the course of the filled-in canal and Sydenham station opened in 1839, after which houses for wealthy Londoners began to appear on the former common.

The aforementioned arrival of The Crystal Palace on the southern ridge of Sydenham Hill in the south-west corner of the district transmuted the fortunes of the extended village. Improvements in communications made Sydenham the best connected place south of the Thames, and hotels and every kind of amenity catered to the needs of the tens of thousands of tourists. Grand houses were built for the new residents in Upper Sydenham and Lawrie Park.

Many of Sydenham’s grandest houses were eventually replaced by homes for the new breed of commuter, while municipal estates were built in several corners, for example at Sheenewood in Lawrie Park, High Level Drive in Upper Sydenham, the Dacres estate in Lower Sydenham, in the Kirkdale area north of Sydenham station, and at Bell Green. On Dartmouth Road, Sydenham School was greatly enlarged to become a comprehensive in 1957. Despite the changes, the hilly terrain and surviving vestiges of its Victorian heyday continue to endow Sydenham with a distinctive character.

The canal used to stretch from Croydon to London Bridge and went straight through Sydenham and South Norwood.

A new dawn

Kirkdale is where this story hurtles forward to the present day, with Peak explaining it has undergone a complete transformation. “There has been the arrival of a Sainsbury’s Local, Nandos, PureGym, Cobbs Corner Café, and in February 2018 The Greyhound pub underwent a complete refurbishment and is now one of the most popular gastropubs in the south east London area.” And, of course, KFH opened a branch here, too.

Visiting on a cold, grey winter morning, it’s certainly a welcoming respite from the bitter wind outside. Located right next door to The Greyhound, KFH's office is well-designed and spacious, and is a hive of activity. Siobhan Melaugh heads up the sales operation here, coming across from the Beckenham office and having 12 years’ experience with KFH. “It’s really exciting,” Melaugh says about her role here. “It makes sense to be in Sydenham.” Despite opening their doors during a pandemic, this hasn’t seemingly translated into any kind of uncertainty in the Sydenham sales market. “It’s really busy,” she nods. “There are houses we are selling within a day or two.” COVID-19 may have made working operations a little trickier, but it has seemingly had a different impact on those looking to buy. “With more people working from home, it has pushed them into realising they need more space,” Melaugh explains. “I have seen a lot of people move out of London. If they have children, they want to be closer to family for childcare, but to move from Central London to Sydenham you do also get more for your money – and with the transport links, you can still get back into the city quickly.”

One quirky aspect to Sydenham is that you have different pockets in the area: the high street leading to Upper Sydenham and Sydenham Hill, and heading the other way to Lower Sydenham. “The bigger properties are in Upper Sydenham and Sydenham Hill,” Melaugh says on the stock. “That’s where you are going to get your detached and bigger Victorian houses. There are a lot of flats in Lower Sydenham, but you can also buy a nice Victorian house for around £550,000. Then you have the Dulwich Estate that has been really popular with buyers, where you have the woodland at the bottom.” As Julian Peak says, there are a remarkable number of conservation areas in Sydenham. “Sydenham Hill conservation area is one of the largest,” he says. “Cobbs Corner at Kirkdale covers many of the large opulent early Victorian properties, Jews Walk is incredibly popular with its gothic revival style of architecture, but my personal favourite is the Thorpes estate conservation area, where there are just six roads, which all end in ‘-Thorpe Road’, and feature impressive premium Edwardian properties.”

With more people working from home, it has pushed them into realising they need more space.

The perfect mix

Courtney Earley heads up the lettings operation at KFH Sydenham and he says that the rental market is also flourishing in the area, highlighting the fact that there’s plenty to attract people to the area. “There are a mixture of properties and cultures too,” he says. “We have got a lot of families looking to rent, but also young professionals.

With Sydenham, there’s also a mix when it comes to rental prices. There’s the ex-council properties and the purpose builds as well, which are a little more expensive, and then the new builds and the houses. Location is key too, if the property is close to one of the stations or not. Then you have the greener spaces up Sydenham Hill. Rents in Sydenham in general are quite high at the moment, higher than before lockdown.” What’s abundantly clear is that now is the perfect time to move to Sydenham, and the arrival of this warm, welcoming KFH office appears to be the icing on the cake.

The rise of the independent outlets brings a certain buzz to the area, and the community spirit is clearly alive and well. The schools are well loved, recreationally there’s plenty to burn off energy, and the likes of Sydenham Arts hold a summer festival that is a real draw for culture lovers. Once The Crystal Palace stood head and shoulders above all else, but now Sydenham is emerging from the shadow of its namesake neighbour.

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