One of the last towns before the green belt and the M25, Orpington in south London offers a quick commute of about 30 minutes into London Bridge and the City, and a peaceful alternative for families escaping central London’s bustle.
Adding to the family appeal are good state schools, including two grammars, plus a regenerated town centre and homes ranging from multimillion-pound houses on private gated estates to affordable two- and three-bedroom terrace houses.
Chickens and a famous Liberal by-election victory are Orpington’s historic claims to fame. In 1962 the late Eric Lubbock, who became Lord Avebury, won a by-election with a 22 per cent swing to the Liberals in what was thought to be a rock-solid Tory seat, causing huge political upset and giving rise to the term “Orpington Man” — used to indicate a floating voter.
As for those chickens, the Orpington Buff, the Orpington Black and the Orpington Jubilee were all bred in the area by Victorian farmer William Cook. Today, these large, good-looking, fluffy chickens, which even have their own fan club, are mainly bred for show. In Victorian times they were also layers, each producing up to 340 eggs a year.
In 1897, Farmer Cook gave Queen Victoria an Orpington Jubilee, a beautiful speckled hen bred specially to celebrate her Diamond Jubilee.
Orpington is 15 miles south-east of central London and lies to the north of the A21 London to Hastings road with Sidcup and Chislehurst to the north; Swanley to the east; Sevenoaks, Biggin Hill and Westerham to the south, and Bromley to the west.
The property scene
In the Locksbottom area of Orpington, Keston Park and Farnborough Park are two private gated estates with large Twenties and Thirties detached houses, along with new mansions built on the site of older homes.
Boxer David Haye, footballers Gary O’Neil and Rio Ferdinand and chef Gary Rhodes all have houses in the neighbourhood.
Estate agent David Hughes of Alan de Maid says the starting price on these estates is £1.2 million, while building plots go for £3 million. He estimates that some of the newer mansions could be worth as much as £10 million when they come to the market for the first time. “Keston Park and Farnborough Park are hidden gems,” adds Hughes. “The commute into London is much easier than other better-known areas such as St George’s Hill in Weybridge.”
In the Petts Wood East area there is a big demand for houses built by Noel Rees in the Twenties and Thirties, in roads such as Great Thrift, The Covert, Princes Avenue, Wood Ride and Kingsway, and in The Chenies, a small conservation area.
Built in a solid Arts & Crafts style, many have arched porches. Local estate agent Diane Elliott-Skrine, of the Orpington town centre branch of Alan de Maid, says a three-bedroom semi-detached Noel Rees house sells for abour £700,000 and a detached house for about £1 million.
Another popular area is “The Knoll”, west of High Street, where there are traditional doubled-fronted and bow-fronted Thirties detached houses selling for between £800,000 and £1 million in roads such as Mayfield Avenue, Broxbourne Road and Lucerne Road.
Parents whose sons manage to land a place at St Olave’s and St Saviour’s Grammar often want to move near the school, in roads such as Goddington Lane and Park Avenue, where there are Tudor-style Thirties houses.
There are period homes and cottages in the nearby village of Chelsfield and also in Downe, where Charles Darwin’s home, Down House, is open to the public.
London Square Orpington is a scheme of one- and two-bedroom apartments and three- and four-bedroom houses by developer London Square, in Broadwater Gardens. The flats start from £420,000 and the houses from £645,000. Call 0333 666 0104.
Brunswick Square is a Berkeley development of 83 one- and two-bedroom flats off the High Street, all with terrace, winter garden or balcony. A pair of two-bedroom flats remains, at £405,000 and £415,000. Call 01689 768342.
Help to Buy is available at both London Square Orpington and Brunswick Square (as before).
David Hughes of Alan de Maid reports strong demand for Keston Park and Farnborough Park. “Top executives, in the UK on two- and three-year contracts, often request the area but there is a shortage of houses and we can’t often meet the demand.”
Modern flats near the station are popular with young commuters.
Orpington has a strong local market and with plenty of opportunities to trade up and down, people do tend to stay.
Most of Orpington and the surrounding area to the south is in the BR6 postcode; Petts Wood, however, finds itself in BR5.
Anywhere on the Keston Park or Farnborough Park estates. An example, would be Foxgrove, a six-bedroom 10,000sqft house built in 2014, on sale through Alan de Maid for £3.95 million.
Up and coming: with one-bedroom flats starting at about £250,000 and two-bedroom houses still available under £400,000, Orpington is popular with first-time buyers.
Orpington is close to the A21, the London to Hastings Road, and the M25.
Orpington station is in Zone 6 and an annual travelcard to Zone 1 costs £2,364.
Trains to London Bridge and Cannon Street take about half an hour. Services to Charing Cross, Victoria and Blackfriars take slightly longer.
Bromley council is Conservative controlled. Band D council tax for 2017/2018 is £1,394.04.
Shops and restaurants
Orpington High Street is pretty and lined with trees. Here, Walnuts Shopping Centre has branches of Argos, Peacocks, New Look and Wilco.
A new market square off High Street has a Sainsbury’s superstore, Odeon cinema and Premier Inn, and will be used to revitalise the market in the autumn with a fresh emphasis on street food and Tuesday, Friday and Saturday opening.
The High Street has Pato Lounge, the only Greater London branch of the Loungers chain of all-day neighbourhood café/bars.
There is a greater choice of stores at the Nugent out-of-town shopping park in Cray Avenue, St Mary Cray, with branches of Debenhams, M&S, Next, Mothercare, Clarks and Laura Ashley.
There are local shops in Petts Wood, and café society has arrived in Locksbottom, with residents in Keston Park and Farnborough Park able to walk to popular Italian restaurant Cyprianis or to modern European fine-dining restaurant Chapter One.
Priory Gardens at the northern end of the High Street has an ornamental garden, a lake and a children’s play area.
It is also home to Orpington Priory, a medieval hall house and the oldest building in the town, which was home to Bromley Museum until the council closed it in 2015.
It has now been sold to the publicly owned V22 arts organisation, which will reopen it soon as artists’ studios.
Goddington Park in Goddington Lane on the eastern edge of town has a children’s playground, bowling green, tennis courts and sports pitches.
Poverest Park in Footbury Hill Road has a children’s playground, a bowling green and sports pitches.
High Elms Country Park in Shire Lane on the southern edge of town is a 250-acre park with a café, woodlands, a nature centre, a formal garden, a Victorian ice well, a wildflower meadow and a 150-acre golf course.
Leisure and the arts
There is a newly opened Odeon multiplex cinema in the Walnuts Shopping Centre and the nearest theatre is the Churchill Theatre in Bromley.
The annual Big O Vintage Festival celebrates “suburbia through the decades” in Priory Gardens, and last month included a parade of vintage vehicles in the High Street. Priory Live is a free August music festival, now in its fourth year.
There are two council-owned swimming pools — one at Walnuts Leisure Centre in Lych Gate Road off the High Street, and the other is Darrick Wood Swimming Pool in Lovibonds Avenue.
The Ofsted "outstanding" rated state primary schools are: Perry Hall in Perry Hall Road, Crofton Infants in Towncourt Lane; Warren in Warren Road; St James’s RC in Maybury Close, Farnborough in Farnborough Hill, and Darrick Wood Infants in Lovibonds Avenue.
Comprehensive and Grammar
Parents who fail to get their children into the highly competitive Orpington grammar schools — St Olave’s and St Saviour’s (boys, ages 11 to 18 with girls in the sixth form) in Goddington Lane and Newstead Wood (girls, ages 11 to 18, with boys in the sixth form) in Avebury Road — both Ofsted “outstanding”, can console themselves if their children get a place at Darrick Wood, a comprehensive in Lovibonds Avenue, which is also rated “outstanding” by the education watchdog.
Private school options are Bickley Park (boys, ages two to 13) in Page Heath Lane in Bromley; Bromley High (girls, ages four to 18) in Blackbrook Lane, also in Bromley, and Farringtons (co-ed, ages three to 18) a Methodist school in Perry Street in Chislehurst.