ore than 800 years ago, Lesnes Abbey was built at the borders of London and Kent amidst woodland. Little remains of the abbey today, but it is honoured in the name of the local neighbourhood: Abbey Wood.
This one time railway suburb was marred, post war, by extensive and low grade social housing estates, notably the terrifyingly isolated dystopian Thamesmead, on the banks of the River Thames.
At first sight, careworn Abbey Wood has been seemingly untouched by the magic of Crossrail. A place where the opening of a new Sainsbury’s is front page news in the local paper, and the somewhat sparse shops on Wilton Road are referred to, optimistically, as Abbey Wood Village by Greenwich council.
On the flipside, the Abbey Arms serves sourdough pizzas and negronis in its fairy light strewn garden. Abbey Wood Village market offers a good mix of street food, deli stalls and crafts.
Rebecca Erol, 52, was an early adopter of Abbey Wood, paying just £48,500 for her two-bedroom railway cottage back in 1995. It is now worth five times that but Erol, a garden designer (@RebeccaEGardens) has no intention of leaving.
She likes her pretty tree-lined streets, the open spaces — particularly the 271-acre Lesnes Abbey Woods, good transport links, and sense of community.
The catch is that there is not an awful lot to do. The nearest cinema is in Bexleyheath, and for shopping and socialising locals head to Blackheath or Greenwich. “It is a bit thin on the ground if you want to eat out,” says Erol.
James Brattle, 32, and Adam Mottley, 31, bought into the Abbey Wood dream last year. They were mainly attracted by the fact that their £400,000 budget would stretch to a three-bed townhouse.
The couple moved from Ilford and needed more space to run their business, the Vintage Vegan Candle Co. “We love that it is so well connected, you can just pop into central London,” says Brattle. “And it is still one of those places where you are shocked by how much you can get for your money.”
Mottley and Brattle had a group of friends who had already moved into the area, giving them an instant social life.
It is still one of those places where you are shocked by how much you can get for your money.
“We hope that the next stage will be more infrastructure, like a gym and a couple of restaurants,” says Brattle.
House price growth in Abbey Wood
Despite these shortcomings Abbey Wood has seen the strongest price growth along the Crossrail line over the past decade, and the steam train keeps on rolling. Prices jumped by an outperforming 7.5 per cent over the past two years.
Nonetheless, you can still buy a three bedroom terrace for around £500,000, or a slightly dated purpose built two bedroom flat for just over £200,000. Renters could find a two bedroom flat for less than £1,000pcm.
The future for Abbey Wood
Housing association Peabody, which owns the bulk of the Thamesmead estate, is spending more than £1bn on transforming it into a thriving new neighbourhood.
At its first phase, Southmere, just over 500 new homes are under construction at Thamesmead’s southernmost tip. These went on sale last year and the first homes are being completed now. Prices start at £91,500 for a 30 per cent share of a one-bedroom flat and £118,500 for a 30 per cent share of a two-bedroom home.
One of the key criticisms of the old Thamesmead was that its residents were marooned by the river with nothing to do. To remedy this Peabody is investing in amenities like a boating club, on Southmere Lake, a new library and a public square due to open later this year.
Meanwhile Bow Arts has taken over Lakeside Centre – filming location for the Channel 4 series Misfits – and uses it to provide affordable studio space for creatives, a café, and pop up markets.
By 2050 it is envisaged that Thamesmead will contain around 20,000 modern homes surrounded by some 600 acres of open space, five lakes, and more than five miles of canals.
Beyond Thamesmead, money is being spent on smaller projects like Abbey Place, a 29 storey building with just over 200 flats plus hotel rooms, and some shops, set seconds from the stylish, timber roofed new Abbey Wood station. It is due to complete later this year.
Despite this there’s not much on the eating and drinking front in Thamesmead yet, and only a handful of very basic shops.
Southmere’s public square, Cygnet Square, will eventually add independent shops, restaurants and cafes to the mix.