Property investment: why we're all focusing on Fitzrovia
Once the haunt of disreputable literary types, Marylebone’s colourful neighbour is becoming respectable
Charlotte Street, Fitzrovia's high street, is full of smart restaurants
Bright light: Charlotte Street, Fitzrovia's high street, is full of smart restaurants Photo: Alamy
For many years now, Fitzrovia has been the slightly disreputable cousin of all the other, somewhat smarter areas of central London. Despite being surrounded by more well-to-do districts such as Marylebone and Bloomsbury, Fitzrovia has never quite lost the louche reputation it acquired over the past three quarters of a century.
It may have got its name from an aristocrat (Charles Fitzroy, later Baron Southampton), but it has become known not so much as a home for the well-to-do, as a haunt for less lofty folk. Even the name Fitzroy is a French-Norman term for a son (often illegitimate) of the king.
Familiar unkempt figures in the streets of Fitzrovia have included the poet Dylan Thomas, the painter Augustus John and the flamboyant Quentin Crisp, along with writers George Orwell, George Bernard Shaw and Virginia Woolf (who both lived, albeit not at the same time, at No 29 Fitzroy Square).
Not forgetting Aleister Crowley, the wild-eyed occultist and mountaineer who was branded in some quarters as a devil-worshipper. And who frequented the same pubs (The Wheatsheaf, The Fitzroy Tavern) as the local literary figures.
The most famous face to have moved into Fitzrovia in recent years has been the comedian and television presenter Griff Rhys Jones, who lives in a massive house on Fitzroy Square. It was valued at £1.45 million in 1998, and is now said to be worth several times that amount.
Even he, though, is alarmed about the possibility that a mansion tax could be introduced following next year’s general election. The comedian has announced that if that were to happen, he might leave Fitzrovia forever.
Although price rises might be slowing down in the run-up to next year’s vote, nobody thinks they are going to go into reverse suddenly.
The fact is, things have begun to change, and Fitzrovia is catching the eye of people who don’t just want a short stagger home from the pub. These days, if you walk along Charlotte Street, Fitzrovia’s main boulevard, you’re less likely to see a satanist than a property speculator.
The most dramatic transformation has been the demolition of the old Middlesex Hospital, and its replacement with stylish Fitzroy Place.
We are talking not basement-level lodgings, but a 235-apartment development, complete with shops, cinema, gym and landscaping. Even though the development isn’t finished, most of the flats have been sold. According to estate agent David Caldeira, of Robert Irving and Burns (020 7637 0821; rib.co.uk), the buyers have already made a profit.
“The apartments went for £1,500-£1,600 per square foot, and now they’re worth £2,000 per square foot.”
One penthouse fetched £3,000 per square foot, and the split-level apartment on the seventh and eighth floor is valued at £3,200 per square foot, which works out at about £14 million.
“What’s attracting people to Fitzrovia is that it’s very central, there are lots of fantastic restaurants, but it’s quieter than Soho and Covent Garden,” says Martin Bikhit, of Kay and Co (020 7486 6338; kayandco.com).
And at the same time as property values are rising due to factors above ground, less-visible underground forces are also pushing Fitzrovia prices upwards.
Earlier this year, estate agents Carter Jonas published a report titled “Track to the Future”, predicting a 70 per cent rise in property prices within an 800m radius of the Crossrail station at Tottenham Court Road, due to open in 2018, and Euston/Kings Cross St Pancras, which should be operating by 2030.
For many people, though, the affordability train has already left the station, long before the arrival of Crossrail. The asking price for a one-bedroom flat is now £575,000, and a four-bedroom house will set you back at least £2 million.
There is a beautiful, four-bedroom house on Ogle Street currently going for £5.5 million (Carter Jonas, 020 7486 8866; carterjonas.co.uk), and a three-bedroom penthouse on Bolsover Street, with a roof terrace and sky-high asking price to match (£8.9 million, with Druce, 020 7935 6535; druce.com). Even the service charge is £15,000 a year.
As for renting, a tiny one-bedroom flat will cost £350 a week, while a three-bedroom flat in Weymouth Street, on the market with Carter Jonas, will set you back £2,200 per week.
“Fitzrovia is seeing the same sort of renaissance which we experienced in Marylebone in the Nineties,” says Simon Hedley, of Druce’s Marylebone office.
“Five years ago, it was mostly made up of Victorian tenement buildings and flats above shops. Recently, however, the development of office blocks has changed the feel of the area and given it a new, more high-end feel. Average prices are now pushing £1,800 per square foot and about £4,000 for penthouses.
“There are lots of cool restaurants and eating places now, and it’s the kind of place you can take your 18-year-old daughter, who will love it because it’s so funky. Why, it’s even rumoured Lady Gaga has bought a flat in the area.”
The aristocracy at last! Not like the old days, when Fitzrovia was home not to advertising and media firms, but the rag trade. Of course, memories of the old days still linger. There is even footage of the late publisher Felix Dennis, founder of The Week, recalling the Fitzrovia of the past.
“Waitresses and publicans remembered your name. They treated you as locals and didn’t charge you tourist prices. And the variety of shops was astounding for the West End: butchers, bakers, delicatessens, grocers, a fish stall, a paper shop, a cobbler, an art supplier, a jeweller. Just some of the kinds of places that make a real community.”
Part of the reason Fitzrovia has retained its character is that it has never been owned by one large family, or a business, but by individual residents and shopkeepers. And even though big money is moving into the area, the old Fitzrovians are not going quietly.
Local campaigners are openly anxious about the relocation of two local GP surgeries. And when upmarket developers the Candy Brothers announced, a few years ago, that they were going to name the Middlesex Hospital development NoHo Square, Mike Pentelow, editor of the Fitzrovia News, recalls how the community responded.
“They changed the letters NoHo so that the sign read NoNo, and they altered the Ns so that the sign read HoHo. That’s Fitzrovia for you.”