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House prices: What have the Romans ever done for us?



The Roman Baths
The Roman Baths in Bath Credit: Alamy

What have the Romans ever done for us? So asked Reg in Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Well, quite a lot, and their prolific construction skills continue to give back to those who own property in their settlements.

Exclusive research for The Telegraph by estate agency Jackson-Stops & Staff reveals that Roman towns established over 2,000 years ago have house prices that are more than 80 per cent higher than the British average.

Londinium (London), Verulamium (St Albans), Caesaromagus (Chelmsford), Duroliponte (Cambridge) and Aquae Sulis (Bath) are the top performing Roman towns, which have all had price increases of between 301 and 354 per cent since 1996.

Nick Leeming, chairman of Jackson-Stops & Staff, points to the Romans’ choice of strategic locations on the banks of rivers or on elevated ground as the key to their sustained success.

Designed on a grid-like system of streets around two central roads – one running north-south, the other east-west – the towns set up in the first century were built with sewers and water facilities fed by local aqueducts.

A house in Bath, for sale for £1.6m with Knight Frank
A house in Bath, for sale for £1.6m with Knight Frank

A bustling community was created in the forum, where shops, businesses and state offices – as well as temples, public baths and theatres – would draw residents into the town centre.

Though the luxury of running water has now been extended to each and every household, the evidence of Roman township is still visible today. Winchester, York and Chester retain their historic city walls, Colchester has the Balkerne Gate dating from AD43, St Albans a theatre, and Bath has its Roman baths.

Londinium (London), Verulamium (St Albans), Caesaromagus (Chelmsford), Duroliponte (Cambridge) and Aquae Sulis (Bath) are the top performing Roman towns

“Well designed and future-proofed, these Roman towns and cities are imbued with history, and it seems that their popularity has directly affected property values,” adds Leeming.

Emma Dixon Bate, 56, is selling her late parents’ five-bedroom home, which is within walking distance of Chester city centre. The River Dee gave the Romans a link to the sea, and they used Chester as their base for the largest military fortress in Britain.

Emma Dixon Bate's house in Chester, for sale at £750,000
Emma Dixon Bate's house in Chester, for sale at £750,000

The house has access to a rare river garden with boathouse, dock and summer house, where she enjoyed a Swallows and Amazons-style childhood messing about on the banks of the Dee. “We had a slipper launch which we’d sail into town or upstream to have picnics in the meadows, and there were endless parties,” remembers Dixon Bate, a knitwear designer.

Selling agent Stephen Cheshire from Jackson-Stops & Staff’s Chester branch was astonished at the number of sealed bid offers for the house and river garden, which were being offered as a package or individually. “The level of demand for homes in Chester is very strong,” he says, pointing to a growing financial sector.

“People are not only drawn to the vibrant city centre and the successful businesses in the area but also to the proximity of the powerhouses of Manchester and Liverpool.” The house, without the river garden, is now on the market for £750,000.

A house in Winchester, for sale with Strutt and Parker
A house in Winchester, for sale with Strutt and Parker

Alex Hudson, 27, was renting in Bath before buying a three-bedroom, Grade I listed, top-floor apartment in need of modernising almost two years ago, with help from his family, for £360,000.

“It’s right in the centre and the views are amazing,” says Hudson, who works in Bath and London for his clean technology company Palliser Engineers. “I enjoy living in a small city with so much history, but I can also get to London quickly.” The year-round tourists visiting the sites – including the Roman baths – are a boon to Hudson, who lets his home via Airbnb at weekends in the summer.

Nick Mead, partner at The Buying Solution, adds: “The Romans invented the concept of town planning and some of the best market towns have been built on Roman foundations.

“Buyers will pay premiums for high quality period properties with real history and character. The Romans liked to create a heart to their communities and locations like Bath, St Albans and Cambridge have charm in spades.”

A house in Bath, for sale with Savills for £2m
A house in Bath, for sale with Savills for £2m

House prices in Roman towns outperformed Britain’s “new towns”, those built after the Second World War to relocate people who had been affected by bombing, by more than 56 per cent over a 20-year period. But it’s in these areas where families and first-time buyers might find better value.

Basildon in Essex is the new town with the largest rise in values, at 314 per cent, followed by Hemel Hempstead with 310 per cent. Average property prices for new towns are highest in Hemel Hempstead (£367,146), Welwyn (£366,790) and Bracknell (£359,233) and could still yet offer value.

Company director Luke Noonan, 42, lives in Hemel Hempstead, in Hertfordshire, with his wife Katie, also 42, and sons Teddy, seven, and Rory, four. “New towns can lack a bit of soul but the plus side is facilities tend to be better – we have one of the best indoor ski slopes in the country, excellent sports facilities and great outdoor space,” he says.

“It’s the perfect location for buyers moving out of London wanting a bit more space for their money, but it’s still only half-an-hour by train.”

The Noonan family outside their Hemel Hempstead home, for sale with Knight Frank
The Noonan family outside their Hemel Hempstead home, for sale with Knight Frank Credit: Jeff Gilbert

Their family home for the past 12 years has been a five-bedroom Edwardian home – they prefer period to modern. The sunny home with a big back garden is now on the market with Knight Frank for £675,000, but they will be staying put in Hemel.

Jamie Till and Calum Wood, both 25, went to university in Cambridge and Bath, yet have ended up living in new town Crawley in Sussex, ideally placed for Till’s PR job in London and Wood’s job as an auditor in Kent and Sussex.

“We’re enjoying the amenities and bustle of Crawley,” says Till. “It has an urban feel not unlike parts of central London, which is only 40 minutes by train – and property prices seem to be within reach as first-time buyers.”

When it comes to commuting, new towns could have the last laugh. Central to the Roman plan was the creation of long straight roads linking the major settlements in Britain. Today these transport links have been reinforced with a national rail network. However, the four top performing new towns have an average commuting time from London of just over 33 minutes, compared to 53 minutes for Roman towns. Their towns have lasted well, but chariots look different these days.

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