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You are here: Home > General Articles 2014 > Town or Country? – A Londoner’s Dilemma
General Articles 2014
Town or Country? – A Londoner’s Dilemma

The London conundrum – living in London vs. moving “up country”

For most twenty-to-early thirty somethings, coming to live and work in London is the greatest buzz imaginable. Especially for someone coming fresh to the Capital,
London nightlife

London nightlife
the excitement of being a part of the glamour, the culture, the vibrancy of a city that, like Frank Sinatra’s New York, never sleeps, is difficult to explain to anyone who’s never experienced it. But for many Londoners, there comes a time – around the mid-thirties seems to be the usual tipping point – when the attractions of high energy city life pale a little and, especially as thoughts turn to families and the future, the idea of putting down roots in somewhere a little greener and less frenetic start to take hold.

For some, that moment of doubt never arrives. After all, many parts of the city – Islington or Herne Hill, for example - have, in themselves, an atmosphere that’s almost village like and few cities in the world are better endowed with open green spaces than London. Nonetheless, modern suburban London owes its existence to the daily commuter. The idea of living outside London and travelling into the city to work has clearly been around for some time.

The train now standing…is about 70 years late

The train now standing…is about 70 years late
The Metroland idyll

The development of the commuter strip through Hertfordshire, Middlesex and Buckinghamshire provides a good example of how the lure of a place in the country has caught the imagination of many Londoners. Heavily marketed in the early part of the 20th Century by the Metropolitan Railway, towns like Harrow and Uxbridge, Neasden and Chesham were presented as clean, leafy alternatives to “the great smoke”.

The attraction of Rickmansworth, Chesham and Amersham, within touching distance of the outstanding beauty of the Chilterns, proved irresistible to many who worked in London and the Met’s marketing campaign scored a bullseye. The Metropolitan Railway even went as far as producing a guide to the attractions of living in “Metroland”. About This Van, a company offering a man-and-van service providing removals in Central and North London and the northern Home Counties areas, has recently produced its own handy, up-to-date map and guide to the modern day features of many of the more popular Herts, Bucks and Middlesex commuter destinations. But to what extent do the factors which sparked the original commuter exodus still apply today?

Cost or Convenience?

Living and working in London clearly has its benefits. No-one who’s ever experienced it would argue that travelling to work in central London from within the limits of zone 1 or 2 on the Tube is a breeze, but it’s certainly quicker, cheaper and arguably less stressful than the longer trek in from the north. Even for those living in central London Oyster cards are a must, with savings on both bus and tube, as outlined on London Travel Watch. However, property prices, already bordering on the exorbitant, show no signs of slowing and many London workers are close to being priced out, even in some areas traditionally regarded as more affordable.

Just for the sake of comparison, a three/four bed terraced house in Brixton would, at early 2014 prices, set you back around £750,000 A similar property in, say, Chesham would be around half that. However, on the downside, you’d need to factor in the cost of daily travel. A three monthly season ticket from Chesham’s nearest main-line station, Chalfont and Latimer, would cost around £800 with the added cost of the time spent travelling to and from work – especially if your place of work requires an additional tube journey from the main-line terminus (Marylebone in this case).

Abbots Langley – Church of St Lawrence the Martyr

Abbots Langley – Church of St Lawrence the Martyr
As you look at the possibility of living further outside London, so the dichotomy widens. If you’re prepared to consider a longer commute, Biggleswade just across the border in Bedfordshire, for instance has four bed detached houses available for slightly over £400,000. However, your three monthly season (to Kings Cross, this time) will stretch the wallet to the tune of £1200.

What price leisure?

To a large extent, the lifestyle choices which faced the prospective Edwardian commuter still apply today. The draw of a quieter life in the country is still a huge attraction, particularly as even the most hedonistic of London “party animals” settle down to family life eventually. Of course, not all of the Herts/Bucks/Middlesex axis is entirely leafy-green; downtown Watford is closer in feel to sections of downtown London, while villages like Abbots Langley, a few miles to the north could be a world away.

Ultimately, this is one where you “pays your money and takes your choice”. How much would you miss the instant access to the theatre, music venues and general big city, bright lights feel of cosmopolitan London? How much is the quiet calm of the Hertfordshire village or suburb worth? These are value judgements that only the individual concerned can make.

When you’re tired of London….

In the final analysis, the decision to stick with London or move to “the sticks” is a very personal one. Sure, there are financial considerations to weigh in the balance, as well as the physical wrench of a London house removal, but, as with earlier generations, the decision to move or not to move will generally be governed as much by aesthetic considerations and lifestyle choices as much as hard financial calculus. They say that when you’re tired of London you’re tired of life. That’s clearly not literally true. There is life outside London, not objectively better or worse but certainly different.