t’s not every day that a development looks like it might be a town-changer, welcomed by the locals. But the transformation of one street in Warwick – described by the architectural historian Alec Clifton-Taylor as “the most handsome Georgian street in the Midlands” – is set to wake up this sleepy market town.
Northgate Street, a two-minute walk from the town centre, can be traced back to 1280. Queen Elizabeth I processed through it on her way to visit Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, at Kenilworth Castle during her royal progress in the summer of 1572. It would later become home to Joseph Parkes, the radical politician, his brother Josiah, the engineer and inventor, and the architect Francis Horn.
But perhaps its most formative historical event took place in the late 17th century, when it was one of several streets destroyed by the Great Fire of Warwick, which also severely damaged the Collegiate Church of St Mary, the closest Warwick has to a cathedral, at the end of the road.
This destruction paved the way for an architectural revolution. The Fire Act of 1694 – set up “for the more regular and uniform rebuilding [of] the houses demolished by the fire” – called for the regulation of urban design. Streets were prescribed by width, and houses were built two storeys high with cellars and attics.
This turned Northgate Street into an elegant Georgian row of perfectly proportioned homes. It remained a family neighbourhood until the end of the 19th century, when Warwickshire County Council bought the houses and, by the Thirties, was using the street to house the education department.
Sold for the first time in over a century, to boutique developer Ash Mill, the street is undergoing a facelift. The vision was to restore Northgate Street to its Georgian prime, converting the buildings back into family homes.
A rival developer, also interested in the street, proposed building blocks of flats on the site – effectively tearing down centuries of architectural history. Ash Mill, with its plan to restore each one of the houses and to pull down the office block to clear 20,000 sq ft of space for residents’ parking and landscaped gardens, won the day.
This was “a bit more in keeping with what the people of Warwick – and the planning department – wanted,” says Charlie Smith, managing partner of London Real Estate Advisors (LREA), which is selling the homes for Ash Mill (020 3327 2750; ).
Northgate Street includes 16 original properties: 11 William and Mary to mid-Georgian houses on the eastern side, three Regency houses on the northern side, and two pavilion houses on the western end of Northgate Place. Ash Mill is also building two entirely new houses to complement the existing architecture.
One of the 18 properties in the development, due to be completed in the summer of 2017, has already been sold. There are currently three houses on the market, priced significantly higher than that of the average Warwick property – £292,058 as of September 2016.
No 14 Northgate Street, a 2,415 sq ft, stucco-fronted property with six bedrooms, is priced at £1.15 million. No 12, which has five bedrooms, is asking £1.3 million, while No 16, which dates back to the 1740s and is currently being used as the show home, is £1.4 million.
All three houses come with a private terrace, lawn and two allocated parking spaces, as well as underfloor heating in the bathrooms and kitchen, which is fitted with Neff appliances.
Smith admits that this is the top end of the market, and the buyer profile is older as a result. Despite the nearby location of Warwick School, many of Smith’s potential clients have been downsizers rather than young families.
“They’re in their 50s and 60s – their kids have grown up, and they’re moving into town from the big country house,” he says. “They want to be in town and be able to walk to the shops. They want to be in Warwick, because they can see the town is changing.”
Northgate Street will help this flow, of course. But as far as price goes, Smith contends that it is competitive. Just three miles away, Leamington Spa attracts the smart set to its Victorian villa‑lined streets for considerably more.
“If you had £1.5 million to spend, you would want about 3,000 sq ft, which means four or five bedrooms, plus an eat-in kitchen, sitting room, parking space and a garden,” Smith says. “In Leamington, that is about what it would cost you. We’re competing with those established family houses in Leamington, which are difficult to find in Warwick.”
Some fresh blood is what Warwick needs, Smith says, and Northgate Street is “raising the bar” of the town. “It is a whole street suddenly delivering to Warwick what was missing before – nice decent-sized town houses with parking and a garden,” he says. “This development is a town-changing scheme.”