HEMEL HEMPSTEAD may not be to everyone’s taste, just pre-dating Stevenage as a New Town, but it is very conveniently placed. The M1 and M25 both pass very close to it, the train to London takes less than half and hour, and Heathrow is 40 minutes away by car. It still has rough Hertfordshire meadows on three sides. After all, the idea which underpinned the New Town concept was that people could combine the pleasures of town and country, and escape the overcrowded conditions of London. Now the town is undergoing a £360m regeneration project to provide more housing and shopping, due for completion in 2013. In the meantime, facilities include a shopping centre, a sports centre, a newly rebuilt ski slope, and an eight-screen cinema.
The old town grew up around the Norman church, with Regency and Victorian villas springing up along the Marlowes to take advantage of the distant views to the Chilterns. A two-bedroom cottage in the old town will cost £250,000. To the east you come to the sought-after area of Leverstock Green, where the housing is mostly post-Fifties. A four-bedroom detached home would cost between £390,000 and £450,000; a three-bedroom semi £280,000 to £340,000. There are also some very large houses set in half-acre plots in Longdean Park that fetch over £650,000. Ex-local authority housing tends to sell for a good deal less than private housing, so a two-bedroom house might be had for over £160,000.
The New Town has an all-dancing shopping centre with all the chain stores anyone could need. British Telecom is located here and the British Standards Institute also has offices in Hemel Hempstead.
Potten End, to the north west, is a dispersed Chiltern village with a green and the Martins Pond pub. It borders on beautiful National Trust land that stretches along the spine of the Chilterns from Ivinghoe Beacon to Berkhamsted. You can buy a Thirties detached house with a tile-hung bay window in a quiet suburban road for around £575,000. Old cottages, however, are thin on the ground. A substantial house with five bedrooms and half an acre of garden might fetch £800,000 or more.
Chipperfield is expensive too, though the centre has long-since been ribboned with developments built to accommodate fugitives from Watford. It is redeemed by its wooded common webbed with footpaths, and by the old village centre where the green is faced by an inn, the church and some little brick cottages. A four-bedroom detached house (most of the houses are this size or larger) would cost £585,000.