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RUGBY has never attracted architectural plaudits but it has managed to develop a certain vigour in the last few years and at night it buzzes with restaurants, nightclubs and bars. There is now a farmers’ market once a month. The old industrial base has been replaced with a more commercial one. Rugby is best known for the boys’ public school, used as a model for Tom Brown’s Schooldays, where the eponymous ball game began in 1823 and whose former pupils include Rupert Brooke and Matthew Arnold. The Rugby Football Museum is opposite the school and Gilberts rugby football manufacturers are still going strong.

Rugby offers home-going commuters the fastest journey from London to any destination in this guide: the 82.5 miles takes just 47 min, an average of 105mph. The journey up to London in the morning, at 50 min, is a rather more sedate 100mph! First class season ticket holders also get a free breakfast, snacks and drinks.

Small houses for first-time buyers in the centre of town sell at around £100,000. There is also cheap property in the Brownsover area where you could buy a three-bedroom semi for £130,000. The more upmarket areas are Hillmorton and Bilton, where you could find a dignified three-bedroom semi for £140,000, or you could pay £200,000 to £300,000 for four bedrooms on a new development. In Bawnmore Road, Bilton, property becomes more expensive, rising to £545,000. In Hillmorton Road there are some very substantial five-bedroom Victorian semis for which you could pay up to £430,000.

Living to the south of Rugby is thought to be slightly better than living to the north. Its most salubrious suburb is Dunchurch, a village two miles from the centre with a dozen black-and-white timbered houses, as well as large, detached, new four to six- bedroom houses which sell for £400,000 to £500,000. There are also some period two-up-two-down cottages that fetch around £180,000. Second best is Clifton upon Dunsmore, to the north, which again has a villagey feel to it, though the houses tend to be smaller. A two-bedroom terrace cottage will cost £145,000.

For a proper village you need to look south-east to Ashby St Ledgers, one of the last good Northamptonshire thatch-and-stone villages before the more industrial Midlands takes over. It is remarkable in that it was an estate village, built by Lord Wimbourne in 1912 and designed by Lutyens. Development was so tightly controlled that there are only 44 houses in all – the tradition was that two new houses were built every time the lord of the manor died. There is an old barn on the green that serves as the village hall. Since the Wimbournes left, the village has changed hands three times and was bought by the Queen in 2005. There is a strong community spirit among the old villagers and a pub which strains at the seams. The half-timbered gatehouse next to the church is where Robert Catesby, one of the ringleaders of the Gunpowder Plot, is supposed to have met the other conspirators. Houses rarely come on the market, but for the privilege of living here you could expect to pay £300,000 for a Grade Two listed, three-bedroom, thatched terraced cottage.

Birdingbury, south-west of Rugby, is another sought-after village. It has only about 150 houses, most of which are now occupied by commuters rather than the agricultural workers for whom they were built. Houses tend to be a bit more expensive because it is so close to Leamington Spa (see Marylebone to Leamingston Spa). A two-bedroom period cottage might cost around £240,000; a five-bedroom period detached, £600,000. The River Leam meanders through the village, and there is a fishing club. Cricket and football are played at Marton, a mile away. The nearest school is at Leamington Hastings.

Sheer convenience makes Kilsby and Barby commuter habitats. Both are beside Junction 17 on the M1, and close to Rugby. Kilsby is unremarkable but has a supply of four-bedroom modern semis selling for around £215,000. A four-bedroom detached period cottage costs around £320,000. Barby is smaller, with a stronger sense of village about it, and has a few old cob houses among the 19th-century and modern brick. A four-bedroom detached house here might sell for £240,000 or more. There are a few shops, a village hall, a school, and a claim to fame in that the MacLaren baby buggy was designed here in the Sixties by Owen MacLaren.

Good for: well connected to M1 and M6, local employment hub, great schools, a range of house prices.
London terminal: Euston
Journey time: 50 mins (90 mins London Midland) mins
Season ticket: £6304 (all operators) £4600 (LM only)
Peak trains: 3 per hour (Virgin) 2 per hour (LM)
Off-peak trains: 2 per hour (Virgin) 2 per hour(LM)