The majority of us only pass through the heart of London, more commonly known as Zone 1, for work or play, but, for some people, it’s home. Emma Love meets the residents with Trafalgar Square on the doorstep.
‘We all grew up thinking of central London as Topshop at Oxford Circus,’ quips Charlotte Alexander-Stace, communications director at the Maybourne Hotel Group, who might not reside right in the heart of the West End, but is still closer than most. She and her husband, Jon Stace, a DJ and owner of The Talbot pub in De Beauvoir, bought their Hoxton flat four years ago, but have lived in the area for far longer.
‘Our whole relationship has been in this patch of London; we’re massive foodies and love the bars and culture. There’s Columbia Road flower market, which I go to at the crack of dawn to avoid the crowds; the Barbican is a nice walk away; and we took over our favourite restaurant, Bistrotheque, for our wedding,’ she continues. ‘You can tell I’m quite devoted to it.’
Hoxton, of course, is within Zone 1, the capital’s inner sanctum, which, although primarily known as an eating, shopping and entertainment Mecca, also offers its population a unique perspective on city life.
‘After graduating from university, I spent four years in a flat share on Ludgate Hill, a three-minute walk from St Paul’s Cathedral, and whenever I told people where home was, the response was that they didn’t think anyone actually lived there,’ recalls photographer Hannah Dace, who cites convenience for work as the initial reason for choosing the location.
‘I remember my friends and I thinking that, although we might pay slightly more for rent, we wouldn’t be shelling out any money for the commute.’
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For Miss Dace, the most surreal aspect of her spell there was the proximity to one of London’s major landmarks. ‘I have such an affection for St Paul’s Cathedral; I feel mildly emotional whenever I pass it. I used to walk down the road, see that building and know that I was almost at my front door. It was amazing and bizarre,’ she says.
‘I only went inside the cathedral once, but my friends and I spent an obscene amount of time around it and appreciating the gardens, especially in lockdown. During the summer, I used to plate up my dinner and take it over to eat on the steps, which get the sunshine until about 8.30pm.’
“On a weekend evening, if you open the windows, you can hear the buzz of people, which might sound annoying, but we both quite like it; it’s a feeling of life.”
Someone else wanting a proper London experience after university was Edward Williams’s partner, Andrew Pirrie, who initially rented somewhere on Pall Mall for a few years. But, whereas Miss Dace has since moved further out to leafy Battersea to gain extra square footage, the couple bought a flat together a stone’s throw from Trafalgar Square in 2021.
‘The lack of space is tricky: ongoing Marie Kondo action is required,’ jokes Mr Williams, about their home’s only real drawback. ‘When I told my great-aunt Monica about moving here, she said “you’re living in the centre of the world” and that’s a great way to describe it. London is the best city, with so much going on, and we’re right in the middle of it all. Every time I walk down the road to Covent Garden or go to St James’s, which only takes me six minutes, I feel so lucky; I have to pinch myself.’
Mr Williams lists everything from picking up Tuesday-night tickets for the English National Opera on a whim, before strolling home afterwards, to discovering little known yet lovely Victoria Embankment Gardens, as being only two reasons he loves living in the vicinity, but it’s also no exaggeration to say that being in Zone 1 has shaped his life in a much more fundamental way.
‘I used to work as a management consultant in the energy industry, but, when we moved into our Georgian building, I realised that there are quite a few small, listed blocks of flats around here and it can be hard to find a good managing agent,’ he adds. ‘Six months ago, I started my own company, Foxbrush Property, and now look after these historic buildings.’
Another positive for the pair is being able to dip easily into watching blockbuster calendar events and soaking up the atmosphere, whether the recent coronation of Charles III or the annual New Year’s Eve celebrations (‘we have a fantastic view of the fireworks from the roof’) and they are unfazed by any potential hubbub. ‘One thing I’m often asked is if it’s noisy,’ says Mr Williams. ‘On a weekend evening, if you open the windows, you can hear the buzz of people, which might sound annoying, but we both quite like it; it’s a feeling of life.’
Noise, or rather the lack of it, often surprises visitors to the former lighterman’s cottage in Pimlico that jewellery designer Annoushka Ducas has shared with her husband, John Ayton, for 12 years. ‘We live in a hidden-away Georgian cottage and it’s a real haven. I can’t hear any traffic. Instead, I sit in the garden and listen to the birds singing.’
The appeal — apart from the fact that it is within easy walking distance to her Cadogan Gardens studio and handy for hopping on the train from Victoria to their West Sussex country pad at weekends — is the community vibe. ‘It’s like a village still and I love all the places that have been here forever, from La Poule au Pot restaurant to shopping at the Pimlico Road Farmers’ Market on a Saturday.’
“I’m going to maximise every moment of it until my husband manages to persuade me to move to a doer-upper with a garden in Zone 3”
Similarly, restaurateur-chef Jacob Kenedy (the man behind Bocca di Lupo restaurant, Gelupo in Soho and the Plaquemine Lock pub in Angel) describes the borough of Islington as being ‘a patchwork of little sub areas, each with a close-knit community. There’s something a bit village-like about it; I know a lot of my neighbours and the food shopping is fantastic. I have three butchers and two fishmongers on my doorstep’. Having been born in the area and spent the first two years of his life there before the family moved to other parts of the city, coming back six years ago with his husband (the pair now have a three-year-old son) proved the perfect fit for his lifestyle.
‘Generally speaking, one of the things that London doesn’t do well is relaxation, because it’s an effort to do most things. Being in Angel, for me, minimises that effort and makes it easier to slow down, because our neighbourhood has everything we need,’ Mr Kenedy elaborates. Other big draws are Regent’s Canal and being able to walk to his restaurant in Soho. The only downsides are when it comes to leaving (‘in order to reduce traffic, the council has made it difficult to get in and out of some residential roads’) and Upper Street. ‘It has become very commercial; I always say that it’s an excellent place to eat bad food.’
Although Mr Kenedy could imagine himself living elsewhere, he says that he wouldn’t want to — a sentiment that is echoed by both Mr Williams (‘we would like to move to the country at some stage, but both agree that we never want to let go of this flat; we’d like to keep it as a pied-à-terre’) and Mrs Alexander-Stace.
‘It’s a privilege that we’ve managed to buy this little spot that we call home,’ she concludes. ‘I’m here for the energy and I’m going to maximise every moment of it until my husband manages to persuade me, kicking and screaming, to move to a doer-upper with a garden in Zone 3.’
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