St Giles Street is a display shop, people watching and coffee lover’s paradise. Stacked with boutiques, antique shops, delis and restaurants, it aligns easily with Lordship Lane, Northcote Road or Upper Street.
But there’s a major difference between Norwich’s Upper St Giles and the cream of London’s high streets: you can buy a flat nearby for around £150,000 or a house for around £230,000.
No wonder Londoners weigh their options and decide their future lies in the east, in a city that is quick to shed its sleepy, provincial reputation.
Like all ancient British cathedral cities, Norwich has history, atmosphere and beautiful architecture. Add to that the buzz of Generation Z provided by the artistic students of the University of East Anglia, a vibrant nightlife, a blissfully chain-lit city center and good transport links, and you have a very viable alternative to renting in London.
An exclusive JLL study of real estate prices and performance in 10 cathedral cities near the capital found that the vast majority of them dramatically improved their performance during the pandemic – but many still have exceptional value.
Norwich (along with Peterborough) is the cheapest option, with houses typically costing around £230,000 and flats for £150,000.
In 2013, Richard Black lived in a rented flat in Chiswick and worked as a news producer for the BBC.
When the decision was made to relocate to Salford, Richard graciously declined the offer to move north. Instead, he and his husband, Steven, decided to shake things up by moving to Norwich, where he had cut his teeth on television nearly two decades earlier while working for ITV England.
“They have a Norfolk bouncy effect,” said Richard. “Once you live here, you will always come back.
“Norwich has none of the overwhelming madness of London. The air is clean, everything is within walking distance, the architecture is beautiful and it is safe compared to other cities.”
Since moving to the city, Richard, 47, and Steven, 54, a psychologist, have realized a lifelong dream of building their own home in a village ten minutes from Norwich – Loose Women journalist and panelist Janet Street-Porter is a close neighbor.
They started by purchasing a cottage and used its two-hectare garden to build a three-bedroom detached house. It was completed in 2020 and they use the original office as well as the studio for Richard’s podcast.
The couple travel to Norwich three or four times a week.
“You can go to the theatre, the Sainsbury Center art gallery, there are lovely walks along the river,” said Richard. “There are also many independent, small, uncomplicated shops and cafes, as well as some really good restaurants.”
Added to the attraction is the hour and a half commute back to London and easy access to the Norfolk coast and the Norfolk Broads for trips with a pair of beagles.
“We love this place,” said Richard. “It’s just sublime.”
Louise Thomas-Minns, 44, is another Norwich cheerleader for life – she lives south-west of the city center in Cringleford with her husband Ian, also 44, and their daughter Maggie, seven.
Louise sighs as the word “Alan Partridge” is mentioned – Steve Coogan’s unwitting Norwich local radio host has done much to make the town a laughing stock.
“Norwich has a reputation for being a bit backward,” admits Louise, skin health expert (www.louisethomasskintherapy.co.uk).
“But I am passionate about this city. The evolution over the past five or ten years has been phenomenal. It has become a brilliant destination for shopping, eating. She’s shedding her old image, although I think it has a stigma.”
If you need a faster commute than Norwich can provide, another exceptional cathedral city to consider is Canterbury.
This Kent town has been a place of pilgrimage for Londoners since the days of Chaucer, although today’s travelers can make the journey by rail in just 55 minutes.
Canterbury saw the strongest price increase of any cathedral city surveyed during the pandemic, up 22.5 per cent to an average price of £366,000.
Despite this, you could still buy an average flat for £205,000 or a terrace for £313,000. A charming two-storey cottage within the city walls would cost around £350,000, while a four-bedroom townhouse in leafy St Dunstan’s, popular for its great schools and proximity to Canterbury West Station, would cost around £650,000.
In 2009, Emma Smith left a rented house in New Cross, her job as a record store manager, and moved east to open her own bar.
Emma, now 43, worked at Retro Bar on the Strand and hosted DJ nights at clubs, but the high prices in London meant that setting up her own venue was never an option.
In Canterbury, she bought and refurbished a dilapidated old pub in the town center and renamed it the Lady Luck. Its mix of live music and friendly atmosphere has been a hit, and 13 years on Lady Luck is a mainstay of Canterbury’s nightlife.
Emma lives about a 20-minute walk away on a Victorian terrace she shares with her boyfriend Andrew, 46.
“Canterbury is an amazing place – at the same time a thriving city with a huge number of really exciting bars and restaurants, but we also have amazing scenery and the coast within easy reach,” she said.
On her evenings off, Emma eats at Café Des Amis, a downtown Mexican restaurant, or strolls along the river to the nearby town of Fordwich, home to one of Britain’s best gastropubs, the Fordwich Arms.
Back in town, Canterbury city center is a lovely mix of cobbled streets filled with quaint shops, cafes and traditional eateries. The Goods Shed, a farmer’s market, food hall and restaurant, is more than adequate for Maltby Street Market.
“We have amazing architecture and history with a cathedral and university, but Canterbury is also a very dynamic, modern city with amazing bars, restaurants, theaters and shops,” said Emma. “I love that you are within walking distance of everything you need.”
Her only complaint about her adopted city will be familiar to Londoners: traffic jams. “I’m really envious of all the things London has done and continues to do to help and encourage people to be more active, for example by walking or cycling more,” Emma said.
Before the pandemic, Salisbury was considered too far for commuters – trains to Waterloo take around an hour and a half.
Now that WFH has become endemic, shoppers flock to this peach town sandwiched between the New Forest, Cranborne Chase and the South Coast.
So far this year, around a third of people who have been sold by Matthew Hallett, director of Winkworth, have sold their homes to move out of London. As a result, JLL said average prices rose 15.5 percent over the past two years after slow growth over the past eight years.
“Salisbury is clean, green, you don’t need a car and is full of ancient medieval streets filled with independent shops and restaurants,” Hallett said. “There are two high schools and this is an extraordinary value compared to say Bath or Winchester.
“Salisbury has a really rural feel to it. It hasn’t been completely gentrified, it still has personality and a sense of community.”