Not everyone is happy. The annual Halifax quality of life survey has recently been published and, true to form, it’s created heated controversy, particularly among estate agents.

Ranked above the hot-spots of the South East, such as Fareham, Hart and Horsham – and the North’s most sought-after districts of Selby and Hambleton – the No 1 spot to live has been awarded to East Hertfordshire.

This slice of the commuter belt, most notably home to the Beckhams’ former ‘Beckingham Palace’ in Sawbridgeworth, is a quiet and unassuming local government district. Yet it has its staunch supporters.

Top of the league: A row of picturesque cottages in Hertford

Top of the league: A row of picturesque cottages in Hertford

‘People love this area,’ says Josh Davison, 31, a sales director at Russell Property. ‘Many people buy their “forever home” here, which is a strong indicator of the quality of life it offers.’

At the hub of East Hertfordshire is the quaint market town of Bishop’s Stortford. And, despite Stansted Airport being in the neighbourhood, the town retains the feel of a charming and prosperous county town.

Walk through its winding, hilly streets, with its maze of alleys and timber-beamed pubs, and you might think you’re in a remote corner of Devon, not 40 minutes by train from Central London.

The second driver of demand – apart from its convenience for commuters – is schooling. 

In Bishop’s Stortford, The Hertfordshire & Essex High School is popular and St Mary’s Catholic School in Windhill has an excellent reputation.

There’s a wide and varied housing stock, offering options, from studios at £140,000 to Edwardian villas at £1.8million.

Halifax had sound reasons for East Hertfordshire topping its table. 

Residents in the area’s towns and villages feel fit and well there, with 97 per cent reporting good or fairly good health. 

And figures from the Office for National Statistics indicate adults living in East Hertfordshire are among the most happy and contented in Britain, with long life expectancies.

Finally, the schools achieve excellent GCSE results, with 73.3 per cent achieving grades 9-4 in English and Maths.

On the market: Happy homes 


East Hertfordshire’s towns all show evidence of these accolades. Sawbridgeworth, with its Tudor clock tower and narrow streets, is a sports-lovers paradise, having two gyms and sports clubs.

Community spirit is big in Buntingford, where the Cougars run youth football. There is a drama society and the Ward Freman swimming pool is open to the public.

Hertford, with its handsome centre of Georgian townhouses and half-timbered cottages, has a more relaxed atmosphere. 

Villages, such as Much Hadham, Brent Pelham and Clavering (just into Essex), where Jamie Oliver’s father has a pub, attract the wealthy.

‘One enormous advantage of the area is that the trains run straight into Liverpool Street in London,’ says Sarah Broughton, 52, a property search agent with Prime Purchase. 

‘Bankers love the idea of being able to be back in the countryside so quickly.’

Much Hadham is probably the pick of the villages. It has a pub, The Bull, a tennis club and school. 

A swimming pool in the garden is de rigueur for residents and, on a summer evening, the air will be heady with the scent of barbecues.

Perhaps Halifax did get it right.

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