They have long been the butt of metropolitan snobbery and lame jokes about middle-class suburbia.
Yet, thanks to one sun-blushed, dead-end street, the cul-de-sac burrowed its way into the nation’s hearts.
Little wonder when news broke recently that Neighbours was ending its 37-year run this summer, fans of the Aussie soap were bereft.
After all, the residents of Ramsay Street enjoyed an especially idyllic version of the cul-de-sac. A snug depiction of the convivial joy of cheek-by-jowl living.
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A place where someone is always around to share a cuppa, lend you almost anything or look after your cat if you’re called away.
Speaking as someone who has lived in a cul-de-sac for 26 years (albeit in rainy Manchester) much of this is true.
The sense of inter-dependence and communal spirit is palpable. We keep careful watch over each other’s homes and children and are always ready to dawdle in the street for a bit of a chat. Heck, we even have a WhatsApp group.
Cul-de-sac was originally a French anatomical term referring to a vessel or tube with only one opening.
Literally translated as ‘bottom of the bag’, cul-de-sacs are usually shaped like ice cream scoops: shortish one-way streets with a round turning point.
They can also be a canny investment, says Jonathan Rolande, from The National Association of Property Buyers.
‘A cul-de-sac can be a small area that has its own pricing within a larger area — a kind of property oasis. The right cul-de-sac could command prices up to 10 per cent more than property immediately outside on a through road.
‘So, my tip is to look at each as an individual location, don’t just base values on property nearby — it could be the local oasis.’
Jonathan Hopper, CEO of Garrington Property Finders, says: ‘Assuming you choose a cul-de-sac that’s already fully built, there’s also little chance of new houses sprouting up around you.’
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It was the ancient Egyptians who first devised the concept of the cul-de-sac. Archaeologists found up to 15 dead-end streets built for workers constructing the Pyramid of Senusret II at El-Lahun, which was erected in 1878 BC.
Dead-end streets also appeared during the classical period of Athens and Rome, possibly developed as a defensive measure to trap or keep out foreign invaders. (Though in our little test tube of a road, the closest we’ve ever come to open warfare are mild rebukes about visitors who double park).
Cul-de-sacs were formally enshrined in planning law with the Hampstead Garden Suburb Act 1906. This led to the creation of so-called garden towns like Welwyn Garden City as planners looked for ways to make the most of the land.
Cul-de-sacs went on to have their heyday during the inter-war building boom and again in the 1960s and 1970s.
However, they have since suffered criticism in the highest of quarters. Not least in 2007 when the Home Builders Federation joined forces with the Prince’s Foundation for the Built Environment to back design principles that aim to encourage a move away from suburban sprawl and a return to more traditional street patterns.
Not least, so the thinking went, because cul-de-sacs encouraged car dependence due to a lack of local amenities.
One academic even worked out that the average cul-de-sac resident was 6lb heavier than those living in grid-like developments because of this (cultural note — I’m a size 10).
However, ‘green’ ambitions aside, the benefits of living in a cul-de-sac are manifold. Save for keepers of errant satnav devices, there is no passing traffic.
Noise can, though, come from other sources. As Rick Gannon, managing director of New Era Property Training says: ‘You are more likely to be aware of children playing in the cul-de-sac and the comings and goings of neighbours and their visitors, so you may have less privacy with your neighbours.’
It can also, quite literally, be a squeeze to move when it’s bin day, or the supermarket delivery trucks are out in force.
There are other practicalities, advises Jonathan Hopper if you are thinking of buying in a cul-de-sac.
‘Check if it’s a non-adopted road — that is, it’s not the responsibility of the local council, but rather that it’s up to property owners to pay for its maintenance.
‘If this is the case, you need to know if there’s an agreement between property owners to split this cost, and if so what your liability would be.’
Yet such challenges, in my view, are worth it. Soap operas may, sadly, come and go. But real neighbours do become good friends.