One important question to ask yourself before buying a printer is how long you need the prints to last. If you will only look at them for a year or less and then throw them away, a dye ink printer like the Epson 1290 will probably give you the best image quality per monetary unit. If you'd like them to last for several decades (or more), then you'll want a pigment-ink printer (like the Epson R800, R2400, etc.).
I used to own a 1280 (a slightly older version of the 1290), and loved the image quality, but didn't like the lack of print longevity, and the paper/ink combination's habit of outgassing (slightly fogging up the inside of the glass for framed prints when using glossy or semigloss papers). It was very slow, but then pretty much all Epson photo printers (and the vast majority of decent-image-quality photo printers) are very slow; you just have to get used to that.
For getting neutral B&W prints, there are several options I know of. One is to buy a good custom profile for your printer, which will make the neutrality *better* compared with the canned printer profiles that come with the printer, though whether you consider them to be good enough is unknown until you try them. Another is to get an Epson that comes with the Grey Balancer, a little utility that has you print a sample image in your printer and choose the most neutral patch in it, then it adjusts the printer profile accordingly; however, I don't know whether current Epsons in the U.K. come with this or whether you can still download it (it works well for me, but I got it a couple of years ago for my 2200 so I don't know whether it is still available). Another is to read printer reviews at sites like this one; good reviews will look at the neutrality of B&W prints, and you can choose a printer that's particularly good at it. Another option that some people use, though it is a crude and imperfect one (so I'd recommend it only if the previous options can't be make to work for some reason) is to experiment with putting a Curve command (with one or two of the three colors only) on images just before you print them to try to compensate for the color cast.