Petts Wood: The making of a 1920s garden suburb

by Peter Waymark

Rural Quality

Scruby was determined to retain, as far as possible, this rural quality. It was the key to his concept of the "garden suburb". In several respects the prototype for Petts Wood was Hampstead Garden Suburb, which was established before the First World War by the philanthropist Henrietta Barnett. Like Petts Wood it was an attempt to create a new community in which the housing would retain a rural flavour. Like Petts Wood, it was designed as a retreat for London commuters, with the railway as an essential prerequisite. Alan A. Jackson, in his masterly study of suburbia, Semi-Detached London (George Allen and Unwin, 1973), describes Hampstead in words that could equally be applied to Scruby's Petts Wood: "Purchases of plots were able to employ their own architects but designs had to conform with the general scheme, the objectives of which were to retain an open setting, to maintain as close a harmony with nature as possible and to create a mood of rural peace and security".

Having secured an option on the 400 acres for his garden suburb Scruby laid out the roads and arranged the essential infrastructure of drains, gas, water and electricity. Starting east of the railway, he bought the land in sections, which he divided into plots and sold to speculative builders. Scruby's finance came mostly from trust funds administered by a firm of solicitors in Cambridge. They lent the capital on a mortgage and made further advances as plots were sold. The builders, in turn, raised enough finance to put up a few houses, hoping to sell them quickly and buy more land with the proceeds. The chain was a precarious one and the development of the Petts Wood suburb saw many bankruptcies. In designing the estate Scruby was helped by an architect, Leonard Culliford, who ensured that wherever possible the roads emphasised the natural sweep of the landscape. Culliford also supervised builders' plans to ensure that the houses met Scruby's demands for a quality neighbourhood.