Petts Wood: The making of a 1920s garden suburb

by Peter Waymark

Rapid Growth

In an article in 1930 the Estates Gazette counted 45 builders working in what became known as Petts Wood East. Some were responsible for entire roads, others for just a few houses. By no means all of them followed the Tudor style. But while allowing for variety and individuality, Scruby, with the help of Culliford, ensured a common standard.

The main challenge to the rural-romantic style came just outside the Scruby development and was the work of Davis Estates, one of the most prolific builders in the London area during the 1930s. Davis used the "modern" style which had been pioneered on the Continent and was chararacterised by smooth, white walls, steel-framed windows which often turned a corner and, sometimes, flat roofs. The latter were promoted as sun traps but tended to let in the rain and were disliked by building societies. The Davis houses provided a stylish, smaller and cheaper alternative to the prevailing mock Tudor.

The prices of new houses reflected the sort of area Scruby was trying to promote. The average for the London area in the 1930s was between £650 and £750 but until the Davis estate went up there was little in Petts Wood as cheap as that. Typically houses cost between £795 for a small semi to as much as £2,200 for a detached four-bedroomed property. This in turn defined the social make-up of the area, which was overwhelmingly middle-class and professional. Husbands, some dressed in black coats and pinstripe trousers, took the train to their offices in the City or West End. Less formally attired were the Fleet Street journalists attracted to the area by the all-night trains which ran from Blackfriars. In keeping with the convention of the time, most Petts Wood wives did not work. They did the shopping and immersed themselves in the new suburb's fast-growing social and charitable activities.