Petts Wood: The making of a 1920s garden suburb

by Peter Waymark

One Man's Vision

Petts Wood is widely regarded as one of the most successful of the new inter-war London suburbs and has been celebrated as such in print and on television. It owes its reputation largely to the vision of one man, Basil Scruby, who was responsible not only for planning and developing the suburb but establishing its character. Unlike William Willett, whose connection with the area is more tenuous, but has a recreation ground and two roads named after him and a pub which recalls his campaign for daylight saving, Scruby is nowhere commemorated in Petts Wood. The suburb itself is his monument.

Originally from Harlow in Essex, Scruby went into business as a developer after the First World War. During the 1920s he created estates in Harlow and other parts of his native county, as well as in Peacehaven in Sussex. These developments were mainly of cheaper, lower quality housing.

For what became Petts Wood, however, his ambition was loftier: a "garden suburb" which would provide a high-class quasi-rural environment for London commuters. Possibly because of a contact with the Southern Railway he came south of the Thames to find suitable land. By October 1927 he had found it. In that month he took an advertisement in the London Evening News to announce that a 400-acre site was "being opened up for building".