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The history of Petts Wood and Hawkwood

Walker on path at Hawkwood Kent in the summertime
Walker at Hawkwood, Kent | © ©National Trust Images/Sam Milling

The name Petts Wood first appeared in 1577 in the last will and testament of William Pett. But why was the site significant, and what is the history of Petts Wood and Hawkwood?

The origins of Petts Wood

William Pett, part of the so-called Pett Dynasty, was a master shipbuilder whose family were leading shipwrights for 200 years.

Timber for shipbuilding

William supplied oaks from Petts Wood to his shipyards on the River Thames at Deptford and Woolwich. Both Deptford and Woolwich were naval dockyards – Deptford was the first Royal Naval Dockyard, and Woolwich was known as the King’s Yard.

A growing London

Between the wars, developer Basil Scruby wanted to create a garden suburb, which would give a semi-rural environment to London commuters. After he bought 400 acres of land on the other side of the railway line for development, the locals became increasingly concerned about the threat of further development.

The community steps in

When Petts Wood came on to the market there was strong local feeling that it shouldn’t be developed. With donations from local people, the 88 acres of woodland were bought to save them from development, donated to the National Trust to protect, and dedicated to the memory of William Willett, the local advocate of daylight saving, or British Summer Time. This area of woodland is known today as the Willett Memorial Wood.

William Willet memorial at Petts Wood, Kent
William Willet memorial at Petts Wood | © National Trust Images/Nick Dougan

British Summer Time at Petts Wood and Hawkwood

William Willett was a prominent Edwardian builder who lived in Chislehurst. A keen supporter of outdoor activities, he noticed that during the summer people were still sleeping when the sun had risen.
Willett began to think about changing the nation’s clocks and started to write his ideas into an information pamphlet which he called ‘A waste of daylight’.

Convincing the nation

A successful businessman, Willett was able to sponsor his ideas and began to investigate how changing the nation’s clocks at different times of the year would create more usable daylight.
Willett published ‘A waste of daylight’ in 1907 in which he suggested advancing time in four phases throughout the year. Although his ideas caught the interest of MPs such as Robert Pearce and Winston Churchill, the overly technical way in which he suggested the change put many people off.

The First World War

The outbreak of the war in 1914 put a huge strain on the national economy and the government began to look at ways to increase productivity. This way of daylight saving time was finally adopted in 1916. The government believed it would improve output in factories and reduce the amount of coal used for heating and lighting.

The Willett memorial

At the heart of the wood is a commemorative sundial which is permanently set to British Summer Time. Although William died before his ideas came into practice it was his pamphlet that paved the way for British Summer Time.


There was another 47 acres of woodland on the western edge, which they couldn’t afford to buy. Colonel Francis Edlmann bought this and added it to his neighbouring estate, Hawkwood. The whole of the woodland was temporarily safe from development.

Another helping hand

When Colonel Edlmann died in 1950, the Hawkwood estate was put on the market. The 230 acres of Hawkwood were offered to the Trust to purchase, but funds couldn’t be raised. However, the Trust did offer to administer it if money could be raised from the public to buy it.

Under the Town and Country Planning Act, Chislehurst and Sidcup Urban District Council were able to use their powers to keep the land development free. Developers tried to get this overturned, but a public enquiry upheld the decision in 1955. 

The Halls donation

In 1957 Robert and Francesca Hall purchased the 230 acres and donated it to the National Trust, with the western part of Petts Wood being named the Edlmann Memorial Wood. In 1958, a stone memorial was unveiled to both Colonel Edlmann and the Halls.

Tong Farm

In 1975 the main house and gardens, including Tong Farm, were acquired from Francesca Hall. Francesca donated the farm on condition that farming should continue, to preserve its rural character. 

A family walk along a path through the woodland around Penshaw Monument; the dappled sunlight shines down through the leaves

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