• Malcolm Hackett

A Photographer Explores Kent no. 2: Petts Wood

Updated: Jun 1, 2020


So, only the second of my blogs about getting to know #Kent, and I'm already straying outside of the county borders! However, whilst Orpington today is undeniably a town in Greater London and part of the borough of Bromley, in older times it was a parish in the county of Kent. Excuses out of the way, on with the story...


I was recently engaged to do some #headshots in #Orpington. As this only occupied me for the morning, I took the opportunity to do some local exploration in the afternoon, and found myself strolling through nearby Petts Wood.This is an ancient woodland, covering some 60ha (150 acres in old money), now owned and managed by the National Trust. Lying adjacent to a number of other areas of common land and public parks, it is part of the local network of green spaces, a vital “green lung” on the edge of London. The woodland is full of oak, beech, ash and alder and there are also small areas of open heath.



The woodland is named after the Petts, a family of shipbuilders famous from the 15th to 17th centuries. The Petts used timber from the woods to build ships in Woolwich and Chatham, including the Sovereign of the Seas. This was the "vanity" ship of its time, ordered by Charles I in 1634. Whilst her 102 cannons made her the most heavily armed ship in the world, her extravagant decorations confirmed that she was designed less for tactical considerations and rather more to boost the reputation of the English crown. The gilding used on the Sovereign was itself as expensive as a typical warship of its time – in today's money, the gold used would have cost over £1.1million.



A glade within the wood includes a granite sundial, which has been placed to commemorate another local resident. Unusually, this sundial is set to run one hour ahead of Greenwich Mean Time, as William Willet of Chislehurst was an early campaigner for British Summer Time. The Latin inscription translates roughly as “I only tell the summer hours”... unfortunately at the time of my visit, the cloud cover conspired to remove any significant shadow on its dial!

Another surprise was to find my photography being interrupted by some unusually loud chirping from the trees overhead. This announced the arrival of a flock of ring-necked parakeets, birds native to parts of Africa and the Indian Subcontinent. Here they are mainly known as pets, however, a feral population has become established in suburban areas of London and parts of South-East England. This most likely originated from individuals escaping from aviaries, however there are also a number of more romantic theories. Perhaps the birds are descended from parakeets that got loose from the Ealing Studios during filming of The African Queen in 1951? Or maybe you'd prefer to believe that the original parents were two birds released by Jimi Hendrix in London's Carnaby Street in the 1960s?! Whatever the truth behind such legends, the birds I saw in Petts Wood were a colourful and rather noisy surprise!


My visit was completed in early March, before coronavirus limited travel. If you would like to visit once these restrictions are lifted, please note that whilst there is an extensive network of paths throughout the wood, car parking along the A208 is very limited.


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