Upper Woodcote

Upper Woodcote, Croydon

Also known as the Webb estate, this garden village in south-west Purley is a paradise for horticulturalists and tree lovers – if they can afford it

A lush garden and an expensive house
The village’s creator let gardens mature before building houses, resulting in lush scenes like this

Chartered surveyor William Webb bought the 260-acre Foxley estate in 1888 and planted trees, flowers and hedgerows that were allowed to mature before homes were built and offered for sale.

The coming of trams to Purley in 1901 spurred him to make a start on construc­tion and the first dwelling to be completed was Upper Woodcote House, which Webb himself moved into. Cottages were then studded around a village green in the south-west corner, orig­i­nally for Webb’s workmen but soon snapped up by commuters.

The outer roads of the estate were mostly built up with semi-detached prop­er­ties, and these have been the worst affected by traffic and by alter­ations and infilling. Most of the inner roads were laid out from 1907 and the plots were developed between 1912 and 1920.

Webb planted Rose Walk with 6,000 rose bushes, South Border with herba­ceous plants and Silver Lane with a double row of silver birch and a host of bulbs and wild flowers.

The Promenade de Verdun came last, lined with an avenue of Lombardy poplars with their roots in soil brought from Armen­tières and sifted to remove shrapnel. At the end of the avenue is a granite obelisk dedicated to the memory of French soldiers who died in the First World War.

The estate was virtually complete by 1925 and contains around 230 houses that are of varying archi­tec­tural merit but in an incom­pa­rable setting. Webb expounded his land­scaping theories in a short but well illus­trated publi­ca­tion that is still available from anti­quarian booksellers.

The council conferred conser­va­tion area status on Upper Woodcote Village (which surrounds the village green) in 1973 and extended this to cover the rest of the estate a decade later. There is a blanket tree preser­va­tion order and no subdi­vi­sion of plots is allowed.

According to a Croydon Adver­tiser report in 2012, the estate’s residents are still theo­ret­i­cally bound by a list of rules drawn up by William Webb, including the following:

  • No clothes, except children’s garments, shall be hung out to dry unless hidden by a hedge or other suitable enclosure
  • No use of a lawn mower within nine inches of a tree stem, as the nut on the side of the machine is certain to tear the bark off
  • No purchaser should be seen emerging from their abode wearing shorts 

However, former Crystal Palace chairman Ron Noades – who lived in Rose Walk until his death in 2013 – was quoted as saying: “Our washing has been hung outside for 20 years, and as for [not] wearing shorts – well it doesn’t even bear thinking about if you are going to play golf.”

Upper Woodcote’s best known resident is Status Quo frontman Francis Rossi.

Postcode area: Purley, CR8
Further reading: William Webb, Garden First in Land Development, Longmans, 1919