Kingswood House

The history of Kingswood House

Kings Wood, formerly known as Kings Coppice, may have taken its name from Edward King who was a tenant of Dulwich manor as far back as 1535.

Between 1811 and 1814 William Vizard, Queen Caroline's solicitor built Kingswood Lodge, which was later re-named Kingswood House.

Ownership of Kingswood

In 1868 J. Everitt took over what remained of the estate. When a new lease of the house and surrounding land was granted to him in 1869, he disposed of the property to Thomas Tapling. After Tapling died in 1881 his executors, including Thomas Keay Tapling, MP 'of Kingswood, Dulwich', were granted a new lease in 1882.

John Lawson Johnston acquired Kingswood after Tapling Senior's death and he set about transforming the house, the result being much as it appears today. He added the entrance, battlements and the north wing. He is believed to have built or extended the servants' wing on the east side of the building. The Castle Ruin, which stood near the modem shops, was probably his inspiration.

Kingswood gave birth to Bovril

Johnston's great triumph was the invention and marketing of the beef extract called Bovril from which he gained his considerable fortune. Kingswood became widely known locally as Bovril Castle and its owner acquired the nickname Mr Bovril.

Post 1900

When J. L. Johnston died in 1900, William Dederich acquired the house. By 1916 he had become anxious to sell it and sub-let Kingswood to Massey-Harris, a Canadian firm of tractor manufacturers, for use as a hospital for Canadian troops. The hospital remained in use until the end of the war, after which Kingswood became a nurses' home for a few months.

In 1919 Sir William Vestey bought the house. When Lloyd George made Vestey a lord in 1922, he took the title of Baron Vestey of Kingswood. Kingswood was at the time being used as a recuperation centre for wounded troops and came to the notice of Lady Vestey when she was doing social work in connection with the soldiers housed there. In 1919 Vestey was granted an 80-year lease of the property at an annual rent of £386 11s 8d, and Kingswood became his principal residence until his death.

Kingswood House itself was not substantially altered during Lord Vestey's ownership, though a good deal of interior fittings, including ceilings and fireplaces, were erected or changed.

Like his predecessors at Kingswood, Vesty was a generous host and Dulwich College cricketers were frequently entertained at tea. He also made the grounds available to many local children for Sunday school outings and sports.

Page last updated: 16 December 2020

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