Kingsley Dene was by far the biggest of the four houses built on Green Lane (now Greendale) on the Dulwich side of the railway line. Its site is now Green Dale Close and the JAPS car park. Built by Arthur Stanton Cook around 1884, Kingsley Dene’s first resident was Henry Briginshaw. Born in 1845 the son of a Putney baker, Henry became a butcher with shops in Rye Lane but he was not always the most honest shopkeeper and was fined for inaccurate scales. In 1871 he married Jane Clark and they lived in Brixton with their two children before moving to Kingsley Dene.
Henry’s brother JW Briginshaw, also a Rye Lane butcher, was a Camberwell councillor. Henry’s son Oswald attended Dulwich College and served in the Boer War before joining his father’s shops and setting up his own import/export business. In 1908 he married Mildred Hartridge and they moved into 10 South Croxted Rd. When WW1 began he was 39 years old and joined up, dying of pneumonia in November 1918. He was survived by his widow and their two young children. His parents and unmarried sister retired to Tunbridge Wells and the de Escofets moved into Kingsley Dene.
Born in 1864 Ramon de Escofet was one of twelve children of Julian de Escofet, a Spanish silversmith emigré to Birmingham. Ramon was a gifted athlete and won prizes for fencing and athletics at school before becoming a silversmith. In 1890 he married Annie Glaze and they moved to London where Ramon worked for a silversmith firm, later buying it out. Ramon and Annie had four children: Ramon, who became his father’s assistant, Clara and Paul, both of whom were born in Warmington Road, and Julian, born when the family lived in Winterbrook Road. Ramon’s sister-in-law lived in Denmark Hill, making a little Escofet enclave in South London. In 1905 the family moved to Kingsley Dene where the huge garden allowed Ramon to indulge his love of horticulture, specifically roses. It was said he had 3,000 roses growing at Kingsley Dene. In 1919 he introduced a new variety of hybrid tea rose called Mrs Ramon de Escofet. It was vigorous with large crimson blooms but little fragrance and was prone to mildew. He won prizes, became vice president of the Rose Society and instituted the Escofet Memorial Cup. He died in 1925, leaving £8,500.
Frederick and Alice Kessell were the next residents. Born in Clapham in 1861, the son of Charles, a hop factor, and Jane Hazeldine, who had both moved to London from Penzance, Frederick started his own fruit pulp import business based at Railway Approach, London Bridge (now Guildable Manor St). In 1887 he married Alice Heselden and they lived in Clapham, Stockwell and Catford before moving to Dulwich. In 1901 Frederick was a witness in the trial of Martha Eliot, who had been caught stealing £300 worth of diamond jewellery from Mrs Besant (no relation to Annie Besant). Frederick, believing Eliot to be a respectable Clapham householder, helped her sell the stolen jewels. He tried strenuously to have his name withheld from the court record, or to be identified instead as Frederick Evans, merchant, but the judge refused. While giving evidence he produced some diamond jewellery which was identified by Mrs Besant as hers. Had he bought it from Martha? It was never made clear but he said that he was ‘considerably out of pocket by the transactions’. Was he embarrassed at being duped and that is why he wanted his name out of the papers?
The Kessells had three sons. Frederick was born in 1888 and educated at St Dunstan’s College where he won a shorthand prize, joined the debating and natural history societies, played cricket and lacrosse for the school and was a noted gymnast. After school he became an advertising clerk and in WW1 enlisted in the Royal Army Medical Corps. In 1918 he was gassed in France and invalided home. He contracted pneumonia and died in October 1918; he is buried in Ladywell Cemetery. Their youngest son, Clarence, died when he was fifteen while their only surviving son, Laurence, who had served in the Army Ordnance Corps in WW1, joined his father’s fruit pulp business. Laurence lived at Kingsley Dene until 1923, when he married Nora Porter at St Barnabas and they set up home at Woodlands, 4 Dulwich Common.
The next resident of the house is the most notorious. Emma Ermengarde Ogilvy was born in 1860, the daughter of a Scottish landowner. Her mother died when she was five and her father when she was ten so she lived with relatives until she was 21 when she married the Hon. Patrick Emilius John Greville-Nugent, the High Sheriff of Westmeath (the Crown’s representative in Ireland and the 14th Nugent to have been given this role). Ermengarde and Patrick travelled extensively in Algeria and Tunisia and she published ‘A Land of Mosques and Marabouts’ about her adventures, and a book of translated poetry: ‘The Rueing of Gudrun and Other Poems’ which she dedicated to Violet, Lady Greville, her sister-in-law and coincidentally the cousin of Charlotte Barclay of Bell House. The Times called her writing ‘rather commonplace’ but the Daily Chronicle said her ‘agreeable pen’ had zest and wit.
In 1892 Patrick was arrested for ‘committing an outrage’ on a Miss Price in a first-class carriage on the London-Brighton line. The court report makes shocking reading today. Despite her dress being torn, the carriage showing evidence of a struggle, Nugent refusing to give his name to the guard and the railway company being keen to prosecute, Miss Price was questioned about how hard she had resisted him, Nugent’s barrister enquired about the respectability of her background and the policeman who met the train at Victoria questioned her in front of Nugent and then allowed Nugent to question her and follow her out of the station. Throughout the trial Ermengarde sat beside her husband’s barrister. I have been unable to find a verdict. The Nugents had one daughter, Rosemary, who died in 1922 in a lunatic asylum. Ermengarde converted to Roman Catholicism and founded the Society of King Charles the Martyr, placing adverts appealing for people to contact her at Kingsley Dene. Later she was forbidden holy communion by the Archbishop of Southwark, for allowing Montague Summers, the occultist and witchcraft expert, to take mass in her oratory, although he was not a Catholic priest.
When her husband died insane in 1925 (three years after their daughter), Ermengarde sold his 600-acre Scottish estate but after debts it fetched just £500. She then bought Kingsley Dene for £3,000 but put it into the name of Lily Head, her adopted daughter. In 1928 Ermengarde sold the estate she inherited from her father but was bankrupt within two years. In 1934, aged 73, she was arrested for debt and fraud. In court they said she lived at Kingsley Dene on a ‘fine scale’ at the cost of £800 pa, funded by writing begging letters to the beneficiaries of wills published in newspaper. She kept ‘a big saloon motor-car and her house and grounds in Dulwich are kept in good repair’. The Charity Organisation Society gave evidence that she had been reported to them many times and had caused them ‘much trouble’. They regarded her as ‘one of the most accomplished professional begging letter-writers in the country’ and said she claimed to need money for major operations, ‘of which there was at least one every year’. They had investigated her many times and always found her to be living in ‘luxurious circumstances’ and ‘exquisitely dressed’.
When her defence stated that she was the widow of Patrick Greville-Nugent the magistrate was unimpressed, asking ‘Who was he?’. Mrs Nugent told the court that St Francis had lived by begging and asked why shouldn’t she? The judge sentenced her to two months in prison: ‘There is no doubt you have taken advantage of people systematically’. Mrs Nugent wept on hearing the sentence. She died in 1949 aged 88.
At the beginning of WW2 there were three related families lived at Kingsley Dene and it was also used as an air raid warden post. Henry and Emma Vercoe lived there with two of their married daughters. Doris had married Bernard Rolfe, a men’s outfitter, and they had a son, Robin. Florence had married Edward Timms and they also had a son, Peter. The 1939 Register says Edward Timms was a motor haulage contractor and ARP warden but Brian Green can attest that he was so much more than that. Timms was an industrial chemist with a talent for meeting some of shortages in post-war London and he set up a small factory at Kingsley Dene (one wonders what his relatives thought of this) where he developed cosmetics, shoe-polish, crayons and gloss paint. Brian tells the story of how a relative painted his kitchen dresser in Timm’s Cherrygloss but a week later the paint still hadn’t dried and his plates got stuck to the dresser (more in Autumn 2008 Journal).
Kingsley Dene was demolished in 1964 and the site is now Green Dale Close and the JAPS car park.