Eller Bank, the house that is now DUCKs, the Dulwich College’s pre-prep department, is the last remaining Victorian house on College Road. Before the First World War it was also the most expensive house to be built on the Dulwich Estate costing £6,800 in 1898. On the 27 January that year the plans, by architect Edwin J Sadgrove, were approved at the Board Meeting with Charles Barry Jnr., the Estate Architect and Surveyor commenting ‘the design is a somewhat remarkable one and decidedly costly. The manager and I have examined the plans and have pleasure in recommending them for approval’. The applicant was 38-year-old Walter Hoggan who had recently moved in with his young family to ‘Lorrimore’ No 9 Alleyn Road, a house only completed in 1896. His new house was called Comely Bank after the Edinburgh neighbourhood where his wife had grown up.
In the 1901 Census Hoggan gave his occupation as commercial clerk, so how did he have the money needed to build a house of this size? The answer is easy, he was left the funds on the death of his father, Robert Beveridge Hoggan. in November 1895. The latter was the managing director of John Rylands & Son (Limited), who were probably the largest textile manufacturing concern in the UK. Founded in Wigan in 1819 by Joseph Rylands and his three sons, Joseph, Richard and John, by the 1860s the firm was employing 15,000 people in 17 mills and factories, producing 35 tons of cloth a day. Although John Rylands died in 1888, the company continued to expand until the 1920s when, like the rest of the Lancashire cotton industry, it began to decline. It was later taken over by Great Universal Stores Limited and finally ceased trading in 1971. Robert Hoggan left just under £83,000 (equivalent to about £10 million today), most of which went to Walter, his eldest son. The younger brothers did not do so well with Harold received a life annuity of £100 per annum, while Sidney and Ernest received life annuities of £150 per annum each.
Walter and Mary Hoggan brought up their three children, Robert, Mary, and Ralph, at ‘Comely Bank’, with the boys attending Dulwich College. Robert was on the engineering side and won a prize for mathematics. On leaving Dulwich in 1916 he served in WW1 as a lieutenant in the Royal Garrison Artillery; after the war he took an engineering degree and, in WW2, he served as a civilian garrison engineer in Leicester. Ralph played rugby and cricket for the College and left in 1919, taking a mathematics degree at St John’s College, Cambridge, before becoming an accountant.
Following Walter’s death in 1926 (aged 66) his wife leased part of the grounds as playing fields to the metal dealers Johnson Mathey who used it for their staff athletic association sports ground. In 1931 she and her daughter moved to 113 Dulwich Village and assigned the lease to Percy St Lawrence Jepson and his family and the house’s name became ‘Eller Bank’. Percy had grown up in Manchester before moving to Eltham. Initially a commercial traveller in packing materials, he later sold office equipment and by the mid-1920s was manufacturing it. The business was successful and throughout the 1920s and 1930s he was travelling regularly to South Africa and New York; he had also bought another house at Catherine Place in Victoria and the family spent most of their time there. By 1939 there were two other sport clubs registered at Eller Bank, the John Blundell Sports Club and the TMC Athletic & Social Club and, in October 1944, Percy Jepson sold the remaining part of his lease to Johnson Matthey for £2500. The Jepsons had two sons, Peter (born 1910) and Guy (born 1913) who both joined their father’s business after leaving school. In 1945 the family suffered a double tragedy when Major Peter Jepson was killed in action on 2 May 1945 aged 34, two days before Germany surrendered – he had fought as a gunner with the Royal Artillery airborne division, was mentioned twice in dispatches and he also won the Military Medal for exceptional bravery in the Middle East. His younger brother, Wing commander Guy Jepson RAF, 32, was killed in an air crash at Bad Eilsen, the HQ of the British Air Force of Occupation, on 3 December 1945. The house and ground remained leased to Johnson Matthey for nearly 50 years although, in the late 1960s the Dulwich Estate and Wates tried to redevelop the site with three blocks of flats but their application was rejected by Southwark Council. The house and grounds were taken over by Dulwich College in the mid-1990s as the location for the Dulwich College Kindergarten and Infants School (Ducks).
The house’s architect, Edwin J Sadgove, was responsible for two other developments in the Dulwich area, his own house in Lovelace Road, and a large terrace of houses on the South circular, Nos 61-79 Thurlow Park Road. Born in 1861 he was articled to Albert J Bolton ARIBA, best known for his work for the Grosvenor Estate in South Audley Street. Sadgrove started up his own practice in 1886, at 4 Southampton Row, and his first major project was an imposing block of apartments in Basil Street, Knightsbridge, Basil Mansions. He became known as an expert in designing tobacco warehouses, in London and Nottingham, and was an active expert witness in light and air compensation and building valuation cases. He was also a Freemason, as most professional men were at that time (he was worshipful master of the Society of Architects Lodge in 1912-13), a Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects and a Member of the Society of Arts.
From 1896, a couple of years before he began working on Comely Bank, he was living at 26 Carson Road commuting into his office in the City by train from West Dulwich (then Dulwich Station). In December 1897 the London Evening Standard reported on his summons for assaulting a fellow traveller on the train, a Mr Cuthbert Wilkinson. Both Sadgrove and Wilkinson were first class season ticket holders and it appeared that Wilkinson objected to Sadgrove entering his carriage compartment with his young son when it was full. Sadgrove had just put his boy into the compartment when Wilkinson and another passenger complained. Sadgrove responded saying ‘Who are you and what right do you have to interfere? What has it to do with you?’ Wilkinson then stepped forward towards the door with the intention of calling the guard but Sadgrove persisted on entering the carriage, and when Wilkinson put his hands on Sadgrove’s shoulders to prevent him, Sadgrove punched him on the cheek. At that point they all got out on to the platform and, while waiting for the stationmaster, Sadgrove apparently hit him again. The Magistrate bound him over for six months.
Currently Sadgrove was also building his own house, at No 30 Court Road (now 51 Lovelace Road). It was called ‘The Bungalow’ and, like ‘Comely Bank’, it was a fine arts and crafts design. Today it is now largely hidden by trees and high hedges, but a hand drawn sketch and detailed sales particulars appeared in Marten & Carnaby’s Residential Dulwich brochure for 1910 – it was advertised at a rent of £100 per annum and was described as ‘an unusually attractive detached residence’. The copy enthused over the size of the living rooms and described how the house was fitted with every modern convenience (including a serving hatch to the dining room). The bathroom, only one for five bedrooms in those days, had tiled walls and a shower and spray bath. The piece de resistance, however, was the billiard room (30ft x 20ft), which was top lit and held a full-size table. There was electric light and gas fitted to nearly every room; along with telephones and electric bells. It also had a well-kept garden, tennis courts, and had been ‘fitted and decorated throughout regardless of expense, and is planned with a view to obtaining the maximum of comfort and convenience to the occupier’.
In those days, architects could practice as builders and developers and Sadgove certainly did that. One of his major schemes was 18 houses along Thurlow Park Road immediately to the south of his own house. The newspaper advertisements for the houses said that ‘the fittings throughout are modern, good, and up-to-date. The decorations will be carried out to tenant’s taste. Installed with electric light. Modern sanitation’. It added that the situation was ‘one of the best, being high and central, and in a favourite road’, now of course the South circular - I am not sure that today’s potential occupiers would see the road in quite the same way today. The houses are still there but mostly converted into flats.
His professional career was a success with a number of other housing developments and country houses. He joined the Society of Architects in 1901 and held various officers including honorary treasure (1910); vice president (1914-15), and president (1916-20). He was also widely quoted for his comments on post WW1 housing; he was an active proponent of gas and said that a comprehensive policy of installing gas heating in new houses would be a far more affordable option than coal fires. He was adamant that the coal range was ‘an antiquated and inefficient piece of apparatus, suited more to the museum than a modern home.’ One of his other suggestions was that instead of high-rise flats houses should be built underground with roof-gardens at ground level!
Unfortunately, his family life was less successful. In 1905, following the birth of a baby daughter, his wife suffered from puerperal psychosis and early in 1909 she was committed to a mental institution in Buckinghamshire; she remained there until her death in 1922. The 1939 Census shows him living with his daughter at another small house he had designed, Lochahoy, next to Penton Hook Lock on the Thames, where he died in in 1943.