JOHNSTON, John Lawson 1829-1900. Food manufacturer. Kingswood House was acquired by John Lawson Johnston after the death of the previous owner, Thomas Tapling. He set about rebuilding the house from 1893, the result being much as it appears today.
Lawson Johnston was born in Roslin, Midlothian and educated at Edinburgh. As a young man he received the Royal Humane Society Gold Medal for saving several lives from drowning. Although his family wished him to enter the medical profession he became interested in dietetics, and in 1874 went to Canada as a dietetic expert for the French Government. Johnston’s great triumph was in the invention and marketing of the beef extract which he called ‘Bovril’, from which he amassed his considerable fortune. Kingswood became widely known locally as ‘Bovril Castle’, and its owner acquired the nickname ‘Mr. Bovril’.
Altogether Johnston spent about £10,000 on the estate. He added the entrance, battlements, and the north wing, and the ‘Castle Ruin’ which stood near the site of the modern shops was probably his inspiration. He is believed to have built or extended the servants’ wing on the east side of the building. Lord Playfair co-operated with him in the perfection of ‘hygienic marching rations’ for troops, used on forced marches in South Africa. During the Boer War, in 1899-1900, Johnston established at his own expense the War Employment Bureau, which found work for the wives of reservists during their husbands’ absences at the Front. Among Johnston’s recreations were shooting and spending time on his yacht, ‘White Ladye’. He was an original trustee of the Dulwich and Sydenham Hill Golf Club He was also a fervent supporter of the Jacobite cause, hence the Culloden Room at Kingswood and its portrait over the fireplace, supposedly of the Young Pretender. At his death in 1900 he left a fortune of £850,000.
Brian Green and Patrick Darby