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Reginald Aglio Dibdin

Analytical Chemist - Engineer


About 1902

About 1914

Historical Sources

Catalogue of Primary Material

Reginald Aglio Dibdin in World War 1

Philosophical letter to Joan Guise nee Dibdin in 1944

Married to Elsie Marvin in 1912, a marriage which lasted only about 12 years.

My memory of Rex is based on a few visits during the last five years of his live when he was in his seventies. 
He gave my mother, Joan, away at her wedding to my Stepfather. 
Usually he was in bed ill on later visits, attended by his loyal house keeper, Peggy

Aspects of his life I remember from family stories, but there is much that have been gleaned from photographs and a box containing his letters and documents.

In 1902 he qualified from Polytechnic in Chemistry and allied subjects and there is a registration document for 1904 for entry to Medical School. It would seem that he did not follow this up.

He was obviously a knowledgeable, intelligent and artistic man but also a tragic figure. He was in the same field of work, Analytical Chemistry, as his father William Joseph Dibdin and at times in his life worked free lance with him. He outlived some of his siblings and records show that he was involved, with his father, in negotiation over the internment of his brother at Golders Green Crematorium in 1909 when he was 26. His younger brother Augustine Aglio Dibdin died at the age of 24 while the family was living at Purleybury.In 1905, at the age of 22, he was employed by London County Council to work with the chemists and gas examiners.

He married on the 14 Feb1912 at (St Mary’s) Marylebone, to Elsie Millicent Marvin and then within a couple of years, Rex was in the First World War, having joined up as did many of the Dibdin Family and from family hearsay he was badly injured. I believe that this must have been the root of a tumultuous relationship with his wife and perhaps family. His marriage finally faded in 1924. The war seemed to have left Rex with apparent paranoia and a spell during 1923 in the Maudsley Hospital.

World War I   Algio-Dibdins

Larger Picture


The precise history of the years of his marriage is difficult to piece together however it seems that the breakdown of the marriage was due to serious illness, probably caused by experiences in the war and maybe because of a depressive nature.
Rex on leave Nov 1915

In 1916 he was badly injured and was waiting to be discharged in June 1916.  There is no record of his life between 1916 and Nov 1922 although more may come to light when other family letters are researched. A letter from his brother Joe, at an Officers Hospital, Sauvic in France, was addressed to Elsie and Rex in December 1916 at 40 Elm Grove Road Barnes. Joe Dibdin seems to have had a fun sense of humour. Rex was receiving a war pension and did not returned to working for the London County Council until December 1923. It may have been during this time that he wrote the booklet on Indian Picture Writing and Aztec Hieroglyphics.

It seems from letters from Elsie during 1923 and 1924 that Rex became seriously depressed in about November 1922 and showed uncontrolled signed of paranoia. His behaviour over Christmas 1922 completely alienated his in-laws and his own family were becoming aware of problems. For some reason the Dibdin family, which seems to have acted as a clan at times, did not support Elsie and seemed to have been rather unkind to her. Rex went to stay at some sort of medical establishment, The Old Manor in Salisbury, and later was admitted to The Maudsley Hospital, Denmark Hill which opened as a mental hospital under the London County Council in 1923, having been a hospital for war wounded.

During 1923 Elsie was seriously ill with a heart attack and general debilitation but seems to have kept up correspondence with Rex on a fortnightly basis against what appears to have been a barrage of paranoia and recriminations. The financial cost of this period of time was immense and Elsie ended up living with her family and selling their house. Rex’s father was initially reluctant to accept the issue of depression and need for treatment although by August 1923 he was pleased that Rex went to the Maudsley. I get the impression that during this period Rex was suing his Father or the family business, over his share of the business and rights to the Biological sewage invention. He seems to have seen this as a possible source of income.

In October 1923 Rex discharged himself from the Maudsley and returned to his Father’s home 31 Idmiston Road. By late 1923 and early 1924 Elsie is giving Rex ultimatums about terms for the re-instatement of the marriage state, based on her doctor’s and families advice. During the time of Rex’s illness, Elsie became involved with the Christian Scientists, an occurrence which further added to Rex’s paranoia, and seemed to have got considerable support from them.

By mid 1924 Elsie had really decided that each should manage on their own and there is a record that in 1928 she returns a cheque for £5 to Rex as this was his first attempt at supporting her, with a view of them coming together again.
Letters from his letter Elsie seem to give considerable insight into Rex, his state on mind and within the family there is recognition of a genius like nature.

Where he was living.

  • late 1916 Abbotsford, 41a Abbey Road, St John’s Wood
  • 22 Dec 1916 40 Elm Grove Barnes 
  • 28 July 1922 Rex lived at 7 Barston Road West Norwood SE27 
        with Elsie – He seemed to have got depressed in November 1922
  • 1923 - The Old Manor Salisbury (trying to recuperate) and then The Maudsley Hospital, Denmark Hill
  • 7th April 1923 Elsie, Rex's wife, had just handed over tenancy of 19 Dalmore Rd West Dulwich SE21
  • 1923 Rex returned to 31 Idmiston Rd, his parents home.
  • 30 April 1933 after his parents had died and when his brother Lionel and Cecily died, Rex was still living at 31 Idmiston Rd West Norwood SE27
  • 12th May 1938 Rex lived at 9 Recreation Road Sydenham SE 26
  • 23rd Sept 1938 --- 44 Rex lived at 1 Wynell Road Forest Hill SE23


It should be noted that Rex's Father and Mother died during this period in 1925 and 1928 respectively and that Rex was probably coming out of the worst of his illness thanks in part to the support of his housekeeper to be, Peggy.

It would seem that by 1930, Peggy who had been a maid at his Father and Mother's home, 31 Idmiston Road, settled to become Rex's housekeeper. Her loyalty was immense and she was a wonderfully cheery lady who stayed with him until he died.  She subsequently married a widower with a family.

Presumably Peggy stayed with the Family at 31 Idmiston Rd until sometime after 1933 

From Mary Cowham, Rex's niece

Uncle Rex, long-since divorced, was a refreshing eccentric. We shivered with delight when he annoyed his baby sister - our grownup mother - by saying how much he hated being a choirboy, "dressed up in a sheet". Like my grandfather, he was an analytical chemist, and we loved it when he took us into his laboratory that was once the conservatory. Aunt Letty was a dozen years older than my mother and had a remarkable career. She was a nurse and an opera singer and still single when we first knew her. Some years later she married the conductor of the Carl Rosa Opera Company, and later still she drove an ambulance during the London blitzes in World War Two.
Early one morning we heard much shouting and slamming of doors. Uncle Rex, in a dressing gown, ran out of Peggy’s room and into his laboratory. Peggy, the maid, was a plump, fresh-faced young woman with a ready smile, and a special favorite of ours because she plied us with home baked biscuits and let us spend most of our time in the kitchen - the only warm room in the house. Aunt Letty, just back from a long night at the hospital, ran upstairs and closed her bedroom door while my mother, also in a dressing gown, stood at the foot of the stairs shouting about dens of iniquity. She then staggered into the drawing room, collapsed onto a sofa, and burst into tears.

"Your mother is a little upset," said Peggy, with characteristic understatement, when we rushed into the kitchen in the hope of finding out what the row was all about. Throughout that morning we heard intermittent outbursts from behind closed doors and during a tense and rather silent lunch Christine innocently asked: "What is fornication?"

That did it! After more shouting, and much sobbing, we were whisked away in a taxi to the home of my father’s sister and her husband.

Many years later, when I wanted to know what had happened on that dreadful day, my mother said: "Peggy was hired during Grandma’s last illness. She took a great fancy to the new young maid and, allegedly, her dying words were ‘Look after Mr. Rex for me’. Obviously Peggy was looking after Rex in more ways than one, and Letty should have warned me. Naturally, I was very upset about my innocent children being exposed to Rex’s licentious behavior, but Letty was so blind she couldn’t see what was happening under her nose. All she could say was ‘I never would have believed this of Rex. After all, Peggy is not our class!’ "

Excerpt from Mary Cowham’s unpublished memoir "Unspoken Hope".


It is unclear from the current records as to Rex’s fully employment details but in appears that he worked as a gas examiner most of his working life as well as doing freelance work for the family businesses.

He was a man of wide interests, which included art, music, astronomy, symbolism and hieroglyphics and invention. In fact this invention trait is one that seems to have flowed through much of the Dibdin Aglio Family with outlets in practical science, engineering art and design.

There is a very moving letter to him from Agnes Robertson thanking him for his contribution during a debate, presumably on the art process, in 1905.

9 Elsworthy Terrace NW

Dear Mr Dibdin

I should like, if I may to send a word of thanks for your speech at the debate last night. As far as I could make out you were the only person there who really grasped what I was driving at! I am fully convinced on the truth of what you said about the only thing needful for an artist’s development being not definite instruction, but a chance of working on his own salvation in the right atmosphere, -- surrounded the finest of the old examples. I have seen something of this as my father is an artist. I expect you certainly know Stevenson’s glorious essay on "Fountainebleau" (in ‘Across the Plain’). I thought of it when you were speaking.

Yours sincerely Agnes Robertson

I assume that his interest in symbolism stemmed from the work of his Great grand father Augustino Algio, Senior, who produced the art work and engravings for a book, Mexican Antiquities, sponsored by Lord Kingsborough. Facimile of Mexican Antiquities

In about 1922, Rex produced a booklet on the subject of Red Indian Picture Writing and had 500 copies printed.

He seems to have distributed copies to many libraries including the British Museum.

There are also, in draft form, two other related booklets, ‘Aztec Hieroglyphics’ and ‘The Great Symbolism – A Psychological View of the Sacred Diagrams of the Chinese Book of Changes’.

Rex had already also written a series of articles for a Civil Service journal 1906 on what was, in effect, much of the life work of his father William Joseph Dibdin, on The Evolution of Sewage Treatment.

Records show that at a later time in his life he invented a knitting process in 1935 and for a period in 1938 bought and sold tea. He was a painter and obviously musical as reference is made to his flutes. Also documented is a hymn that he wrote.

During the Second World War, Rex seemed to have been sending inventive suggestions to the War Ministry as there are courteous replies to a number of his ideas.

On, I think, my last visit to him, he showed me a painting he had done of the Crucifixion. It looked like a fogged piece of paper, very relevant to me at the time as London was often foggy or rather Smoggy. Careful examination of the painting showed the faint outline of a central cross and two even fainter crosses one on either side. I do not remember his actual comments but this seemed to reflect how he felt about life and death.


From reports, his funeral was a nightmare scene, as someone felt it important to draw everyone’s attention to his failed marriage, his living with his housekeeper and his impending entry into hell fire. I suspect that much of his life was a living hell as for so many that lived through the World War. I can only judge from photographs but he seemed to have been a creative, sensitive young man who later suffered considerable degrees of depression.

An Examiners Surveys 
A short article about Rex by his bank manager

Estimated date of this
family photograph

Rex would be about 20yrs old

Notes from Mary Bole

Reginald Aglio Dibdin

b. 07 Nov 1883, 18 Union Rd. Tuffnell Park, Islington

m. 14 Feb 1912, St. Mary's, Hamilton Terrace, Marylebone to Elsie Millicent Marvin

d. Jul 1957, Forest Hill, Lewisham ¾

Reginald ("Rex") was an analytical chemist and worked with W.J.Dibdin until the latter’s death. A brilliantly clever man, bordering on genius, but hopelessly impractical. He would never sit any examination or obtain any form of certificate or diploma – and paid for it dearly in later years when analytical chemists were both plentiful and qualified. He married but the marriage was dissolved after only a short time. He died supported by the National Assistance Board and such relatives as could lay hands on a spare pound or two now and again. [56]

World War I – Army Service Corps, Staff Quarter Master Sargeant, Warrant Officer Class 2. [57]

Abstract of GB401604

401,604. Treating sewage. DIBDIN, R. A., 31, Idmiston Road, West Norwood, London. May 22, 1933, No. 14806. {Class 111.} Sedimentation tanks are provided with columns of widely spaced horizontal or inclined plates alternating with columns of more closely spaced plates. In the arrangement shown the plates a are supported and spaced by plates b, themselves spaced by members c. Heavy plates d are provided to stabilize the structure. The plates a, b, may be of glazed earthenware and the members c of slate fragments, or gravel. The plates b entrap air as the tank is filled.


Data supplied from the esp@cenet database - Worldwide


Discharge from WW1