One of the delightful by-products of the various local history books I have written and published on Streatham, Norwood and the surrounding area is the fascinating letters I receive from readers. Many come from foreign parts and my brother’s stamp collection has benefited greatly from my correspondence with family historians from around the world whose forebears once dwelt in our locality.
Some time ago I received an enquiry from the great-granddaughter of William Redpath, who established the chemist’s business which still trades today at 377 Norwood Road, SE27.
William was born in 1843 in Rothbury, Northumberland. He came from a humble background, his father, James, being the groom to the local parish priest, the Rev. Charles Harcourt.
The family moved south to London at some time between 1851 and the late 1860’s as he is listed as residing in Palace Road, Streatham, in 1869. The reason why William moved to London is not known, but it can be assumed that it was in search of “fame and fortune”. Throughout the 19th century London was a great magnet attracting huge quantities of labour to keep the city’s burgeoning industries working.
Although William appears to have prospered in our community, he remained proud of his Northumberland roots and in later years members of his family made the pilgrimage back to Rothbury where they were proudly shown William’s birthplace and his family home there.
On 2nd July 1868 William married to Mary Phillips in St. Leonard’s Church, Streatham, at which time he described himself as a “Surgeon’s Assistant”. The wedding was witnessed by George Martin and Jane Redpath.
The marriage entry in the parish register shows that his father had vastly improved his status and was no longer groom to the parish priest but a draper. It is likely therefore that William learnt his retailing skills from his father.
William and Mary quickly settled down to married life in Streatham and a year after they were wed their first child, William, was baptized in Christchurch, Streatham Hill, on 4th July 1869. Their daughter Catherine May was christened in the same church on 4th October 1873, at which time the family had moved home and were living in Thurlow Terrace, the name by which the row of shops in Norwood Road from the railway bridge to Tulse Hill Station were known. William and Mary were to have eight children in total.
All of William’s sons were educated at Dulwich College, and they followed their father’s leaning towards the medical professions. William junior became a doctor, two other brothers qualified as dentists, and the youngest son following his father’s profession. becoming a chemist.
William established his chemist shop in Norwood in 1870. Two years later he applied to open a receiving office for letters at his outlet, which was approved by the postal authorities on the 19th September 1872. The Post Office set his starting salary at £8 per annum plus the usual commission granted to sub–postmasters on the sale of stamps etc.
Mr Redpath was a conscientious and hard-working postmaster, successfully combining his duties with those of chemist. In 1935, after 62 years service with the postal authorities, he was awarded King George V’s Jubilee Medal in recognition of his labours.
William’s wife Mary died in 1904 and he married for a second time in 1907, taking Leah Douglas as his new bride. Although he was at that time in his mid’60s he was delighted when he became a father for the ninth time when Leah bore him a son.
When the Second World War broke out William was in his late 90s. With the heavy bombing in the neighbourhood it was decided he should be evacuated to South Africa, where one of his sons lived. Thus it was that in April 1944 he celebrated his 100th birthday in his temporary home in Cape Town. However, although his body basked in the South African sunshine his spirit still pined for Norwood Road and he told the local newspaper “I want to get back to London, bombs or no bombs!” Sadly he did not live to fulfil his wish and he died later that year in Cape Town.
He was without doubt a truly remarkable man and a much-loved and respected local resident regarded as quite a character by all who knew him. I would be most interested to learn of any recollections readers may have of William Redpath, or his chemist’s shop in Norwood Road, to pass on to his great-granddaughter to assist her in her family history researches.
It would be appreciated if any information could be sent to me at 316 Green Lane, Streatham, London SW16 3AS.
John W Brown
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