Grace, born in 1818, was the daughter of Manchester woollen merchant and philanthropist, William Wood. Peter Redpath was born in Montreal, the son a wealthy Scot, John Redpath. The Redpaths developed a sugar refining business in Canada and Peter was sent to Manchester to complete his studies in business practice. William Wood was his employer and Peter subsequently married Grace in 1847.
Grace and Peter returned to Montreal where Peter became President of the firm John Redpath and Son and a director of the Bank of Montreal. He was connected with most of the charitable works of Montreal; he was President of The General Hospital, a Director of Montreal Rolling Mills, several mining companies and the Intercolonial Coal Company. He gave to the Crescent Street Presbyterian Church several stained glass windows and made princely donations to McGill University; he donated a Museum to the University and in 1891 Peter gifted the library building along with an endowment of the chair of Natural Philosophy and presented over 3,000 historical books to the university collection.
In 1879, Peter and Grace had moved back to live in England, and while here they made their home in Chislehurst. There is no specific evidence as to why they came here but Grace was an ardent Methodist, perhaps she was attracted by the growing strength of the Wesleyan congregation whose Methodist chapel, as it was known them, was opened in 1870. The Redpaths had stayed with Canadian Friends in Central London whilst waiting to move; closeness to the capital may have been significant too in their choice of location, they hosted Canada’s political and business elite at the Manor House. After Peter’s death in 1894, Grace maintained her husband’s interests in McGill and continued to be a great benefactor.
Having no children of their own, Grace and Peter were very fond of their niece Amy, the only daughter and eldest child of Peter’s brother John James. This family had their share of tragedy through illness and more seriously unresolved murder. On June 13th 1901, Amy’s brother Clifford and their widowed and ailing mother, Ada, were shot in Ada’s bedroom back in Montreal. The case attracted wide publicity because the Redpaths were among the richest families in Canada but the investigation was short, the coroners inquest was held the next day and the deceased were buried on June 15th. No one was charged and the case remains a mystery, although Canadian historians seem to infer that Clifford shot his mother then turned the gun of himself.
Amy sought refuge in Chislehurst with her aunt Grace and also turned to the family doctor, Sir Thomas Roddick, back in Montreal. Sir Thomas was an eminent physician, he had studied with Lister in Edinburgh and introduced antiseptic practices into Montreal hospital. For this he was knighted and when the British Medical Association held their conference in that city, Sir Thomas became their first colonial President.
Sir Thomas and Amy Redpath were married on 3rd September 1906 in Chislehurst. Amy describes the occasion: ‘my wedding was at half past two, I wore a silk travelling dress, white hat and shoes and carried roses and heather. We were all photographed on the lawn. After the ceremony all the relatives who had come to the little parish church crowded into the vestry bringing their good wishes. In the garden in the shade of the Deodorant tree,that Aunt Grace was so fond of, the tables were spread. The nurses helped the maids so kindly in passing the things. The cake was beautifully decorated with doves and Maple leaves, it was a pretty scene with the old manor house in the background, the house within was beautifully decorated with flowers and Canadian flags. Roddick and I got into the carriage in the stable yard and went to the station to catch the train, an hour’s journey to Tunbridge Wells.’
Grace died the following year at the Manor House.
Sir Thomas died in Montreal of arteriosclerosis in 1923 and Amy bequeathed the memorial gates to McGill University to commemorate him. Sir Thomas was apparently a stickler for punctuality, arriving for lectures always three or four minutes ahead of the scheduled start, in order to begin precisely on time. Lady Roddick felt that the most fitting memorial to her beloved husband would be a university entrance which encompassed a clock tower. The actual gates were removed in 2000 but the grand pillared entrance remains as the iconic entrance to the University as I was able to see for myself in all its glory in snowy Montreal (below).
Notes by Joanna Friel
Sources:The Redpath Mansion Mystery
Letter of Amy Redpath Roddick, McGill Archives
Redpath Sugar Museum
Montreal Daily Star