By Ian McInnes

The newsagent’s shop at 385 Lordship Lane, opposite the Dulwich Library, looks nothing special at first glance, but its impressive red shop awning is a clue that there might be something else. ‘Redapple’ is a strange name but it provides an introduction into a brief history of one of South London’s small inter - war chains of tobacconists and confectioners. There has been a tobacconist or newsagent on the site since 1902 when the three - storey building on the corner of Barry Road was completed. Early postcards show that there was a row of dilapidated old shops there originally. The more substantial building we see today was a response to both the completion of the new library over the road and the increasing popularity of the Plough Tavern as a public transport terminus following the opening of the LCC’s electric tram route along Lordship Lane in 1906.

But who were the Redapples? Joseph Redapple or ‘Rotapfel’ arrived in London from Poland at the end of the 1870s in his early twenties. He was a tailor and the 1881 Census shows him working for Solomon Piser, another tailor, in Spitalfields. He was also lodging at his house and it was here he met his future wife, his employer’s eldest daughter, Rachel. They were married later in the year and their first daughter, Rebecca, was born in 1882 followed by the second, Eva, in 1885. Joseph was naturalised in 1886 - the relevant online documents say that he was a citizen of the Kingdom of Russia (Poland was part of Russia at that time), and there is a scribbled note that he signed his name in ‘some foreign language’, probably Polish but also possibly Yiddish.

In 1891 the family were living in Whitechapel but by 1901 they were at 257 New Cross Road above a tobacconist and confectionery shop. Joseph was still a tailor, with a shop in Holborn, but his two oldest daughters, Rebecca and Eva (there were also two sons by this time), were now listed in the Census as a tobacconist and confectioner’s assistant. The 1902 street directory confirms it was the daughters who were running the shop. On the face of it, a confectioner’s shop is pretty harmless but Rebecca had a unique side line - selling ‘art’ postcards. On 5th April 1907 the Woolwich Gazette had a note under the Greenwich Court section saying ‘Rebecca and Eva Redapple of 257 New Cross Road, were summoned for exposing indecent picture postcards for sale on March 21st’. The following week’s edition of the Lewisham Borough News was more explicit, with a headline saying ‘Sale of improper postcards, New Cross traders fined‘. It appears that the side line was well - known locally and a policeman, Detective Sergeant Crutchett, had visited the shop in plain clothes and asked to see some picture postcards. He was asked whether he wanted ‘actresses’ or ‘art’ cards, and he said he wanted ‘art’ cards. He purchased three, and was then shown a book containing studies of nude women, six of which he purchased. He left the shop and took them to the local Magistrate to secure a search warrant. The shop was then raided and 2,300 supposedly indecent cards were seized.

While many of them were apparently photographs, others were crude representations of pictures by Raphael, Correggio, Velasquez and other great painters - the prosecuting barrister said that that did not do away with their obscenity. The Magistrate commented that they must be French but the defending barrister replied that, unfortunately, they were English. The defendants said that they understood they were not allowed to expose the ‘art’ cards, on account of their attracting children to the window, but that they might sell them if they were labelled ‘art studies for students.’ The prosecutor argued that the owners of a shop must be regarded as responsible for what was exposed for sale on the premises but, in the circumstances, he proposed to press only for a nominal penalty. All that was desired was that the defendant should not sell such cards. The defendants were fined 5s with 10s 6d costs.

The 1907 Street Directory shows the Redapple shop at Lordship Lane with Rebecca living next door in a flat in No 383a. In 1913, she married Mark Mendoza, a fruiterer working with his father in Ladywell. Both families were Jewish and the marriage was solemnised in the Throne Room at Central London’s Holborn Restaurant (which could seat 250 guests). The event was reported in detail in the South London Observer, the paper saying that ‘In addition to the relatives of the contracting parties, a large number of East Dulwich friends were present’. It added that ‘The bride, who was attired in a charming gown, was given away by her father, and the bridegroom’s sponsors were Mr & Mrs I Mendoza (uncle & aunt) of the East Dulwich Tavern.’ It then went on to list all the guests together with their presents, there was no way to hide if you had not been as generous as you should have been.

The newly married couple set up home at 151 Barry Road. By 1914 they had a shop on Herne Hill, at No. 136, and over the next ten or so years the business expanded to include shops in Peckham High Street, Rye Lane, Railton Road, Milkwood Road, Denmark Hill and another in Lordship Lane, at No 525.

Like many other shopkeepers Mark Mendoza was often in court over problems with selling cigarettes out of legal trading hours. In the 1920s and 30s there were controls over the times that cigarettes could be sold and council officers went round checking that they were being observed, and fining traders who did not comply. Court reports also show that the Redapple shops suffered from petty theft as well as, in one case, a smash and grab raid. On 3rd March 1930 the Forest Hill & Sydenham Examiner reported under the headline ‘Police chase at Dulwich’ that three men had stopped a powerful car outside the shop at 385 Lordship Lane and broken in. The thieves failed to force the door lock so they broke the glass panel. Besides removing a quantity of sweets and tobacco, they also took away the cash register and, on the arrival of a policeman, drove rapidly away. The officer promptly commandeered a passing car and raced after them along Lordship Lane but he was outpaced, and the thieves got away.

The business prospered and the couple moved to 7 Burbage Road in 1935 though, unfortunately, Mark Mendoza died the following year. Rebecca managed the shop at 236 Railton Road and set up a wool shop in the spare unit next door. She was still living in Burbage Road in 1941 when Nos 9 and 11 were hit by a bomb and No 7 was too badly damaged for her to remain. She spent the rest of the war at the Ruskin Hotel on Denmark Hill before moving to North London. The Redapple family have not been involved in the business since the 1950s but the shop sign at 385 Lordship Lane is a reminder of what used to be.