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Tiles and the Leach Trail


Researching local history is all about uncovering tiny fragments of history, making sense of them, and connecting them together to form something insightful and comprehensive. Sometimes, excitingly, the pieces just slot together – as happened with these brown tiles.  I first came across them at F R Leach & Sons’ City Road workshop, and again when looking for Leach remains in the company showroom at 3 St Mary’s Passage.  Then, as I walked around 186, I stumbled across them again – green this time but still the same pattern – put up by David Parr around the wash table in his bedroom.

Paint Pots

paint-potsClimbing on a chair, unlatching the trap door, I poked my head into the attic, hoping that it would be stuffed full of forgotten junk. With a certain amount of disappointment I encountered a mostly empty space, obviously cleared so fibreglass insulation could be added. More worryingly, a fair amount of daylight was shining through slipped slate tiles, which explained the water damage on the upstairs ceilings.

Climbing back down, I noticed some rusty old paint tins and a set of triangular containers tucked behind a beam. As I took my newly-found hoard into the daylight, I was most excited to have found objects that definitely dated back to the period when David Parr painted the house – I could imagine the colours being mixed in the tins and hung from the ladder as he worked. But most intriguing were the triangular containers with hooks on them. What were they  for? One suggestion is that they were filled with paint for the finer detailing and hooked on to a belt. More research is needed into this.

What else can these rusty tins reveal? Hopefully with some testing we can find out what kind of paint was last used in them and link it to the décor in one of the rooms, or perhaps to the peeling paint on a drainpipe or windowsill.

David Parr family photograph

David Parr was the man who created 186. He brought to this humble space an ornamental style that was usually reserved for the grandest houses, public and ecclesiastical buildings, and he did it with great skill and craftsmanship. The house tells his story.David Parr Family Portrait

City Road Workshops

city-road-workshopsNumbers 35 – 37 City Road, Cambridge, were once the workshops of F R Leach & Sons.  Frederick purchased the site for £300 in 1862,  including the three terraced houses that lined the street in front.  The site had been a public house called ‘The Flower Pot’ with a large yard and archway already in place – ideal for development. When Frederick’s firm first moved in there was only one workshop at the back, but as the company grew in size and reputation other workshops were added. The style of the ‘shops’ were typical of those found behind many a house in Cambridge – with a brick base for stability and wooden cladding above – a vernacular building style that housed many of the City’s craftsmen and artisans.

Cooks and Colours – the Leach Family of Cambridge

Exhibitions, Talks and Activities to celebrate the Leach Family of Cambridge

The Leach family lived in Cambridge for several generations. They worked as College cooks, sign designers, church decorators and master painters.



All Saints’ Church

8th – 27th September 2014

Exhibition: 10.00 am – 5.00 pm, Drop in

Frederick Leach (1837-1904) started F R  Leach & Sons, a firm of artist-decorators that worked with the best-known Victorian architects/designers including William Morris, Charles Kempe and George Bodley. Frederick’s life and work is celebrated in All Saints’ Church for this special Open Cambridge event.

Saturday 13th September 2014

Activity: 10.30 am – 12.30 pm & 2.00 pm – 4.30 pm Drop In, All ages welcome

Inspired by the beautiful interior of All Saints’ Church, drop in and create your own Victorian-style designs and motifs. Try simple craft techniques such as tile painting, stencilling, printing and more, at workshops held by local artists.

Talk: 5.00 pm – 6.30 pm Drop in

‘Britain: a cocktail of artistic cultures’
A talk by Sba Shaikh on the Islamic and Indian art and culture that influenced artists such as William Morris via the ‘Silk Route’ and ‘The East India Company’, and explores how this influence is still vibrant with companies and labels such as Liberty and Ben Sherman.

Museum of Cambridge

8th – 27th September 2014

Exhibition: 10.30 am – 5.00 pm

Through a rich variety of objects and paintings, many on show for the first time, find out about the 18th- and 19th-century Barnett Leaches, who were  head cooks of Trinity College, and Richard Hopkins Leach, the pub sign painter and jobbing artist of Cambridge.

Michaelhouse Centre

8th – 19th September 2014

Exhibition: 8.00 am – 5.00 pm

Be introduced to the Leach family of Cambridge, pick up a walking tour to take you around to buildings where you can see Leach decorative artistry, and glimpse the David Parr House, one of Cambridge’s hidden gems. As part of the tour, Jesus College, Queens’ Old Hall and St Clement’s Church will open to the public on the Saturday.

Keeping it in the Family

Leach-Family-Portrait-001The painting skills of Richard Hopkins Leach, the father of Frederick Leach, are beautifully on show in this portrait he painted of his family in 1848. At the front his youngest son John holds the family cat. His wife Isa is sitting on the left clutching the journal that Richard wrote about a walking journey he made in his youth from London to Cornwall, while working as a jobbing artist. Isabella, Richard’s daughter, embroiders by her mother’s side. Young Frederick stands over his artist’s tools, staring into the distance, the only member of the family not looking at the viewer. Barnett, the eldest son, stands proud behind his father who sits holding his snuffbox in his hand.

But this is not a self-portrait by Richard, as his image in the portrait was apparently painted by Barnett. Which shows that artistic talent ran through the whole family.

The Start of the Leach Family in Cambridge

start-leach-familyThe first members of the Leach family settled in Cambridge in 1675, when Barnett Leach and his wife Margaret lived at the Archers Inn in St Andrew’s Street. Little is known about their son Barnett II, but grandson Barnett III (1737-1792) became the first College cook of the family, appointed ‘Master Cook’ of Trinity College in 1770.  At this time College cooks were self-employed. They rented out their own pots, utensils and crockery to the Colleges, and often ran other businesses alongside their daily work.

This portrait is of Barnet III, worked into a box lid and surrounded by quill work. We can only guess what the box might have contained as only the lid survives – maybe tea or some lover’s token?

The Next Generation of Barnett Leaches

Barnett Leach IV (1764-1814), son of Barnett Leach III, followed his father as Master Cook of Trinity College. He also worked as a ‘bacon dealer’ and ran the Pickerel Inn on Bridge Street.
When he died in 1814, his wife Margaret took over the inn – innkeeping was one of the few businesses in which a widow could earn an independent income at that time.
Pickerel inn


Barnett III’s brother-in-law was Richard Hopkins (1763-1810), head cook at Trinity Hall and Caius College. He was also a brewer, and made and sold brawn – a meat jelly made from the head of a pig or calf.

In 1805 the renowned essayist and food lover Charles Lamb (1775-1834) was given some of Hopkins’ brawn by a friend as a present. Lamb wrote a fulsome letter of thanks in praise of Mr Hopkins and his delicious meat produce. After his death, Richard’s widow Sarah continued all his businesses, including as cook at Trinity Hall and Caius College.

Cambridge Chronicle November 22 1810


Joining the Pieces Together

While salvaging what we could from Frederick Leach’s City Road workshops before they were demolished, we came across a small amount of raised plasterwork on the side of a chimney breast in the glass painting studio. A line of fleur-de-lys, one on top of the other, appeared when we pulled back an old bookcase beside the chimney. Was this another piece of Leach’s historic puzzle? We had seen this plaster pattern before, on a shop in St Mary’s Passage, Cambridge. The shop just happened to be the showrooms of F R Leach & Sons. This had to be evidence that Frederick had decorated and altered the front of the shop, as we had guessed from its ‘Arts and Crafts’ design. Nice to have our thoughts confirmed, and to put in place one more piece of the firm’s history.

Joining the pieces together


Past Signs

The building at 3 St Mary’s Passage that was the showrooms of F R Leach & Sons still stands, although now it is a clothes shop. The frontage has an ‘Arts and Crafts’ feel and the metal sign hanging proud of the building harks back to a time when shops would often advertise their presence via a ‘pub like’ sign at right angles to the facade.

There were plenty of iron works in Cambridge during the 19th century where such signs could have been made, including one on Market Hill, named Headly, that was destroyed by a fire in 1846, and subsequently moved to the Eagle Foundry off Mill Road. But the original F R Leach & Sons sign (sadly no longer there, although the replacement is thoughtfully done) would most probably have been fashioned in the firm’s own metal workshop in City Road.


Crafting Glass

As part of the Leach exhibition at All Saints’ Church in Cambridge, craft workshops were inspired by the craftsmanship of the fabric and architecture of the church building – decorated by Leach from designs by George Bodley, William Morris, Charles Kempe and Ford Madox Brown. There was plenty of inspiration when it came to the stained-glass workshop.




Goggles were worn as members of the public chipped away at beautiful shards of coloured glass before fixing them together to make their own small stained-glass window (or cup mat!).



It is a mystery as to how much tile design F R Leach & Sons actually carried out. We have evidence of tiles being painted and fired by the firm, then used to decorate the fireplaces of various Leach family homes. We also have evidence that paints for decorating tiles were sold in the shop. But we have no evidence of Leach tiles beyond this. Did the firm paint and design them for public sale or only for use in their decorative projects? Hopefully this is a question we can answer as our research progresses.

Below  is a tile that used to surround a fireplace in Pretoria Road, Cambridge, in a house owned by the Leach family. It was made by F R Leach and passed down through the family to the hands of Ric Leach, who inherited the craftsman’s gene to become a cabinetmaker, and made the frame in which the tile is today displayed.


From Wall to Tile


The walls of All Saints’ Church, Cambridge were painted by Frederick Leach from designs by George Bodley. The work seems to be painted freehand from pouncing straight on to the plaster. The designs were inspiration for one member of the public who participated in the craft workshops held in the church during Open Cambridge, as part of the Leach exhibitions.


Joining the Pieces 2

Shelley Blogs 1

These small wooden carved squares with foliage and flower designs were salvaged from the City Road workshops of F R Leach & Sons.

Shelley Blogs 4


And above is the fireplace at the David Parr House. Were these items carved in the workshops at City Road or are they mass-produced mouldings bought in by the firm? More research needed!

Shelley Blogs 6


In Search of the Cambridge Art Workmen of 1882

Shelley Blogs 7

A chance encounter upstairs in the dining room at the Museum of Cambridge during the recent Cooks and Colours Leach exhibition led to the identification of another of the members of the Leach workforce in this marvellous photograph of them all on a works outing up the river at Clayhithe in 1882.

One morning in September, as I slid back the front of a display case to replace one of the Leach notebooks I had been working on, a voice at my shoulder asked whether I knew anything about the men in this photograph which was displayed in an adjacent cabinet.

I told the story of the photograph as far as we knew: I had first come across it in the Leach family archive but another copy of the photograph had been printed in the Cambridge Chronicle in 1928 thanks to a Mr J. Flack. This was James Flack who, at the time of the original photograph, was an apprentice painter. He is seated on the ground, bottom right, in a striped boater. 46 years later, he was able to recall the names of all but one of his fellow workers. From this list of names I had recognised five of the names: there was Frederick Richard Leach himself, founder of the firm, who is seated cross-legged on the ground with his hat in his lap, Frederick’s eldest son Barnett MacLean Leach (recalled as ‘M. Leach’ because he was known as ‘Mac’, ‘Max’ or ‘Maxwell’), Frederick’s brother-in-law Charles Jeffs Goodenough, who went on to set up his own firm in Cambridge a few years later, Edwin Charles Ogle who became clerk and then manager of the Leach firm and, of course, David Daniel Parr, looming in the back row in his deerstalker, future owner and painter of 186 Gwydir Street, Cambridge – the David Parr House.

“Well, I am related to ‘J. Horn’”, responded the visitor and within a few moments another of these skilled Cambridge craftsmen had come to life. He was John Horn, born in Bethnal Green in 1863, the son of Henry Horn, publican of the Free Press in Prospect Row, Cambridge where he lived as a child. He was a wood turner. Three years after the photograph, in 1885, he married Harriet Brown and they had eight children. His great great niece also told me that he later moved from the Leach firm to work at Coulsons, the builders, in Cambridge.


Telling the stories of skilled Cambridge artisans, like John Horn, is one of the research projects we hope to be able to undertake over the next few years. If you can tell us any more about the men in this photograph or are interested in helping us to find out, please contact us at info@davidparrhouse .org to let us know.