I had a lead: high up in All Saints’ church were painted the names of the decorators who carried out the pattern work that covers nearly every inch of its walls. There was plenty of evidence that this was a commission given to F R Leach, so I expected to see his name. But who else’s might be there?
Armed with a camera and details of the location – west window, north side, within the chequerboard pattern – I set off to discover and photograph the names. The church was hosting the Anglian Potters’ Christmas exhibition, so I was a bit distracted at first. When I finally got started, I realised that the zoom on my camera was not up to the job – try as I might I could not see any sign of writing. Luckily, the invigilator for the pottery show, Carolyn, had a better zoom on her camera. After much patient searching and crouching at a very awkward angle, Carolyn managed to get a good photo of the names – and I was very excited by what was revealed.
‘D Parr Senr: 1871’. This was not what I had expected. Our man, the owner of 186, actually painted the church interior and did it in 1871 when he was only 16 years old. This was the earliest piece of evidence of David Parr working for the F R Leach firm, at an age when he was no doubt an apprentice. I already knew he was an apprentice at this time from the 1871 census, but there it stated that he was a ‘joiner’s’ not a ‘painter’s’ apprentice. How do these two pieces of information fit together? Only more research may help answer this.
Underneath ‘D Parr Senr.’ was another surprise – ‘D Parr Jnr 1908’ – David’s son who ‘reproduced’ the design work (probably when it was repainted due to the damage done by emissions from the gas lighting). I did have evidence that David’s son followed him into the painting profession but it was wonderful to see that he followed in his father’s footsteps so closely.
This is one of those discoveries that ultimately poses more questions than it answers – but for me these are always the most exciting, indicating where next to focus my research.
The weather was not promising for a morning of gardening. It was that misty fine rain that seems to soak you more than you feel it should the moment you step out into it, but I was meeting Rosemary and Ann (David Parr’s great grandchildren) at Mill Road Cemetery to uncover his grave so there was no cowering inside. Luckily, once on my way the rain stopped and, helped by Mary and Robin who carried out the research to find the grave, we began to cut away the long grass that overwhelmed it.
What we found underneath was a simple grave, no headstone, just four stone surrounds beautifully inscribed with the simple words:
In loving memory of
David Daniel Parr died December 6th 1927 aged 73 years
Also his wife
Mary Emma Parr died November 13th 1949 aged 89 years
The grave gave up this hidden inscription quite quickly once Mary produced her essential grave-clearing tool – a small brush, which gently removed years of dirt and lichen.
The bold, elegant, finely carved letters perfectly reflected the life of David Parr – a man of dignity and style.
As we worked our way around the inscription it was noticeable that the carving in memory of David Parr’s wife had been done, as might be expected, by another’s hand. The lettering was not as large, deep or regular, and was harder to make out even when cleaned.
We had a satisfying and enjoyable morning uncovering the grave and it is always a treat to visit Mill Road Cemetery. It was created in 1848 when the City’s churchyards were overflowing and new space was needed to bury the ever-increasing population of Cambridge. A plot was chosen on land that was at the time on the outskirts of the City, but is now very much in its centre.
The layout was designed by Andrew Murray (who also created the Botanic Gardens on Trumpington Road) based on the fashionable belief of the time that a cemetery could be a much-needed green ‘breathing space’ for a city. The design was to be as much a ‘garden’ as a cemetery, somewhere you could walk and enjoy the environment around as well as contemplate those who found their last resting place there.
This legacy lives on today as all those who happen to find their way to the cemetery appreciate – it is a place where nature can breathe among our concrete streets. If you are nearby and have never discovered it make time to go, it is worth it. Further details can be found on the Mill Road Cemetery website.
Whilst doing the research on the Alsop firm for the last blog I looked up in the local newspapers and came across this 1898 advert. Maybe the person employed made the fences that surround the back garden of the David Parr House.
But, it was the advert that was underneath that really caught my eye.
Where were the hedgehogs to be put to use? Inside or outside? What damage were the beetles causing? Where were the hedgehogs going to come from? Did people in the past sell them for such chores? More research needed!
The family members in this lovely photograph from the Leach archive, dated April 1906, are gathered in the back garden of St George’s (now 56) De Freville Avenue in Cambridge. The elderly woman in the centre is Mary Ann Leach (nee Goodenough, 1838-1909), widow of Frederick Richard Leach (1837-1904) and grandmother of the children in the photograph.
Looking at the ages of the children, it is probable that the baby seated on the ground is Olive Leach (1904-1988), third child of Frederick McLean Leach (1868-1948) and Alice Mary Ross Leach (nee Chapman, 1877-1956), that the young boy perched on a stool on the far right is Olive’s elder brother Anthony Frederick Leach (1901-1989) and the girl in the white dress is their eldest sister Mary (1891-1961).
The two children wearing ‘sailor’ jackets are likely to be Eric Standley Heffer (1897-1994) and his sister Frieda Millicent Heffer (1899-1973) and the young man in the centre back may be their elder brother, Ralph Laurence Heffer (1893-1973), although it is hard to determine the age of the man in the photo.
Alice Leach would have been very heavily pregnant with Frederick McLean Leach who was born in July 1906 so she may have been absent from the photo for that reason or be concealing her ‘bump’ behind the Heffer children. Although we might expect little Tony to be resting his head on his mother’s lap, she does not look heavily pregnant. This may mean that the woman seated on the right is Ada Heffer (nee Leach, 1866-1936). The man seated on the left with the moustache may be Frederick McLean Leach (1868-1948) or he may be Harry Heffer (1865-1947). Any of the three younger women could be Ethel Leach (1874-1922) or Edith Leach (1878-1928), unmarried daughters of Frederick Richard Leach and Mary Ann.
Fifteen years prior to this family photograph, at the time of the 1891 census, when Ada Leach was 25, there was a ‘Visitor’ recorded at her family home and workshops in City Road – one Harry Heffer, a 26 year-old ‘Commercial Clerk’. Less than a year later, on the 25th February 1892, Ada Matilda McLean Leach (1866-1936), eldest daughter of Frederick Richard and Mary Ann Leach, married Harry J. Heffer (1865-1909) at Christ Church Cambridge, bathed in the rainbow of lights and looked down upon by the myriad faces of the large stained glass window created by Frederick Leach in 1885.
In his small, red “Atlas” pocket diary for 1892, Frederick Leach, father of the bride, wrote, “Ada wedded to H. Heffer at Christ Ch . . . sunshine came out for the occasion”. The words are written in red ink – it was clearly a happy occasion and one of his ‘red-letter days’ when all the family got together to celebrate. It appears that the reception was held at the Leach firm’s City Road workshops as Frederick writes (also in red ink) on the two days preceding the wedding, “Commenced the preparations for the wedding. Arranging Top shop, arranging glass shop, arranging Top office. Awning up the top office stair. General dusting out and clearing for 25th”.
Harry J. Heffer had seven siblings and one half-sibling. His parents were William Heffer (1843-1928), born in Exning in Suffolk, the son of an agricultural labourer and Mary Webb, born in Balsham in 1837. They were married at All Saints, Cambridge on the 28th May 1863.
At the time of the 1871 census, William and Mary were living at 10 Clement’s Place in Cambridge with their three children, Charles (7), Harry (6). Kate (4) and George (2) and a lodger, Thomas Barnes, who was an Ironmonger’s assistant. William defined his occupation as ‘Groom’.
By 1881, however, the family had moved to 104 Fitzroy Street and William gave his occupation as ‘Stationer’. In 1891, he added ‘Bookseller’ to his title.
In 1896 the firm added another branch in the more central location of Petty Cury and by 1901 five of William and Mary’s children were employed in the business– Kate Adelaide Heffer (1867-1940), Ernest William Heffer (1871-1948), Lucy Mary Heffer (1873-1951), Frank Heffer (1876-1933) and Sidney Heffer (1878-1959). George Herbert Heffer (1869-1947) was a bank clerk and Emma Louise Heffer (1874-1974) was a nurse. She travelled to Melbourne, Australia in 1904 and died aged 100 in 1974.
When I first saw this recently revealed sign at the City Road site in Cambridge, I thought it was the sign for Miss Nora Leach’s business as a hat maker. I first came across Nora Leach in Sara Payne’s excellent book Down Your Street Cambridge Past and Present II East Cambridge (Cambridge 1984). The reminiscences, captured by Sara Payne, of Mrs Hilda Desborough (who was born at no.23 City Road in 1910, the daughter of John Summerlin, baker) included the fact that Miss Nora Leach ran a hat shop from her home next door to Digbys (the other baker in City Road): “Miss Leach used to make her hats on moulds. My mother got all her hats there”, remembered Mrs Desborough.
Nora Leach was born Eleanor McLean Leach in January 1895, the eldest child of Barnett McLean Leach (1864-1929) and Ellen Elizabeth Leach, née Eccard (1868-1947), making her a granddaughter of Frederick Richard Leach, founder of the family firm and purchaser of 36 and 37 City Road in 1862.
Nora was the eldest of three children, her siblings being Jean McLean Leach (1896-1960) and Francis Leach (1898-1962). Their mother, Ellen Eccard, was Catholic and she married Barnett McLean Leach at the Church of Our Lady and the English Martyrs (OLEM) in Cambridge on the 25th of April 1894. At the 1901 census, the family was living at 17 Humberstone Road, next door to William George Pye, scientific instrument maker, but by 1905 they were in 36 City Road where Barnett had lived all his life until his marriage. Nora, Jean and Francis never married but I came across a reference to all three of them as godparents to Margaret Plumb who was baptised in the baptistery at OLEM on the 30th January 1936. Margaret’s ‘Memories of a Parishioner’ are contained in Catholics in Cambridge (ed. Nicholas Rogers, 2003). Nora outlived both of her younger siblings and died in 1968 at the age of 73.
A collection of picture postcards found at the City Road premises includes seven postcards dated between 1905 and 1925 addressed to ‘Miss Nora Leach, 36 City Road, Cambridge’. All the pictures are of churches in England and Nora clearly collected them as one card (from Lucy Worrall of 44 New Square, Cambridge) asks, ‘How many postcards have you got in your book?’ The only card from abroad came from Alkmaar in the Netherlands and is of the Accijnstoren. It is from Francis, her younger brother, and simply says ‘Here is where we are’.
But it was another of those picture postcards which made me think again about the uncovered ‘N.E.Leach, milliner’ sign. It was a colour postcard of St Nicholas church, Pluckley in Kent, addressed to ‘Mrs Maclean Leach, 36 City Road, Cambridge’ and began ‘Dear N’. A common diminutive of Ellen was ‘Nellie’ and Ellen’s middle initial was ‘E’ so I now think it possible that ‘N.E. Leach, milliner’ refers not to Nora Mclean Leach, but to her mother and that Nora learnt her craft from her mother. This would make the sign date from sometime after 1905 when the family moved from Humberstone Road to live at 36 City Road.