Category Archives: The House

A few of my favourite things – old newspapers from a bedroom cupboard


Diane enjoying a treasure trove of old newspapers

At last, we had finished cataloguing items in the upper part of the house.  Before starting on the downstairs rooms, we were asked to reflect on what we had found so far and which item held a special interest.  For me, this was a difficult question and I did not immediately know the answer.  So many things have given me an insight into the lives of the Parr family.  The treasures in this house are not valuable paintings or pieces of costly silver but everyday objects which have been cherished and, in many cases, put to use in a different way to that which was originally intended.  For example, a chocolate box fashioned in the shape of a casket, is used as a pretty container for handkerchiefs.

I remembered how much interest we had found in the pile of old newspapers kept in a cupboard in the front bedroom.  With so much cataloguing to be done, we had only briefly scanned them but now I had the whole morning to look at them in more detail.  These yellowing pages give an insight into the world in which Mrs Palmer lived.  It had been clear to us that Mrs Palmer was a Royalist so it was no surprise to find many pictures and articles on events such as Queen Elizabeth’s Coronation and the Investiture of the Prince of Wales.  The Daily Mail’s edition of 22nd June 1982 announced the arrival of Prince William with the headline ‘It’s a Boy’.  (Wasn’t this headline repeated only a couple of years ago when Prince William’s own son was born?)  The oldest paper in the pile is the Illustrated Mail of 13th February 1904.  This had a half page entitled ‘Women’s Corner’ which contained hints on domestic issues such as how to clean copper along with sketches of the latest fashions for women.  Long dresses with enormous sleeves seemed to be the order of the day.  A drawing of a hat described as a ‘serviceable silver grey beaver with cockade on one side’ looked anything but serviceable to me and I wondered what Mrs Parr would have made of this page.

The paper which gave me the most pleasure, however, was the Cambridge Daily News of 1st June 1953.  Undoubtedly it had been kept because of the Special Supplement on the Coronation but it was the ordinary day-to-day pages which I loved.  The advertisements and local news articles give a picture of a bygone Cambridge.  Local businesses had taken space wishing Her Majesty a long and successful reign.  (Their wishes have been granted!)  Some of the businesses such as Heffer’s and Miller’s Music are still trading but others like Joshua Taylor’s no longer exist.  There is a picture of Joshua Taylor’s shop with its windows displaying red, white and blue rosettes.  I expect all the shops in Cambridge would have been similarly decorated in celebration of the Coronation.  Dale’s Brewery gave ‘loyal salutations and heartfelt wishes to Her Majesty’.  The former brewery is exactly opposite the David Parr house and is now a coffee shop popular with local residents (and us, of course).  Looking out of the bedroom window, the large clock with Dale’s Brewery in black lettering still hangs on the wall is in full view.  It seems almost in touching distance!


Dale’s Brewery celebrates the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II


The paper reported that Jack Hobbs ‘England cricketer and Cambridge’s most illustrious son’ had received a knighthood.  A 6 bedroom house in De Freville Avenue was for sale at £3,000.  A quick Google check tells me that such a property now commands a figure in the region of £1,660,000.  Two undergraduates (one from St John’s and the other from Trinity), were fined 15s and 10s respectively for ‘riding a bicycle designed for one’.

A look at the situations vacant section shows no sign of equal rights!  Addenbrooke’s Hospital offered positions for dining staff to work 48 hours per week at a wage of 122s for men and 92s 6d for women.  An advertisement for a shorthand/typist (is there such an occupation these days?) specified that applicants must be single whilst British Rail wanted a female clerk and a smart man (25-30) as office supervisor.

This Cambridge Daily News, ordinary in its day, I now find a most intriguing historical document.   It showed me that in the intervening years much had changed but some things do remain the same.  On the evening of 1st June 1953 The Archers could be heard on the Light Programme and 20 Questions was being broadcast on the Home Service.

Working at the David Parr House is a pleasure and I am privileged to be able to see into the lives of people who lived many years ago.  I look forward to starting the cataloguing of items downstairs and have no doubt that there will be much more to discover.


Diane Heard, Camdfas Heritage Volunteer at the David Parr House


Pencil Tin

DPH Pencil Tin 3

This beautiful ‘pencil tin’ was given to me by Ann, the great-granddaughter of David Parr.  It is made from tin and decorated with a beautiful floral pattern.  It has the initials ‘D D P’ within a brown shield near the bottom …

DPH Pencil Tin 2

… and ‘Pencils’ written within a scroll on the side.

DPH Pencil Tin 1

Both inscriptions are hand-painted with the lettering of the word ‘pencils’ slightly more crudely executed than that of the initials.

When the tin first came into my possession I’d assumed that all the decoration on it had been painted by hand. I’d  jumped to that conclusion without taking a good look at what I was holding, and on closer inspection it was wrong.  In fact the tin had been adapted – the intricate pattern of flowers was a transfer on to which someone had carefully painted the lettering to personalise it.

DPH Pencil Tin 4

This begs the question: which of the D D Parrs did this, senior or junior? Both have the same  initials: David Daniel Parr (senior) and his son David Douglas Parr (junior).  The tin was given to Ann by her uncle, David Douglas, which would suggest that he executed the work.

Whatever the tin’s provenance it is still a beautiful object made more so by the dents and markings from years of handling and use.

Inside the tin … more of that next time.


The ‘highs’ of research


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.

All Saints names 2

‘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.

All Saints names 1

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.


Distant Memories

Old Tige 4

My heart missed a beat … would it be there … I turned over the LP … yes!

‘Tige you were faithful, faithful to the end
Tige how I missed you. You were my best friend.’

This refrain popped into my mind and refused to go away – I wished that Elsie’s record player worked so I could hear it again.

I had been looking through the selection of LPs we have at the David Parr House when I came across a Slim Rodgers’ tribute to Jim Reeves called ‘Distant Drums’.  This immediately transported me back to my childhood bedroom, lying on my bed with my blue, box record player on the floor, replaying one of the few 45s that my parents had and constantly repositioning the plastic arm to the beginning, making sure the needle was just right.

The song I was playing and replaying was ‘Old Tige’ – the B side to the single  ‘Distant Drums’ and much better in my view than the A side.  In the 2 mins and 58 seconds that it takes to play there are goring bulls, a faithful dog, a near drowning, floods, reunions, loss.  Your emotions are wrung out and the pillow damp with tears.  I hope that this will not spoilt it for you.  If you are feeling strong, have a listen and enjoy the man with the ‘velvet voice’.

Old Tige 3

Click here to get the full story behind the song – but be warned it does involve a car crash, a broken bridge and a guardian angel!

‘Post’ Note

DPH Alsop Advert

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.

DPH Alsop Advert-001

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!


DPH Pieter Photos

This beautiful photo is of the top of the railings that surround the back garden at the David Parr House. Shrouded in the remains of copious amounts of bindweed and taken with the autumn sun shining through, it shows the beauty in even the most humdrum of objects. Seeing this made me look back in David Parr’s notebook to find out what he had written about the fence: the entry shows where he got it from and for how much:

‘The Iron Fencing of Back Garden was
Made and fixed by Alsop & Sons East Road
During October 1904  Costing £9 9s 2d.’

The Alsop firm was started by John Thomas Alsop, and was working out of 85 East Road by 1882.  John took his sons into the business and renamed the company ‘The Britannia Works’ after the Britannia Inn over the road from his premises, and next door to his shoeing forge. The company seemed to be able to make anything in iron – they advertised as being wheelwrights, blacksmiths, art iron workers, fence makers and could even construct you a caravan.  One of their specialities was horse-drawn preacher’s caravans which travelled around the country, decorated with biblical texts.

Here is a photo of Alsop standing by the wheel of one of the missionary caravans his company made.

Alsop cavaran

This one was for the ‘Caravan Mission to Village Children’.  It was made to the traditional gypsy design and painted maroon, with religious texts inscribed on the side, possibly in gold.  Arthur Alsop was John’s artistic son and he did the signwriting on these caravans.


Here is the caravan in action in 1893 with two of the missionaries sitting outside their tent. The idea for the production of these caravans may have come about because John Alsop was also a lay preacher for the Plymouth Brethren.

But, getting back to fences, the firm also produced some of the iron posts and railings that so define the edges of the Cambridge Commons. Alsop ironwork can still be seen on Coldham’s Common, the Backs, Sheep’s Green and the City Cemetery.

One of John Alsop’s grandsons called him ‘a great dandy and always very well turned out, a good tradesman but not such an efficient businessman’.  He must have done something right though, since the Alsop firm was sold in 1912 to a Mr Donald Mackay. It is still in business today, still in East Road, still with an iron works where you can still get anything that your garden or house might need – though I am not so sure about a missionary caravan!


Find out more about the Caravan Mission to Village Children 

For a lovely pamphlet on iron works see if you can hunt out: ‘Cambridge Iron Founders’ by K Alger, A Brigham, B Hockley and J Wilkinson. Cambridge Industrial Archaeology Society



‘Swiftly see each moment flies,
See and learn be timely wise,
Every moment shortens day,
Every pulse beats life away,
Thus thy every heaving breath,
Waft thee on to certain death,
Seize the moments as they fly,
Know to live and learn to die.’

This quote that David Parr chose to put on his parlour wall seems to have been a popular verse of Victorian times.  Earlier on in the 19th-century it was used as an inscription on decorative crockery, especially on lustreware produced in the northern potteries of Sunderland and Newcastle. These plates, plaques and jugs could be thought of as a more lasting equivalent of modern-day greeting cards, where a sentimental or thoughtful verse is printed for the receiver to ponder over.  But such pieces were not just given to individuals as gifts…

DPH Blogs

This particular verse seems also to have been popular within Masonic circles, and several collections from various lodges contain jugs decorated with the inscription.

DPH Blogs 6

It was also found printed in various publications including a magazine dated 1827 called ‘The Christian Gleaner and Domestic Magazine’.  This seems to have been aimed at those in domestic service and hoped to:

‘educate a certain class … Readers are multiplying in every class of society and it is of growing importance that each should be furnished with reading not only beneficial in its tendency, but adapted to their particular circumstances and sphere.’ 

The verse was clearly felt to be of suitable content for servants, along with other articles such as ‘Bad Effects of Sloth’, ‘How to Clean Decanters, Cruets and Bird Fountains’ and ‘A Hot Sunday Dinner That Keeps Nobody at Home’ (a hint to employers to allow their servants to go to church on Sundays).

With the verse being so much about the passing of time it is not surprising that it could also be found on watch and clock faces. Indeed, the earliest reference found from 1766 reports that these lines were ‘composed by a lady for a gentleman’s watch’.

Swiftly see each moment flies,
See, and learn! Be timely wise!

(Here I think the punctuation says quite a lot!)

A Shaker-designed clock with the verse inscribed on its face swaps around the words of the last line to read: ‘Learn to live and know to die’, whilst on another clock face the sentiment  is further changed to read: ‘Learn to live – prepare to die’.


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.

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