Category Archives: Frederick Leach

Haircuts, Collars & Colours

Transcribing the Diaries & notebooks of FR Leach

“The best furnishings are at All Saints: stained glass and exceptionally rich all-over painted decoration by the William Morris firm and its local follower, Frederick Leach.” [Pevsner’s Cambridge]

David Parr worked for Frederick Leach’s Cambridge firm of master decorators and, as can be seen in the David Parr House, must have been heavily influenced by the methods and style of his employer – enough to take his day job home with him and apply his skills to the fabric of his own house.

Having offered some time to Tamsin at the David Parr House, she put me in contact with Shelley Lockwood who has access to a collection of handwritten diaries and notebooks which she needed to be transcribed in order to gain insight into the working practices of the FR Leach firm. Having been taken on a tour of the David Parr House by Shelley, I felt keen and ready to begin the task ahead: reading scans of the documents and transcribing them into a typed and accessible format. I must confess that I was a little naïve about the magnitude and complexity of the task…

The diaries document the day to day tasks and expenses of a man travelling locally and further afield, gaining experience and knowledge of his craft, managing his workers, meeting clients as well as meeting and assisting such craftsmen of the time as William Morris. Both Jesus College and All Saints Church show evidence of the hand of Fred and his team under the tutelage and supervision of Morris. When you visit just these two local examples of the work, you encounter the breathtaking beauty of hand painted wall decoration, realised through great perseverance and skill.

I think it is the juxtaposition of such achievements with the daily records presented in the diaries and notebooks that makes the task of transcribing challenging. I want to discover the creative process behind the decorative works but the documents are more complex – a record of a working life – so Fred has his haircut, buys new collars, purchases daily provisions including “Beer for men” as well as writing “Colors (sic) used B Umber Green Chrome Blue Vert B Sienna”; he then writes daily when he is away to his wife Mary Ann, friends and clients and you realise that he is communicating with William Morris but it is just slipped into the daily record:
Rec’d cheque 39.12.0 Morris sent rect to Dº & wrote to ma 2£ cheque

There have been times when I have called upon Shelley’s knowledge and experience to assist me – we meet on a regular basis to discuss what I have completed – in particular a moment when I could proceed no further as Fred had started a new system in 1867…I envisage he did this as a way of making a to-do list and crossing out items that were completed; for me that meant his hard to read pencil handwriting became illegible as he quite emphatically crossed through each item. Shelley’s calm manner pointed me to the legible letters and encouraged me to build on those to make sense of the words and phrases. I have to confess there are still some question marks where I haven’t quite understood!

The best moment for me so far was discovering in the 1867 Notebook Fred’s sketch of the Fairford Angel in a church in Gloucestershire which he executed on one of his many trips around the country. This is shown below alongside a photo of the original wall painting where you can see his skill in celebrating the original by representing the figure in a vivid and naturalistic way.
I look forward to more occasions like this when the extraordinary leaps off the page hidden within ordinary lists, facts and figures.
Julie Stephenson

FR Leach’s sketch, 1867 Notebook.
FR Leach’s sketch, 1867 Notebook.
Angel wall painting, St Mary’s Church, Fairford, Glos
Angel wall painting, St Mary’s Church, Fairford, Glos

A Gilded Grave

Image credit: Shelley Lockwood
Image credit: Shelley Lockwood

A blustery day found me staggering across uneven ground and stumbling over corner posts that had become dislodged from the stone grave kerbs in St Andrew’s churchyard in Chesterton.  I had gone in search of the grave of Frederick Leach, Cambridge artworkman.  I knew from a photograph taken several years ago by fellow Leach researcher, Robert Halliday, that I was looking for a tallish stone bearing three names: Frederick Richard Leach (1837 – 1904), his wife, Mary Ann Leach, nee Goodenough (1838 – 1909) and their fifth child Walter Perry Leach (1870 – 1934).  I found it after about twenty-five minutes of searching – it would have been quicker if I had been able to resist reading all of every gravestone I saw!

Image credit: Shelley Lockwood
Image credit: Shelley Lockwood

The headstone is decorated with swags and a cherub similar to the carved wooden cherub in the Leach family archive which is attributed to Frederick’s younger brother John McLean Leach (1839 – 1908).  John outlived his brother by four years.  He spent most of his working life at Lichfield cathedral, working for the firm of ecclesiastical sculptors, Robert Bridgeman.  It may well be that John had a hand in designing and carving his brother’s headstone.

Frederick Leach’s firm specialised in the highly ornate interior decoration of churches and civic buildings in the second half of the nineteenth century using colourful stencil work and carved and gilded decorations.  One of the most lavish examples of his gilding work are the 880 cast lead gilded stars on the ceiling of the Old Hall in Queens’ College, Cambridge.  It is now possible to take a virtual tour of this glorious room thanks to Google Streetview.


Among the items salvaged from Leach’s City Road workshops was a beautifully soft gilding brush and a box of gold leaf.

City Road boxes
Image credit: Shelley Lockwood

Completely fanciful, I know, but as I looked back towards Frederick Leach’s final resting place, I couldn’t help but find it entirely appropriate that his was the only headstone which appeared (thanks to a particularly bright orange lichen) to have been gilded.

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Shelley Lockwood

The Leach-Heffer Connection


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.

Christ Church Cambridge

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”.

City Road Workshops Photo: Tamsin Wimhurst
City Road Workshops Photo: Tamsin Wimhurst

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.

Shelley Lockwood


All in the name


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.

Shelley Lockwood

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.

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.

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.

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.