Category Archives: The Parr family

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.


Uncovering the Past


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.

Robin, Rosemary, Ann and Mary
Robin, Rosemary, Ann and Mary




‘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’.


Was this the cleverest guinea pig in Cambridge?

Rosemary (on left) with her pet rabbit and guinea pig.  Photo taken in the garden of the David Parr House in the 1950's
Rosemary (on left) with her pet rabbit and guinea pig. Photo taken in the garden of the David Parr House in the 1950s

I have had quite a few guinea pigs as pets in my lifetime. The first ones when I was a child, then several when my children were young (they were then the pets of choice). The main memory of my guinea-pig days is having to chase them madly around their ‘run’. This happened each evening when we put them away in their hutch to protect them from night-prowling foxes and cats. Often it would take two or three of us to do it, one holding up the run, another fielding them, while the third was the catcher. The guinea pigs seemed intent on escape or at least getting as far away from us as possible. Yet now it has become clear that I never fully appreciated the potential of these creatures as entertaining companion and pet.

I realised this when I was chatting with Rosemary, great granddaughter of David Parr, who grew up in the house. She told me how she would spend hours playing with and training her guinea pigs both inside and outside the house. The hallway was turned into an assault course with cardboard jumps and tunnels for the guinea pigs to run through. When Rosemary walked to the shops down Gwydir Street she trained them to follow her there and back. They would run by themselves from the front door around the side road to the back garden, and vice versa, for a titbit. One time Rosemary even made them a little cart that she attached to their backs, so they could pull it up and down the road. I can’t imagine such a sight on the streets of Cambridge nowadays. But maybe I am wrong –  there might be many gardens and streets in the City with well-trained, performing guinea pigs? (Do let us know!)

Another Cambridge guinea pig story is that of a lady who lived just off Grange Road who kept lots of ‘free range’ guinea pigs in her back garden. If you wanted one for a pet, that was where you could go to get one. When we visited we found the guinea pigs not only roamed the garden but some also roamed around the house. It was lovely to see someone who cared so much for them, and who gained such companionship from them.


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