Tag Archives: 186 house


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

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.