Tag Archives: David Parr 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


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.