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!
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