Each month Nicola Gifford will be writing us a short story inspired by the David Parr House, together with an ‘Afterword’ in which she gives us an account of the research behind each one and her fascinating thoughts around bringing the two together.
‘Boat Race Day’
Last March’s story was inspired by William Morris’s ‘Boat Race Day’ parties at his Hammersmith home on the Middlesex bank of the Thames. By happy coincidence, the Oxford v. Cambridge Boat Race was often staged on or close to his birthday (24th March).
The Boat Race didn’t take place in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The break was significant as the race had been staged every year since 1946.
This year, the Boat Race is scheduled to take place on Easter Sunday (4th April 2021). However, the race cannot take place along The Championship Course. Aside from the anticipated Covid-19 pandemic restrictions, Hammersmith Bridge is closed not only to road traffic, cyclists and pedestrians, but also to water traffic, which is not able to pass under it as a safety precaution after cracks were identified in its structure.
Instead, the Boat Race organisers have settled on the Adelaide Course, which hasn’t been used since an unofficial race was staged in 1944. On that occasion Oxford won by three-quarters of a length. The Adelaide Course takes in a straight stretch of the Great Ouse between Ely and Littleport and covers a distance comparable to the Championship Course. However, unlike The Championship Course which sees average winning times of around 18 minutes, Oxford’s winning time on the Adelaide Course was 8.06 minutes. At least the race will be covered by the BBC.
William Morris visited many churches and cathedrals in his lifetime. According to Fiona MacCarthy’s biography, he visited Ely cathedral in 1855. Later he visited the cathedrals of Lincoln and Peterborough (and Blythburgh Church) in the East of England, so he would have been familiar with the flat Fen landscape. Whether he would have approved of the Boat Race organisers settling for the Adelaide Course is hard to guess.
My conviction that William Morris had visited All Saints, Jesus Lane while the interior decorations were being carried out revealed itself in last January’s story. Like a police case which lacks sufficient evidence to convict, I had resorted to ascertaining whether Morris had had the opportunity and found he had visited Jesus College, just across the road, three times in the years that count.
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Supplement – February 2021
Why a supplement?
Not a month went by when, within a day or so of submitting my pieces to the David Parr House, I would stumble across additional information or a picture which would have been perfect. And, what to do with the interesting information that didn’t make my 2020 ‘Afterword’s? Moreover, new discoveries have come to light in the interim.
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The Adventure at the London Hotel
My hansom cab came to a juddering halt at the hotel entrance. Doors were opened for me and hats were tipped, ensuring I went swiftly and seamlessly from my conveyance into the hotel. In the foyer, away from the noise of clattering of hooves outside, the attendant bowed, took my hat and cane, then directed me to the bar.
“Good evening, gentlemen!” said I, approaching three men deep in conversation. “I am pleased to make your acquaintance. I’m Mr Gill.”
Joseph M. Stoddart, who was the Managing Editor of the American publication ‘Lippencott’s Monthly Magazine’ and our host, shook my hand then introduced me to Oscar Wilde. Stoddart was a visitor to our shores. Wilde, on the other hand, was well established in London society. Moreover, I had mentioned him in some of my journalistic pieces.
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For this months story Nicola once again returns to the theme of Sherlock Holmes but in the Afterword she also introduces us to one of the last commissions that William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones worked on together – the ‘Holy Grail Tapestries’.
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The Malevolent Stray
Upon my arrival at the Porters’ Lodge, a tall man, named Grimes, took charge of my belongings saying he’d see they were taken to my rooms. His colleague put a call through to a Professor Bartholomew, who dashed over, introduced himself in a cheery manner and said that I was expected at the Faculty Drawing Room. He was a wiry, nervous type, whose gown didn’t sit right. Adding to the comical effect, his hair was so bushy that his mortar board rested an inch above his head, making one wonder why he was considered the best man to greet me. My new role would require me to rub along with staff and students alike, even so, I had expected to be met by my deputy or the chairman of the board or some such.
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In this months afterword Nicola introduces us to M.R. James, former Provost of King’s College, Cambridge and Director of the Fitzwilliam Museum who was instrumental in making ghost stories a seasonal ‘treat’ and finishes with leading us in a game of ‘Six Degrees of Separation’ linking David Parr to Sherlock Holmes.
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No good deed goes unpunished
Harding always felt a pang of regret when he approached no. 1 Palace Green, the home his architect friend had designed for his clients. Whilst there wasn’t much of a resemblance between the stately new build and his idyllic Red House, which his friend had designed for him and had to be abandoned after only five years because the needs of the firm had pulled him back to London, they were both constructed of red brick and that was enough for him to wish things had been different. His family had been reduced to living above a shop, which was far from ideal. Whereas his country home had a garden and an orchard, and friends wanting to escape the city had visited most weekends, ensuring there had been merriment and experiment in equal measure. It was where they had come up with the plan to set up a company which designed beautiful furnishings for ecclesiastical and domestic settings. It was where they had made their first stained-glass quarries, painting everything from walls and ceilings to furniture, and his wife and her sister had sat and embroidered.
In this months ‘Afterword’ Nicola takes a close look at the colour green and the history of the 4711 cologne bottle label, making a case for it being the inspiration behind the choice of colours for the decoration at 1 Palace Green.
Arthur and Oscar
I had expected friends and family to turn up for the funeral in droves but not at the deceased’s house and most definitely not looking like they were attending a garden party. Why weren’t they gathering at a church and why was no one dressed in black?
I had got there early and grabbed the best parking spot, ensuring I had a good view of his imposing home at the end of the drive. Given Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s status, one would have expected a funeral cortege comprising of a hearse and at least two cars of mourners. I checked my watch. The service was due to commence in just under thirty-minutes, yet no vehicles had arrived to pick the family up and take them to the church.
In this months ‘Afterword’ Nicola takes us on a journey that begins by unearthing a link between Oscar Wilde and Arthur Conan Doyle and finishes with the Cottingley Fairies. Enjoy the ride.
Know to Live
By the time she got back from the shops, Violet had seen everyone she was likely to encounter that day. When she had agreed to house sit for Flossie, she had expected to see more life. Afterall, her friend lived just beyond Cambridge’s city centre, therefore further into town than she did.
There was a chance a neighbour might knock on the door. As for her family, they weren’t due to visit until the weekend, so she couldn’t count on them. If she ventured into the garden, she might see Mr Brown from next door digging up vegetables for his supper, or Mrs Bennet, who lived on the other side, but the snarky woman was a creature of habit and only hung out her washing on a Monday.
Violet carried her shopping bags through to the kitchen and, with only the radio for company, set about making herself some lunch.
Why did Nicola choose to write a story about the Mayor’s Day Out? Cambridgeshire County Council has been inviting its senior citizens on a annual trip with entertainment for over three decades. The Mayor’s Day Out had always intrigued her so now was her chance to write the story that had been formulating in her mind.
The Adventure at St. James’s Palace
Upon moving in at 221B Baker Street, our London residence, I accompanied Sherlock Holmes on a whirlwind of adventures. According to my yearbook, we went to Northumberland to find a missing curate, to Brighton to solve the case of the damning telegram and to Newmarket to discover who was lacing horse-feed with sedatives, among many others. These were all reported in the national press.
There was, however, a case that we were asked to keep secret. As we have lost two monarchs since the events I am about to relate, it will no longer be of any consequence if I break my silence, but it will be of great interest to my readers who study Holmes’s methods.
In the Afterword for June Nicola takes us on a journey that starts with Sherlock Holmes and finishes with Vernon Lee. On the way she tests out the ‘six degrees of separation’ and takes us down an interesting path to her Art School days in the 1980’s. Sherlock would have been proud of her deductions and discoveries!
The Adventure of the French Deception
The doorbell rang again.
Dr Watson called for his housekeeper, but she didn’t respond.
With great effort, he eased himself out of his chair. His complaining knees were particularly bad, suggesting rain was on its way and the weather forecast in his morning paper was not to be trusted.
“Who is it?” Watson asked as a precaution, gripping the door key.
“It’s Jack,” came the response.
Watson unlocked the door and found his great-nephew holding up a newspaper.
“How come we had to read about your impending demise in the papers? You didn’t think to tell your family first?” asked Jack. “Do we count as nought?”
“Manners maketh man. Good day to you too! You can ignore the newspaper report. I’ve engineered a mix up. Come in. You are just the person I wanted to see. You speak French fluently, don’t you?”
As Jack hung up his coat, then traded his hat for Holmes’s deerstalker, Watson peered out to see if he could see any members of the press still lurking about, then locked the door.
“My French is probably quite rusty. What’s going on?”
“I need someone to accompany me to Paris,” said Watson, leading the way to the living room.
In the Afterword Nicola explains why she has written another story based on Sherlock Holmes and how she was inspired by the picture painted by Manet – ‘Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe’.
The Adventure in Holland Park
Upon being summoned by the Great Detective, Nathaniel Willis went directly to 221b Baker Street. Mrs Hudson, Holmes’s landlady, opened the door and led the way up the dimly lit stairs.
Willis hadn’t seen Sherlock Holmes since their adventure at St. James’s Palace, which had concluded in December 1880. His concerns for the solitary Holmes had been misplaced as Fortune had engineered for Holmes to be introduced to his collaborator Dr. Watson on 1st January 1881, thereupon, the two gentlemen had taken up residence at Baker Street together as a means of sharing the financial burden of renting accommodation in London.
Sherlock was wearing a thick dressing gown over his clothes. He was standing in front of a long window. As Willis drew nearer and more, and more, of the room was revealed, he could see it was one of an identical pair that looked out onto the street.
Why did Nicola write a second story based on Sherlock Holmes and where did her research lead when she started to look into the connections between Sir Arthur Conan Doyle/Sherlock Holmes and the Pre-Raphaelites?
21st March 1891
Nathaniel Willis opened the door for his employer, then followed him out. They were met with the same grey day they’d seen through Mrs Brown’s grimy windows.
“Which crew do you think will win?” asked Mr Reid.
“Need you ask? Cambridge of course,” answered Willis, closing the door behind him. “Oxford might be favourites to win but I’m not going to entertain the possibility of the opposition winning?”
Reid paused at the garden gate with his back to their modest lodgings.
“Well, it still rankles that the organisers allowed a former Cantabrigian captain to coach the other side. Lehmann might have felt embittered that he wasn’t selected for the Blue boat but to spite his University, well, that just takes the biscuit. One can only hope they change the rules to prevent a reoccurrence.”
It is the time of year when many from Cambridge and Oxford head down to the banks of the Thames for the annual Boat Race, a tradition that dates back to 1829. Sadly, it is one of the events that has had to be cancelled but it inspired Nicola to write her March story as she read about William Morris and his boat race gathering at his Hammersmith home.
The Adventure of Sir Scrope
Just days after I sent the last tea chest, containing documents pertaining to my long association with the Great Detective, to Scotland Yard, I received an intriguing package.
It should be stated that I am inundated with letters from readers, who have been compelled to put pen to paper after reading the published accounts of the mysteries Holmes and I have solved, asking whether they might have an audience with me or some such. Yet, the individual who had sent the package didn’t appear to want anything from me. Quite the contrary. He offered to reveal the details of a case which, by his reckoning, Holmes hadn’t shared with me. It pains me to say that this wasn’t a unique situation either, as disreputable journalists and trophy collectors have tried to befriend me in the hope of obtaining information for their own nefarious purposes or memorabilia from which they hoped to profit, using similar tactics.
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In the Afterword Nicola explains how she was inspired by a hat and how her idea for the story led to more research about one of our greatest sleuths of the Victorian era.
Scrolls, Peacock Feathers and Rivalry
Monday, 5th January 1885
Overnight the temperature had dipped below freezing, ensuring the thick fog hadn’t dissipated. It hung in the air like sludge, creating a halo effect around streetlamps and left an oily smear wherever it settled. Nathaniel Willis wondered if this was what it had been like in the ‘Year Without a Summer’.
His hometown had its share of tall chimney stacks and domestic chimneys choking the air with smoke but, as it was only small-scale industry, the effects were nothing compared to those suffered by Londoners.
Breathing in the London fog was akin to taking in a lungful of moisture-laden air in the Palm House at Kew Gardens, whilst surrounded by pipe smokers, puffing their way through bowls of tarry shag. He felt as wretched as them without having had any of the enjoyment.
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In the Afterword Nicola writes about the research behind the story – a find that led her from one enquiry to another with false leads and unexpected discoveries.