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.


Connections between the Arts and Crafts Movement and Medieval Manuscripts …

Those researching the Pre-Raphaelites will find it is a well-trodden path as one is rewarded with rich pickings from the abundant seams of material documenting their lives and those of their followers. In addition, volumes of published letters provide a useful source of information. A topic which researchers keep returning to is the influence of illuminated manuscripts on their creative output.

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Collection & image credit: Chambéry Musée des Beaux-Arts, France, Public Domain


The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, Vamberry the Wine Merchant, The Hesperides, Pandora and much, much more

In July 2020’s ‘Afterword’, it was debated whether the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, which took Britain and America by storm from 1861, had influenced David Parr to include his favourite mottos in the trompe l’oeil scrolls he painted on his living room walls.  Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Algernon Swinburne, William Morris, Edward Burne-Jones and their acquaintance Whitley Stokes helped to promote Edward FitzGerald’s translation of the Rubáiyát.

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One of the versions of Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám created by William Morris with contributions from Edward Burne-Jones and Charles Fairfax Murray. Collection: British Library


Eat, drink and be merry

Sir Henry Thompson was a British surgeon and polymath.  In ‘Murray Marks and his Friends’, published in London, in 1919, by John Lane, Dr. G. C Williamson wrote, ‘He will always be well remembered by reason of what were called his Octaves, little dinner-parties (at 38 Wimpole Street) which commenced in 1872 and numbered over three hundred in all.  On these occasions he had eight courses, and eight guests, and the dinner was at eight o’clock, and he gathered around him from time to time all the most notable and interesting people of London.

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Murray Marks’ business card designed by William Morris, James Abbott McNeill Whistler and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Image credit: ‘Murray Marks and his Friends’ by Dr. G. C. Williamson, published in 1919 by John Lane, London. Image credit: archive.org


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.


 In one of my 2020 ‘Afterwords’, I included the following quote, which Joseph and Elizabeth Robins Pennell – James McNeill Whistler’s friends and official biographers – had slipped into their work:

‘His [James Abbott McNeill Whistler’s] decorations bewildered people even more than the work of the new firm of Morris, Marshall, Faulkner and Co.’

Dear Reader, you are probably wondering why I had included the quote in the first place.  To my mind, it was just as to be expected: doesn’t every new generation of artists and designers, those who strive to produce something new by going against the stayed views of their elders, struggle to gain recognition and meet with criticism, often from those who wish to guard their elevated positions having been through same struggle?  I thought it (albeit mistakenly) interesting that William Morris hadn’t been exempt from such problems.

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Blackthorn wallpaper design by William Morris 1892

April 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.

Shakespeare and the theatre

Southwark Cathedral, London, was William Shakespeare’s parish church when he lived close to the Globe Theatre and where the Bard’s birthday (26th April) is marked every year, making April the perfect month to consider Shakespeare’s impact on David Parr’s late-Victorian and early Edwardian world.

In July’s ‘Afterword’, the influences behind David Parr’s choice of mottos in the trompe l’oeil scrolls he painted on his living room walls were debated.

He included the ‘Tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, Sermons in stones and good in everything’, quote from Shakespeare’s pastoral comedy ‘As You Like It’, begging the question: had David Parr seen a particularly memorable performance of the play, inspiring him to include a permanent memento?

Shelley Lockwood, a founding member of the David Parr House team, emailed, ‘I can confirm that David Parr did enjoy trips to the theatre, as did Frederick Leach’.

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from the Folger’s Digital Image Collection http://luna.folger.edu/

An etching of the Forest of Arden from Shakespeare’s As You Like It, made by John Macpherson in a series created by Frederick Gard Fleay

March 2021

Supplement 3

‘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.

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1877 Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race – Dead Heat (London Illustrated News)

February 2021

Supplement 2

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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Detail of pattern work in All Saints Church, Cambridge.
Credit Hannah Boatfield, Copyright David Parr House

February 2021

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.

Read on [Opens in separate PDF]

Mystic Marriage of St Catherine from the Metropolitan Museum of Art

November 2020

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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Dr Watson Sherlock Holmes Arthur Conan Doyle 1893

November 2020: Afterword

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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Detail of Verdure with Deer and Shields, accompaniment to the Holy Grail tapestries woven by Morris & Co. 1891-94 for Stanmore Hall. This version woven by Morris & Co. 1900 for Mrs. J. T. Middlemore. Wool and silk on cotton warp. Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.

October 2020

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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Illustration: James McBryde Commissioned for M. R. James’s 1904 collection of stories ‘Ghost Stories of an Antiquary’

October 2020: Afterword

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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Illustration: James McBryde M. R. James’s (1904) ‘Ghost Stories of an Antiquary’

September 2020

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.

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The dining room / morning room at no. 1 Palace Green. Decorative scheme designed by William Morris. The canvases are the work of Edward Burne-Jones.

September 2020: Afterword

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.

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4711 Cologne Label
David Parr House Drawing Room Green pattern below the Dado Rail

August 2020

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.

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Oscar in Oxford 1876

August 2020: Afterword

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.

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July 2020

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.

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‘What Not’ David Parr House

July 2020: Afterword

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.

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A page from one of the two versions of Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám Collection: British Library Source: the Folio Society produced a facsimile copy of the 1872 version of William Morris’s copies.

June 2020

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.

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Sherlock Holmes & Dr Watson

June 2020: Afterword

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!

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St James’s Palace By Thomas Hosmer Shepherd – Corel Professional Photos CD-ROM, Public Domain, Wiki Commons

May 2020

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.

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Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe * – Édouard Manet 1862 – 1863 – Musée d’Orsay, Paris [* The Luncheon on the Grass]

May 2020: Afterword

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’.

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April 2020

The Adventure in Holland Park

April 1891

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.

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‘The Pipe was still between his lips’
Sidney Paget The Strand Magazine

April 2020: Afterword

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?

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Rossetti reading proofs of Ballads and Sonnets at 16 Cheyne Walk, London, by Henry Treffry Dunn (1882)
National Portrait Gallery/Public Domain


Boat Race Day

March 2020

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.”

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“The Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race: Mr. Muttlebury Coaching the Cambridge Crew from a Steam Launch” Illustrated London News – April 9, 1892

March 2020: Afterword

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.

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Hammersmith Bridge on Boat-race Day c.1862 Walter Greaves 1846-1930 Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1922 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N03643

February 2020

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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David Parr and his deer stalker on his works outing in 1882

February 2020: Afterword

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.

Sherlock Holmes & Dr Watson
The Strand Magazine

January 2020

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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January: Afterword

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.

Angels Wings from Adoration of the Magi Jan Gossaert
National Gallery London