A Space of One’s Own: Mary

In our last portrait we return to the beginning in the form of diorama based on the space occupied by Mary Parr, wife of David and grandmother of Elsie. Set in 1920, when David had completed painting the blue flower pattern over the fireplace, the room box shows what the kitchen, scullery and W.C. might have looked at that time. Based on objects from the collection, research into the kitchen and written accounts from David’s notebook, the diorama is also, in part, a work of the imagination. And while David Parr was the impetus for creating the room boxes, as this one was furnished and completed, it gradually brought to life the world of the woman who occupied it and gives us a tantalizing glimpse into Mary’s story.

In 1920 Mary was 59 years old, a mother to three grown up children, who had all left home and married. She was also grandmother to six grandchildren, three of whom she wouldn’t meet until the following year, when her youngest daughter, Sarah (known as Nellie), returned to the UK from Canada. Mary met David in 1879 when David Parr was working on Hare Hill House in Macclesfield, close to Mary’s childhood home in Tytherington. Mary was 18 and David was 25. Four years later, in 1883, they were married in Rainow Church, Cheshire. By 1887 the couple had two small children, Mary Emma and David Douglas, and had bought their first home – 186 Gwydir St. 

Moving in aged 26, Mary lived and worked in this space for 62 years until her death in 1949, aged 88. Although we know so much about David’s life and work, we know very little about the life of Mary. We do know that for a lot of the time Mary must have been very much a single parent as David’s work for the Leach firm took him away all over the country for weeks and sometimes months. Of course, when David was there, her domestic world would have been interrupted by the upheaval caused by David’s constant work on the decorative schemes in the house.

Despite the hardships Mary also benefitted from her husband’s industry. Not only did he provide a beautiful space to live in, he also made improvements that made his wife’s life easier. The extension built in 1898, provided not only a scullery but also an adjoining indoor W.C. – a luxury that the neighbours wouldn’t enjoy until the 1960’s. New space in the scullery allowed the copper to be moved from the kitchen in 1903 and a state of the art oven with flue was fixed into the kitchen hearth in 1907. In 1916, borrowing ideas from the country houses he worked on, David created a painted glass blind for the lower sash of the kitchen window to provide privacy when bathing for himself and Mary.

From the house collection we can glean that Mary was a devout woman and a keen seamstress. A newspaper cutting showing a photograph of stallholders from the St Barnabas Bazaar in 1901 tells us that Mary ran a country produce stall. Scant details about a woman who plays an important role in the David Parr House story. The room box is a small way of addressing this imbalance. As Elsie remarks in our first portrait, Mary must have got fed up with David’s constant work on the house, but one hopes that Mary also felt, like Elsie, that it was a privilege to be living amongst all the lovely painting.

A collaborative project, the room box was created by Philip Bond; with furnishings by miniature makers, including Gary Masters and Karen Griffiths, project managed and curated by Charlotte Woodley.