Christmas captured at David Parr House

by Nicky Morland

After 186 Gwydir Street was purchased and the David Parr House Trust established in 2014, there was the enormous task of conservation to be undertaken. In 2017, with the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund and other funders, the house underwent a full program of conservation and restoration work. Five thousand items from the house were packed up and then unwrapped, catalogued, cleaned and repacked before being carefully put back into the house when the conservation had been completed.

When I am giving house tours I always tell visitors why, at all times of the year, there is a small artificial Christmas Tree, complete with baubles, on the mantlepiece of the Drawing Room. I say that “Elsie Palmer had a strong faith and felt that Jesus’ birth should be celebrated every day not just on Christmas Day.” 

I wondered what other Christmas and Nativity items were in our catalogue and set about searching through it. We have little evidence of Christmas in the house in the Parr family’s time there, but quite a few from the Palmers: Elsie, Alfred and their daughters Ann and Rosemary.

Here is Elsie’s Christmas tree, still with a label to tell us it is a Sainsbury’s Mini Christmas Tree:

Around the house there are three Nativity scenes

A 3D fold-out one in the back bedroom which details on the back 

To Dear Ann & Rosemary from Grannie xx” 

In the hall is a plastic nativity scene, the catalogue sadly notes that “one of the sheep is missing”, shepherds need to be more diligent!

The third Nativity scene is in the Bedroom Lobby:

Music clearly played a part in Elsie’s Christmas. In the Drawing Room is a collection of Christmas carol music, ‘Popular Christmas Carols’, hand-covered in brown paper with Christmas Carols and Elsie Mansfield (Elsie’s maiden name) written in ink on the front. Possibly something Elsie had from school or Sunday school. Also from the Drawing Room is a book of scores of Christmas melodies:

And in the record collection a 1981 King’s College Festival of Lessons and Carols:

Our collection also has two booklets of religious texts by Patience Strong. Patience Strong was in fact Winifred Emma May (1907 – 1990) a poet best known for her short, simple and sentimental poems, these with illustrated Christmas pictures:

Of a more practical nature are Christmas gummed postal labels (4 remaining) and 12 gummed present labels:

If you are visiting the house, either in person or virtually, you can spot a bright Merry Christmas cushion in the Drawing room…

If you look carefully you can find three donkeys in the house, though I will admit the one in the Dining Room is not a Christmas Donkey.

A ‘wonky donkey’ in the Drawing Room. I like to think this came from Elsie and Alfred’s trip to Israel but have no evidence to support this.

A ceramic grey donkey also from the Drawing Room:

And one of my favourite items from the Palmers time, the Donkey Barometer on the mantelpiece of the Dining Room. Look closely, it has a missing tail …!

Also found in the house and catalogued are Christmas cards, a TV listing, wrapping paper used as a shelf liner, and a present tag. 

But most poignant I think is a colour photo of Alfred and Elsie who is holding a baby mounted on red card with a holly adornment, on the reverse of which is ‘seasons greetings and best wishes from’ :

Season’s Greetings and Best Wishes from all at David Parr House!

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