186 Gwydir Street is a small terraced house in Cambridge containing an extraordinary historic treasure. In 1886, the house was bought by David Parr, a working-class Victorian ‘artist-decorator’ who worked for the Cambridge decorative arts company F R Leach & Sons, known for its work in Cambridge on Queens’ Old Hall, Jesus College Chapel and All Saints’ Church; and nationally with architects and designers George Bodley, William Morris and others. Over 40 years, David Parr decorated his home in the style of the grand interiors of the Victorian Gothic Revival churches and Arts & Crafts houses he worked on every day. His intricately patterned, hand-painted walls survive throughout much of the house. They are a wonder to behold.
Elsie Palmer’s Custodianship
After David Parr’s death in 1927, his granddaughter Elsie Palmer, then aged 12, came to live in the house to look after her grandmother, Mary Jane – and stayed there for the next 85 years. During her time in the house, Elsie met and married Alfred and had two daughters, and their family life took place around and amongst the extraordinary legacy her grandfather had left. Elsie’s reverence and respect for his work meant few changes were made to the infrastructure or décor of the house during her stewardship. Her own artefacts are lightly imposed on the fabric of the house: her coat still hangs in the hallway, her musical score remains on the piano, her wedding photo is framed on the wall – it is as if she has just walked out of the front door.
David Parr House Legacy
The house was purchased from the family in 2013 and a Charitable Incorporated Organisation set up in order to conserve this unique time capsule. An ambitious programme of conservation and restoration works was carried out from 2016, generously supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund and other funders, and the house opens to the public for guided tours in 2019.
The David Parr House CIO is very grateful for the continued support that Elsie Palmer’s family gives to the project. We would also like to thank the many volunteers, professionals and donors who generously give their time and expertise to make the charity’s aims a reality.