David Daniel Parr (c.1855–1927)

David Daniel Parr was born in Histon Road, Chesterton to Thomas Parr (c.1823‒62) and his second wife, Jemima (née Taylor) (c.1823‒60), in c.1855. He was the second son and the fourth of six children, the other five being Harriet (1848‒53); Emma (1850‒1932); Thomas William (1852‒1933); Charles Douglas (1856‒1917); and Isabella (1858‒1959). Thomas was a labourer and Jemima was a teacher but unfortunately for the family Jemima died of TB when David was only 5 years of age. A few years later, Thomas also died of the same illness, leaving David and his siblings as orphans.

His older sister Emma, aged 11 at this time, was sent away to become a live-in servant at the home of a gentlemen in Hampstead, and his eldest brother became an apprentice. This was the path that David would follow a few years later when he became apprenticed to Frederick Leach who had a firm doing specialist interior decoration. It was this opportunity that was to be the making of David.

Parr family
Parr family: David, Mary Jane, Mary, Sarah and David

He was apprenticed first as a joiner, and then as a painter, at which he was to become a very accomplished “artistic decorator”, working on projects that were designed by some of our greatest Victorian designers and architects of the day ‒ men such as William Morris and George Bodley. The Frederick Leach Company was to work not only on projects in Cambridge ‒ projects such as All Saints’ Church and Queens’ Old Hall ‒ but also on building all across Britain. Indeed, in 1881 David was residing at 19 Back Place, Islington, London, as a lodger, whilst working on painting several of the rooms in St James’ Palace, a commission that was given to the Frederick Leach Company by William Morris.

David married Mary Jane Wood in 1883 in the district of Macclesfield, Cheshire. Their first child (Mary Emma: 1885‒1963) was born in Cambridge; the second (David Douglas, who was later to work with his father as a decorative painter: 1886‒1975) in Rainow, Cheshire; and the third (Sarah Helen, who emigrated to Canada in 1914: 1889‒1989) in Cambridge. By 1891, the family was living in Gwydir Steet, Cambridge.

In All Saints’ Church, a piece of decoration has been found beside the west window that lists the artists involved, among whom father and son are named: “Decorated by: D. Parr Senr 1871. J. Swainland 1871.” and “Reproduced by: H. H. Legge. 1908. D Parr, Jnr 1908.”.

But, why David Parr is so special for Cambridge is that in his spare time he went home and decorated the inside of his humble terrace house with the patterns and colours that he so beautifully hand-painted in the much grander neo-Gothic ecclesiastical and civic interiors of his day job. What is even more remarkable is that they survived, practically untouched, up to the present day (see illlustration below.). This is thanks to his granddaughter, Elsie Palmer, who moved into the house after his death and lived in it for the whole of her life, as custodian to this amazing legacy left by her grandfather.

Parr House front room
Parr House front room

David died on 6 December 1927 aged 73, and was buried in Mill Road Cemetery on 9 December. It is perhaps significant that, as a highly skilled artisan, he was accorded neither an obituary nor a funeral report in the local newpapers, the Cambridge Daily News and the Cambridge Independent Press.

For more information, visit www.davidparrhouse.org

[If you have any information about the family or any relatives who worked for the F R Leach & Son firm, please contact us at friendsofmillroadcemetery@gmail.com and/or via davidparrhouse.org]

David Daniel Parr – inscription

Parish : All Saints

See also family grave page

Sources :

English census reports 1861‒1911
Oral history recordings from members of the Parr family
Michael Hall, George Frederick Bodley and the Later Gothic Revival in Britain and America (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2014)
Duncan Robinson and Stephen Wildman, eds, Morris & Company in Cambridge (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980) [Fitzwilliam Museum catalogue]

by Tamsin Wimhurst, Emma Easterbrook, Mary Naylor and Ian Bent

David Daniel Parr