March 31, 2023

David Parr, Decorated interior

pictures are screenprints from the videos in the documentation

ALLELUIA. That is written in the wall decoration, pictured above. This decoration, made in the late 19th or early 20th century, part of an extensive decorative project, is located in a humble two-bedroom terrace house in the city of Cambridge in England, UK. 

The decorations have been miraculously preserved and are now part of a small museum in which the house was converted in the years 2010.

Life and work

The decorations are the work of David Parr (1854-1927) who was born in Chesterton, a suburb in the northeast of the city of Cambridge.

Little is known about his early years, except that his mother died of tuberculosis in 1860.

In 1871 at age 17 David went to work for FR Leach & Sons, a company known at the time for carrying out large decorative works of Art & Crafts and Gothic Revival projects in buildings and private homes in Cambridge. 

Ferdinand Richard Leach (1837-1904), son of an artist, developed into an artist-craftsman and established a showroom in Cambridge in the 1860s as his work expanded and he was given more and more commissions, such as the decoration of the interior of St Clement's Church in Cambridge.

It is mentioned that David Parr initially was working in the showroom. There he must have become familiar with the world of the then developing Arts and Craft movement

He came into contact with many artists from that world, became acquainted with the techniques prevailing there and was also involved in painting large houses and churches based on designs produced by famous representatives of the Arts and Crafts movement.

When David Parr at age 32, in 1886, bought the small terraced house that now has the decorations, he  got help from his employer F.R. Leach. 

David and his wife Mary Jane, who got three children, would live all their life in this relatively small house with two bedrooms.

Soon after David Parr moved into the house, he began decorating the walls and other elements of the house, a project that would continue for some forty years. In those years the house hadn't gas and/or electricity, and Parr, who usually worked in the evening or at night, was lit by candles.

The Arts & Crafts movement, which inspired him, was a reaction to the industrialization, the growth of big business and the mechanization that occurred in England in the second half of the 19th century. The decorations were meant to reconnect people with the places where they lived and worked. 

The pronounced decorative approach emphasized the homely, although this type of art can often be found in churches and large houses of the wealthy. That's why David Parr's tiny house, set in an unassuming location, is so special.

After David Parr died in 1927, Elsie Palmer, a granddaughter of David and Mary Jane, came to care for David's wife. Elsie would continue to live in the house after Mary Jane passed away and during all the years she lived there, she changed almost nothing about the furnishings and hardly let anyone in.

In 2009 Tamsin Wimhurst, a social historian, was tipped off about the decorations in the house. She went to visit, was extremely surprised by what she found and decided to take action to save the house, this al the more because Elsie Palmer meanwhile was in her early 90s.

In 2013 she and her husband Mike bought the house from the family. They set up a David Parr House Trust, that in 2017 got support from a lottery fund and other financiers to renovate the house, which by then had some structural problems, like a leaking roof.

Meanwhile Elsie had moved to a nursing home, where she died in 2014 at the age of 97.

The house/museum was opened to the public in 2019. To protect the decorations and the interior, the number of visitors is limited to 2000 per year and photography is not allowed. A group of volunteers is available to do daily maintenance, administration and to receive visitors.

* Website of the David Parr House
* Facebook pages of the museum
* Article by Nick Carvell on website INIGO, with photos by Chris Herwood
* Article (March 2019) by Donna Ferguson in newspaper The Guardian
(there is a variety of other publications available on the internet) 

* Video by James Murray-White (2018. Vimeo, 6'27")

* Another video by David Parr House entitled Virtual Tours Promo  (Vimeo, 2'13")

David Parr, Decorated interior
186 Gwydir Street 
Cambridge CB1 2LW, county Cambridgeshire, region East of England, England, UK
can be visited on appointment

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