Listed status for former Cambridge home of labourer with artistic touch

The home and workplace of a working-class Victorian labourer who decorated houses and colleges around Cambridge have been given listed status.

David Parr bought his two-bedroom terraced home at 186 Gwydir Street in the city in 1886 and worked on it tirelessly until his death in 1927.

His descendants lived in the house until 2013, preserving it like a time capsule, and it has since been turned into a visitor attraction showcasing his craft.

It appears in passing to be an ordinary mid-Victorian worker’s terraced house, but inside Parr created a work of art on walls and ceilings with all-over patterns adapted from schemes he painted for his employer.

David Parr bought his two-bedroom terraced home at 186 Gwydir Street in Cambridge in 1886. (David Parr House/ PA)
David Parr bought his two-bedroom terraced home at 186 Gwydir Street in Cambridge in 1886. (David Parr House/ PA)

Parr was employed by the nationally renowned firm of artistic workmen FR Leach & Sons, which had its showroom at 3 St Mary’s Passage in Cambridge.

The two properties have been listed by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on the advice of Historic England.

His home, now open to the public and operating socially-distanced audio tours as The David Parr House, has been listed at Grade II*, while his employer’s former showroom has been listed at Grade II.

Tony Calladine, regional director for Historic England in the East of England, said: “The listing of David Parr House and 3 St Mary’s Passage gives due recognition to the unknown highly talented artists and craftsmen who brought to life the creative inspiration of celebrated designers.

“In supporting David Parr House to create a digital tour, we hope this extraordinary artistic masterpiece will be enjoyed by a much wider audience.”

Victorian labourer David Parr worked on his house over more than 40 years. (David Parr House/ PA)
Victorian labourer David Parr worked on his house over more than 40 years. (David Parr House/ PA)

Historic England awarded a Covid-19 Emergency Response Fund Resilience Grant of more than £40,000 to enable David Parr House to offer the pre-bookable digital tours.

Tamsin Wimhurst, chairwoman of trustees of David Parr House, said: “This is wonderful recognition for all the hard work shown by everyone who helped to save and conserve the David Parr House.

“It highlights the importance of having spaces where we can celebrate ordinary working people, the beauty of making and the comfort of home.”

Parr, who together with his wife Mary Jane raised their three children Mary, David and Sarah at their house, kept a notebook in which he recorded the transformation of the house.

David Parr House appears in passing to be an ordinary mid-Victorian worker’s terraced house, but inside Parr created a work of art on walls and ceilings. (Howard Rice/ PA)
David Parr House appears in passing to be an ordinary mid-Victorian worker’s terraced house, but inside Parr created a work of art on walls and ceilings. (Howard Rice/ PA)

Alongside the painted decoration, items of joinery designed and built by Parr also survive, alongside the original curtain rails, the late 19th century toilet and the 1920s oven, which provide an almost complete picture of a house of this period.

The recent conservation of the house, which was based on detailed research and carried out with scrupulous care, has ensured its ongoing preservation.

The house is described by Historic England as a “physical embodiment of the renaissance of crafts encouraged by the Gothic Revival and, later, the Arts and Crafts movement”.

FR Leach & Sons, whose former showroom has been listed, received the keys to 3 St Mary’s Passage in 1880.

The company worked in partnership with some of the country’s best-known designers and architects, notably William Morris, father of the Arts and Crafts movement; George Bodley, the Gothic Revival architect; and Charles Kempe, the stained-glass artist.

It faced financial difficulties during the First World War and the company was placed into liquidation in 1916.

The building was acquired by King’s College Cambridge in 1936 and it currently operates as a shop.