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A Brief History of David Parr House in Cambridge

What is David Parr House?

David Parr House is the former home of Cambridge artist and decorator David Parr which is now open to the public.

David Parr House front door.

Gilgamesh4, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

David Parr House History

David Parr House is one of Cambridge’s hidden gems. The interior of this unassuming terraced house is a stunning example of the Arts and Crafts style of the late 19th century. The exquisite décor was designed and installed by artist David Parr over many decades, from his purchase of the building in 1886 until his death in 1927. It has undergone a full restoration in recent years.

Parr was an artist and decorator employed for years by the Cambridge firm F. R. Leach & Sons. He acquired considerable skills in painting and interior design, and had the opportunity to work on a number of noteworthy projects with the firm. Perhaps most significant among these was the decoration of All Saints’ Church on Jesus Lane, a building that clearly influenced the use of stencil work within David Parr’s own house.

Parr worked with some of the most significant practitioners of the Victorian style that would later become known as Arts and Crafts. This movement came about in reaction to the artificiality of the industrial era, and was frequently used in tandem with the neo-Gothic influences popular in the period. These styles can clearly be seen in the beautiful wall decorations and carvings that adorn the house. Parr undertook much of the decorative work himself, both as a labour of love and even perhaps to serve as a testing ground for new designs and ideas. After his death, the house was preserved by his widow and granddaughter until it was acquired in 2014 by a charity dedicated to its preservation.

The house is not only a glimpse into a distinct historical moment in design, but eloquent testimony to that era’s love of rich decoration and embellishment. His efforts and the house itself are best summarised by an inscription of Parr’s added in 1912 to his drawing room wall: ‘If you do anything, do it well.’

The Legacy of David Parr

Beyond the walls of his home, David Parr's influence was felt throughout Cambridge. His work with F. R. Leach & Sons allowed him to collaborate with renowned figures of the Arts and Crafts movement. The house on Gwydir Street became a canvas for Parr, where he could experiment and showcase his skills without constraints. It was a living portfolio of his craftsmanship.

The Preservation Efforts

The house remained relatively unknown to the wider public for many years after Parr's death. It was the dedication of his family, especially his granddaughter Elsie Palmer, that ensured the interiors remained untouched. The house's acquisition by a charity in 2014 marked the beginning of a new chapter. Intensive conservation efforts were undertaken to restore the house to its former glory, ensuring that future generations could appreciate Parr's artistry.

A Living Testimony

The David Parr House stands as a testimony to the era’s love of rich decoration and embellishment. Every corner of the house tells a story, from the intricate stencil work to the carefully chosen furnishings. The house is not just a museum but a window into the life of a man who believed in the beauty of handcrafted art. His efforts and the house itself are best summarised by an inscription of Parr’s added in 1912 to his drawing room wall: ‘If you do anything, do it well."

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