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David Parr House Excavations

In conjunction with the staff and volunteers of David Parr House in Cambridge and funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and Cambridgeshire Community Foundation (CCF), ACA helped to run a three-day excavation in the back garden of 186 Gwydir Street in Cambridge between the 7th and the 9th of September 2018. 

186 Gwydir Street is a terraced house off Mill Road on a street that was built in various phases during the latter half of the 19th century and was bought by David Parr in 1887. He was a working class 'artist-painter' who worked for the Cambridge decorative arts company F R Leach and Sons. He also decorated his home in the style of the grand interiors of the Victorian Gothic Revival church and Arts and Crafts houses he worked on every day and the hand painted walls in most of the house still survive to this day, as it was his granddaughter Elsie Palmer who came to live in the house with her grandmother when David died in 1927. She made very few changes to the house during her 85 years in the house and when the house was purchased from the family is 2013, the David Parr House charity was formed to preserve the house and eventually open it to the public. (The history of the David Parr House was taken from the charity's website).

The aims of the dig was to see what could be found in the garden of this terraced cottage; were any of the finds actually used by David himself, or from other family members? Is there evidence for activity on site before the house was built?

Over the three days in September, a total of 47 volunteers worked hard to excavate 14, 80cm by 80cm test pits laid out in a grid formation across the back garden. These were all excavated by hand in 10cm spits down to the natural geology and all the finds recorded for each layer and carefully washed on site and because of the tight space in the garden, each test pit had to be backfilled before the next could be started, although at one stage at least 7 pits were going at the same time!



The finds are still being processed and so the results will be available here as they become available. A range of artefacts were recorded however, including items used or owned by the family, such as a 1950's Enid Blyton magazine club badge, six guinea pig skulls, and parts of other toys, as well as an 1893 Farthing, perhaps used by David Parr himself, to a 1991 £1 coin!

 ACA's manager Alison Dickens and ACA archaeologist Cat Collins were both on hand over the three days to assist in the excavations, but it was mainly to give the volunteers a chance to have a go at archaeology, as well as learning more about both the history of this part of Cambridge and the Parr family. Some of the finds excavated also predated the construction of Gwydir Street with both fragments of medieval and post medieval pottery recovered and hints to when the land was utilised by the estates of Barnwell Priory and into the private hands of the Wendy and Butler families after the dissolution of the monasteries.  

In feedback, (although feedback was only able to be collected from 70% of the volunteers overall) , 82% rated their experience as 'excellent', whilst the rest said it was 'good', and over 70% said they enjoyed it much more or more than they expected to. At the end of the dig, it was summed up by one volunteer as "I really enjoyed meeting the DPH (David Parr House) team, the archaeologists and the other volunteers. It was great to do a little of everything and learn new skills. I love seeing how the history of DPH is being pieced together through so many different approaches" (RS). Another said that it was "a great, rewarding experience with a delightful, friendly group" (JG) and SD said "I really enjoyed my experience - it was a great introduction to archaeology. I found it very accessible as someone completely new to it and everyone was very friendly and helpful". 

 We are very grateful to all the staff at David Parr House, particularly Shelley Lockwood who did the organising of the volunteers and helpers and our thanks especially too all the volunteers who gave up their free time to help learn more about this very talented artist. 



Garden Test Pit Location Map

David Parr House Pottery Report

David Parr House Clay Pipe Report

David Parr House Faunal Remains Report


Click here to read the final report of the David Parr House test pitting results


Useful Websites

David Parr House

History of Gwydir Street

Mill Road History Society

Cambridge: British History Online