‘A great deal of taste’: Mr Leach’s houses

Leach & Simpson tradecard, © David Parr House Cambridge

After the university permitted its academics to marry, the late Victorian period saw substantial family homes springing up around Cambridge in areas including Grange Road, Madingley Road, St Paul’s Road, Brooklands Avenue and the De Freville Estate. The Arts and Crafts movement had begun to catch the public imagination, and the ‘university brides’ who made their homes in the town wanted their houses to be both artistically beautiful as well as hygienic and up-to-date, with modern drainage, heating and lighting.

Since the late 1860s the Cambridge-based ‘artworkman’ Frederick Leach had become well known for his work in decorating churches, grand houses and civic buildings all over England. In 1867 he worked with the Gothic Revival architect G.F. Bodley and the stained glass artist Charles Eamer Kempe at St John the Baptist, Tuebrook in Liverpool. In his book Kempe: The Life, Art and Legacy of Charles Eamer Kempe (Lutterworth, 2018), Adrian Barlow describes this work as ‘one of the greatest schemes of painted decoration in any nineteenth-century British church’ (you can read about Kempe’s pelicans in Adrian’s excellent blog here).

In Frederick Leach, A Cambridge Artworkman and his Firm (Casita Press, 2021) Shelley Lockwood describes how although Leach continued to work with William Morris and others, he also wanted to expand his business closer to home, and to tap into the growing interest in home decoration in Cambridge. In 1880 he opened a fashionable shop and showroom, to be run by his sister Isabella Simpson Leach, at 3 St Mary’s Passage in the centre of the town. It was an elegant shop that showcased the Leach firm’s finely crafted tiles, paperhangings, cabinetwork and picture frames; the ‘Leach Simpson’ business card pictured above gives an idea of the range of items for sale.

“Mr. Leach is a man who has a great deal of taste & people send all over England for him to do their houses.” Maud Darwin (UL, DAR 251: 778)

My upcoming online talk for the David Parr House is about the Leach firm’s domestic commissions in Cambridge in the 1880s and 1890s. I’ll explore the stories of some of the fascinating women behind Leach’s domestic commissions, including Maud Darwin (quoted above), Caroline Jebb, Ida Darwin and Kathleen Lyttelton. Louisa Greef, a Cambridge-born woman who ran a rival decorating business at the time will also feature. She took over Leach’s work at Newnham College, and put bids in for other ambitious commissions of the time, including decorating the Guildhall.

You can find out more about the Leach firm on the David Parr House website here.

5 thoughts on “‘A great deal of taste’: Mr Leach’s houses

  1. Russell Leach says:

    Freds brother Barnett was given awards for his work with ceramic tiles but never gets mentioned. An impressive silver medal was awarded to him by Trinity College but he sadly died in 1880 and seemed to be swept under the carpet and still is to this day. He had a great deal in building up the Leach business, but i suppose thats the way things go.


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