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

Leach & Simpson tradecard, © David Parr House Cambridge

“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)

I’m giving an online talk for the David Parr House on 28 April 2022 about the Leach firm’s domestic commissions in Cambridge in the 1880s and 1890s (more details and booking here). After the university permitted its academics to marry, the late Victorian 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 also begun to catch the public imagination, and the ‘university brides’ and other women who made their homes in the town wanted their houses to be both artistically beautiful 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 Leach 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 1880 he opened a fashionable shop and showroom, to be run by his sister Isabella Simpson Leach, at 3 St Mary’s Passage. It was an elegant showroom that showcased 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.

In my talk on 28 April I’ll be exploring the stories of some of the fascinating women behind Leach’s domestic commissions, including Maud Darwin, Caroline Jebb, Ida Darwin and Kathleen Lyttelton. Louisa Greef, a Cambridge-born woman who ran a successful decorating business at the time will also feature. She took over Leach’s work at Newnham College, and went on to become his rival for larger commissions in Cambridge too.

You can find out more about the talk, including booking details, by scrolling down the David Parr House website here.