3 St Mary's Passage


Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Statutory Address:
3 St Mary's Passage, Cambridge, CB2 3PQ


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Statutory Address:
3 St Mary's Passage, Cambridge, CB2 3PQ

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Cambridge (District Authority)
Non Civil Parish
National Grid Reference:


C17 timber-framed building adapted in the late C19 as the showroom of F R Leach & Sons.

Reasons for Designation

3 St Mary’s Passage, a C17 timber-framed building adapted in the late C19 as the showroom of F R Leach & Sons, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons: Architectural interest:

* it is a notable building in the neo-Jacobean style, demonstrating the free combination of vernacular features, such as the gabled dormer and pargetting, with the classically inspired door hood and paired pilasters, that is so typical of C17 architecture;

* its off-centre oriel balances the ornate segmental door hood, creating a harmonious composition that is embellished with beautifully detailed pargetting and subtle strapwork on the pilasters;

* the remarkable presence it achieves for a narrow-fronted building towered over by its much taller neighbours is testament to its fine architectural quality.

Historic interest:

* it is associated with F R Leach & Sons, the firm of highly talented painters and craftsmen who carried out schemes that adorned many prestigious buildings in Cambridge and throughout the country;

* the work of these largely overlooked artisans has been overshadowed by the renown of figures such as Morris and Bodley, whose designs they brought to life, so the survival and protection of F R Leach’s showroom is an important step in recognising their achievement.

Group value:

* the historic and architectural interest of 3 St Mary’s Passage is enhanced by its important connection with 186 Gwydir Street, the Grade II* listed home of David Parr who worked for F R Leach and adorned his own house with painted decoration;

* it has strong group value with the many surrounding listed buildings and makes a significant contribution to the rich architectural character of the historic core of Cambridge.


3 St Mary’s Passage originated in the late C17 as a timber-framed building. St Mary’s Passage is recorded on Braun’s map of 1575 but is likely to be a remnant of the town’s early medieval street pattern, forming the southern boundary of the churchyard of St Mary the Great. Loggan’s map of 1688 shows the passage consisting of long building frontages at either end, representing the sides of plots, which face onto the primary streets of King’s Parade and Market Hill to the west and east. A small number of properties are positioned in between, facing directly onto the lane with narrow frontages on plots running back towards St Edward’s Passage. This pattern remains evident on the first edition Ordnance Survey map of 1888 and up to the present day. In the late C19, 3 St Mary’s Passage became the showroom of F R Leach & Sons, the firm of art workmen. The presence of the Leach family in Cambridge can be traced back to 1675. One family member, Richard, was apprenticed to an engraver and became a skilled jobbing artist, earning his living from house painting, lettering, portraiture and college work but was best known as a painter of inn signs. His son Frederick (1837-1904) began his career as apprentice to a stonemason before working alongside his elder brother in his painting and decorating business. In 1862, aged 25 and with a £300 loan from family and friends, he set up his own business in City Road. Frederick expanded from house and shop painting into ecclesiastical and civic arts, crafts and decoration. In the 1871 census he is described as a ‘Church Ornament and Glass Painting master employing 12 men and 2 boys’, and in the 1881 census as ‘Painter: Designer and Art Worker employing 28 men, 2 women and 6 boys on painted decorations, stained glass and making furniture’. F R Leach & Sons 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. Between 1871 and 1881, as the census shows, F R Leach & Sons more than doubled its workforce to meet growing demand for their intricately detailed and high quality interiors. They carried out some impressive commissions, such as working with William Morris on the staircase of St James’s Palace in London, which encouraged Frederick to open an office in Great Ormond Street. The firm’s trade cards and accounts book reveal that its reputation spread far and wide.

In Cambridge, F R Leach & Sons collaborated with George Bodley at All Saints’ Church, although most of the wall painting was done free of charge by Frederick himself. Other examples of work carried out by his team of craftsmen survive throughout Cambridge, such as the decoration of the nave and transept roof of Jesus College Chapel, which was their first commission for Bodley and Morris. At St Botolph’s Church, the firm decorated the chancel roof, and a commission for painting and stained glasswork at Queens’ Old Hall included 885 lead castings gilded for decoration. Frederick Leach received the keys to 3 St Mary's Passage on 20 April 1880 and carried out work externally and internally to the new premises. A line of fleur-de-lys in raised plasterwork – in the same style as that on the façade of their showroom – was discovered behind a bookcase during the recent demolition of their workshops in City Road. Frederick's three older sons, Barnett, Frederick and Walter continued the family business as artist-craftsmen, but financial difficulties led to the company being placed into liquidation in 1916. The building was acquired by King’s College Cambridge in 1936. It currently operates as a shop (2020).


C17 timber-framed building adapted in the late C19 as the showroom of F R Leach & Sons.

MATERIALS: timber-frame covered in render and decorative plasterwork with a roof covering of plain red clay tiles.

PLAN: the building is located in a row of buildings along the south side of St Mary’s Passage, facing the Grade I listed church opposite, and has a narrow rectangular plan with a short rear cross wing.

EXTERIOR: the building has a narrow street frontage in the neo-Jacobean style with two storeys plus an attic under a steeply pitched roof which has a modillion eaves cornice. The ground floor is taken up by the wooden shop front consisting of a plain cornice and frieze with a row of six tall, narrow leaded lights, supported on a painted brick plinth. To the right is a pair of tapering square pilasters adorned with strapwork, and to the left an ornate segmental door hood with a dentilled course and supporting consoles. The elaborately panelled door is of unpainted timber and has six panels divided by wide rails, a muntin and stiles, the middle two panels featuring a square-within-a square pattern. The door furniture – all decorated with strapwork – survives, including a lock case, finger plate and letter box, although the latter has worn away in the middle. Above the door is a row of six small panes with bullseyes.

Above the shop front, the first floor is adorned by three plasterwork panels of raised fleur-de-lys with concave chamfers, filled by sections of Tudor rose motif. The upper floors are dominated by an off-centre rectangular oriel with three tall leaded lights divided by timber mullions, the ogee moulded corbel in line with the frieze of the shop front. The oriel is surmounted by a gabled dormer with two leaded lights, plain bargeboards and a finial with strapwork panels. To the left of the oriel hangs the original bracket which has an elaborate design with scrolls, flowers and fleur-de-lys. The sign itself has been replaced.

INTERIOR: there is very little evidence of a timber frame but this is presumed to survive in some degree beneath the plastered wall and ceiling surfaces. The ground and first floors have been remodelled and are both open plan, consisting of one large room, with the attic above. At the rear of the building is the staircase which probably dates to the time that F R Leach & Sons occupied the building. It has a quarter turn then a straight flight and open tread ends. There are two turned balusters per tread supporting a moulded handrail, ramped up at the turns, and square newels with acorn finials. The only other fixture of interest is the fireplace on the west wall of the first floor which was installed by Leach and incorporates tiles decorated by his firm. The fireplace has a moulded lugged surround in unpainted timber with a decorative round-arched cast iron grate. The tiles on the cheeks are painted in a floral design in pale yellow and green, and those on the grate have a geometric circular pattern in dark yellow and burgundy. Decorative plasterwork is thought to survive on the ceilings but if so, it has been hidden by later work. The cellar has a brick floor and a fireplace opening with a brick arch but no grate.

This list entry was subject to a Minor Amendment on 12/10/2020


Books and journals
Norman, Anna, The David Parr House: Life and Art in a Worker’s Home, (2019)
From college cooks to artists and craftsmen: the story of a Cambridge dynasty , accessed 7 February 2020 from https://www.cam.ac.uk/news/from-college-cooks-to-artists-and-craftsmen-the-story-of-a-cambridge-dynasty


This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

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