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Nowell Parr, Architect (1864 – 1933)

Appointed by Brentford Local Board

As a result of the Public Health Act of 1875 the three parishes of Old and New Brentford and Brentford End were amalgamated to form a town with the boundaries that we know today. It was administered by the Brentford Local Board and was an era of great local pride and civic building. With gas works, tanneries, breweries, soap works and other noxious industries the town had had the reputation of being one of the ugliest and filthiest places in England during the 18th and early 19th centuries and there was an opportunity to smarten it up.

In 1894 the Board employed Nowell Parr as Surveyor to the Council and later as an architect although there were some questions raised as to his actual qualifications. He had previously been employed in Walsall in Staffordshire.


Early Parr designs in Brentford

His first design was for Brentford Baths in Clifden Road where the foundation stone was laid by Mr J Bigwood, the local Member of Parliament, on 3rd October 1895. The opening ceremony was performed by Thomas Layton J.P. Chairman of the Brentford District Council on 30th April 1896. Nowell Parr was then described as the Engineer and Surveyor to the Council. The Baths were closed in 1990 and sold in 1999 amidst some controversy.

He followed this with the building of the Fire Station in 1898, the Vestry Hall in 1900 and Ealing Road School on the east side of Ealing Road over the railway bridge in 1900/2.

The Vestry Hall was the accommodation for the Council and had committee rooms and a large meeting hall with a soup kitchen in the basement. The County Court was held there from 1906 until the whole building was demolished in 1963.

The Police Station was erected on the site and a purpose built County Court in Alexandra Road. The school was demolished about the same time but the Fire Station still stands on the corner of Ferry Lane. It was first turned into offices and is now (2008) the Old Firestation Bar and Restaurant.


Brentford Library & Boatman's Institute

In 1904 Nowell Parr’s Library and the Boatman’s Institute in the Butts were opened.

Andrew Carnegie, the Scottish American philanthropist had made a grant of £5,000 towards the building of the library on the condition that the town would provide a site and funds for maintenance and administration. It was agreed to add one penny on the rates to pay for the books and the running costs and because of the local commitment to the library Andrew Carnegie agreed to perform the opening ceremony.

The foundation stone had been laid by the Countess of Jersey in 1903 when the building had been started in the garden of Clifden House. Both these ceremonies are very fully described by the then librarian, Fred Turner, in his book History and Antiquities of Brentford when it would appear that Nowell Parr took part in the presentations.

The Boatman’s Institute provided a schoolroom for canal boat children and a lying in room for women from the canal boats to give birth to their babies. It is now a private house at the west end of the Butts and backs on to the river Brent.


Brentford Market & Public Houses

In 1898 early in his employment in Brentford, Parr had been instructed to draw up plans for an extension to the fruit and vegetable market. This stood on the site of the Fountain Leisure centre and the extension was to provide accommodation for trading under cover. This opened in 1905 and was in Parr’s typical Flemish style with terra cotta decorations.

As well as his Council work Nowell Parr also designed public houses. He was criticised by some ratepayers for taking on private commissions and not devoting his full time to his official duties. He was supported by Councillor Dorey who said that at the time £25,000 worth of work was waiting to be done at the market and work was lagging. He pointed out that Mr Parr would get this done for £300pa and they could not get another man for that salary so Mr Parr was kept on.

Interestingly Councillor Dorey was on the market committee and had been awarded the contract to build the extension. This was finished six months ahead of schedule and led to the chance of six months extra rent and a saving of £2,000. On being complimented on this early finish Nowell Parr is said to have replied that he was "only doing his duty".

In 1907 he designed the present Beehive public house on the corner of Half Acre and the High Street and for some years before that had been involved in plans to widen the High Street to relieve the congestion exacerbated by the coming of the trams in 1901.


A good architect

A study of his work in Chiswick Library concludes that his buildings were value for money. They were practical designs and all well built. None of them were ever demolished because of poor quality or defects, only under redevelopment schemes.

Nowell Parr eventually did leave the employment of Brentford Urban District Council and set up in business with his son. In 1911 his business address was 52 Kew Bridge Road: Nowell Parr M.S.A. and A. E. Kates, Architects. After 1918 they mostly worked for the brewers and progressed to fashionable NeoGeorgian and Mock Tudor designs reflecting the mood of the country wishing to withdraw into a cosy past.

Standing today...

There are many examples of Parr designs in the local area. Some of his work was alterations or extensions to buildings but the Foresters, Leighton Road, W 13 (1909), the Old Pack Horse, Chiswick High Road (1910), the Royal Hotel, Boston Road which is now the Harvester (1924), the Viaduct on Uxbridge Road in Hanwell (1913) and The Kent Tavern in Pitshanger Lane in Ealing (1929-30) still distinctly show the work of Nowell Parr


Nowell Parr - the man

He was born in Handsworth, Staffordshire in 1864, his birth registered in the name Thomas Henry Nowell Parr. By the time he was 6 the family had moved at least twice: to Warwickshire, where his younger sister Lillian was born, then to Birkenhead Cheshire, where the family appears in the 1871 census. This shows his parents were a Thomas Parr (insurance agent born Birmingham) and Frances (born Gloucestershire).

The 1881 census shows Thomas H N Parr, aged 16, working as a solicitor's clerk, living with his grandmother Sarah Nowell (born in Wales) and mother Frances Parr in Aston, Warwickshire. Other younger Parr grandchildren are recorded in the household, possibly his siblings.

In 1891 he married local girl Betsey Fennell in Birmingham. A few months later the census shows the newly-wed couple living in Walsall: Thomas H P Parr - a mistake by the census enumerator; occupation 'civil engineer'. Their daughter Marguerite was born in Walsall shortly before the family moved to Brentford. The Walsall Advertiser of 10 November 1894 notes under a heading STreet Committee Your committee have received the resignation of Mr Nowell Parr, of his office of Assistant Borough Surveyor, in consequence of his having been appointed Surveyor to the Brentford Local Board, and they recommend that Mr Robert Angel, ARIBA of Birkenhead, be appointed Assistant Borough Surveyor at a salary of £160 per annum, with a further increase of £10 per annum for meritorious service until the maximum salary of £180 be reached.

The 1901 census shows Nowell Parr with his wife Betsey, daughter Marguerite, aged 7 and son John aged 4 at 4 The Butts New Brentford.


Nowell Parr by DG Eke BSc(Econ) Hons Dip TP, DipUD, MRTPI, Postgraduate Building Diploma 1990
"History and Antiquities of Brentford" by Fred Turner F.R.Hist Soc 1922, Walter Pearce And Co
"Brentford and Chiswick As It Was",Brentford and Chiswick Local History Society and Hounslow Library Services 1978, Hendon Publishing Co Ltd
Historical Directories web site: web site:


Janet McNamara

Published April 2012; last updated February 2016