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  Themes Homepage > The Demise of the First Generation
 
People
The Demise of the First Generation

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From the late 1840s George Palmer devoted more time to public service. He became a councillor in 1850 and argued for better sanitation and public recreation grounds for the people of Reading. In 1857 he was elected Mayor for the town. On the day after his election over-enthusiastic supporters fired off the old cannon that stood on the mound in Reading's Forbury Gardens, blowing out most of the windows in the vicinity! Bust of George Palmer, 1880
Bust of George Palmer, 1880
 
Palmer family headstone
Palmer family headstone
In 1878 George Palmer became a Member of Parliament for the Liberal party. He was nicknamed the ‘silent member’, although he did make a few contributions to debates. In his maiden speech he supported a bill to grant women the right to vote – however, seven years later, for reasons which are unknown, he had changed his mind on this issue!
George died in 1897 just before his eightieth birthday. London Road was lined with 5,000 employees as the funeral cortege passed by.
 
William Isaac and Samuel Palmer
George's younger brother, William Isaac, died in 1893. During his lifetime he had donated much time and money to good causes and, on his death, his benefactions and promises of funds were found to exceed his assets. His brothers therefore had to help out from their own resources.
In 1887 Samuel Palmer fell sick and never really resumed work. He officially retired in 1898 and died in 1903 aged 82.
 
George William Palmer, around 1889
George William Palmer, around 1889
A New Generation
From the late 1860s, the new generation of Palmers were admitted into the factory. The first were George Palmer’s eldest sons, George William and Alfred, who joined as unpaid clerks at the age of sixteen. They were given a thorough grounding in all aspects of the factory before becoming partners in 1874. George William was responsible for the Reading offices and Alfred was in charge of the engineering department.
 
Over the next decade they were joined by Walter Palmer, the son of George William Palmer, and four of Samuel Palmers sons - Howard, Albert, Ernest and Charles. Walter Palmer was given the task of inventing new biscuits, Howard was in charge of manufacturing and packing and Albert was responsible for the tins and their labels.
Ernest and Charles went to the London office which was now based at 162 Fenchurch St.
Company Directors, 1900
Company Directors, 1900
 
A New Lifestyle for the Directors
During the course of the nineteenth century the first generation of Palmers had acquired great wealth. In spite of this, George Palmer continued to live a modest life. In 1865 he purchased a permanent home, The Acacias in London Road - a fairly modest villa of Bath stone - which many felt did not suit his position as a prominent factory owner. In the 1870s he purchased a country estate but he never really assumed the position of landed gentry.
 

For the second and third generations of Palmers, life was considerably different. Whereas George and his brothers had been educated at traditional Quaker schools with a focus on commerce, their sons attended middle-class schools and their grandsons were sent to Eton or Harrow. All the second generation Palmer children joined the Church of England and – except for George William Palmer – became Conservatives.
Directors and Senior Employees, 1918
Directors and Senior Employees, 1918
 

Directors Dividends
The Directors Share Dividend Book from 1898-1930 shows the large sums that the directors were earning from their shares at the turn of the century. In 1911 Alfred and George William Palmer earned over £55,000 each from payment of dividends on their shares. The average pay for factory workers at the time was £52 per year for men and £26 per year for women.
Dividend Book, 1898-1930
Dividend Book, 1898-1930
 
 
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