Palmer, George (1818-1897) (DNB01)

PALMER, GEORGE (1818–1897), biscuit manufacturer, born on 18 Jan. 1818 on Upton farm in Long Sutton, Somerset, which had long been the property of his yeomen ancestors, was the son of William Palmer (d. 1826) and his wife Mary (d. 1880), daughter of William Isaac, both being members of the Society of Friends. The boy was educated for a time in the school at Sidcot, near Weston-super-Mare, which belonged to that religious body, and about 1832 was apprenticed to a relative at Taunton to learn the business of a miller and confectioner.

At midsummer 1841 Palmer entered into partnership at Reading with Thomas Huntley, and established the biscuit business of Huntley & Palmer, near the upper part of London Street. Not long afterwards they purchased some property in King's Road, Reading, and applied steam-machinery to the manufacture of their biscuits. The result was a marvellous success, and the profits grew to large proportions. Huntley died in 1857, when the concern became the sole property of Palmer and his two brothers, Samuel and William Isaac Palmer. This vast establishment, the largest of its kind in existence, has been for many years of world-wide fame. It covers many acres in the King's Road, and more than 6,000 persons are employed in it.

Palmer took much interest in the British schools established at Reading by Joseph Lancaster, and was a member of the first school-board in the town. From December 1850 he was a member of the town council : he became alderman in 1859, and remained so until his retirement in 1883. In 1857 he was elected mayor of Reading. At a by-election in May 1878 he was returned to parliament in the liberal interest for the borough of Reading, and sat for it until 1885, when he retired from the representation on the constituency losing one of its members. He then contested the south or Newbury division of Berkshire, but was defeated after a close contest.

Palmer married, at the Friends' meeting-house, Basingstoke, on 17 Jan. 1850, Elizabeth Sarah, daughter of Robert Meteyard of that town. She died at Reading, 30 March 1894, and her husband never recovered from the shock of her death. He died at his house, The Acacias, Reading, on 19 Aug. 1897, and was buried on 23 Aug. in the same grave with her in the Friends' burial-ground, Church Street, Reading. He left four sons and three daughters. His eldest son, Mr. George William Palmer, has been M.P. for Reading since 1898.

Palmer was a munificent benefactor to his adopted town, and to all its charitable institutions. He and his brother Samuel gave a site for an art gallery at the corner of Valpy Street, Reading, as a memorial of their brother, William Isaac. He presented to the town two recreation-grounds, the first being part of the ground known as the 'King's Meadow,' and the other being the 'Palmer Park,' comprising forty-nine acres at the east end of Reading. On the day of the opening of the Palmer Park, on 4 Nov. 1891, he was made the first honorary freeman of the borough, and an inartistic statue of him, erected by public subscription in recognition of his services and gifts, was unveiled at the east end of Broad Street, Reading.

[Reading Observer, 21 and 28 Aug. 1897; private information.]

W. P. C.