William Palmer, Editor of the Bedfordshire Times and Family
by Linda Ayres
William Palmer was one of the six children of William Palmer, who was a builder’s foreman, and Charlotte (née Gumbrill). The family lived at 33 West Hill Street, Brighton, Sussex, where William was born on the 2nd December 1869. William Palmer Jnr. won a scholarship from the Middle Street Board School to Brighton Grammar School. He left school in 1886 and worked for a Brighton businessman as his secretary. At the same time, he studied at home for his degree with the London University and attained a Bachelor of Arts Degree.
By 1891 William was lodging at 2 Kirkdale Road, Leyton, Walthamstow, London. He began his career in journalism with the National Press Agency and was appointed assistant editor of the Leytonstone Express, later becoming the editor. From 1892 to 1909 he was the editor of Hazell’s Annual, which was primarily written for men and published the latest information and issues of the day at home and abroad.
The marriage of William to Mary Caroline Cowley
William and Mary married at Clifton Road Congregational Church on the 21st June 1894. Mary was the youngest of the six children of Thomas Cowley and Kezia (née Pickworth). Her family lived at 106 Western Road, Brighton, where her father ran his own bakery. Mary was a musician and had won scholarships at the Brighton School of Music. After their marriage they moved to Woodford, Essex where their son William Edward was born, on the 8th July 1895.
The family move to Bedford
In 1895 William moved to Bedford to take up his appointment as the editor of the Bedfordshire Times and Independent. The previous owners of the Bedfordshire Times and Independent were Joshua Hawkins and his friend Arthur Ransom who purchased the newspaper in 1879. When Joshua died on the 24th April 1892, Arthur carried on as the editor until the end of that year. In January 1893 the Trustees, appointed under Joshua’s Will, carried on the Bedfordshire Times and Independent.
In 1895, the publishing office in the High Street and the printing works in Gadsby Street, moved into the newly built Bedfordshire Times Office at 22 Mill Street. William knew that the success of business depended on the quality of labour employed and increased production by employing highly skilled people. He also replaced the old machines with new ones. In 1900 William installed the first linotype composing machine that allowed a much faster typesetting and composition than the old hand presses.
On the 23rd March 1905 the Trustees transferred the business to a private limited liability company, under the title of the ‘Bedfordshire Times Publishing Company Limited’. The controlling interest remained in the hands of the Trustees. The directors of the Company were Joshua’s two sons, Arthur Hawkins and Lewis Maurice Hawkins. The Trustees appointed William as a director, as well as the managing director.
The Bedfordshire Times Publishing Company took over The Bedford and County Record together with associated issues for Ampthill, Woburn, and Leighton Buzzard. A few years later, the Company bought the copyright of the Bedfordshire Mercury. The success meant more space for new and better machines, and the newspaper side also needed more space. In 1910 William acquired a large factory in Sidney Road, Bedford, which became known as the Sidney Press.
The Sidney Press printed books, pamphlets, catalogues and colour pictures and became known as one of the best presses in England. In 1921 the Sidney Press had a new composing block built, together with a warehouse in which to store the large stocks of paper. William kept the Mill Street Offices for printing the newspapers. In 1921 William became the President of the Master Printers in Bedford, although he had not originally trained as a printer.
On July 13th 1911 William became a Governor of the Bedford Modern School and the following year became Governor of the Girls’ Schools. He was a member of the Committee of the Bedford Evening Institution, which offered evening classes to those in full time work. He was also the Superintendent of the Bunyan Church Sunday School.
The funeral of William Palmer
William had been unwell for some time. On the 3rd October 1922 he had two operations at Dr. Maud Stacy’s Nursing Home at 32-38 Kimbolton Road. At first, he made good progress, but on the 8th October he became ill and had another operation. The operation was unsuccessful and a specialist told the family that there was no hope of a recovery. William died a week later on the 15th October.
William’s funeral service took place at the Bunyan Church, Mill Street. After the service the cortege made its way to Foster Hill Road Cemetery. From the gates of the Cemetery to the gatehouse, the staff of the Bedfordshire Times Office in Mill Street and the Sidney Press lined each side of the path. At the burial site behind the Chapel, there were about ninety wreaths placed by the grave. The staff of the “Bedfordshire Times Publishing Co. sent a wreath in the shape of a harp with the message: “To our beloved Chief.” Grave Ref: E6.192.
The final years of Mary Caroline Palmer
In 1924 Mary formed the Mary Palmer Ladies Choir and the mixed choir. Unfortunately, Mary had suffered ill health for many years and died, aged 73 years, on the 11th January 1941, at Woburn Sands, Bedfordshire. Her daughter Gertrude was living with her when she died. The funeral service held in St. Mary’s Church, Woburn, preceded her burial in the grave with William. Grave Ref: E6.192.
The Children of William and Mary
William and Mary were survived by their four sons, William Edward, Francis Noel, John Rowland, Henry Marshall, and their daughter, Gertrude.
William Edward Palmer
William and his three brothers went to the Bedford Kindergarten School, before going on to the Bedford Modern School. He excelled at school and in 1913 became Head Boy. He was a first-rate bowler, but problems with his knee forced him to give up playing cricket. William shared his mother’s love of music. He was an organist and choirmaster at Bunyan Meeting Church, Mill Street, Bedford. He was a baritone singer and performed at many concerts. He was also a member of the chorus of Bedford Musical Society.
On leaving school, William began his training as a journalist at the Bedfordshire Times Office. When World War One broke out he left the Times Office and joined the Territorial Army. He served with the coastal defence forces in the east of England as his knee trouble prevented him going abroad. He later became a Sergeant at the Records Office at the County Regiment at Brentwood, Essex.
During his time at Brentwood, William met his future wife, Dorothy Amy Rogers. After the war he returned to the Bedfordshire Times Office where he assisted his father. In 1922, Lewis Maurice Hawkins succeeded William Palmer Snr. as the managing director and editor of the Bedfordshire Times and Independent. William Palmer Jnr. became assistant editor to Lewis.
Bedfordshire Times and Sidney Press Outing
On the 17th June 1921 two chars-â-bancs, (charabancs), hired from the National Bus Company, took over fifty employees from the Bedfordshire Times Office and the Sidney Press on a day trip to Dunstable. They had lunch at the Temperance Hotel in West Street and then made their way to Dunstable Downs. In the evening, the party made their way to the recreation ground where some of the men and women played cricket. The Bedfordshire Times Office scored 38 and Sidney Press scored 67. William Edward Palmer played for The Bedfordshire Times Office and the Sidney Press.
The marriage of William Edward Palmer and Dorothy Amy Rogers
On the 16th May 1923, William and Dorothy were married at Brentwood Congregational Church, Essex. Before her marriage Dorothy worked for the Prudential Insurance Company in Holborn, London. On their return from their honeymoon at the New Forest, Hampshire, they lived at 26 St. Michael’s Road. Bedford. They had two sons, Roger William was born in 1925, and Michael Ralph was born in 1929. Sadly, Roger died on the 29th May 1931. His burial took place at Foster Hill Road Cemetery. Grave Ref: E5.115
Memorial to the victims of the R101 Airship
In October 1933 William represented The Bedfordshire Times at Allonne, northern France, for the unveiling of the memorial to the victims of the R101 airship. The R101 was the world’s largest airship built at the Royal Airship Works at Cardington, Bedfordshire. On the 4th October 1930 the R101 set off from Cardington en route to Karachi. About 2am on the 5th October, it crashed on a hill and burst into flames near the village of Allonne. 46 of the 55 passengers and crew were killed, with two more crew members dying of their injuries soon after.
On the 7th October, the bodies of those who lost their lives in the disaster were brought back to England, where they lay in state in Westminster Hall. After the memorial service held in St. Pauls Cathedral, the bodies were transported from Euston Station to St. John’s Station, Bedford. The burials took place in St. Mary’s Churchyard, Cardington which is within sight of the airship sheds.
Final years of William Edward and Dorothy Palmer
In 1934 Lewis Hawkins retired and William became the editor of The Bedfordshire Times. He was the editor for two years when he died, aged 41 years, on the 21th January 1936. The funeral service at the Bunyan Meeting Church preceded his burial in the grave with his son, Roger. Grave Ref: E5.115
Dorothy survived William by 46 years. She died on the 26th May 1982 aged 85 at 5 St. Michaels Road, Bedford. The cremation took place on the 2nd June 1982 at Foster Hill Road Cemetery. Her remains were buried in the Garden of Remembrance at Foster Hill Road Cemetery.
Francis Noel Palmer
Francis was born in December 1897 at “Eversley”, Foster Hill Road, Bedford. In 1924 Francis married Josephine Christina Booth Clibborn at Islington. Josephine was born on the 28th February 1902 in Amsterdam, Holland and was the youngest of the ten children of Arthur Sydney Clibborn and Catherine (née Booth). Josephine was the granddaughter of William Booth who was the founder of the Salvation Army. In September 1924, Francis and Josephine went to America. He spent the winter months studying for his Bachelor of Divinity Degree at Drew Theological School, Madison, New Jersey. In 1925, Francis moved to Morristown, New Jersey, where he was ordained Deacon of the Methodist Episcopal Church.
By 1932 the Rev. Francis Palmer took up the ministry at St. Anne’s Church, Toronto, Canada. In 1938 the Rev. Palmer and Josephine with their four children returned to England where took up the post as the Vicar of St. Saviour’s Church, Everton, Liverpool. He later transferred to St. John the Evangelist, Bromley, Kent, and then Holt Trinity Church, Margate. In 1941 he became the Vicar of St. Luke’s Church, Prestonvillle, Brighton. Francis stood 6ft 8inches tall and was known as the tallest Vicar in Brighton. On the 29th April 1945 he became the Vicar of St. Andrew’s Church Droitwich, Worcestershire.
The Rev. Francis Palmer died aged 95 years on the 3rd May 1992 and Josephine died age 96 years on the 3rd April 1998. They both died in Kent.
The children of the Rev. Francis and Josephine Palmer
Catherine Palmer was born in America. She attended the Royal Academy of Music in London, where she graduated as a pianist. In 1953 Catherine went to Canada where she became an organist at the Holy Trinity Anglican Church, where she founded the Holy Trinity Singers. At the same time, she became the first woman in Canada to obtain the Fellow of the Royal College of Organists Diploma. Catherine founded the Palmer Singers who performed in and around Toronto for about 8 years. From 1970 to 1996 Catherine was Director of Music at Yorkminster Park Baptist Church, Toronto.
William Barclay Livingstone Palmer was their fourth child and was born in Toronto on the 2nd March 1932. Following his education at Monkton Combe School in Somerset, William attended St. Peter’s College, Oxford. During his time there he won an Athletics Blue in 1953 for shotput, discus and javelin. In 1955 and 1956 he won the British AAA shotput championships. He held the British shotput record, and received a trophy from the Queen. He competed in the shotput discipline at the 1956 Summer Olympics, held in Melbourne, Australia. William died on the 27th September 2020 at Avita of Brunswick, a care home in America.
Rev. John Rowland Palmer
William and Mary’s third son, John, was born in Bedford on the 31st March 1902. On leaving the Bedford Modern School he worked on a farm and studied agriculture. In 1922 he studied theology at Cheshunt College Cambridge, gaining a Bachelor of Arts Degree. On the 14th June 1927 he was ordained Priest at the Whitehaven Congregational Church, Cumberland, where he became the Vicar.
On the 21st July 1927 John married Katherine Mary Cole, at the Bunyan Meeting Church, Mill Street, Bedford. Katherine was born on the 4th May 1902 and was the eldest daughter of Herbert Thomas Cole, a manager of a timber merchant’s, and Florence Elizabeth (née Sykes) of 147 Howbury Street, Bedford. After their marriage they moved to Whitehaven. They had two children, Janet born in 1929 and Margaret born in1930. Katherine died in London in 1974 and John died in 1986 in Hastings.
Henry Marshall Palmer
Henry, the youngest son of William and Mary, was born in Bedford in 1906. On leaving the Bedford Modern School he worked for three years as a reporter for the Bedfordshire Times. He chose music as his profession and became an Associate of the Royal College of Organists. From 1932 to 1943 he was the organist at St. Mary’s Church, Woburn, Bedfordshire. In 1941 he created the New Bedford Music Society. At the outbreak of WW2, Henry was the Music Master of St. Owen’s School, Islington, London, when it evacuated to the Bedford Modern School. He also gave private lessons for the organ, piano and singing at Bedford, Letchworth, and Woburn. He formed and conducted choirs, and organised the Summer Festival Services of music at Woburn. He also assisted his mother, Mary Palmer with her choirs, and was the honorary organist to the Bedford Choral Society.
The marriage of Henry Marshall Palmer and Sylvia Constance Buxton
In 1941 Henry and Sylvia were married at St. Mary’s Church, Woburn. Sylvia was born in Newport Pagnell in 1921. She was the eldest daughter of Henry Buxton and Edith (née Lloyd) of Wood Street Woburn Sands. Her father played the organ at St. Michael’s Church, Woburn Sands. Sylvia was the Head Girl at the Bedford Girls’ Modern School from 1938 to 1939. She was a talented amateur actress and was formerly a lieutenant of the 1st Woburn Girl Guide Company. The best man was Henry’s brother, Rev. John Palmer.
In May 1943, Henry took up his appointment as Assistant Director of Music at Cheltenham College, Gloucestershire. They lived at College House, Thirlestaine Road, Cheltenham. While they were living in Cheltenham, their two eldest daughters were born at Sunnyside Maternity Home, Cheltenham. Felicity Joan was born on the 6th April 1944, and Helen Mary was born on the 5th May 1945.
In November 1946, as part of the Autumn Music Festival at Cheltenham, a massed schools choir of 400 voices gave the first performance of “A Song of Youth”, specially composed for the Festival by Henry. In January 1947 Henry moved to 16 St. Peter’s Street, Lincolnshire, where he became the Director of Music at Stamford School. On the 11th May 1949 their youngest daughter, Elizabeth Ann was born.
Henry and Sylvia subsequently moved to Malborough, Wiltshire, where they spent the rest of their lives. Henry died in 1994 and Sylvia died in 2004.
Dame Felicity Joan Palmer the eldest daughter of Henry and Sylvia Palmer.
Felicity went to Erith Grammar School, Kent, and then to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. She first performed as a soprano and in 1983 she moved to the mezzo soprano repertory. In 1975 she made her English National Opera debut and sang with the company for more than forty years. She performed at all major international opera houses, including La Scala, Milan Royal Opera House and Covent Garden. She has performed and recorded Gilbert and Sullivan operas, as Katisha in The Mikado for the English National Opera, at the London Coliseum. In 2003 she performed the role of Mrs Lovett in Sweeny Todd at the Royal Opera House
Felicity became a professor at the Royal College of Music in London. She was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1993 and Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in the 2011 New Year Honours, for services to music
Researcher Linda S. Ayres
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The Newark Evening News 27th March 1925
Bedfordshire Times and Independent 24th June 1921 and16th October 1925 and 22nd July 1927
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Biggleswade Chronicle 10th October 1930
Bedfordshire Times and Standard 19th September 1941 and 5th March 1943
West Sussex Gazette and South of England Advertiser April 12th 1945
Bedfordshire Times and Independent 18th May 1945 and 27th May 1949
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Obituary William Barclay Palmer pressherald.com
National Archive Currency Converter
Catherine Palmer Bach Cantatas Website
The London Gazette 31st December 2010
August 04, 2021