The Palmers of Hythe part two- the Journalist

Edward Palmer was the fifth child of another Edward Palmer, the founder of Hythe’s National School and its first head master (see The Palmers of Hythe part one – the School Teacher). He was born in Hythe in 1853 .  Edward senior encouraged all his children to follow in his profession and most did, including, for a while, Edward junior.   He qualified, obtaining a diploma in French, and for a few years taught in London.  In 1876 in Kensington, he married Minnie Frostick and they settled down in Kensington.  A son, Harold Edward, was born the next year.

The little family moved to Islington in 1882, where Edward earned extra by providing French classes for adults.  However, he seems to have decided that teaching was not his true vocation, and in 1883, the family moved back to Hythe. When Edward senior had retired from teaching in 1875, he had set up a stationer’s and bookseller’s business on the corner of High Street and Great Conduit Street, and his son joined him there.  In 1886 young Edward became the Hythe agent for the Folkestone News  handling correspondence, reports and advertisements, and he was soon established as a reporter.

The High Street premises of the Palmers’ stationery shop & HQ of the Hythe Reporter

That first issue consisted of four pages:  as was then the practice, the front page comprised advertisements only. In his introductory column, the editor promised full and fair reporting of all Hythe events.  On municipal affairs, he said, the paper   would advocate ‘economy with efficiency’:  appropriately, this was the policy of the Hythe Ratepayers’ Association, whose supporters had elected him to the Town Council the previous year.

It was perhaps odd that he agreed to represent the group at the Town Hall, as he apparently disliked public appearances. A rival newspaper reported of him: ‘Mr. Palmer’s forte is not speaking, and as pale and trembling, with faltering speech, he addressed the noisy meeting, he must have passed through moments of intense agony.’ Perhaps this is why he abandoned teaching.

Edward & some of the Hythe Reporter’s staff

Without the backing of the family business, the Hythe Reporter could not have survived those early years.    In 1892 it was enlarged; four years later it doubled its size – and its price.  By the end of the decade it had taken over the Hythe and Sandgate Echo.  Harold joined the paper as a journalist, but eventually decided that his future lay in teaching English as a foreign language and moved to Belgium.

Outside journalism, Edward’s family doubled in size when a daughter, Dorothy, was born in 1889. A couple of years later, he helped make news himself, when in November 1891 a severe storm  wrecked the cargo ship Benvenue off Sandgate, and the Hythe lifeboat,  Mayer de Rothschild, going to her rescue,  overturned two hundred yards off shore, flinging its crew into the sea. Edward was there to report on the event and with other townsmen he waded into the surging sea and helped drag ashore two of the lifeboatmen; he had caught hold of a third when a heavy wave knocked him off his feet, and he went under water with the lifeboatman on top of him.  He experienced a few moments of sheer terror before someone seized the two of them and pulled them to safety.   Eventually, twenty-seven of the Benvenue’s crew of thirty-two were saved; one Hythe lifeboatman was drowned.  Among the onlookers was Edward’s son, Harold, aged fourteen.  His sketch of the launching of the Mayer de Rothschild was published next day in the Daily Graphic.

An artist’s impression of the wreck of the Benvenue

The following year, a suggestion made by Edward at a public meeting led to the first Venetian Fete on the Royal Military Canal at Hythe. Although it got off to a rocky start because of lack of funding, it eventually became a biennial event , comprising floating tableaux and, after dark, illuminations and fireworks.  It continues to this day (though currently, Covid-19 has put it on hold).

 

A twenty-first century Venetian Fete float

In 1916, Edward conceived the second event which still survives.  Canadian soldiers were a common sight in Hythe during the First World War. On arrival in the UK they were accommodated at one of the many camps which ringed Hythe until they were shipped to France. Many came back injured and many of these did not recover. They were buried a Shorncliffe cemetery, just outside the Hythe boundary. Each grave had its uniform wooden cross bearing name and regiment, Edward wrote in the Hythe Reporter but the men’s relations thousands of miles away were denied the consolation of visiting these graves.  He would like to see a day set apart for the placing of flowers on each grave, ‘and who is more fitted to this than the children who wave flags and salute the flag on Empire Day? So Canadian Flower Day was born.

In the early evening of Wednesday, 13th July, 1,500 schoolchildren assembled on the sloping ground of the cemetery.  Nearly all had walked there.  To the music of the Band of the Canadian Artillery, they and the adult visitors sang ‘The Maple Leaf’ and the National Anthem.  Then the children walked quietly among the graves with their bouquets and posies, until every grave was a mass of flowers.  Many Canadian soldiers were present, and it was noted that afterwards a number picked a few flowers to send to relations in Canada. This became, until 1939, and annual event and was reinstated in 1952.

The first Canadian Flower Day

During the war, Edward also volunteered for the Hythe Volunteer Fencibles, a sort of proto- Home Guard.

Edward in uniform

After the war, Edward interested himself in maintaining and developing the entente cordiale with France, organising cultural, sporting and educational exchanges. In 1924, he was awarded the Palmes Academique for services to the Republic of France.  By now, he and his wife had moved to Folkestone, where they lived in Audley Road.

Edward died on 7 October 1927, having been ill since the beginning of the year, though he had continued during his time to submit historical articles to his newspaper.  One obituary said of him that he had three great beliefs – in Hythe, in international friendship and in decency.

And the Hythe Reporter was published until the paper shortages of World War Two led to its demise.

To be continued

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