The Palmers of Hythe part four – the Linguist

The founder of the ‘Hythe Reporter’, Edward Palmer (see The Palmers of Hythe part two – the Journalist)  had one son, Harold Edward Palmer. His was perhaps the most remarkable of the Palmer family stories.

He was born on 6 March 1877 in London.  In the early 1880s his father moved the family back to his home town of Hythe in Kent where he worked in the stationary shop opened by his own father and in 1890 launched his newspaper. 

Harold Palmer’s education began at local elementary schools, but he was withdrawn at the age of ten and tutored at home for three years. He spent two further years at a small private school run by the Winnifrith family in Prospect House, Hythe, before leaving for good in 1892 at the age of fifteen. Before this, he had made a few tentative steps into journalism, having a sketch of Hythe’s lifeboat published by the Daily Graphic and as a teenager contributing humorous pieces to the Hythe Reporter  under he name ‘Jobbins Z. Jobbins. He also spent six months on an exchange visit with a family in Boulogne before taking on the paper’s editorship for two years but then left Hythe to pursue a teaching career abroad.

One of Harold’s light-hearted pieces

By February 1902 Harold was teaching English in a language school in Verviers, Belgium. The following year he established his own school, later known as the Institut Palmer, which flourished and in time came to occupy two separate sites in the town. On 19 November 1904 he married a local woman, Elisabeth Purnode, and a daughter, Dorotheé, was born on 28 April 1905.

During his time in Verviers, Harold set out on a course of self-education. He became a member of the local société polyglotte and started writing language teaching materials. His first book, Méthode Palmer, an English course for French speakers, appeared in 1906. He joined the International Phonetic Association and in 1910 had the first of many contributions accepted by its journal Le Maître Phonétique.

This caught the attention of Britain’s leading twentieth-century phonetician, Daniel Jones of University College, London and the two met by chance on a cross-channel ferry in 1912. Two years later, the German army invaded Belgium and Harold found himself to be an enemy alien. After what he later described as ‘six weeks of nightmare’ he and his family crossed the border into Holland  and thence to England. After an attempt to start a school in Folkestone, Harold took up a post teaching French in a London grammar school. He contacted Daniel Jones, who invited him to deliver a series of extra-mural lectures at University College on methods of language teaching. The success of these led to a post in the University, teaching spoken English and organizing a year-long course in language teaching methodology, the first of its kind at university level in Britain. He stayed until 1921, publishing three academic works on language teaching. 

Daniel Jones

At the end of his time in London and after a gap of sixteen years, Harold and Elisabeth had another child, a son named Tristram

Harold at work

Having established himself at home, Harold moved on. He accepted a post as linguistic adviser to the Japanese ministry of education and in February 1922 left for Tokyo, where an Institute for Research in English Teaching was set up with Harold as its director. He taught, researched and continued to write, producing five more works, including one in conjunction with his daughter Dorothee.  He was also, for a year, English tutor to the Emperor’s second son, Prince Chichibu, who wanted to study in England and he experienced the Great Kanto earthquake of 1923. 

 Harold and Elisabeth in Japan

Prince Chichibu, who studied at Magdalen College, Oxford

The family made a trip home in 1926, travelling overland through China, Siberia and Russia, a journey which provided plenty of anecdotes for the speaking tour which followed.  Early the next year, at St Andrew’s church in Tokyo, Dorothee was married to Basil Stanley Anderson. 

By 1936, now approaching sixty and with the international situation deteriorating, Harold decided to return to England and he left Japan with a DLitt from Tokyo Imperial University, a considerable achievement for a man whose formal education had finished at fifteen.  On their return the Palmers settled at Felbridge, on the Surrey–Sussex border, where Harold continued writing English language teaching materials, including The New Method Grammar (1938) for young learners, which used railways as a metaphor for grammar  – he even constructed a working model in his garden.

In July 1942 Tristram, the Palmers’ twenty-one-year-old son, a promising musician, was killed in action over the Netherlands while on a bombing mission.

The CWGC grave of Tristram Edward Leonard Palmer

Harold Palmer never fully recovered from the loss, falling victim to depression and ill health. He died at his home, Coopers Wood, Felbridge, from acute heart failure on 16 November 1949, and was buried at Folkestone cemetery. His work, however, lives on and Warwick University holds a unique archive of his publications. 

Harold is buried in the same grave as his father, Edward. (http://www.findagrave.com)

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