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Harold Palmer’s education began at local elementary schools, but he was withdrawn at the age of ten and tutored at home for three years.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. (

The Palmers of Hythe part three – the Emigrants.

Edward Palmer, the founder of the Hythe Reporter (see The Palmers of Hythe part two – the Journalist), had four brothers, John, Frederick, Robert and Percy.

Robert, born on 6 April 1851 in Hythe, followed in his father’s footsteps and became a teacher, but that was where the resemblance ended. Robert did not spend the next fifty years in National Schools, but instead joined the British Army as a schoolmaster. He joined up two months before his twentieth birthday and was sent at first to Aldershot.  At twenty three, he married Jeanie (or Jane)  Henderson and the following year their son, impressively named Robert  Percy Chetwynd Hohnhorst Palmer, was born.  They sailed for India soon afterwards, but after the birth of another son, Claude, Jeanie died there and in 1882 at Meerut, Robert married Mary Ellen Fountaine. Their daughter, another Jeanie, was born the same year. Perhaps the two wives had been good friends.

The family returned to England in 1884 and were posted to Shorncliffe, near Hythe. Here Robert could re-acquaint himself with his family and his brother Edward stood as godfather for one of the three children born to Robert and Mary Ellen there. They returned to India in 1891, leaving Robert junior with his mother’s family.  At about this time, Robert senior, whose second given name was Chetwynd, began to use the surname Chetwynd-Palmer, a common enough practice at the time.

Shorncliffe in the second half of the 19th century

Robert served his twenty-one years in the army, but on taking his pension stayed in India and further children were born there during the 1890s. The family never returned to England, their names names popping up all over the British Empire in Australia or India, South Africa, Kenya or Rhodesia (Zimbabwe).

Robert’s youngest brother Percy, meanwhile, seemed to be living a less adventurous life. Born on 20 July 1861 in Hythe, his first recorded occupation was ‘furnisher’s clerk’, though his daughter later claimed he was a journalist. Possibly he did some work for the Hythe Reporter. He had married Agnes Mary Foard and produced a family of two boys and two girls by the end of the century.

Then, at nearly forty, when the first Boer War broke out, he joined up, serving as a private with the Maidstone Volunteers at No. 17 Stationary Hospital in Middelburg, South Africa with the Royal Army Medical Corps. He was there from 1900 to 1902 and survived enteric fever. On his return, another daughter was born and he seemed to have settled down again, working now as an agent for the Singer Sewing Machine Company. His elder son, Cyril, however, changed everything. After attending the North Council school in Folkestone (now the Mundela School), Cyril worked as an assistant in a boot and shoe shop in Tontine Street, but decided he wanted to be a farmer and managed to find a place as a trainee.

In 1911, he took his ambitions a stage further and emigrated to Australia, where the farming opportunities were greater. Two years later, his father joined him and in February 1914, Agnes and her three daughters made the journey half way round the world (Percy, the other son, remained in England).

Many years later, the middle daughter, Kathleen, wrote a memoir of her early years in Tenindewa in  Western Australia. (1)

Kathleen Palmer at about the time the family emigrated

They arrived in the Australian summer, the girls wearing warm winter clothes – navy serge dresses, long woollen stockings and high lace-up boots. They had been told that Cyril and their father had built a house and Kathleen imagined a square, redbrick edifice with high, flat windows – the typical Kent farmhouse.  What she found was a hessian ‘humpy’ with a corrugated iron roof, beaten earth floors,  two rooms and no kitchen. Water was carried up by horse and cart from the nearby creek & stored in a 2000 gallon can and after a few days tasted foul. They got bread once a week from a baker but it was stale after a couple of days and  they did not know how to make their own.

Gradually, things improved. A separate kitchen was built and connected to the humpy by a shed. A school opened in 1915 and also provided a venue for dances.

Percy, Agnes and their family in Tenindewa. Percy (seated) had been suffering from ‘sandy blight’

Then Percy was on the move again. He decided to join the ANZAC forces rather than letting Cyril go to war, as his son was of more use on the land (and in any case was rejected for military service because he had flat feet).  Percy pointed out that he was already an experienced ambulance driver.  According to his obituary, he joined the Australian Medical Corps and spent most of his war with the Desert Mounted Corps in Egypt and Palestine, being wounded and invalided home just before the armistice.(2)

Percy, looking a lot healthier, in AMC uniform

He was now fifty-six years old, but still energetic enough to build, finally,  a brick house for his family in 1920. Percy died on 18 January 1927, after a long illness, having lived to see his children settled in their new homeland and starting families of their own – Kathleen, the family biographer, married, had two daughters and ten grandchildren.

Kathleen Palmer on her wedding day, with husband Alec Rumble

  1.  Memoirs of a Migrant by Kathleen Rumble at

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

The Palmers of Hythe part one – the School Teacher



Inscription In/loving memory/of/Edward Palmer

Remainder illegible except for the name Harriet Palmer

Edward Palmer was born in Coningsby in Lincolnshire in 1812 and baptised there on 1 January 1813. He was the son of Robert and Jane Palmer. He became a teacher and worked in the National Schools, at first in Yorkshire, where he met and married Harriet Sharp of Lincoln. The couple’s first two children were born in Guisborough, before they moved to Tamworth in Staffordshire, where a third child was born.

National Schools were religious educational establishments run by The National Society for Promoting the Education of the Poor in the Principles of the Established Church throughout England and Wales – usually, for obvious reasons, abbreviated to The National Society.  They had started setting up schools in 1811, in response to a similar initiative by the non-conformist British and Foreign School Society.

Edward and Harriet settled in Hythe in 1849, and he became headmaster of the town’s National School, then situated in Stade Street in a ramshackle old building.  He soon proposed a new school premises. In 1850 the town council bought from the Treasury the site of an ordnance yard to be used for the school(1).  It was ideally situated opposite the town green, which was used as a school playing field for games and recreation.


20170120_125311Hythe National School, viewed from the Green. The buildings are now private houses.


And Hythe Green, which has provided a recreation area for the town for hundreds of years.

Edward also served as schoolmaster at the School of Musketry in the town, and became the local Registrar of Births, Marriages and Deaths.  Meanwhile, Harriet gave birth to another seven children.

After Edward’s retirement in 1875, when he and Harriet were presented with a marble clock, he was appointed School Attendance Officer for Hythe, at a salary of £20 per annum. Harriet died in 1886, aged sixty-three.

Edward was a supporter of the Liberal Party, and was agent for the town’s MP, Baron Meyer Amschel de Rothschild from his election, unopposed, in 1859 until his death in 1874 (until 1950, Hythe formed a separate parliamentary constituency). Rothschild, was only able to take up his seat thanks to the Jewish Disabilities Act passed the previous year. Before that, all members were required to take the oath ‘on the true faith of a Christian’. Rothschild was a scion of the banking family, and appears to have left no mark on British politics: his main interests in life were hunting and horse racing.  However, the electors of Hythe seemed to like him, and when his horses won both the Oaks and the Derby the church bells were rung in celebration. His daughter and heiress endowed the town’s lifeboat which was named ‘Meyer de Rothschild’ in his memory.


Baron de Rothschild

Aged eighty-five, Edward retired to Farnham to live with his daughter Jane, also a school teacher, but they had returned to Hythe by 1905, when he was reported to be ‘in the best of bodily health with mental faculties unimpaired’. He lived in Oak Walk, near St Leonard’s Church in the town,  where he died in 1912 aged 99. His life had spanned the lives of six monarchs: George III, George IV, William IV, Vistoria Edward VIII and George V.

 1. Kent Archives Hy/AM/2/1

To be continued