Founder of Palmers department store remembered with blue plaque

PUBLISHED: 06:30 16 April 2012

Unveiling of a Blue Plaque at Gorleston Conservative Club, former home of Garwood Burton Palmer, founder of Palmers department store. Wendy Cole from Palmers store unveils the plaque.  Picture: Nick Butcher

Unveiling of a Blue Plaque at Gorleston Conservative Club, former home of Garwood Burton Palmer, founder of Palmers department store. Wendy Cole from Palmers store unveils the plaque. Picture: Nick Butcher

© Archant 2012

From humble beginnings as a small linen and drapery shop in Great Yarmouth, Palmers has grown to become one of the region’s success stories.

When 22-year-old Garwood Burton Palmer opened his store in the town’s market place in 1837 he could not have known that 175 years later the business he founded would have become a thriving department store with four other branches employing more than 400 staff with a turnover of £20m.

Boasting the title of longest-established independent department store in the country, it is still largely run by Garwood Palmer’s relatives.

And at the weekend the founder of the Palmers dynasty was remembered when a blue plaque commemorating his life was unveiled at his former Gorleston home.

The plaque by Great Yarmouth Local History and Archaeological Society was unveiled on Saturday at the house in Sussex Road by Wendy Cole, fashion buyer for Palmers and Garwood Palmer’s great, great, great niece.

Garwood Palmer was born in Yarmouth in 1815 and trained in London at the respected shop of Hitchcock Williams based in St Paul’s Churchyard.

He could be seen daily driving backwards and forwards in his carriage and pair passing along the High Street from his house in Gorleston to his shop, which was decorated with banks of flowers or ferns bought from his garden and greenhouses.

Customer service was paramount even in those early days as he kept shoppers happy by offering them scented nosegays on special occasions.

In 1844 Garwood Palmer’s younger brother Nathaniel joined the business and soon became a full partner. He died aged 38, leaving two sons, Edward Ernest and James Hurry to carry on the business.

By 1876 the family business was booming and Garwood Palmer was appointed a magistrate.

When he died in 1888 at the age of 73 Nathaniel’s sons were left in charge of the business which became better known as Palmer Bros.

After James Hurry Palmer died in 1908 his son Percival joined the business and worked his way up to become the manager.

Percy’s son-in-law, Graham Sturrock, became a member of the team in 1947 and he took over as chairman of the board when Percy died in 1960.

By 1971 the company had increased dramatically in size and Mr Sturrock enlisted the expertise of his son Bruce who took over as managing director in 1983.

In 1993 Bruce took over as chairman and was joined by his sister Wendy Cole as the fashion director. She had been a fashion buyer at Bloomingdales in New York.

After Garwood Palmer’s death his house became a hotel and in 1921 Gorleston Conservative Club moved into the building. The blue plaque has been requested and financed by the Conservative Club.

Unveiling the plaque, Mrs Cole said: “I am pleased and honoured to unveil this plaque to my illustrious ancestor who founded a successful shop in Great Yarmouth which recently celebrated 175 years of trading in the town. I am his great, great, great niece and the firm is still largely run by Garwood’s relatives.

“I feel some regret that such a fine house was sold out of the family as I should quite like to live here myself. It gives me great pleasure to unveil this plaque.”

Mrs Cole said her brother was unable to be at the ceremony because he had gone to see Manchester City play Norwich City but she was able to speak to several ex-employees of Palmers over coffee provided to all those who attended.

She presented the club with a bottle of wine which had belonged to her late father Graham Sturrock which was bottled and labelled to celebrate the Conservative victory in the 1979 election victory.

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