The early years

When George Palmer joined the firm in 1841, in addition to the two partners, there were seven employees: a shop assistant (George Palmer’s sister), two journeymen, two apprentices and two boys who carried out packing and deliveries. From 1832, Joseph Huntley had also employed Thomas Worth as a ‘travelling representative’ or salesman.

This Sales Representative's biscuit sample case from 1902 still contains all of its original biscuits. By 1902 when this sample case was made the company had 23 travellers in the UK. (REDMG : 1997.130.481)

Travelling salesmen

To ensure his goods were in the right shops George Palmer engaged several more salesmen across the country. The most successful was John Cooper who secured eighty-two new retailers during his first six months of work. The first full-time salesman was Henry Lea who joined the firm in 1849. He coordinated the existing salesmen and eventually created his own team of wholly salaried sales representatives.

This small Huntley & Palmers trade card from 1868 belonged to company representative Charles Williams. The types of biscuits available are listed on the back. (REDMG : 1997.82.380)

Relations between the partners

The partnership agreement recognised Thomas Huntley as the senior partner but, from the start, George Palmer had effective control of the business. He moved into the flat above the shop with his mother and sister whilst Thomas Huntley rented a house nearby.

An artist's impression of how the original London Street bakery probably looked in about 1850, including the flat above the shop occupied by the Palmer family. (REDMG : 1968.139.1)

New recruits

Despite the successful move to the new factory in 1846, Thomas Huntley was increasingly concerned about rising costs which were not being met by profits. At the same time George Palmer wrote to Thomas Huntley complaining that he was not taking his fair share of responsibility. In 1847 George Palmers brother, Samuel, was brought into the firm to run the London office. In 1851 William Isaac Palmer, the youngest brother of George, became factory manager at a salary of £200 per year.

Samuel Palmer (1820-1903) was the youngest Palmer brother. He was a man who lived almost entirely for work and for family. He set up the London Office that was responsible for all export sales and the purchase of ingredients. (REDMG : 1997.130.183)

The marriage of George Palmer

In 1850 George Palmer married Elizabeth Meteyard, the daughter of a fellow Quaker. They had ten children, with seven surviving infancy. Three of the sons later entered the firm. By 1850 factory suppers had become annual occasions, usually held in April, but that year the event was brought forward to February to coincide with the wedding. All employees, wives and sweethearts were invited to celebrate the marriage.

This group consists of Palmer family members possibly with senior factory employees. It was probably taken somewhere on George's farming estate or at William Isaac's country home at Grazeley Court. (REDMG : 1997.130.73)

The death of Thomas Huntley

In March 1857 Thomas Huntley died. His only son, Henry, lacked the interest and the ability to take over from his father. When George Palmer offered him almost £34,000 for his half of the business, Henry accepted and purchased a country estate in Dorset with his new wife. From that year until his death in 1919, he received an annual Christmas cake from the company.

This studio portrait from about 1880 shows a teenage Ada Frances Wright (née Huntley), daughter of Henry Evans Huntley. Ada would later marry Thomas Wright and live in Reading, hosting her father on his visits to the factory. (REDMG : 1997.82.505)

The second partnership

In 1857 George Palmer's brothers, Samuel and William Isaac Palmer, were brought into full partnership with an entitlement to a quarter of the profits each. Under the new agreement, dated 19 October 1857, the business was given the name of Huntley & Palmers.
This partnership lasted for 17 years until 1874. During this time the annual net profit of the firm rose from £18,000 to more than £84,000 and the partners enjoyed great personal wealth.

A trio of portraits showing (clockwise) George, Samuel and William Palmer - the 'Palmers' in Huntley & Palmers. (REDMG : 1997.130.561)

Read about some of the early jobs at Huntley & Palmers.