The founding fathers

From eight employees in 1841 to over 5,000 at the turn of the century, the firm of Huntley & Palmers touched the lives of many people. Whole families were employed in the factory which was the size of a small town. The Palmers were paternalistic employers providing a sick fund and recreation facilities. In return, those working in the factory had to abide by strict rules with the prospect of fines or even dismissal for misbehaviour.

Joseph Huntley

Joseph Huntley was born in 1775 into a Gloucestershire Quaker family. His father was a headmaster while his mother, Hannah Huntley, baked biscuits in the school oven and sold them outside the school gates where the coaches stopped.

Joseph Huntley was 51 years old and a widower when he opened his bakery in London Street, Reading in 1822. His son, Thomas, having completed a two-year apprenticeship at a bakery in Uxbridge, made the biscuits whilst Joseph himself managed the business. Another of Joseph's sons - also, confusingly, called Joseph - owned an ironmongers shop on the opposite side of the street from the bakery.

Thomas Huntley in about 1853. (REDMG : 1997.130.118)

Quaker roots

As members of the Society of Friends, or Quakers, the Huntleys believed in honesty, self-discipline and hard work. They used only the best ingredients and sold their cakes and biscuits at a fair price. The Huntley shop soon established a good name and in 1829 Thomas became a partner in his father’s firm. Joseph Huntley retired in 1838, leaving a vacancy for a new partner.

The modest writing box from which Thomas Huntley conducted his business in London Street from 1822 to 1846. (REDMG : 1998.1.97)

George Palmer

George Palmer was born in 1818, the eldest son of a West Country Quaker family. At the age of 14 he was apprenticed to his uncle in Taunton to learn the trade of confectioner and miller. The Palmers already had connections to the Huntley family and in 1838 William Isaac, George’s younger brother, was apprenticed to Joseph Huntley jnr., the ironmonger. When George was 22 he moved to Reading with his mother and sister.

George was young, ambitious and had received a solid training in the confectionery trade. He also had the £550 required to buy a half-share of the London Street business. On 24 June 1841 Thomas Huntley and George Palmer became partners.

George Palmer, photographed in the late nineteenth century. (REDMG : 1996.197.16)

Learn more about the people at the heart of Huntley & Palmers' earliest years.