John Palmer (1800 - 1881) & Elizabeth Jessup (1810 - 1875)
For about a hundred years leading up to the middle of the nineteenth century, Norwich was considered second only to London in terms of prosperity. That success was built on the back of its textile industry but, as the second half of the century unfolded, it faced increasing competition from the Northern mills in Yorkshire and Lancashire. The Napoleonic War brought further problems as the continental markets dried up, so Norwich weavers faced huge difficulties. Robert Hayes, a major manufacturer and government supporter complained about the lack of trade and the doubling of the poor rates; two hundred workers took to the streets to protest; and one commentator described the situation saying 'the outbreak of war, in bringing the worsted manufacture almost to a standstill, (plunged) the mass of the Norwich weavers into sudden distress'.
Between 1803 and 1817 Thomas and Elizabeth had at least five children, at least four of whom survived into adulthood despite the outbreak of smallpox in 1819 that claimed over 500 lives. They were all baptised at St Swithin's and brought up in a home that clearly valued education as not long after their youngest child was born, the eldest, Thomas, was already earning a living as scrivener and clerk; and the youngest, Benjamin, would go on to greater things.
Fifteen miles North-East of Norwich, and not far from the coast, James Palmer was farming 9 acres in the village of Honing. Small as that farm was, it appears to have been enough to support a large family as, by 1820, he and his wife Mary had had ten children, and all of them were boys, although they did go on to have four daughters as well. The farm may have been able to support a large family, but it couldn't when the children had become adults, particularly as James himself was still farming in his seventies. Benjamin, one of the younger chldren, stayed on to help his father with the farm; but two others who wanted to farm had to move elsewhere. The other sons had to leave home as well: two becoming shoemakers, two whitesmiths and two, including John, moved to Norwich to become blacksmiths.
John married Elizabeth Jessup in 1834 and moved to Heigham, just outside the city walls, which was a popular area with other tradesmen. John was a widow, and already had a daughter from his previous marriage, so would have been keen to re-marry quickly. Elizabeth also brought someone else to their marriage: her father, Thomas Jessup who, together with Elizabeth's sister Ann, joined them shortly after their marriage.
If the 1840s were a period of growth and stability, the following decade would be not be. Elizabeth's brother, Thomas, died in 1850 leaving behind a wife and several young children; and a few years later, their brother Benjamin emigrated to Queensland in Australia where he was to become an important part of the community in Clunes, but was necessarily cut off from his family in England. Their father, Thomas, was still living with Elizabeth - rather surprisingly working as a shoemaker rather than a weaver - but their sister Ann had moved out to spend the rest of her life working for a solicitor who may have been connected to Benjamin.
Meanwhile Heigham itself continued to grow. An outbreak of cholera in 1849 had forced the city to find a better water supply and the city's water works were opened in Heigham a few years later (some time later, Benjamin, one of John and Elizabeth's children, would become a collector there). Following a collection that raised £1000 locally, a school had been built in Heigham which the children may have been some of the first to attend as, although it was built for 200, it took some years to reach capacity. As well as the water works, Heigham was also home to Norwich gaol. Its only public execution had taken place in 1829 and it would remain the main Norwich prison until that moved to the castle in 1877.Three of their children remained at home until well into their twenties. The eldest had left home to become an ironmonger and gas fitter, and would soon be employing over a dozen men; but Thomas, Benjamin and William remained with their parents.
Heigham was prone to flooding. There had been a major flood in 1809 when Elizabeth was a girl, and she may have remembered boats rowing up the roads until the water subsided. The next disastrous flood was not until 1878, and Elizabeth had died three years earlier, but John was still alive and would have witnessed the scene. Heavy November rains, followed by snowstorms and a thaw meant that the rivers overflowed. Large parts of Heigham were affected and many of the poorer residents had to be rescued from their houses as the ground floors had all been flooded.
Two years after the flood, John died.
(To be finished)