Palmer, Sir Charles
1822 – 1907
Sir Charles Mark Palmer was a shipbuilder and one of the great Victorian industrialists. He was born in South Shields, the fourth of 8 children of George Palmer (1789–1866), a Tyneside merchant and ship-owner, and his wife Maria.
Like many of the successful North East businessmen of his era, he was educated at Dr Bruce’s academy in Newcastle. His father secured him a position in a large merchant house in the French city of Marseille where he served his apprenticeship. On returning home, he joined the Marley Hill Coking Company in 1844. In 1846 he was made managing partner. His contacts in France helped him to increase sales and output.
By the 1850s the business was producing about 1 million tons of coal each year, a twenty-fold increase since the 1840s. He did this by buying up 14 smaller collieries and organising their railways more effectively to provide a direct link to staiths at Jarrow-on-Tyne. Strategically, this was quite a brilliant move, as it guaranteed a stable supply of coal for his shipbuilding business. In 1851 he founded a yard building warships called Palmer Brothers and Co. He acquired another yard in 1859 in Howden on Tyne, which became part of Willington Quay. Later, in 1864 he established and became chairman of the Tyne Shipping Company by amalgamating various Tyneside shipping businesses. At his peak, his businesses directly employed over 10,000 workers on Tyneside. Palmer produced the highest output of ships of any yard in the UK between 1878-1883 and 1888-1889.
Palmer was a prominent Liberal politician of the era. He was elected MP for North Durham in 1874, and then for Jarrow in 1885, which he held until his death at the age of 85 in 1907. Palmer was one of the great philanthropists of his age. Notably, he gave monies to build a hospital in Jarrow. The Palmer Memorial Hospital was built in memory of his wife Jane (nee Robson) who had passed away in 1865. It was opened in 1871, with 39 beds and an outpatient department with 10 cubicles. It was maintained by voluntary subscription prior to incorporation in the National Health Service in 1948 before closing in 1985. A statue of Palmer was erected outside the Palmer Memorial Hospital. It was unveiled in his lifetime by his second wife (Gertrude, 1845-1918) in 1903. The statue now stands opposite the town hall in Jarrow.
He was a great benefactor to Jarrow, supporting numerous schools, churches and hospitals. He was also the town’s first Mayor. Through the local building society, which was operated by his business, nearly half the town's houses came to be owner-occupied, a remarkable feat in the 19th century.
Co-Curate. (2018). Charles Palmer Statue, Jarrow. Available here (Accessed: 06/06/2018).
Linsley, S.M. (2004). Palmer, Sir Charles Mark, first baronet (1822–1907), coal-owner, ironmaster and shipbuilder, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Available here (Accessed: 06/06/2018).
The National Archives. (2018). Hospital Records Database: Palmer Memorial Hospital, Jarrow, Available here (Accessed: 06/06/2018).