The shop was easily recognisable with its large windows. The Historic Places Trust records that the shop front was remodelled in 1912 and patterned glass installed. The green lower tiles and grand mirrored side panels that were embossed with the initials 'CP' still exist today.
These large windows were essential for one of the things that the Palmers were most famous for - the grand displays especially at Christmas time. No Christmas was complete without a visit to the special display, as was reported in the Thames Star 24th December 1901.
The business was established in 1871 and appears in early street directories from that time. From then on, the papers were regularly filled with advertisements to tempt young and old.
In 1953 the Thames Star newspaper reporter wrote 'A confectioners shop in Pollen Street - Palmers - earned a Dominion-wide reputation for almond toffee. There is no doubt that a factory built upon the recipe of this toffee would have found an almost unlimited market for its product.' During WWII these toffees did reach a worldwide market when families would send the toffees to the soldiers in Europe, 'they used to enjoy it. It was something to suck when they were in the desert.'
Ruth Palmer had originally made the toffees that were so sought after. Quality and consistency were trademarks of this family business; that included order, cleanliness, perfect storage and exactitude with money. For instance Bell tea tins were filled with toffees then encased in a hessian cloth and the cloth was then stitched up ready for postage. For sweets supplied for orders in New Zealand, exact statements of account were enclosed with the order and along with the exact change.
The Christmas displays included clockwork models that were placed in the widows. They included a Violinist, Father Christmas and Head Nodder. These were safely stored in brown paper bags between seasons.
The Palmers had their own special methods for making much of the confectionery. Charles Palmer made sugar animals using a wooden two-piece mould clamped with wooden pegs. The colours used were always soft shades and never garish. The process was critical to the success of the product, the temperature of the sweet mixture crucial in order that the fluid would be able to pour into the moulds.
Other specialities such as sarsaparilla and cordials were stocked and these were also in great demand.
The Palmer Confectionery business in Thames ceased trading sometime before 1956 and on 9 May 1956 the Pollen Street shop and residence (at back) was auctioned.
Charles Palmer was born c1831 London, England; possibly the son of John (a cordwainer) and Mary Ann Palmer (nee Fisher) baptised 25/11/1829 at the parish of Christ Church, County Surrey. It is unclear exactly when Charles came to New Zealand but by 1868 he was living at Shortland, where at the time of his marriage was working as a bootmaker in Thames. An Intention To Marry was filed on the 14/6/1870, then on the 8th July 1870 at his residence at Shortland, Charles Palmer married Ruth Beckman(n) (nee Turner) with the Reverend James Hill officiating. The marriage certificate described both parties of 'full age' - Charles a bachelor and Ruth a widow.
Ruth Beckmann nee Turner, was the daughter of Isaac and Eliza Turner born c1832 at Whitechapel, London, England. On 31st May 1857 at Whitechapel she married Henry Beckman(n) who gave his occupation as 'sugar refiner.' On 22 May 1869, Henry, Ruth and their young son William boarded the SS Abdul Medjid for New Zealand. The ship arrived at Nelson, New Zealand 10 September 1869 but sadly Henry aged 38 had died during the voyage having been diagnosed with consumption. Ruth and Henry Beckman(n) had 4 other children who had died in infancy between 1858 and 1864. Young William who came to New Zealand with his parents was born 21/12/1866 and went on to become a confectioner in Auckland, with shops in Auckland and a factory at Onehunga. Interestingly he married Elizabeth Grant whose father was also a confectioner. William Beckman(n) retired confectioner, died 9/2/1949 at Auckland.
Following their marriage, Ruth and Charles Palmer set up the PALMERS SWEET SHOP in 1871, due perhaps to the confectionary knowledge of Ruth acquired during the time she was married to Henry Beckmann. Ruth Palmer died in 1885 but, under her husband Charles's management, the shop continued to flourish. The confectionary and other products were always in great demand. Charles died 2 January 1910 and was buried at Shortland Cemetery (Plot No 2013), along with his wife Ruth Palmer who had died 25 July 1885.
'In loving memory of Ruth Palmer,
beloved wife of Charles Palmer
who died 25 July 1885 aged 53, at rest.
Also Charles, beloved husband of above,
died January 2, 1910 aged 78.
The Lord gave, the Lord hath taken away.
Blessed be the name of the Lord.'
An only son Charles Palmer was born 13 March 1875 at Thames, educated at Kauaeranga Boys and Waiokaraka Schools. He left school on 21st December 1888 to go to work. The family's address on school records was given as Pollen Street. In the 1885 Burgess Roll for Thames, Charles Palmer (Sen) is recorded as having an allotment, house and shop in Pollen Street. Charles Palmer Junior worked in the shop alongside his father and continued the business after his father's death in 1910.
In the 1911 Electoral roll for Thames, Charles Palmer (junior) and his wife Marion Margaret nee Lamb are living in Pollen Street. Charles' occupation is confectioner. The shop continued to operate during the 1950s and was auctioned in 1956, as mentioned previously.
The Palmer shop frontage (750 Pollen Street Thames) was registered with the Historic Places Trust (Register No 2680) on 25/11/1982. Legal Description is Lots 330 339 Kauaeranga 4 6 Grahamstown. The original construction of the frontage is given as 1878-9.
Thankfully the memory of this wonderful shop lives on. Visitors to the Thames Museum can see a small replica of the shop, full of all those glorious old confectionary treats and treasures.
With special thanks to Colleen Peckham for all her assistance.
Also to the Thames Museum for allowing the use of photographs of their 'Palmer Exhibit'
1. Historic Places Register.
2. 'Some Forgotten Industries' Thames Star 15 April 1953, page 5.
3. 'Our People, Our Stories' From Ailsa Lamb's transcript. TCHC Oral History Booklet 2010.
4. Family information: from Peckham family.
5. 'Thames & the Coromandel Peninsula 2000 Years' by Zelma & John Williams. Williams Publishers.
6. 'Thames Diamond Jubilee 1867 - 1927' Editor: F W Weston. Thames Star Publishers 1927.
7. 'Thames Star' Newspapers, Microfilms available at The Treasury, Queen Street, Thames.