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James Palmer (1772–1808)


Palmer Road in Wood Farm is named after this man

James Palmer was born in the City of Westminster in about 1772, the son of William Palmer. He is probably the baby of that name born in Westminster on 1 January 1772 and baptised there on 19 January, the son of William Palmer and his wife Martha.

James was matriculated at the University of Oxford from Oriel College on 19 May 1795 at the later than usual age of 23. He obtained his B.A. in 1795 and his M.A. in 1801.

His wife's name was Hannah, so he may be the James Palmer who married Hannah Robinson at Atwick in Yorkshire on 24 December 1801.

James Palmer was ordained Deacon on 13 June 1802 and immediately appointed Curate of St Andrew's Church, Headington under the Revd John Wills, commencing on Trinity Sunday. On a stipend of half a guinea per week (£27 10s. a year) Palmer had to find his own house and support his wife, and in late 1802 bought Church House at 14 St Andrew's Road (immediately opposite the church). Their two children were born there, and were baptised by their father at St Andrew's Church:

  • James Nelson Palmer (born in Headington on 4 December 1802 and baptised on 19 December)
  • Margaret Grace Palmer (born in Headington on 19 May 1804 and baptised on 4 July)

On 23 April 1803 Jackson's Oxford Journal reported on the formation of of the Headington Association for Protection against Thieves, and listed James Palmer as one of the founder members. On 13 September 1806 it was reported that Palmer himself had suffered from theft:

13 September 1806

James Palmer was ordained Priest on 5 June 1803, and shortly afterwards two significant events took place. The Headington Enclosure Award came into force, giving Joseph Lock of Bury Knowle House an excuse to block off the funeral path from Quarry to St Andrew's Church; andon 29 December 1804 the Revd John Wills ceased to be Vicar of Headington, and the new Vicar, Thomas Henry Whorwood, was under the thumb of his brother Henry Mayne Whorwood, the Lord of the Manor of Headington.

When Joseph Lock of Bury Knowle House blocked off the Quarry funeral path that ran alongside his estate (now behind Waitrose and Headington car park)., twice the men of Quarry demolished the wall to get their coffins to St Andrew's churchyard. Lock took three of the men involved to court, and tried to get Palmer to persuade the people of Quarry to use a more circuitous route, but Palmer stood by his humble parishioners rather than Lock, and not mincing his words, he wrote thus to the Bishop of Oxford (see full text of letter of 3 March 1805):

The inhabitants of Quarry think themselves aggrieved in being deprived of this path, and seem to lay a great stress on its having been a funeral path time immemorial; and indeed it does appear hard that for the accommodation of one upstart fellow, the inhabitants of a whole hamlet should be distressed. As the new path is near 250 yards further about, and as it appeared to me not only absurd but a kind of insult against the Church itself, I flatly refused him. I am not to be dazzled by any man's wealth, and can very clearly see the dangerous tendency of that blind adoration paid to riches, which is so prevalent at the present time.

He went on to report in the same letter that, “The inhabitants of Quarry now say that as they are to be deprived of their funeral path, they will not come to Church at all, but intend to have a methodist preacher come to them.”

The Lords of the Manor were the Patrons of St Andrew’s Church, which meant that they appointed the Vicars there, sometimes choosing a member of their own family. The Revd John Wills had ceased to be Vicar of Headington on 29 December 1804 and Henry Mayne Whorwood, the current Lord, immediately appointed one of his younger twin brothers, Thomas Henry Whorwood, as the new Vicar. Palmer wrote to the Bishop of Oxford (John Randolph) about the Lord of the Manor of Headington (see full text of letter of 15 May 1805):

Mr Whorwood, the lay rector, is a man who from having lived a very debauched life and having been to Germany, that hot-bed of modern infidelity and mental quackery, has imbibed notions so contrary to all religion and everything resembling it that he does not scruple to call in priestcraft and to talk and argue in such a way that I will not stain my paper, or offend your Lordship, by repeating his ideas, which seem to have been raked together from all the heresies which were ever broached. To add to his misfortunes, he has lately married a woman considerably his inferior in point of family, whose upstart pride has disgusted several friends who still adhere to him. His situation, in short, is such that the strictest attention to his behaviour and conduct for twelve or fourteen years to come will scarcely be sufficient to gain him that respect which his birth and station in life entitle him to.

Of the Lord of the Manor's brother Thomas Henry Whorwood, the new Vicar of St Andrew’s, Palmer went on to say: “His brother, the vicar, is in a state of such dependence on him that he cannot differ from him materially without danger of starvation.”

In the same letter he wrote:

Mr Lock, whose improper conduct has made no inconsiderable disturbance in this parish, is a person in whose estimation the possession of money is a compensation for the absence of almost everything else, and although Mr Whorwood to my certain knowledge most heartily despises him, yet he finds it convenient to show him some civilities and attentions, for it is said that he has borrowed money of him.

He went on to say that Mr Lock would not be so much disliked if he did not permit his wife, “a busy meddling woman”, to interfere in everything, and that he was a fool.

Two months later Palmer wrote again to the Bishop of Oxford (see full text of letter of 31 July 1805), this time about his salary, and once again railed against the Lord of the Manor of Headington, saying “And if he might spend all his income in Hunters and Harriers, — and wine, — and Carriages with Dickeys, — and foxes, — and badgers, — he would not care if all the clergy in England starved.”

On Lady Day (25 March) 1806 Palmer received a letter from the Vicar of Headington asking him to quit his curacy by 1 December and stating that in future he would do his own duty. Palmer wrote to the Bishop of Oxford (see full text of letter of 15 April 1806) stating that he was determined not to submit to any such command.

Eventually, however, it appears that Palmer could take no more and resigned his Curacy of Headington, writing to the Bishop, “The purse-proud sons of wealth generally combine together.” He performed his last baptism there on 2 November 1806.

For a period after that before a new Curate was appointed, various college fellows came up to Headington to baptise and marry its inhabitants, and even the Vicar, Thomas Henry Whorwood, sometimes performed the task himself.

In 1806 Palmer wrote to a Balliol friend, “If I had been the 19th cousin of a lord I might have attained hopes of a living; but I have not one drop of Duke's blood in me that I know of, and have no one to patronise or assist me, so that probably I shall continue as a curate.”

James Palmer then became Curate of Hillingdon, Middlesex. He died on 16 March 1808 after being thrown from his horse at Uxbridge. The Orthodox Church Magazine of 1808 reported on his death as follows:

Near Uxbridge the Rev. James Palmer, M.A. of Oriel College, Oxford. He was killed on the spot, by a fall from his horse. He was a man who possessed a mind highly liberal, an understanding well cultivated, and manners extremely prepossessing. A strict attention to his clerical duties, marked most strongly the conscientious principles upon which he uniformly acted.

On 7 May 1808 Jackson's Oxford Journal advertised a forthcoming auction of his property at Church House. Headington:

Sale of Palmer's goods

James Palmer died intestate, and it was over forty years before Church House in Headington was transferred to his son and heir the Revd James Nelson Palmer of Breamore Rectory in Hampshire when he came before the Court of the Manor of Heddington on 31 January 1849, “rendering therfor 2/- yearly rent and 3/- for a heriot and 10/- for a Fine”. He did not live there, but rented the house out, first to the Revd William Oddie, and then to the famous wood engraver Orlando Jewitt,

Four letters from James Palmer to the Bishop of Oxford are reproduced at the end of this page


Footnote on James Palmer's son and grandson

James Palmer's son and grandson, who both had the same name, were both successful in obtaining a living.

James Nelson Palmer senior, the only son of the Revd James Palmer (born in Headington on 1 December 1802) was matriculated at the University of Oxford from St John's College at the age of 18 on 4 May 1821. He obtained his B.A. in 1825 and his M.A. in 1829.

From 30 September 1827 to 1830 he was Curate of Pembury in Kent. He then spent time in Edmonton, Middlesex, and Jackson's Oxford Journal on 4 September 1830 announced his marriage thus:

At Edmonton, the Rev. James Nelson Palmer, to Elizabeth, eldest daughter of the late R. Mushet, Esq. of Millfield House.

They had two children:

  • James Nelson Palmer junior (born at Edmonton and baptised there on 7 September 1831)
  • Henrietta Margaret Palmer (born at Edmonton on 10 September 1834 and baptised there by her father on 11 December).

From 1838 James Nelson Palmer senior was Rector of Breamore, Hampshire.

Near the beginning of 1848 in the Chichester district, James Nelson Palmer senior married his second wife Mary Stephenson Brown.

On 8 March 1850 James Nelson Palmer junior, who had been educated at Eton, was matriculated at the University of Oxford by St John's College at the age of 18. He obtained his B.A. in 1856 and his M.A. in 1957, and served as his father's curate at Breamore from 1861. When his father died on 5 November 1864 he took over as Rector, and was there until 1868.

In 1879 James Nelson Palmer junior was appointed Curate of Yaveland on the Isle of Wight and became Rector in 1888.

On 15 September 1891 at St Andrew's Church, Lambeth, James Nelson Palmer junior, a widower of the Isle of Wight, married Clara Ellen Oldland of 253 Clapham Road, the daughter of the artist William Leyshon Oldland.

James Nelson Palmer junior died on the Isle of Wight on 7 September 1908 and has a fine memorial there.


Full text of letters from James Palmer to the Bishop of Oxford

(1) Headington, March 3rd 1805

My Lord,

In the present circumstances I know not to whom I can so naturally apply as to your Lordship, from whose well-known impartiality and love of justice, regularity and order there is the greatest reason to hope for redress. — The case, in few words, is this. — An Act of Parliament was obtained in 1801 for dividing, allotting, and laying in severally the commons and waste lands in the Parish of Headington: — in consequence of which a proprietor of a certain portion of land has, as he says only in pursuance of the Commissioners' direction, ventured to obstruct and stop an old and long-established foot-path, leading from the Hamlet of Quarry to the Village of Headington: — this, of course, the inhabitants of Quarry objected to, and, as remonstrances were in vain, they naturally enough, the first funeral they had to bring from Quarry, broke down his wall: — he being an obstinate man, and not having sense enough to perceive that he was really in the wrong, built it up again; — and, as might be expected, it was again pushed down, when the next funeral made it proper: — this was done several times, till at length he has I understand instituted a prosecution against two or three concerned. — The inhabitants of Quarry think themselves aggrieved in being deprived of this path, and seem to lay a great stress on its having been a funeral path, time immemorial; — and indeed it does appear hard that for the accommodation of one upstart fellow, the inhabitants of a whole hamlet should be distressed: — the proprietor of the land (Mr Lock, Silversmith & Banker in the High Street Oxford) applied to me to persuade the poor people to bring their funerals by the new path; but as that is near 250 yards further about, and as it appeared to me not only absurd but a kind of insult against the Church itself, I flatly refused him. — I am not to be dazzled by any man's wealth, — and can very clearly see the dangerous tendency of that blind adoration paid to riches, which is so prevalent at the present time: — however at the moment I did not so much consider that — the thing appeared most grossly wrong — and I refused him; and had he been my own Father I hope and think I should have done the same.

The mischief, it is my duty to inform your Lordship, is not likely to rest here, for only a few days back I heard by accident, that the inhabitants of Quarry say that as they are to be deprived of their funeral-path they will not come to Church at all, but intend to have a methodist preacher come to them. — It is hardly possible, considering your Lordship's situation and habits of life, it is scarcely possible that you should know the harm done by some of these people, — but any resident clergyman would feel it in its full force, and would find his situation rendered extremely uncomfortable.

I would not have troubled your Lordship in this affair, but would have written to one of the Commissioners under the Act, a land-surveyor of the name of Davis of Lewknor, but these purse-proud sons of wealth generally combine together, — and as the injury complained of originated from an undue respect to the wealthy citizen's money bags, so it was not reasonable to expect any redress from that quarter, and he most probably would have deferred giving me any decisive answer till the prosecution commenced, which will be some time this Month, I think about the 8th.

I should hope and suppose that in any case of this nature at all relating to the privileges or well-being of the Church, a word from a Bishop would be decisive — at all events, in letting your Lordship know these few particulars, I have done what appeared to me to be my bounden duty, — and hope that your Lordship will believe me to be

Most dutifully and respectfully

Your Lordship's humble Servant
James Palmer
Curate of Headington

P.S. Let me intreat your Lordship not to suppose that I would readily speak lightly of any thing sanctioned by an Act of Parliament, — but I never can believe that any Act of the English Parliament would at all encroach on the privileges, or do any thing that should tend to diminish the respect due to, much less bring into contempt, the Church of England; — unless indeed that Act were drawn up by a Committee of unsound members of the Church — and some, if not many, such it is greatly to be feared have crept into Parliament: by means of that idolatrous worship paid to wealth in the present day.

(2) Headington May 15th 1805

My Lord

In obedience to your directions, dated the 2nd ult: I hereby inform your Lordship that I am to quit the Curacy of Headington on Trinity Sunday next, June 9th; — and hope I shall be excused if I ask a few minutes of your Lordship's time — whilst I explain what I suspect to be the real cause of my leaving the Curacy. — I ought to premise that I am fully aware that a resident Curate, whether he wishes it or no, must of necessity be the repository of many a family secret of the Parish in which he resides, — and which it is his duty to keep very close within his own breast, — this consideration will be my excuse if I beg that this letter may be destroyed soon after it is read. — I will now explain a few circumstances which will show the obligation I was under to act in the manner I have done, and that it was scarcely possible for me, as an honest man, to have acted otherwise.

Mr Whorwood, the lay rector, is a man who from having lived a very debauched life and having too been in Germany, that hot-bed of modern infidelity, and mental quackery, has imbibed notions so contrary to all Religion and everything resembling it, that he does not scruple to call in priestcraft, and to talk and argue in such a way, that I will not stain my paper, or offend your Lordship, by repeating his ideas; — which seem to have been raked together from all the heresies which were ever broached, and which have all be answered again and again, — but to the answers he will not give the last attention: — his conduct in life too has been such as that he is rather afraid than forward to interest himself much in any occurrence, because he well knows that there are those who could tell him many things which he would find very disagreeable to hear: to add to his misfortunes, he has lately married a woman considerably his inferior in point of family, whose upstart pride has disgusted several friends who still adhere to him; — his situation in short is such that the strictest attention to his behaviour and conduct for 12 or 14 years to come will scarcely be sufficient to gain him that respect which his birth and station in life entitle him to: His brother, the vicar, is in a state of such dependence on him that he cannot differ from him materially without danger of starvation for him I do feel most sincerely. His brother, the Vicar, is in a state of such dependence on him that he cannot differ from him materially without danger of starvation, His brother, the vicar, is in a state of such dependence on him that he cannot differ from him materially without danger of starvation what more can be said? he is a young man not without good qualities. — Mr Lock, whose improper conduct has made no inconsiderable disturbance in this Parish, is a person in whose estimation the possession of Money is a compensation for the absence of almost everything else; — and altho' Mr Whorwood to my certain knowledge most heartily despises him yet he finds it convenient to show him some civilities and attentions, — it is said too that he has borrowed money of him, — that is possible, but I do not give much credit to the report — however he banks with him. — Mr Lock possesses some good traits of character, and would really not be so much disliked as he is, if he did not permit his wife, who is a busy meddling woman, to interfere so much as she does in every thing in which he is concerned; — but he suffers her to make a fool of him, — therefore he is a fool.

Under these circumstances my situation here was very unpleasant, and I therefore kept aloof from this abominable path business as long as I could. — It appeared to me as a thing the remote consequences of which might be very bad, — and yet that it did not rest with me to say much about it, — it appeared as a kind of insult against Religion and the Church itself, — still it rested with the Vicar rather than me to repel it; — but when Mr Lock came to me, and urged me to persuade the inhabitants of Quarry to bring their funeral along his new and round-about path, I will honestly confess that it made my blood boil within my veins, — and tho' I did, thank God, restrain any appearance of anger, yet I gave him a most decided and peremptory refusal; — it was positively asking me to do — what it was my bounden duty to approve. — Religion was given us to restrain our passions, not to eradicate them, — to keep them within due bounds, not to tear them from the heart. — The man who denys this, is a hypocrite, and I would tell him so to his face: — there is a possibility of being angry and sinning more. I entreat your Lordship's pardon for any appearance of warmth, and beg it may be imputed to the earnestness of a man anxious to justify himself in having done no more than what appeared to him his indispensable duty. — I am an ardent lover of peace; — if possible almost too great a lover of peace, yet I am fully convinced that there are circumstances from which to shrink argues not Christianity but Cowardice.

The poor people seem to have a superstitious veneration for an ancient Church path, and tho' superstition and Religion are two distinct things, — yet this is certainly a very harmless prejudice, and therefore I would be the last man on earth to attempt to eradicate it, for it is much easier to abolish an old prejudice than to establish a new one. — I have acted in this affair without its being possible for any reasonable being to say that I was guided by self-interest. — Mr Lock's kindnesses to me have been many, I do not exactly say that he meant them as bribes, — but in an affair the principles of which appeared to be of some, and indeed considerable, consequence, every thing of that kind ought to give way immediately. — At present too I solemnly declare that I have not the smallest prospect of any other engagement, tho' I have a wife in but very indifferent health, and two small children to support, and I very much wish to pass two or three years more of my life in or near Oxford: so that I have evidently not consulted my own private interest. — My Character has hitherto (I hope I may be excused for saying it, — since I say it with truth) been marked for integrity; — and if in this present instance I have your Lordship's approbation I am satisfied: — There are plenty ready to attack the Church and its privileges on all sides, — and I hope and trust that there will never be wanting men ready to do their duty in its defence; — for my own part, should occasion require it, I would always be ready to defend it in my humble station, to the utmost of my power, — even tho' I should be crushed under its ruins. — Let me have the respect of the respectable, and the love of those who are worth loving again, and I look not for much more in this world: — I firmly believe that the time will come when I shall not repent having endeavoured to act as a plain, honest, Christian man, when in short my deficiencies will be made up by the merits of Him whose name I bear, — and when, amongst other blessings, I shall enjoy the society of the spirits of just men made perfect.

I am very truly
Your Lordship's
Most dutifully and respectfully,
James Palmer.
Curate of Headington

(3) Headington July 31st 1805

My Lord,

I have to thank your Lordship, which I hereby do, for the information conveyed in your's of the 29th inst. — Certain it is that hitherto I have only received at the rate of half a guinea per week ever since I have had this Curacy, — on Trinity Sunday 1802 — However on the part of the Vicar I am very willing to believe it may have originated in some oversight, or want of proper information, — as I sincerely do not think that he would attempt any kind of imposition on the Bishop, — and if your Lordship knew me better you would be equally ready to believe that I should be a very unlikely man to be accessory to any such scheme. — I will show your Lordship's letter to the Vicar, the next time I see him, — he passes much of his time at Uffington — from him, generous soul, I expect not the smallest difficulty whatever, — but unfortunately his brother, the Country Squire, is always the pay-master of my Salary, — and though when he is in good humour, and refrains from arguments against Religion, I have passed many pleasant hours in his company, yet I know he greatly dislikes what he emphatically calls Oxford Parsons: — And if he might spend all his income in Hunters and Harriers, — and wine, — and Carriages with Dickeys, — and foxes, — and badgers, — he would not care if all the clergy in England starved. However I am not without hopes that your Lordship's letter will have its due weight, — and therefore shall not again trouble your Lordship on this subject unless necessity should oblige me, — and that I am inclined to think will not be the case. — I am very truly

Your Lordship's
Most obediently, and respectfully
James Palmer.
Curate of Headington

(4) Headington, April 15th 1806

My Lord

You will please to accept my most cordial thanks for the letter I received so long back as May last, wherein you are pleased to say that the Vicar "shall not dispossess me against my consent, unless by his own residence". — In consequence of this decision in your Lordship's mind I am, I take it for granted, to attribute my remaining undisturbed till lately (about Lady-Day last) when I received a formal notice from the Vicar to quit the Cure by the 1st of December next, saying he meant to do his own duty. — As, my Lord, this intended removal of me from Headington (where I have purchased a house, and land, & likewise have a wife & family) originates in caprice, I must beg leave to submit to your Lordship, to whom I am so much beholden for past civilities, my full determination not to submit to any such command: — but to present myself regularly as ready to do the duty, but not to dispute the Pulpit with the Vicar, in full confidence that I am entitled to your Lordship's protection for payment; Likewise sanctioned by the law of the land; — as I was ordained upon the title of Headington, and regularly licenced to the same, at a Salary of £27 6s; (which perhaps ought to be augmented according to your Lordship's letter to 35 Guineas) — and under an idea that I was never to be disturbed in my quiet possession of the same until Providence should make a better provision for myself and family.

I shall, my Lord, most assuredly write to Mr Whorwood a civil letter to this purpose, but first thought it my duty to pay my diocesan that proper attention of communicating my resolve, — as explanatory of any letter which might come to his hand. — I remain

My Lord, — with all proper respect,
Your Lordship's most obedient Son & Servant
James Palmer

© Stephanie Jenkins

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