Rosemary J. Palmer 1935 – 2013


Rosemary Palmer was a remarkable lady; she had a friendly personality coupled with a passion for quality ringing and she was an inspiration to many.

It was fitting therefore that St Peter’s Church, Fordham was packed to overflowing for her Funeral Service on Tuesday, 10th September 2013. Ringers and friends came from across the country to say their farewells alongside local representatives of the Ely D.A., The Church, the village, the Gardening club and the many other organisations that Rosemary had been such an important part of.

The wonderful service included good hymns sung with gusto, a poignant poem read by her three daughters, handbell ringing and moving tributes from George Pipe and Revd Michael Banyard.

Rosemary Seabrook was born on 11th August 1935 at Clare, Suffolk and was the eldest of four children with two sisters and a brother. She attended Clare Primary School and later the Sudbury High School for Girls during which time she was in the Guides as well as the Church choir and played a mean game of tennis.

Rosemary started to learn to ring in 1947 under the able tutorage of none other than the redoubtable Sam Twitchett. As well as ringing regularly at Clare and Cavendish they travelled miles together to practices at Sudbury, Lavenham and Colchester and thought nothing of cycling 14 miles to Preston for evening service!

As part of his tribute, George recalled his first meeting with Rosemary at a Ringers’ Meeting at Clare and Poslingford in 1949, which he was attending with his parents. “I remember Sam Twitchett with a twinkle in his eye, his bushy eyebrows and mischievous smile and he told me: “You want to look to your laurels, boy; she’s the best pupil I ever had and she is going to make a darn fine ringer.” She was. And she did!” And the chance meeting established a friendship which lasted over 65 years.

Rosemary was elected Assistant District Secretary of the SW District of the Suffolk Guild in April 1954 and went on to become Secretary the following year, a post which she held for five years.

Her first peal was on Saturday 29th May 1950 at Belchamp St Paul when she was aged 14. In total she rang 144 peals amongst which there were a number of notable achievements; she was the first lady to ring a peal on the heavy eight at Clare aged just 15, she rang in two silent and non-conducted peals and scored a peal of Bristol Surprise Major at St Peter’s Colchester as her first touch in the method.

She also really enjoyed handbell ringing and rang 32 peals in hand including 41-Spliced Surprise Minor which she did twice, to prove it was no fluke.

She maintained a meticulous peal book alongside a diary of comments through to her last peal that marked the 60th anniversary of her first.

Without doubt the most important entry of all concerned a failed peal attempt at Clare in 1959, which involved one Roger Palmer. She recorded this momentous occasion thus:

“We attempted a peal of Bob Major at Clare - six of the local band plus Roger Palmer and Tony Mann. We lost it after a quarter peal when Sam missed a bob! Tony, Roger and I then went down to a meeting at Bury St Edmunds – in Roger’s car – we rang at both churches and then I came home … on the bus!”

Despite Roger’s lack of chivalry on that first meeting (apparently he was going in the opposite direction!) they were married in October 1962 and Rosemary gave up her Suffolk roots to move to Fordham where she remained for the rest of her life.

Rosemary and Roger’s life as part of the Church and village of Fordham would fill a book in its own right. Their devotion and commitment to ringing at Fordham was unrivalled – only missing Sunday Service ringing and Thursday practices in exceptional circumstances.

They were both very involved in the Ely District of the Ely D.A. for over 50 years and during that time Rosemary had served as Diocesan Committee Representative as well as Membership Secretary and was always very active in raising money for the Association Bell Restoration Fund.

She particularly enjoyed organising day outings for the local ringers, these were always based around a good pub and extra time was allowed during the afternoon for tea and cakes!

Rosemary was very proud to be a member of the Cumberlands (elected in January 1973) and she and Roger especially enjoyed going to the country meetings and were very pleased to attend the 250th Anniversary Dinner in London.

As well as her love of good ringing, Rosemary was a terrific and compulsive gardener, able to get seeds and cuttings to root apparently with ease and using the gift to promote friendship and help a variety of good causes. She had plant stalls everywhere – at Fêtes, for Christian Aid, for the Bell Fund and for friends. It is unlikely that there is a garden in Fordham that doesn’t have a plant from one of Rosemary’s cuttings.

Early in 2002 she was involved in a proposal to open as many gardens in Fordham as possible with funds to go to the cleaning of the church organ. The successful event, involving around 20 different gardens, led to the re-establishment of the Fordham Horticultural Society in which of course Rosemary was enthusiastically involved. It was a moving gesture of her dedication that the Society renamed one of their most prestigious Cups as the ‘Rosemary Palmer Trophy’ just a few days after her death.

Not withstanding all of the above, Rosemary’s most important role was that of dedicated wife, mother and grandmother. She was devoted to Roger and together they brought up five children in a loving, Christian family, giving them what they all described as, ‘the best possible start in life’. Palmer family occasions were a thing to behold with Rosemary calmly cooking for the assembled company of 18 or so children, partners and grandchildren without fuss or bother.

Their hospitality over the years at Mildenhall Road, Church Street, Shrublands and The Willows was legendary. As well as housing ringers from all over the country, (20 or so of Gill’s friends from South Hackney on one occasion), Rosemary ran a B&B at Shrublands and seemingly thought nothing of having extra people stay to meals at a moment’s notice. As she said, “If you are cooking for seven anyway, what’s a couple extra?”

Rosemary was, as George so eloquently described, “simply one of the finest people I have ever known”. Whilst her funeral service was of course “tinged with sadness, if ever there was a service of thanksgiving for a life lived to the full – an expression of thankfulness, this was surely it”.

She led a simple, devoted and inspirational life right until the end. She accepted her declining health with courage and determination, declaring on many occasions that ‘What will be – will be’.

So many of us were privileged to know her and share in her life. Whilst we mourn her passing our lives are all the richer for having known her.

God bless you Rosemary – a good and faithful servant.
GILL SPARLING

Adapted from tributes given by George Pipe and Revd Michael Banyard at Rosemary’s Funeral Service. This obituary first appeared in The Ringing World (to subscribe see: www.ringingworld.co.uk) and is reproduced here with permission of the Editor.