When exactly did Royal Arsenal become Woolwich Arsenal?
By Andy Kelly
There is some confusion as to when Royal Arsenal changed its name to Woolwich Arsenal. Most club histories say that the name changed when the club adopted professionalism in 1891 whereas some say that the name changed when it became a limited liability company in 1893. It doesn’t help matters that the Football League still referred to the club as Royal Arsenal until about 1896.
The actual date of the name change is May 1893 when the club became a limited liability company.
The earliest documented story that states that the name changed in 1891 is the Arsenal handbook for 1930-31. As a result of it appearing in an official publication this information was then taken as gospel and never been questioned.
The evidence to show the name change in 1893 came from a programme for the Royal Arsenal v Gainsborough Trinity game on 3 September 1892. This is an official club publication that shows a list of matches for Royal Arsenal Football Club for the 1892-93 season. If the club changed its name to Woolwich Arsenal in 1891 why would they still be calling themselves Royal Arsenal in 1892?
To show that it isn’t a one-off quirk, Peter Mason’s website includes another programme from later the same season.
The Woolwich Gazette published an article on the subject on 5 May 1893
I can’t get the quality of the article up high enough for it to make much sense on this web site, but taking its evidence into account and the other information we have the dates that the club changed its name are:
Royal Arsenal Football Club to Woolwich Arsenal Football And Athletic Company Limited
The name was changed when the club became a limited liability company in May 1893. As a limited liability company, it wasn’t allowed to use the word “Royal” in its name, hence the change.
Woolwich Arsenal Football And Athletic Company Limited to The Arsenal Football And Athletic Company Limited
The club spent most of its first year at Highbury with the name Woolwich Arsenal. The name was changed between 20 and 23 April 1914. The difference is shown in the matchday programmes – but unfortunately I don’t have copies of these programmes.
The handbook at the start of the 1914-15 season shows the new name.
The Arsenal Football And Athletic Company Limited to The Arsenal Football Club Limited
This happened some time between the start of the 1914-15 season (see the handbook above) and 26 October 1914 (the programme for the Football League v The Southern League at Highbury shows the new name. My guess is that the change happened around 9 October 1914 when there was a new share issue.)
The Arsenal Football Club Limited to Arsenal Football Club Limited
This happened mid-season in November 1919. See Peter Mason’s website for the two programmes that show the transition. Tony debunked the story that Herbert Chapman had something to do with this in the previous article.
During the 1930s the club considered chaging its name to London FC. This idea was short lived as it was thought that the club may be considered arrogant. I don’t have the date of when this happened but it is in the Islington Gazette.
I would like to offer my thanks to Peter Mason for providing dates from programmes.