By Tony Attwood
By the start of 1911 Henry Norris was fully ensconced at Woolwich Arsenal. He did not own the club, but owned shares in the club, was the lead director of the club, and had guaranteed the club’s financial well being. He had arranged for the club’s debts to be cleared so the club could keep operating, and had agreed to abandon any thoughts of a merger with Fulham.
Further his initial guarantee of keeping the club at the Manor Ground in Plumstead had now moved from a guarantee lasting until May 1911, to one lasting until May 1912, thus giving his fellow director Jack Humble, a chance to resolve matters with the fund raising committee – the committee naturally being unwilling to hand over the money they had raised to the club, only for the club to up and leave the area.
England in 1911 was itself a country in turmoil with strikes, demonstrations by those supporting votes for women, and violence in the form of criminal activity, political violence, and violent responses to unrest by the police and army.
Indeed on 3 January Winston Churchill the home secretary took the unprecedented step (one which has since never been repeated) of personally leading the Metropolitan Police in action against a criminal gang – in this case a group of Latvian anarchists who were trapped in a house in Sidney Street in the East End of London following a jewel robbery.
On the pitch Arsenal had won just six of their 30 league games, and financial considerations precluded any further transfers. But despite this, and perhaps because of the publicity generated by Norris, the crowds, after years of decline were actually on the rise. Not enough to make up for the previous season’s calamitous decline of 20%, but it looked like at least half of this drop might be recovered.
In the League however Arsenal started the new year as they had spent much of the first half of the season – by failing to win either of their games. Both were away – with a 2-3 defeat to Sheffield United and then with a 2-2 draw with Sunderland.
The FA Cup started up again for the top clubs of course (at the time this round was called Round 1 – the equivalent of the 3rd round in the 21st century). Arsenal beat Clapton Orient 2-1 away on 16 January, after an abandoned match two days before, and were drawn against Swindon Town in the second round.
Orient were riding high in the second division (along with Chelsea, although neither managed to gain promotion at the end of the season), while Swindon were top of the Southern League. And indeed it should not be forgotten that at this time, the Southern League was a strong competition, with many players preferring it, because of its refusal to adopt the oppressive “retain and transfer” regulations that were now entrenched within Football League rules.
As for Henry Norris he was extremely busy as Mayor of Fulham, and as a partner in the building firm he ran with William Allen. Both men were interested in football and had played as amateurs, and Norris had worked initially in a legal firm where he may have met Allen. Either could have provided a route for the two men to get to know each other – but however it happened, get to know each other they did, and by 1911, with the expansion of housing in Fulham being in full swing, both men were working full time at expanding the activities of their building company.
Indeed if Norris was not seen much either at Arsenal or at Fulham FC, the reason was simple – he was building houses.
What Allen and Norris did, was build what Sally Davis describes as “small houses in terraced rows, occasionally with a semi-detached house or a double-fronted one on the end of a row; and something which at first glance looked like a terraced house but was actually two flats (apartments), which Allen and Norris always called maisonettes.”
We should also note that Allen and Norris were radical in their approach to selling their properties because they advertised their houses and maisonettes while they were still building them, in the local newspapers – something that had hardly been done before.
Indeed the approach that Allen and Norris developed to advertising new built properties lasted until the widespread adoption of the internet at the end of the 20th century. Go back to the 1980s and local newspapers were still vibrant and central to the community – if not for the news (which could be seen on TV) then for the pages of advertising, sometimes with as many as 50 pages of houses for sales occupying the bulk of the paper.
As Davis says, the pair began advertising in the Fulham Chronicle in 1900 and we can see the speed at which the business grew for in 1911 the London Borough of Wandsworth passed applications from Allen and Norris for an amazing 159 new houses. And that’s not all, because by the end of the year the London Borough of Fulham had passed applications by Allen and Norris an even more amazing 235 houses.
Let me spell that out. These two gentlemen ran a partnership which could apply for permission to build just under 400 new houses in a year! So if Henry Norris did not pay fulsome attention to the doings of Arsenal and Fulham, it can be understood why.
Fulham FC had four games in January – a cup and a league defeat to West Brom, plus a draw and a win in the league.
Arsenal’s cup match in the second round opened February’s football, and the club lost 0-1 away to Swindon. This was followed by a draw with Bradford and a defeat to Blackburn, and finally a 3-2 win over Nottingham Forest on the 25th.
Eight of the team who played in this game against Forest had been involved against Manchester United in the opening home match of the season: Logan, Chalmers and Hoare had been added to the mix, and from this we can observe that the club was simply not set up with the finances to go out and buy more players. I get the distinct feeling that Norris felt he had done his bit, and was now letting the club get on with matters.
If they came good, he’d be the hero who had rescued the club (which he certainly was… eventually). If not, well, he’d be there to sort things out. Thus Norris had made his move, and could afford to wait.
The other matter that affected Henry Norris in January 1911 was the issue of “Football Chat” magazine. Norris had been involved in buying the magazine along with several other leading club directors – including a director of Tottenham. The aim was to have a southern equivalent to Athletic News, the supreme footballing magazine, which not only was based in the north, but showed a very northern bias to its reporting.
From 16 to 19 January the subsequent legal issues were played out. The issue in court was the fact that Henry Norris and others had agreed to buy the magazine through a series of stage payments. After the first payment it became clear that the seller had greatly exaggerated the readership of the magazine, and thus Norris et al had stopped paying. The court finding was that he was quite right to stop paying, and had to pay no more.
The man behind the decision to buy the magazine was Charles Crisp, who later became a director of Arsenal FC. Crisp had investigated Football Chat and as a result of what they found (a readership of 25,000 per issue) he recommended £200 down, and the rest in instalments.
Henry Norris bought shares in the concern in 2008, and started writing a weekly column for the magazine, following on from his articles for Athletic News which he had done in the past.
The original owner however had lied about the circulation of the magazine and had broken a promise not to publish in the same area again for three years (a stipulation as common then, as it is today). He then quickly moved to the Netherlands selling the outstanding debt of £800 to a Mr Stoddart, who tried to recover it in court.
Stoddart lost, but the £200 paid as instalment one was also lost and the company that Norris and co had set up to run Football Chat folded in the summer of 1909. However in the year or so that Norris and his associates kept the magazine going he did put forward a number of interesting ideas including the introduction of a transfer window and the abolition of the maximum wage which he repeatedly claimed was being violated on a daily basis. He also wrote a piece in which he congratulated Herbert Chapman in glowing terms on having guided Northampton Town to the Southern League title.
Meanwhile industrial unrest continued. In March 11,000 workers at the Singer Manufacturing Co. sewing machine factory on Clydebank went on strike in solidarity with twelve female colleagues protesting against work process reorganisation. Four hundred alleged ringleaders were then dismissed by the company.
On the pitch Arsenal’s run of bad form continued. After exiting the cup the club played five, won one, drew two and lost two.
By the time of the game on March 11 there were eleven games to go. The game followed a 0-3 away loss to Oldham, and this was against the much stronger Everton who eventually finished the season in fourth.
To everyone’s amazement Arsenal not only beat Everton but were subsequently undefeated in the last 11 games with six wins and five draws, a sequence that took the club out of the threat of relegation to finish the league in 10th (compared with 18th the season before).
Two new players came in for the Everton game: Burdett in goal and Peart at left back. Additionally Common and Chalmers each scored five to ease the problems in that department.
As for Fulham, the end of the season saw the club win just one match in nine, ending the season 10th in the second division.
On the domestic front on the first Sunday in April 1911 Henry Norris completed the 1911 census, as of course he was required to by law, and Sally Davis has analysed it.
“It was term-time and Norris’ two elder daughters were at their boarding school, so the family consisted of Henry, Edith his wife, their youngest daughter Nanette and his unmarried sister Ada Patience. Henry Norris employed four servants, all single women. Annie Louise Slade, aged 34, was a cook but she probably also did a share of supervising the other three servants: Alice Saunders aged 21 the parlour maid; Mary Younger aged 19 the housemaid; and Mabel Anderson aged 21, a nurse who will have had daily charge of Nanette.”
Davis also makes the point that it was possible that by this time Norris had a car – he certainly had one by this time one year old – apparently a Rolls in which he was driven by his chauffeur and a “smaller car which his daughters drove”.
So Norris had left Arsenal to sink or swim, and it had swum its way out of trouble, and the final figures showed a 10% rise in the crowd across the season.
All had agreed the club would stay in Plumstead for one more season, but what would happen then was still unclear.
The Henry Norris Files
Section 1 – 1910.