By Mark Andrews @RoyalArsenalMRA
Arsenal Committee man and Director: 1891-1901 and silent saviour of the 1893 schism
The 1893 schism focused on Royal Ordnance Factories FC (ROFFC)– a vanity project run by ex-directors of Royal Arsenal who couldn’t get their way at Royal Arsenal FC, and who perceived themselves to be of the gentlemanly class. They were very vindictive in their attempts to halt Royal Arsenal FC, their tactics including working with the landlord of the Invicta ground in a programme that included doubling the rent, demanding their own representative within the club who would be the sole arbiter of whether the club was being run properly or not, bribing the landlord of Royal Arsenal’s alternative choice of home so that he would not sub-let the land to the club, and even setting up a complex scheme whereby Royal Arsenal might be induced to rent the alternative ground, spend a fortune upgrading the ground, and then nullify the lease, leaving Royal Arsenal both without a ground, and bankrupt.
So as ROFFC was set up as as a direct challenge to Arsenal’s very existence in 1893, it was imperative that Royal Arsenal FC continued as a going football concern. Thankfully in the shape of George Lawrance, Arsenal Committeman and Newspaper retailer they found the right man to ensure the club had a ground to play on, by arranging the outright purchase of the Manor Field.
Had there been no concerted attack, it seems very unlikely that Royal Arsenal Football Club would have changed their name, formed a new company, moved from the Invicta Ground and purchased a new ground, the Manor Field, all in the space of a few months in early 1893.
Here is a biography of George Lawrance on the anniversary of his birth; taken from “Woolwich Arsenal FC 1893-1915: the club that changed football “.
Born on 27 April 1851 at Camberwell he moved to Woolwich as a young boy when his father obtained a job in the Royal Arsenal. He took over his father’s newsagent store and made it thrive. His entry in 1893 Kelly’s shows “Newsagent and tobacconist and discount bookseller, advertising agent for all London and local papers, 12 Beresford Square”.
By 1899 he was a Tory Councillor on the Woolwich Borough Council and a Patron of the Cottage Hospital Committee and Woolwich Soup Society Committee. His first wife, Charlotte, died in 1881, and in 1885 he married Greek-born school teacher, Annie McEwan. In July 1893 he is recorded as having 10 shares in Woolwich Arsenal and his wife Annie 5. By the time of his death he had 28 shares and his wife 10.
Lawrance became interested in football when he was nearly 40 starting to watch Royal Arsenal in January 1889. Thanks to his self‑made wealth he was able to indulge himself and his wife, Annie, in trips to many of the away games. Indeed the couple were instrumental in organising excursions for the supporters, particularly after 1893. Additionally, he organised the first Woolwich Arsenal Football Company Beanfeast Day excursion to Hastings on 14 July 1894 which was patronised by 400 people.
The Beanfeast was a holiday celebrated every year in early July by workers at the Royal Arsenal. This was an old English custom granted by employers before bank holidays for workers to obtain recreation in midsummer. The Oxford English Dictionary definition of a Beano, a derivation of “Beanfeast”, is “a merry time or spree”. It became recognised as an annual celebration or party which originally included a meal of beans and bacon. Traditionally, the day‑long celebrations were centred on drinking and dancing.
Lawrance became a committee member in June 1891 and remained permanently in office until his untimely death in June 1901. He was the first benefactor of the club.
He was at the meeting in May 1891 discussing and approving the adoption of professionalism, advertised in the Royal Arsenal programme in 1892, was involved in meetings to discuss the rejection of the proposed Invicta Ground rent rise and was present at the subsequent ground and limited liability meetings in 1893.
He was the man who signed all the documentation ensuring that Royal Arsenal FC was taken over by Woolwich Arsenal FC on 3rd May 1893 based on a contract signed on 28th April between G Lawrance of the Woolwich Arsenal Company and W B Jackson of Royal Arsenal Football Club. He was also the only named trustee for the Company’s first Memorandum of Association and Articles of Association.
Then, later in the month, when Royal Ordnance Factories FC were rumoured to be preparing to bid for the Manor Field, Lawrance pushed through the legal agreement and paid the deposit for the purchase of the ground in early June 1893.
Once the ground had been secured by him the £4,000 mortgage was then signed by all directors in November 1893 as a “joint and several agreement” where all were individually responsible for the burden. However, he personally bonded £1,500 as did another director, James Cavey.
Both Lawrance and Cavey bankrolled the club and it was they who reduce the mortgage to £2,000 by selling off parcels of land they did not need.
Lawrence published the first Woolwich Arsenal Handbook. A copy from 1894-95 called the “Woolwich District Football Handbook” is still in existence. It sold for 2d and consists mainly of fixtures for the club and surrounding area. It also contains an 1886 founding account by Fred Beardsley. The following year George Lawrance’s Football handbook also contained photos and sketches of Arsenal players.
From the discussions at the 1897 AGM it is apparent that he regularly provided funds of between £50 and £100 for the expenses of the excursions, with money usually recouped a few weeks later. It is also apparent that the club was indebted to the directors for hundreds of pounds at any given point and it was specifically mentioned that the company owed Lawrance £70 and Cavey £100. In his open resignation letter to the Woolwich Herald, TB Mitchell stated that during 1897 Lawrance had advanced him £100 for a scouting tour to Scotland.
Sadly Cavey died in 1897 of Brights disease, and his place as co-benefactor was taken by another man of means, Tom Gage. However, he too was to die within 6 months and, in turn, his place was taken by George Leavey, who had opened his outfitter’s shop in Woolwich only two years earlier.
Lawrance and Leavey got the club through the turbulent first few years of the Boer War (when crowds were down) before Lawrance died on 22nd June 1901 of heart failure caused by appendicitis.
His funeral was a huge event with members of Woolwich Arsenal FC, Masons, Councillors, members of the Chamber of Commerce and local businessmen attending in addition to family and friends, and the Kentish Independent noted that “the crowd at the cemetery was very great”.
- Woolwich Arsenal: The club that changed football – Arsenal’s early years
- Making the Arsenal – how the modern Arsenal was born in 1910
- The Crowd at Woolwich Arsenal – crowd behaviour at the early matches
Other sites from the same team…
The main series on this web site