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Henry Norris at the Arsenal: 1928 to the end.

By Tony Attwood

There is a link to all the articles in this series on Henry Norris at the Arsenal at the foot of this piece.  This article concludes the series.  There is a note on what will happen next in the final paragraphs.


 

Arsenal had a mostly positive December 1927, slipping from 6th at the start of the month, down to 1tth and then back to fourth by the end of the year.  It was a pattern that was to repeat itself through the season with Arsenal slipping down as low as 17th at one stage.  Full details can be found in the excellent volume

Nothing more happened in terms of Sir Henry’s activities that we have been following during the spring.  The football season ended with Arsenal in 10th, having been knocked out of the FA Cup in the semi-final by Blackburn.   The league table did however have a point of interest…

Pos Team P W D L F A GAvg Pts
1 Everton 42 20 13 9 102 66 1.545 53
2 Huddersfield Town 42 22 7 13 91 68 1.338 51
3 Leicester City 42 18 12 12 96 72 1.333 48
4 Derby County 42 17 10 15 96 83 1.157 44
5 Bury 42 20 4 18 80 80 1.000 44
6 Cardiff City 42 17 10 15 70 80 0.875 44
7 Bolton Wanderers 42 16 11 15 81 66 1.227 43
8 Aston Villa 42 17 9 16 78 73 1.068 43
9 Newcastle United 42 15 13 14 79 81 0.975 43
10 Arsenal 42 13 15 14 82 86 0.953 41
11 Birmingham City 42 13 15 14 70 75 0.933 41
12 Blackburn Rovers 42 16 9 17 66 78 0.846 41
13 Sheffield United 42 15 10 17 79 86 0.919 40
14 Sheffield Wednesday 42 13 13 16 81 78 1.038 39
15 Sunderland 42 15 9 18 74 76 0.974 39
16 Liverpool 42 13 13 16 84 87 0.966 39
17 West Ham United 42 14 11 17 81 88 0.920 39
18 Manchester United 42 16 7 19 72 80 0.900 39
19 Burnley 42 16 7 19 82 98 0.837 39
20 Portsmouth 42 16 7 19 66 90 0.733 39
21 Tottenham Hotspur 42 15 8 19 74 86 0.860 38
22 Middlesbrough 42 11 15 16 81 88 0.920 37

What we can see here is that rather like the year before, Arsenal focussed on the FA Cup and let their league season fall apart.  In January and February Arsenal went six league games without a win and went the last eight games of the league season also without a win.

This meant that the crowds went down too, and Sir Henry’s clear view that for a club to be successful they had to be profitable was now coming into focus.  Arsenal’s crowds shrank by nearly 9% this season compared with 1926/7 down to an average of 27,434, and from being the best supported club they were now just the 5th best supported club.   This compared with an average of 31,471 in 1925/6, which meant that in the two seasons since 1925/6 Arsenal’s crowd had shrunk by 13%.

Arsenal ended the season with a six match tour of Denmark and Sweden, winning all the six matches between 17 May and 30 May 1928.

Yes, Arsenal had slipped back from the potential seen in Chapman’s first season, but there was some rejoicing: Tottenham had been relegated.  Mind you, Arsenal had failed to beat them in either game with the local rivals, drawing at Highbury and losing at WHL.

I also wonder what Sir Henry made of Fulham when he started to watch them again.  They like Tottenham came 21st in their division, and so would play the following season in the 3rd Division (South)

And at this point I shall leave the Arsenal.  Sir Henry and his pals who rescued the club were mostly departed from the club, and the job started in 1910 was complete.  If you want to know how Arsenal progressed in the 1930s, we have already covered that in our series, unsurprisingly named Arsenal in the 30s on this site.  But there are a few other ends to tie up.

I have put forward my thesis a couple of times that Sir Henry Norris was a man who was perfectly able to walk away from elements in his life: the original building partnership, his military career, his political career, Arsenal… but it seems he could also return because in this interim period as Sir Henry prepared for his final footballing legal ventures he returned to watching Fulham.  Although he had resigned as a director long ago, and indeed had launched a legal case against the directors of Fulham, he was still one of their largest shareholders.   Apart from anything else, he seemed to have this insight that football shares could go up quite considerably in value.

And interestingly on 9 January 1928 Sir Henry, William Hall and J J Edwards attended the quarterly meeting of the Feltmakers’ Company.  And since Edwards was still a director of Arsenal one assumes Sir Henry was able to get the inside information on what was going on.  Edwards and Sir Henry were at the next quarterly meeting on 2 April and in October he was elected Senior Warden, one step away from the most senior position in the ancient company.

The two days later when Sir Henry’s close friend Sir Edwin Evans died, Sir Henry was nominated to succeed his friend as a director of the Stepney and Suburban Permanent Building Society.   It seems he was not ready to walk away from business matters completely.

In the summer Sir Henry’s legal team had a meeting with two members of the FA asking if the FA would make a statement to clarify a point in the Commission report to the effect that Sir Henry had not taken Arsenal money for himself. Sir Henry also provided information about his own personal payments to players, although the letter only mentioned Buchan by name.  This should not be taken however that Sir Henry was particularly trying to make life difficult for Buchan – more likely was the fact that everyone knew that the £100 per goal was not showing in the company accounts and was paid by Sir Henry.   Later in the year Arthur Gilbert agreed to make the statement that no one in the FA was accusing or had accused Sir Henry of stealing money from Arsenal.

There is one other outstanding issue that needs to be clarified: that of Clem Voysey.   As it happens I explored this a few years ago on this blog, and there is an article covering this fully on this site.

Also on a couple of occasions in this period Sir Henry sold some of his Arsenal shares.  The number was very small but either he was making a profit (which seems unnecessary), or he was helping a couple of friends who wanted to be shareholders. 

In October there was a change in the affairs of the Kinnaird Park Estate as they bought some land in Chiswick.  It was the first growth in the company since Sir Henry had joined the board.  An opening request for planning consent was put in at the end of the year, which was then passed in 1929.

Meanwhile on 26 November 1928, Norris dropped his action against the Daily Mail while discussions continued concerning the legal action between Sir Henry and the FA in which Sir Henry asked for changes to the report specifically to state that he had not taken money for himself, but on 11 December 1928 the FA confirmed that they would not make any change and so the legal action would continue.

On  5 February 1929 the legal case between Sir Henry and the FA came to court.

After two days of the case the judge ruled Sir Henry’s claim for libel failed because the gathering of information was similar to proceedings in court, in that they could not be challenged on the basis of slander or libel.  On that basis the FA could, in the process of gathering information, say anything in one of its reports without fear of legal action.

This ruling covered the payments to the chauffer, the alleged payment of money to Clem Voysey, the signing on fee for White, the £100 per goal to Charlie Buchan.   And it is an interesting point because some writers, on seeing that Sir Henry lost the appeal, assume that he was thus guilty of fraud or theft.  The fact is the court simply ruled that in their reports the FA could say anything they liked and could not be sued for it – exactly as happened in court.

Meanwhile Sir Henry’s other work continued and on 7 February 1929 he became a director of the Stepney and Suburban Permanent Building Society.

However at the same time, Sir Henry did something which I have not seen him do earlier.  As we have seen in the past when Sir Henry made a decision he stood by it.  For example, when he broke with the local party in Fulham, he left them completely; there was no going back – and we have seen this time and time again, most noteably with Arsenal – he took over the club in 1910 with the aim of making it stable and financially sustainable, and did exactly that and left.  The lingering affairs thereafter were those of trying to remove from the public domain comments against him made during the hearings.

But now we find a situation in which he altered what seemed to be a habit of a lifetime, for on 9 February 1929 he wrote and resigned as a member of the Feltmakers’ Company.  But then two weeks later he wrote and withdrew his resignation.  However on 8 April the Feltmakers accepted the resignation and rejected the withdrawal.

This whole affair is so unlike Sir Henry I am at a loss to understand it.  But this was only the first of two occasions on which this happened in his later life.  Why he did this twice, I really don’t know.  Clearly his mind was not wandering as he was seemingly still working very satisfactorily.  It remains a mystery.

By the time Arsenal won their first major trophy, the FA Cup, in 1930 Sir Henry had disappeared from the Arsenal scene completely, and there is no record of him attending the game.

However the trophy was achieved at the expense of the league form – Arsenal slipping to 14th in the First Division.  Fulham likewise seemed to have settled in, in the 3rd Division South, ending up 7th in the league.

Meanwhile the house building activities continued, but again how much Sir Henry was involved is not clear.  However we do know that by the end of January 1931 Sir Henry was chairman of  the Stepney and Suburban Permanent Building Society – something he seemed to enjoy.   Which again takes us back to the issue of the change of heart in relation to the Feltmakers.   All my instincts after a number of years of studying what we know of the man tells me that there was something else, something we’ve not found, that influenced that decision, and its retraction, and which also got him into the second sudden change of mind which followed.

William Allen, the long term partner of Sir Henry in football and house building died on 15 March 1931.  Sir Henry and Lady Edith went to the funeral at Streatham Cemetery.

On 18 April that year Arsenal won the league for the first time with a record number of points while Fulham ended mid table in Division Three (South).

On 13 June the Allen and Norris partnership became a limited company with Sir Henry in the chair, John Norris (Sir Henry’s brother) a director, Francis Plummer who had worked in the partnership for many years as another director and Frederick Allen, William Allen’s son who came in as the director running the estate agency which made the business most of its money.  (You may recall, the partnership bought empty areas, developed the houses, sold about 80% of them to cover the costs and then rented out of  the rest.  That was now the source of the company’s income.)

Meanwhile Kinnaird Park Estate Company upped its activities building 12 houses.  And very surprisingly, Leslie Knighton, once manager of Arsenal, now manager of Chelsea was living in one of the Kinnaird houses.  My suspicion is that Knighton and Sir Henry were still on good terms – and that the wild and crazy allegations for which Knighton is now remembered only came about in 1946 after Sir Henry had passed on, and Knighton was desperate for an income.  It is hard to see that autobiography as anything other than an absolute betrayal of a good friend.

At the 1931 AGM of Arsenal the shareholders passed a motion inviting Sir Henry to attend all matches played at Highbury.   Even though most of the old directors had gone at least one or two of the new men were able to do the decent thing.  I suspect it was George Allison who made the gesture.

On 18 December 1931 Jack Humble, Woolwich Arsenal’s first chairman in 1893, died.  He had lived long enough to see the club he helped found, win the league and the FA Cup.

On 28 January 1932 Sir Henry chaired the AGM of the Stepney and Suburban Permanent Building Society and made the comment that it was a very easy meeting this was to chair, as “everybody was satisfied with what had been done”.  I suspect he was thinking back to both the early and later days at Arsenal.

Arsenal won no trophies in 1931/2, but Fulham were promoted from the Third Division (South).   On 4 June William Hall died.

Meanwhile Sir Henry and Lady Edith were in the south of France, although it seems that by now they had sold their villa at Villefranche.  And it is here that we have a second case of Sir Henry changing his mind.  On vacation in the south of France he met some English people with whom they played bridge, and one of them seemingly had an interest in a horse that was running in the Derby.  In April 1933 Sir Henry he paid over £3500 to these people he met – I am not clear but I think it was for part ownership of a horse, both in racing and in stud.

However he then stopped the cheque.  He did eventually do some sort of deal concerning the horse but only for about one third of the original value.  So here is the second case of Sir Henry changing his mind.  After the Derby the police became involved and charges were brought against Henry Wilson and two others.  Eventually Wilson was sent for trial at the Old Bailey.  He pleaded guilty and got 20 months hard labour.

In 1932/3 Arsenal won the League for a second time, and Tottenham were promoted back from the second division to the first.

On 28 June 1933 the Kinnaird company made its final planning application – including a flat that in the early part of this century one of Sir Henry’s grand-children was reported  to be living in.  Sir Henry did still have some building work – developing a site in Clapham in 1934.

On 17 August 1933 Sir Henry signed his will which set up trust funds for his daughters and made bequests to his sister, his nieces, nephews and servants.   The executors were his brother John, and Harry Peters, who was still employed at  Arsenal.

And then on Monday 30 July 1934 Lt Col Sir Henry Norris, the man who rescued and rebuilt the Arsenal, and without whom there would be no Arsenal today, died at Sirron Lodge, Vine Road, Barnes Common of a heart attack.  He was buried at the family plot in East Sheen cemetery on 1 August 1934.

He still owned the 477 shares in Arsenal, and they were sold by the executors of the will.  The 200 shares in Fulham however were retained by the family.  In his will he left £71733 which would be around £4.8 million today by my calculations although Sally Davis comes out with a figure over three times this amount.  Either way, he was very wealthy and provided for his family to live whatever type of life they wished thereafter.

George Peachy, described by Sally Davis as Sir Henry’s most loyal friend, died on 13 March 1936.  His wife Edith died on 8 August 1951.  Harry Peters died on 10 February 1952 – he was still living in a house built by the Allen and Norris partnership.

And that concludes our history of Henry Norris at the Arsenal.

As you will have gathered I have been writing this story as I gather the information – you have been reading what might well normally be called the author’s second draft (the first just being notes and lines connecting events).  Putting a second draft on line for all to see is unusual; if you have been reading it I hope you have found it of interest.

My task now is to take the whole document, and tidy it up, correct mistakes, and reduce its size so that it can be published in a more accessible book form.  But even without that I am hopeful that I have gone a small way to give a proper understanding of Sir Henry’s life.

I am extremely grateful to Sally Davis for her work on Sir Henry’s life which remains on line.  As I noted earlier I have written to her to try and encourage her to complete her work, and/or to discuss with me the possibility of publishing it.  Ms Davis did not wish to go down that route, which of course is fair enough, but I have to say, without her work it would have taken me much longer to get the gist of some of the matters herein and some of the details I may never have found.

I remain convinced that Sir Henry was an honest, generous, diligent, patriotic, hard-working man, who was one of the most brilliant administrators of his age.  A man of his era of course, who behaved as such, but beyond doubt an honest man, and from our point of view as Arsenal fans, the man without whom there would not be an Arsenal FC today.

If you have been, thank you for reading.  If you wish to bring up any points please do comment on the relevant chapter, or if you prefer please write to me at Tony@schools.co.uk

Tony Attwood 12 November 2018.

Henry Norris at the Arsenal: the index of all the articles in the online edition.

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