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4 March 1914: Arsenal get permission to build new stadium – 7 months after it opened

On 4 March 1914 London County Council finally granted planning permission for the Gillespie Road stadium, seven months after it opened and one year to the day after Norris announced that Gillespie Road was the site of the new ground.  This might sound bizarre to us now, or indeed illegal, but in the early part of the 20th century, this was mostly how matters went.

Of course, anyone developing a spot of ground for a new use while planning permission was still pending did risk having it refused, but planning controls were far less of an issue at this time than they are in the 21st century.

Besides, had the matter gone to planning prior to the building, there could have been – and indeed there were – many theoretical issues raised, just as there were when Arsenal applied for planning permission for what became the Emirates Stadium.   Then we had the emotive talk of local residents being “prisoners in their own homes” on match days, but the Emirates, as with Highbury before, found that within ten minutes of the final whistle much of the crowd had dissipated.

Also by the spring of 1914 the notorious Highbury Defence Committee was but a rump, and its days of influence gone.  Islington Council knew that they had no chance of overturning the building of the ground, and had welcomed the additional payment of the rates (now known as council tax) from land that previously had paid none (being for religious use and thus exempt).

Furthermore, by the time of the final hearing, there were many local traders who positively loved the presence of Arsenal in the area.  With no alcohol sold in the ground the pubs around the area did a roaring trade – the highly restrictive licensing hours of much of the 20th century did not come into effect until after the outbreak of war in 1914.  Likewise the restaurants and street vendors positively relished the new club in the area.

On 7 March Arsenal played an away goalless draw with Nottingham Forest in front of 10,000, but even before this match most Arsenal fans were focussed on the next match on 14 March: the first North London derby at Highbury.

Arsenal had played their first London derby on November 9, 1907 with the result Chelsea 2 Arsenal 1 in front of 65,000 .  The return match at Plumstead on March 7, 1908 was a goalless draw with 30,000, in the ground.

This was an encouraging upturn but then disaster struck as Andy Kelly has reported in an article on the Arsenal History Society site.  As he wrote…

“On the evening of Thursday 19 March a torrential downpour hit north London. The sewers were unable to contain the rainwater which flooded down Highbury Hill pushing mud against the west terrace boundary wall. The wall was unable to take the pressure and started listing in towards the terracing.

“The following morning the staff arrived at Highbury and noticed the problem with the wall. The directors were now faced with a dilemma. Arsenal were due to host Grimsby the next day.

“A surveyor from the London County Council was called in and he told the directors that, although it was a danger to public safety, he would not condemn it or close the ground.

“The directors discussed several options including not allowing spectators on to the west terrace and playing the game behind closed doors, but ultimately a decision was taken to close the ground until the wall was made safe. This was a risky option as it could result in a points penalty from the League: worrying given that Arsenal were still second in the table and heading for promotion. Thankfully, the Football League for once saw sense and did not censure the club for taking this action.


The Arsenal History Society is part of the Arsenal Independent Supporters Association – a body which gives positive support to the club, and has regular meetings with directors and senior officials of the club to represent the views of its members to the club.  You can read more about AISA on its website.


100 Years in the First Division: the absolute complete story of Arsenal’s promotion in 1919.

Details of other series can be found on our home page and on the column on the right side of this page.   In particular you might like to note…

Henry Norris at the Arsenal:  There is a full index to the series here.

Arsenal in the 1930s: The most comprehensive series on the decade ever

Arsenal in the 1970s: Every match and every intrigue reviewed in detail.

 

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