ISLINGTON 100: Plumstead to Highbury, day by day

By Tony Attwood
This is the chronology of the move of Arsenal FC from Plumstead to Islington which took place in 1913 – part of the ISLINGTON 100 project run by the Arsenal History Society.
Some dates are obvious ones that must be included – such as the first league match at the new ground (which is recorded in the first programme at the new ground as Gillespie Road – which of course we came to know as Highbury).
Other dates are more arguable as to whether they should be here or not.  Dates of events which had to happen for Arsenal to be able to move for example.  These are difficult to decide upon; I’ve made my choice but you might feel there are some that I have omitted.
Anyway here we go…
11 December 1886: suggested possible date for first match following the Royal Oak meeting.  The club at the time were probably Dial Square Cricket Club – if they used any name at all.  This is the famed Eastern Wanderers game played probably on Millwall’s ground.  Clearly without a first game played sometime there would have been no club, and so no move.  If it was “Dial Square Cricket Club” it only had one game, because before game 2 the club was Royal Arsenal, and then in 1893 Woolwich Arsenal.   This is the name of the club that moved from Plumstead to Islington.
25/26 April 1910:  We jump forwards to Arsenal’s period in the League.  The club is in division 1 but struggling for money. Under severe financial pressue, the original limited company which had been set up in 1893 was dissolved on 25th April 1910 and the new company came into existence the following day. This company still trades today and continues to carry out its business as Arsenal FC and it is the £1 shares in this company that are now traded at in excess of £10,000 each.   This was thus the company that packed up its bags and moved to Highbury three years later.

14 May 1910:  Still in financial trouble (the trouble in fact that caused all that follows) Arsenal tried to sell a new share issue in the club in order to raise cash.  The Times reported on this day that the share issue had failed.

16 May 1910:  Rumours circulate that Tottenham and Chelsea and Rangers FC are trying to buy all or part of Woolwich Arsenal FC.  Rangers do actually buy some shares and indeed in acknowledgement of their support they were subsequently given more, which were sold in 2012 to Mr Usmanov as Rangers crashed financially.

18 May 1910:  Woolwich Arsenal meet the Football League.  Henry Norris, Mayor of Fulham and director of Fulham FC, offers to buy Woolwich Arsenal FC and pay off the creditors in full if the League will allow him to create a merged side (Fulham Arsenal FC) in its place, or allow Arsenal to play at Craven Cottage.  The League reject the first idea, the board of Woolwich Arsenal FC the second.  Surprisingly perhaps Norris then agrees to fund Woolwich Arsenal at Plumstead for one year.  In making its decisions the League firmly establishes the principle that it has no say in where a club plays, only in which division it plays.  It is a ruling that comes back to haunt Tottenham in both 1913 and again in 1919 when the league is expanded.

13 June 1910: Woolwich Arsenal announce a new company that will pay off all the debts of the old company and which will allow the club to stay at Plumstead for not just one but two years.

24 July 1910:   Woolwich Arsenal Football and Athletic club is formally taken over by Henry Norris and William Hall.  The club thus continues at Plumstead – at least until April 1912.

??? April 1912 .  George Leavey, the man who has been the prime benefactor of Arsenal until the arrival of Norris and Hall, resigns from the board of Woolwich Arsenal after 14 years with the club.  As the prime opponent of Arsenal’s move from Plumstead this resignation effectively is the first step in the journey to Highbury.  Sadly at the moment we don’t know exactly upon which date he resigned, but we do know Leavey left of his own accord, having devoted 14 years and a fortune to keeping the club afloat.

??? October 1912: Athletic News reports (wrongly) that Arsenal are moving to Harringay Park.  This is the first public recognition of the fact that with the two year deadline now past by over six months, the club’s directors are looking for a new site.  Although the site is wrongly named, it is indeed possible that Norris did look at a site in Harringay.  The report strongly suggests that he was very much looking for a site in north London.

?? November 1912:   Henry Norris takes decision to move Arsenal to Gillespie Road.

5 February 1913:   The Islington Gazette reports that Arsenal plan to move to Islington.  This is the first ever public report showing that the decision had been taken.

22 February 1913: Gillespie Road named in the press for the first time as the site of the new ground.

1 March 1913:  Following the establishment on 18 May 1910 at the Football League AGM that the League has no control over where a club plays, it has no hesitation in rejecting appeals by Tottenham and Clapton Orient to prohibit Arsenal from moving to Gillespie Road.

4 March 1913:  For the first time ever Henry Norris confirms publicly that Arsenal are moving to Gillespie Road in 1913.

4 April 1913:  The recently formed Highbury Defence Committee (made up of middle class householders) joins with Islington Council and pushes through a vote of the Council against Arsenal moving to the Gillespie Road ground.  Henry Norris is in attendance but does not speak.

26 April 1913:  Last League ever game at the Manor Ground (drew 1-1).

26 May 1913: Having had their attempts to block the move by Arsenal to North London rejected, in accordance with the 1910 ruling, Tottenham’s demand for an EGM of league clubs.  Insufficient numbers of clubs sign the demand for the EGM, and so the meeting is never held.   The event is the first sign that a significant number of clubs welcome Arsenal’s move to its new ground.

28 June 1913.  According to the programme for the first league match at Gillespie Road the club had only had access to the ground for 60 working days – which would mean that the lease for the new ground was signed on or just before this day.

20 August 1913: Arsenal play a pre-season practice match at Craven Cottage as the new Gillespie Road ground is still being built

27 August 1913: Arsenal play a second practice match at The Den

30 August 1913:  The first ever match is played at the Gillespie Road ground.  A practice match behind closed doors.

6 September 1913:  The First competitive match at Highbury 1913.  Woolwich Arsenal beat Leicester Fosse 2-1.  20,000 present. The ground however is far from complete.  The programme records the name as Gillespie Road but invites supporters to write in with suggestions for a new name.

??? February 1914:  The main stand at Gillespie Road is reported as having tarpaulin for walls as work continues, six months after the opening of the ground.

??? March 1914:   London County Council grant planning permission for the Gillespie Road stadium, seven months after it opens.  However…

??? March 1914:   Gillespie Road is closed following the movement of one wall after heavy rain.

2 April 1914:   The stadium re-opens after repairs to the leaning wall are completed.  Arsenal Res v Fulham Res is played and the public allowed in.

6 April 1914: Islington Gazette reports (not completely accurately) that “Woolwich Arsenal” had become “The Arsenal”

10 April 1914: Arsenal inaccurately calls itself “The Arsenal” for the first time on the programme for the match against Stockport.

23 April 1915 – Acceptance of the special resolution by the board to officially change the club to The Arsenal Football Club Ltd at a board meeting.  (The name was formally changed on 10 May 1915)

This series will continue in the coming weeks.  Next in the series is a look at the first ever programme for a match at Gillespie Road.


1: Launching Islington 100 – 100 years of football in north London

2:  Remembering Lt Colonel Sir Henry Norris the man who rescued Arsenal in 1910, built Highbury in 1913, and brought in Herbert Chapman as manager.

3: Proposals for a major exhibition to celebrate 100 years of Arsenal in Islington at the Emirates Stadium.

4: The commemoration of the men who moved the Arsenal: Jack Humble, William Hall, Henry Norris

5: Celebrating Arsenal’s 100 years at the club’s AGM

6: Send in your memories of Highbury

2 Replies to “ISLINGTON 100: Plumstead to Highbury, day by day”

  1. Research on this type of project goes on all the time, and during the course of the day on which I posted this piece I have been reading through the programme of the very first Gillespie Road game (6 September 1913). Taking note of a comment there, I have added an extra entry to the list above

    28 June 1913. According to the programme for the first league match at Gillespie Road the club had only had access to the ground for 60 working days – which would mean that the lease for the new ground was signed on or just before this day.

  2. Due to an 8-for-1 split in the 1990s, each one of those shares issued in 1910 is now actually worth more than £100,000.

    If only me great-grandad had bought a couple.

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