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Henry Norris' house burgled: at least it says so in the book

If you have read the book, “Making the Arsenal” you might recall that just after Woolwich Arsenal’s season ends Henry Norris’ house was burgled.

The story then goes on to describe who entered  the house, what they found, and the insight that it gives into Norris’ life and his political ambitions.

The novel is of course, a novel – it is a fictionalised account of what happened in 1910 in and around the world of Woolwich Arsenal, and the takeover of the club by Norris.

But I thought (just in case you are interested) I would disentangle the fact from the fiction at this point.

Norris’ house was indeed broken into, on the day noted in the book, and the details appeared in the local paper.  But nothing else was reported, and the story vanished after about a week with no mention of any arrest or anything else.

The reason I got interested in this event was that Norris’ story is full of strange incidents which we can’t resolve.  Of course this story might well have been nothing more than a chance break-in at a nice house, but Norris had a moment earlier in his career where suddenly, and without any warning, he left this Masonic Lodge.

Since the Masons were natural territory for this man, who clearly wanted to make his way up in the world, it was strange that he left so suddenly.   What happened?  What had he done?   I can find no evidence – but there are bits and pieces like this in the life of Norris – so the notion that he was larking about with documents he should not have had was a good one to follow.

Norris was a working class lad – he left school at 14 – who worked his way up in the building trade, and made himself a fortune.  He deliberately allied himself with the Unionist Party (who became the Conservatives) rather than the Liberals or Labour (Labour was very much a minority party in 1910), and clearly wanted to be part of the elite.

He didn’t make it until 1919 when he was knighted in return for his work as a recruiting officer in Fulham during the war – and of course by then he was chairman of the new up and coming London club with a big ground, rather than being chairman of a collapsing small time team from Kent.

So what was stolen from Norris’ house 100 years ago?   Probably some money and jewellery and not the sensitive political documents I envisage in the book.

But it could have been.

Tony Attwood

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