Arsenal’s Chairmen – Part 1

by Andy Kelly and Mark Andrews
(@Gooner_AK) (@RoyalArsenalMRA)

Following the recent announcement that Sir Chips Keswick had replaced Peter Hill-Wood as chairman we thought it would interesting to look at Arsenal’s previous chairmen. With 22 people having held this position we have broken this down into more readable articles.

Royal Arsenal (1886 – 1893)

During Arsenal’s first season the club was very much an informal affair and there was no chairman. The most senior official was Elijah “George” Watkins who carried out the duties of secretary. In the summer of 1887 the club was formalised with the election of a committee and this was chaired by Arthur Fowler, a local sanitary inspector who later moved to Sevenoaks. After one season at the helm Fowler was replaced by William Davis, a Foreman at the Ordnance, who remained in situ until 1891. Davis resigned shortly before the 1891 AGM following the decision by the club’s members to turn professional. Being vehemently anti-professional he had no option but to resign. He was replaced by William Bradbury Jackson. Jackson lasted two years, resigning in 1893 as he was opposed to the idea of Royal Arsenal being incorporated into a limited liability company, despite bowing to the inevitable in 1893. His resignation was seamless unlike the hostility of Davis a few years previously.

Woolwich Arsenal Mark I (1893 – 1910)

Following the formation of The Woolwich Arsenal Football and Athletic Company Limited in the summer of 1893 the club had to work under a much more formal code of practice. At the limited company’s statutory meeting on 22 June 1893 a board of directors was elected by the shareholders. The board then voted Jack Humble as its first chairman. Humble had been at the club since 1887 and would remain so until 1927 bar two periods. He would also be club chairman three times (shades of Dick Whittington!). His first stint lasted less than a season as he was replaced by Alf McQueen in 1894.

Due to the rules governing the limited company, the position of chairman was very dynamic. Each director stood down after three years and could put themselves up for re-election. Qualification for a position on the board was the ownership of one share and any director was entitled to be considered for the position of chairman. Between 1893 and 1910 Woolwich Arsenal had 10 chairmen. The full list is:

1893 – 1894 Jack Humble
1894 – 1896 Alf McQueen
1896 – 1896 Jack Humble
1896 – 1897 James Cavey
1897 – 1899 James Hodgin
1899 – 1900 George Leavey
1900 – 1902 Dr John Clarke
1902 – 1906 Jack Humble
1906 – 1907 Arthur Kennedy
1907 – 1908 John Radford
1908 – 1909 Albert Titlow
1909 – 1910 William Craib

A number of these men worked within the Royal Arsenal. Humble was a gun inspector, McQueen a fitter, Kennedy a clerk and John Radford a worktaker. Local businessmen such as Hodgin, Cavey and Leavey would help the club financially and they were rewarded with places on the board. Leavey in particular pumped a lot of money into the club, a fair amount of which wasn’t recorded and he didn’t ask for it back.

James Henry Hodgin

Dr John Clarke was something of a character. Whilst he was chairman, manager Harry Bradshaw had to spend some time on the Isle of Man recovering from exhaustion. Clarke took it upon himself to let the players know what he thought of them. His views weren’t appreciated and he was forced to apologise. He was a regular attendee of Woolwich Arsenal AGMs and was a constant thorn in the side of Henry Norris especially in 1910 and 1913.

Having so many directors and chairmen resulted in the club not having any long term policies which didn’t help when the the financial difficulties started to bite towards the end of the first decade of the twentieth century.

Arthur Kennedy’s departure in 1907 appears to be somewhat sinister with accusations of secret meetings of directors to depose him. Even more strange was that his replacement, John Radford (no relation to the Arsenal player of the 1960s and 1970s) didn’t seem to particularly want to be chairman. It was around this time that the board became less and less associated with the Royal Arsenal, mainly comprising local businessmen. The last two chairman before the club went into liquidation were a business manager for a baker/confectioner (Titlow) and a publican (Craib).

The picture below shows four Woolwich Arsenal chairmen: Titlow, Craib, Radford and Kennedy. I get the impression that Craib, a burly looking Scot, would not have had much trouble in his pub, the Who’d A Thought It, judging by his stature.

WA Chairmen

After the club went into liquidation in early 1910, a temporary board of directors was appointed with Dr John Clarke as chairman. However, this board only lasted a matter of weeks before it fell apart due to a dispute over the ownership of the Manor Ground.

You can read more in depth profiles of some of these chairmen in Woolwich Arsenal: the club that changed football and in our forthcoming book Royal Arsenal: from the Common to the Manor.

7 Replies to “Arsenal’s Chairmen – Part 1”

  1. Thanks guys I really appreciate that. I rather suspect this is the first complete list of chairmen of the early club ever published. Another first I suspect.

  2. I think you are probably right about this being the first time a complete list has been published, Tony.

    Hopefully at some point in the future we’ll have a blog for each of chairman. Most of them have an interesting tale to tell.

    I’ll probably start writing up part 2 tonight, ready for Sunday.

  3. Hi Tony,
    Sorry, I’ve only just realised you recorded this post. Can you email me and I’ll reply back with an attached image.
    Best regards,

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