Sir Henry Norris – The man who got Arsenal relegated and moved us to Highbury

SIR HENRY GEORGE NORRIS – 23/7/1865 TO 30/7/1934: DESCRIPTION: BUSINESSMAN – POLITICIAN – F.C. DIRECTOR AT FULHAM AND (WOOLWICH) ARSENAL:

Standing at over six-foot-tall, this pipe smoking enigma made his fortune building houses in south and west London, but mainly in the Fulham area. His political life saw him perform mayoral duties in the borough of Fulham from 1909-19 and a member of the L.C.C. (London County Council) from 1916-19. He became Tory M.P. representing Fulham East from 1918-22.

During WW1, he served in the 3rd Middlesex Artillery Volunteers and in 1917, he was awarded a knighthood for services to his country and the Honorary rank of Colonel. He was also a member of the Freemasons, where he became the Grand Deacon of the United Grand Lodge of England.

A potted history of his business and political career, that gained him access to many influential people, but also saw him make some powerful enemies at the same time.

His life in football began when he became Director of Fulham, who at that time, were a struggling amateur side. Within four years, he had risen the club to Football League status – by any means possible, it seems, judging by the various rumours and innuendos that appeared around that time.

He was offered the opportunity to move home with Fulham to a new ground at Chelsea, but he baulked at the price quoted and that resulted, eventually, in the forming of Chelsea F.C.

Casting his net wider, he became the majority shareholder in a club that had just gone into voluntary liquidation, Woolwich Arsenal. He was Chairman from 1912-1929, to be succeeded by Sir Samuel Hill-Wood, the first of the Hill-Wood family to be involved with our club.

His plan was to amalgamate both clubs into a “super club” but his idea was vetoed by the Football League.

He realised the potential of moving across to North London, where the population was growing, and had, at that time, only two big clubs, Leyton Orient and Tottenham Hotspur – with many other North Londoners travelling to watch Chelsea.

It is rumoured and suggested that he planned to do this by under investing in the clubs playing staff, leading to their relegation for the one and only time in its history.

His reasoning was that the crowds would drop (which they did) and he leaked his intentions to the press. In 1913, the headlines “WOOLWICH ARSENAL TO MOVE TO THE OTHER SIDE OF LONDON” greeted the fans and it was met with furious anger by the Woolwich Arsenal fans. Norris himself received death threats and the Football League investigated the claims of impropriety and irregularities regarding match fixing, but nothing was proven, and the move was given the go ahead.

That, however, was just one side of the coin!!!

Over in North London, the anger was even more volatile in its intensity as Chelsea, Leyton Orient and Tottenham vented their anger.

Furious at seeing what a new club could possibly do to their revenue and fan base, they reacted with real venom. They begged their fans to boycott these upstarts and issued dire warnings as to what would happen to their own clubs if they gave any kind of support – it was all out tribal war, both at Woolwich and north London!!!

The Tottenham Herald newspaper headlines read “Interlopers” and “No right to be here” emblazoned across the headlines and Norris, personally, was not spared. Cartoons appeared, depicting him as a skulking thief-like character, bent on ripping apart the Spurs cockerel and stealing its food…. I kid you not!!!! Despite all this and many more examples too many to list, the move went ahead.

The church land on which Highbury was to be built, had been purchased for £20,000, with Norris’s old friend The Archbishop of Canterbury himself signing over the deeds.

Woolwich Arsenal had become a North London side and would be playing on land once used by priests for keeping fit and relaxation!!! No wonder Highbury always felt like heaven, at least to me it did!!!

In the 1914/15 season, after dropping the name Woolwich, Arsenal finished fifth in the second division, but the great war had begun to take over the world stage and football was called off.

This seems a good point to take a break as well and in the second part, I will cover the period from 1918 up and until Sir Henry’s death in 1934.

If we thought the Spuds had a case to dislike us, what followed then would ensure a rivalry that lasts to this day.

Hope you enjoyed the history lesson, I have!!!

ken1945

21 Comments

  1. jon fox says:

    Ken , Salutations old chum. Like you I have spent much time in this lockdown educating myself on line and with numerous books on several matters . On the Arsenal related ones esp about Sir Henry, I NOW see him in a new light and severe doubt must be cast upon him as a partly corrupt man. He was CERTAINLY an opportunist and a brilliant businessman but also a philanthropist and, in my life experience, REAL philanthropists are not usually corrupt, though often their motives are understood and some become suspicious.
    In human totality the range of intellectual abilities differs vastly as we mostly all recognise and though, previously, I already had Sir Henry as my NO 1 Arsenal person ever, I now elevate him even further from the second placed person, a certain Herbert Chapman.

    Please do not delay your next instalment too long, as this old boy, among myriad others, is massively impatient for more bon mots!

    1. Kenny Rolfe says:

      Brilliant article Ken, the best of all of them, I always new what a brilliant wheeler dealer Sir Henry was but you showed me another side. When the North Bank seated stand was built Arsenal ran a competition on naming the new stand, something they never followed up on. I gave my vote as “The Sir Henry Norris Stand” purely for the reasons you set out. You talk about the fans from Woolwich that were upset over the move. Something worth pointing out at it’s peak around the time of The First World War 125,000 Soldiers and civilians were stationed at the armaments factory at The Woolwich, It’s where Woolwich Arsenal drew their support from that’s why the first ever “Spion Kop was at the old “Manor Ground at Woolwich and was given the name by Soldiers who had returned from the Boer War where the famous battle took place during relief of Mafeking. So that shows you the controversy behind the move. A brave man who took on the football world to achieve his dream. Without doubt no Sir Henry Norris, no Arsenal, we’d probably be a small lower league side from south of the river a bit like Gillingham I’d say.

      1. Kenny Rolfe says:

        Ken, sorry for the delay but there’s a reply to your excellent David Dein post and I agree with you about Arsene picking and moulding the payers and DD going out and getting them, however I also agree with Jon regarding Dennis Bergkamp.

        1. ken1945 says:

          Kenny, thanks for replying to both articles – it’s really great delving back in time and giving my impression of the facts and rumours that surround our club and the people who moulded it into what it is today.

          You’ve put more information to the story and I never even considered the support the soldiers were giving to Woolwich Arsenal, along with Jon’s observations – can’t get enough of our club, it’s a drug!!!!!

  2. Jdawg says:

    Ken, I very much enjoyed this read. I’m 30 and have supported Arsenal since I had no choice from a tender age of 5 when my family put an Arsenal top on me. I’m from North London myself and actually spurs was my local team. However I am forever grateful I’m a gooner. Anyway I second Jon’s comments hurry up with the next article : )

  3. Lucky says:

    love this, many arsenal fans especially the newbies don’t know such history about our beloved club…. forums like this need to put up educating articles like this one… I must commend the writer Ken1945 for writing this… kudos!!! at least a deviation from the fake transfer stories. looking to the part two of your article Ken… once again Kudos… I had give you a thousand thumbs up if the thumbs were back.

    1. jon fox says:

      You must remember that Ken is old enough to remember Sir Henry personally. I know that because Kens Dad told me! But don’t tell Ken I said this!

      1. Lucky says:

        I sure would Jon… would make it a top secret

  4. Craig says:

    Wow thank you so much. A very interesting bit of history. Can’t wait for the rest.

  5. Sue says:

    Yet another superb read, Ken.. thank you!
    “No wonder Highbury always felt like heaven” – love it!! Bravo, Ken 👍

  6. snowden says:

    Hello Ken
    Just a quick note to say I am looking forward to reading your article but I am chasing my tail to catch up with work. but I will read it in time and i am sure enjoy it

  7. Paddy Gooner says:

    Great read. Looking forward to part 2. Looks like our past was a bit shady.

  8. Mr T says:

    Good read Ken, looking forward to the second installment.

  9. GB says:

    Excellent work Ken, great read and can’t wait for the next episode.

  10. S.J says:

    Great article, good to get some history about our beloved club. Now I know why the Spurs rivalry is so fierce

  11. Tony says:

    That’s a great read Ken. Looking forward to part two!

  12. sam says:

    hmmm never knew arsenal had bn relegated b4

  13. brown says:

    nice one

  14. Ice-in-d-dark says:

    This is an awesome article about our darling club. Knowledge is power and you will naturally appreciate what you have sound knowledge of more. I can’t wait to read the second part… Kudos

  15. Ice-in-d-dark says:

    Awesome…You will naturally love what you know it’s historical background. Kudos Ken… I can’t wait to read the second part

  16. snowden says:

    Nice one Ken. For years we were listed as being sixth not fifth. i can’t remember when the mistake was noticed but it was long after the second dumping of the little Middlesex also runs, which delivered then back in to the second division and gave us our promotion* when football resumed after the First world War.

    * I did write ‘last promotion’ then I thought ‘no’
    Arsene Wenger gave us a second promotion -into a world wide loved club.

    kronke is in the business of relegating us.

    Thanks for a good read.

    Stay home, stay safe.and keep the articles coming. 🙂

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