Henry Norris on the South London Estate Agents’ Circuit: Stimson and Watts
Last updated: January 2009
After Henry Norris accepted William Gilbert Allen’s offer of a partnership in his building firm, he seems to have had a bit of trouble deciding what his profession now was. To the census taker in 1901 he described himself as an “auctioneer”. On his marriage certificate three months later he called himself an “Auctioneer and builder”. On his daughters’ birth certificates he is described as “Builder and Contractor” (Joy, 1902), “Builder and Surveyor” (Peggy, 1903) and an “Estate Agent” (Nanette, 1907). While the Allen and Norris partnership was always in the section on builders in the London street directories, the entries for Henry Norris himself also vary: “land agent” (1904) “builder” (1906). I think the ways in which he described himself illustrate very well the multifarious nature of his role in Allen and Norris. They may also be the result of Norris’ awareness that he did not have ‘hands on’ experience of the work that Allen and Norris did: he had never done any paid building work even of the most unskilled kind; nor had he any experience as a quantity or land surveyor; and I can’t find any evidence that he ever presided over an auction. I think “builder and contractor” sums him up better than most: it was a building firm he was a partner in; and I believe he had experience in the legal side of building work though he was not a qualified solicitor either. But he only ever used that description of his work once. As he grew older, he tended to use variations on the theme “estate agent” more and more, until in 1929 in a document prepared for his case against the Football Association Limited he called himself “a Professional Estate Agent”. What does that mean, and what exactly did he do?
For Norris to call himself a professional estate agent doesn’t mean as much as we in the 21st century would assume it did. I don’t think he meant that he had any professional qualifications to be an estate agent; he meant that being an estate agent was his the way he earned his money. There was nothing derogatory in the implication that he hadn’t done book learning and passed exams. Learning on the job was still the way you trained for many of the professions that can only be entered with a degree now.
After he joined Allen and Norris, while William Gilbert Allen continued to oversee the building of the houses and flats, Henry Norris learned on the job about the buying and selling land side of their business. In the early days of the partnership his brief was to find and acquire suitable land for the building of Allen and Norris’ houses and maisonettes. Later, the brief was to lease or sell the properties the partnership had built. It was part of Norris’ job at Allen and Norris to understand the prices land for building on might fetch and to negotiate the best deal for the partnership as regards buying or leasing it; and once the houses were built on it, to fix a price for the sale or lease of them which would make the partnership a profit but be within what potential buyers would tolerate. Norris did the same sort of job when dealing with governing Council of St John’s College Highbury, firstly for the lease of their sports ground for Woolwich Arsenal FC (1912-13); then for the buying the freehold the club were leasing (1923-25). It was not estate agency as we understand it in 2009, where the agent doesn’t own the land, it just acts as a broker. However, it did lead to his making several good friends amongst the estate agents of south London.
Estate agency as we now understand it was well underway in Norris’ lifetime. The firm Knight and Rutley, now KnightFrank, was founded in 1896; and Norris actually used Hamptons when he wanted to sell his house in Richmond in 1925. The idea of an estate agent advertising properties he had for sale or rent was well-established, both in the national and in the local papers. A lot of the information in this file comes from the property pages and the Saturday morning property column of the Times. Also placed in the Times were notices of auctions: what and where; and certainly in Norris’ day there was a special place in the City where auctions of property were held on a regular basis, with different estate agents hiring the venue on different days. Allen and Norris bought the land on which their Crabtree Lane Estate was built at this auction room: The Mart, at Tokenhouse Yard EC. However, they didn’t sell their houses there. As well as land itself, ground rents were sold at The Mart; money from ground rents being an important source of revenue at the time. Two of the three estate agents who became friends of Henry Norris auctioned land and ground rents at The Mart.
EDWARD STIMSON AND HIS SONS see also my files on Norris as a freemason
The senior Edward Stimson is the man credited with revitalising the freemasons’ lodge Kent Lodge number 15, which Norris and his friend and brother-in-law Albert Ellis were initiated into in 1894. By 1897, Allen and Norris were listed in Stimson and Sons’ adverts in the Times as one of the places you could go to for further details of the London properties they were about to auction.
Edward Stimson senior was already working as an auctioneer and surveyor as early as 1881 and may have inherited the business from his father. By 1896, when Norris first entered the world of property and building, Stimson and Sons were working from two addresses: 8 Moorgate Street in the City, and 2 New Kent Road at Elephant and Castle. The firm also used The Mart regularly on Thursdays. Although most of the property they sold was in south London, adverts for Stimson and Sons’ sessions at The Mart also gave details of land in rural areas. In the late 1800s the firm was prospering, and Edward Stimson senior was very well off. Between 1881 and 1901 he was lived in several different large houses on Brixton Hill and in 1901 he was earning enough to employ five servants. Stimson senior and his wife Phoebe had several daughters, and four sons: another Edward, Herbert, Harold and Douglas. Herbert and Douglas went into the family business and trained as surveyors. Harold became a solicitor. All four were initiated into Kent Lodge number 15; Herbert succeeded his father as the lodge treasurer. I don’t suppose Henry Norris became a friend of the senior Edward Stimson; Stimson was a much older man than Norris (born 1850). However, Norris knew his sons well. Several members of the family were invited to Henry and Edith Norris’ reception at Fulham Town Hall in March 1913; and Edward Stimson the younger and his wife attended a second reception given by the Norrises in October 1919. It’s significant that none of the Stimsons attended Joy Norris’ wedding in July 1923; but Herbert Stimson went to Norris’ funeral in August 1934. And Norris got involved in a business venture set up by Edward Stimson junior - see below.
Edward Stimson senior died in 1911 but in 1918 his estate agency was still operating from its Moorgate Street address and from 12 New Kent Road (which may just be a renumbering of the same address as in 1896). By 1939 the firm had moved its City office to 25 Ironmonger Lane Cheapside but was still at 12 New Kent Road.
Henry Norris’ first entry in Who’s Who, in 1918, said that he was a director of the Stimex Gas Stove Company Limited. I looked around for more information on Stimex but couldn’t find very much. There were no records of it at Companies’ House, probably because the number of shares issued in it fell below the level at which financial records have to be lodged there (I think that’s 10000 shares). However, I managed to piece together enough information to say that it was a company set up when Edward Stimson’s eldest son Edward junior branched out from his job in the family firm to invent a new design of circulation pump for a gas oven. The design was patented and a company formed to make and market it: and I’m sure this is where Henry Norris came in. He was a partner in a building firm; and a freemason in the same lodge; and he was now very rich. Edward Stimson junior persuaded him to invest money in the new firm; in 1918 he was its chairman and had probably been so from the start.
I would imagine William Gilbert Allen was involved in the new company as well. But Allen didn’t have an entry in Who’s Who for me to check that out and without records of Stimex Ltd at Companies’ House I haven’t been able to find out who the shareholders were apart from Norris. So Allen’s involvement is just a guess. The idea may have been for Allen and Norris to instal the new gas stove in their houses, but the times were not right for that to work. The first mention of Stimex Ltd I could find in the PO Directory was 1915 - not an auspicious year in which to start a new venture. And Allen and Norris never built any more houses after World War One so the most Stimex Ltd could have hoped for from these investors was a contract to instal its stoves, as and when necessary, in the houses the partnership had built which they had on leases.
In 1915, Stimex Ltd had a small workshop at 29 Rectory Gardens, North St Clapham. It may then have had to go into a ‘mothball’ state because it wasn’t listed in the PO Directory for 1918. With its workers returning from the war, however, it was back in business in 1920, at Stimex House, between 26 and 34 Balham Hill SW12.
In 1920 and 1921, the firm exhibited its patent stove at the Ideal Home Exhibition. The Times of 10 February 1920 carried a small advert for the stove, saying that the design had already won three medals. Stimex Ltd’s stoves had no burners inside the oven: this was a clearly a big selling point. It used half as much gas as similar gas ovens; and as well as giving heat, its patent circulator gave constant hot water.
Despite these advantages in its product, the firm was struggling, though. At the same time as it was advertising its wares at the Ideal Home Exhibition, Stimex Ltd was in the chancery courts in an action for bankruptcy. The firm was somehow saved from going out of business at that point - perhaps by an injection of cash by its investors - and by 1921 was in a position to buy its site on Balham Hill, which up until then it had only rented. I detect the hand of Henry Norris in this: as he was trying to do at that time with Arsenal FC, he was getting an ailing company to buy land as a tangible, negotiable asset for rough times ahead.
And times continued rough. The PO Directory of 1927 has a NEW Stimex Gas Stove Company, still at the Balham Hill address; so I guess the efforts of 1921 had only delayed the inevitable. By 1932 the New Stimex Gas Stove Company had moved: it was at 17a Iliffe Yard, Crampton St Kennington - suggesting that the new firm had been established by dint of selling the land the first one had bought a few years before. Henry Norris was no longer involved: his entry in the Who’s Who of 1928 no longer said he was a director of the first company and didn’t mention the new one at all. Even if he had invested in the new company, now that Allen and Norris didn’t build houses any more, he couldn’t give the firm the help it most needed.
There’s a Stimex gas stove in the Science Museum and I found a picture of it on the web. It’s made of cast iron with a well-lagged oven lagged, a hob with three burners and a grill. It was made in the 1920s and was donated to the museum in 1985 by the person who had bought it then. She’d only just stopped using it.
[ROGER NEXT ONE IN THIS SEQUENCE IS SLAGEVANS]
IF YOU WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT THE SOURCES OF ALL THIS INFORMATION, SEND ME AN EMAIL AND I’LL SEND YOU THE SOURCES FILE.
Copyright Sally Davis January 2009