Henry Norris on the South London Estate Agents’ Circuit: Evans
Last updated: January 2009
I said above that Henry Norris’ date of birth fell between the two generations of Stimsons that he knew. He was also in between two generations in the Evans family, but despite this, he formed close acquaintanceships with the father and one of his sons.
Edwin Evans was born in 1855 so he was ten years Norris’ senior. However, their early working lives gave them a bond. In 1871, Evans described himself to the census taker as “Junior Clerk in Solicitor’s Office”; Norris’ started his working life doing exactly the same job. In 1871 Evans was living in Kentish Town, where he had been born. However, by 1881 he was living in Lavender Hill - he was one of Allen and Norris’ Lavender Hill mob - and told the census taker this time that he was a “Surveyor and Auctioneer”. It’s not clear whether he was in business for himself or employed by someone else - they didn’t ask that question on the 1881 census - but even so Evans had made the kind of leap of faith Henry Norris was to make in 1896, from the certainties of a life in the law to the relative uncertainties of buying and selling land. Like Norris, he had no background in surveying and I notice that on subsequent censuses he didn’t describe himself as a surveyor; rather as an “Auctioneer”. The impetus for this big change in career might have come from his marriage to Elizabeth Perry, in 1880. In 1881 she was, essentially, running a boarding house at their address, to make ends meet in the early years of her husband’s business.
Like in Norris’ case, Evans’ courage in starting anew was rewarded. As the suburbs of London encroached more and more into the Home Counties there was money to be made, and he made it. In 1891, by now with four sons, the Evans were living at 253 Lavender Hill, above their shop, which was the address known to Henry Norris. However, by 1901, the Evans were well enough off to be able to afford to live away from the business: they had moved to Ravenslea, 79 Nightingale Lane, Wandsworth, just round the corner from where Norris’ business partner, William Gilbert Allen was living. The Evanses were paying for all their sons to be educated at Weymouth College; and they now employed four servants including a young man who called himself a “Page” - very unusual in a non-aristocratic household and I wonder what his daily duties were; unless he was running errands between home and business premises.
Evans became involved in local politics, and in 1910 was chosen by Battersea Conservative Party to fight one of the two London County Council seats in the borough. He was also selected as the candidate to fight its seat in the House of Commons; but was obliged later in the year to resign, due to press of work in his business. Although he decided against taking part in a General Election campaign, 1910 was the year in which Evans first became a small player on the national stage. 1910 was the year of the constitutional crisis called by the Liberal Party’s Budget of 1909. One of the most contentious items in this radical legislation was the introduction of the first tax on capital gains. Evans helped found the Land Union, one of a number of campaigning groups founded by owners of property who lived off rents, to prevent capital gains tax becoming law and if that was not possible (it wasn’t) to ensure it hit small-scale landlords as lightly as possible. As chairman of the Land Union’s Building and Allied Trades sub-Committee, Evans had several letters published in the Times that year. In the third of these he said that he’d written to the Inland Revenue for a legal opinion on whether the threatened tax would be chargeable on a builder’s profit from building new houses: a question which William Gilbert Allen and Henry Norris would have been very anxious to have the answer to; I’m sure they and Evans had been talking about it. Evans told the readers of the Times that the Inland Revenue response had been that it didn’t know whether the proposed tax would be chargeable or not. He urged the Government to exempt the building of new houses.
In an earlier letter Evans had described the Budget’s effect on the property market as dire. Estate agenting life did go on, however, and on 17 December 1910 the Times mentioned him as attending an auction at The Mart in the City of London of the land owned by the late Edward Matyear at Crabtree Lane Fulham. I think the Times mentioned him because the newspaper now knew who he was; no one else attending that auction was named. Either the Times didn’t know who Henry Norris was; or Evans was there to act for Allen and Norris, because at that auction the Allen and Norris partnership bought the first plot of the land which became their Crabtree Lane Estate off Fulham Palace Road. Norris was perfectly capable of acting on his own at a land auction so perhaps Evans was just there to see how prices were bearing up. In March 1911 Evans attended another auction at The Mart and, with the constitutional crisis had been resolved and the Budget passed, he was intending to buy, not look on. But on this occasion he was outbid for the land which became the Friern Watch Estate in North Finchley.
Some time before 1910 Edwin Evans had accepted an offer to join the board of the Stepney and Suburban Building Society. I think it was Evans who then recommended William Gilbert Allen when another vacancy on the board cropped up; Allen attended his first AGM in February 1911. Both men continued as directors until their deaths and attended virtually every AGM. When Evans died, Henry Norris joined the board as his replacement, I would suppose on Allen’s recommendation.
Although he never stood for Parliament, Evans was elected to the LCC, and went onto the LCC’s Establishment Standing Committee and its Housing of the Working-Classes Standing Committee. Later, in 1914 only, he was also on the Public Control Standing Committee. And in 1915 he joined the Parks, Smallholdings and Allotments Standing Committee which played a big role in the turning over of public land to the growing of food as the war went on and on.
As they left school, Evans’ sons went into the family firm, which meant of course that more business could be done. After the property market had calmed down from the 1909 Budget, Edwin Evans and Sons began to expand. The head office was still 253 Lavender Hill but new branches were opened at Stangate House, Wesminster Bridge (1914), Hammersmith (1917 and despite the war conditions) and Vineyard Hill Road Wimbledon (1919). Even in 1917, the grimmest year of the war, some property auctions were still taking place. It’s noticeable that the properties and ground rents auctioned by Edwin Evans and Sons were following the suburbs and heading further and further out of London. However, unlike Stimson and Sons, the Evans family stuck to what they knew best and specialised in properties in those ever-expanding London suburbs. On 17 October 1919, Edwin Evans and Sons’ sold the ground rents of 46-40 Crabtree Lane, built by Allen and Norris.
I couldn’t find any references to the Land Union after 1910. It may have died a death after the Liberal government got its Budget through Parliament. Or it may have turned into the Property Owners’ Protection Association, which was in existence by 1912 when Evans made the major speech at its AGM. POPA was suspended during World War One but the need for it hadn’t gone away: in 1915 the Rent and Mortgage Restrictions Act had been passed, the fore-runner of nearly a century of legislation designed to restrict rent rises, though it applied to properties with a yearly rent below a certain level. It was reconstituted as POPA London at a meeting in October 1918, with the end of the war at last in sight. The venue was Fulham Town Hall, where Henry Norris was still mayor; he probably suggested the Hall as a suitable place. In Fulham Chronicle’s small report of the meeting, Edwin Evans’ name wasn’t mentioned; I expect he was there, but FC didn’t think its readers would know who he was. Henry Norris did attend the meeting but didn’t take a big part on what went on. I haven’t found Norris’ name in connection with POPA’s campaigning work in the 1920s so I guess he didn’t take an active part in it, but kept a kind of listening brief about what Evans was doing over the next few years.
During World War One, the question of housing - homes fit for heroes - had become a hot issue. As early as November 1916, the War Government held a conference of interested parties to discuss the issue. Evans was one of the conference’s conveners, and as a result, the following May, he was invited to a meeting of organisations involved with housing issues, called by Lord Rhondda, the president of the Local Government Board. He attended another conference on the subject in December 1919. Lloyd George’s Coalition Government (1919-23, Henry Norris was an MP in it) proposed a programme of building carried out by local authorities with finance from central and local government. Both Henry Norris and Edwin Evans believed very strongly that the building of housing was something best left to the professionals (they meant property developers not builders): POPA campaigned against it. And in October 1919 Evans very publically resigned as vice-chairman of the LCC Housing for the Working-Classes Standing Committee over the LCC’s plans to develop 3000 acres at Dagenham as council housing. Evans thought the cost was ridiculous - it was estimated at £1 million, a truly staggering sum in 1919 - and he believed the project would drive people out of London. Events seem to have vindicated the views of Norris and Evans: even before Lloyd George fell from power, the Government’s housing programme had been drastically curtailed on grounds of cost; and there were local difficulties for councils in finding suitable sites. In 1922 the Government held an enquiry on the problems; Evans was called to give evidence.
POPA continued to campaign on behalf of owners of property for rent in the early 1920s. By 1924 POPA had become affiliated, with 220 other local campaigning organisations, to the National Federation of Property Owners and Ratepayers. POPA’s members were all in the private sector. The City Tenants’ Defence Association was an equivalent group for businesses renting commercial properties in the City of London, formed in 1920 to fight enormous increases in rents being demanded by freeholders, in a seller’s market. As president of POPA London, Evans attended on of the CTDA’s first meetings. In 1922 he represented POPA at a joint meeting of the National Union of Ratepayers’ Associations and the London Municipal Society. His high profile as president of POPA in London had led to invitations to other events: in July 1924 he attended a lunch to celebrate the opening of Halifax Building Society’s first branch in London. In May 1925 he went to the annual banquet of the Worshipful Company of Tin Plate Workers.
I couldn’t find out when Edwin Evans got involved with Arding and Hobbs’, but it was an obvious move for both him and Henry Arding (the founder of the shop) to get together: Evans was a prominent local businessman; and Arding and Hobbs’ department store was just down Lavender Hill from where Evans was based, on the corner opposite Clapham Junction station. Evans was certainly a shareholder and director of the firm by 1918, and continued to be vice-chairman of the firm until his death.
In 1925 Evans was 70. He made the decision to cut back on the number of his commitments. He did not stand in the LCC elections in March; and he resigned as President of POPA London after 14 years. However, these curtailments were not so that he could sink into retirement. Edwin Evans and Sons was embarking on its biggest project yet: the development of what is now the Bromley Park Gardens Estate. This continued well into the 1930s and eventually comprised eleven streets of houses, but the first planning applications were made in 1926. In 1927, Evans was knighted, not for his advice to Government on housing matters but for his “political and public services in Battersea”. He went to Buckingham Palace on 23 June 1927, in the same batch of new knights as Charles Clegg of the Football Association. Receiving congratulations at the next AGM of the Stepney and Suburban Permanent Building Society, he told the members he’d never been so surprised in his life as when someone first hinted to him that he was likely to get a knighthood.
Edwin Evans died on 4 April 1928; he left £127509 - nearly twice as much as Henry Norris, who himself was a very rich man. Edwin Evans and Sons existed as an independent estate agent until quite recently - there’s a website - at the original head office of 253 Lavender Hill. However, it has now been swallowed by Strettons.
It’s been difficult for me to find out much about James Watts, because I can’t find him on the 1901 Census, my starting-point for so many acquaintances of Henry Norris. I do have the word of William Gilbert Allen’s grand-son that James Watts had worked for Edwin Evans before leaving to start his own estate agents’ business. This seems not to have happened until just before World War One was declared: the first entry for what became Watts and Watts in the PO directories didn’t come until 1914, when the firm had offices at 122 Mitcham Lane Streatham and his private address was 1 Victoria Road Clapham. The firm and the man were both at the same addresses in the 1930s. When he first put money into Fulham FC, James Watts was described as an “auctioneer”. In the club’s Annual Report of 1917 he was described as a “surveyor”. I’ve explained above that the term doesn’t denote qualifications so much as on-the-job experience; it also suggests that Watts had not volunteered for the war - perhaps he was too old.
How do I know that Henry Norris knew Edwin Evans and James Watts? Well, I have the testimony of William Gilbert Allen’s grand-son that both Edwin Evans and James Watts were friends of both Henry Norris and William Gilbert Allen. After all this time he was not able to give me much more information than that, but there is other evidence out there.
One way the four men did NOT get to know each other was through freemasonry. I have found no evidence that either Edwin Evans or James Watts were ever freemasons.
Nor did Allen and Norris, nor William Gilbert Allen and Henry Norris as individuals, ever buy land off any of their estate agent friends. Except possibly at the auction in 1910, the partnership undertook its own negotiations for land.
I haven’t found any evidence either that Edwin Evans was a football fan, so he and Henry Norris won’t have come across each other on the terraces. However, his eldest son was; and so was James Watts. I am sure that both young men were well-known to Henry Norris and William Gilbert Allen when they bought the club in 1903 but it was not until late 1904 that Dudley Evans and James Watts got financially involved in the club. They then both contributed towards the cost of refurbishing the stadium at Craven Cottage by buying 200 shares each in Fulham Football and Athletic Company Limited; and joined the club’s board of directors.
Dudley Evans remained a director until after 1919 when Henry Norris finally resigned from the board. Despite not knowing James Watts’ age, I believe Dudley Evans was the youngest of the directors and (at least in the early years) had the least business experience. He had only been working in his father’s business for a year or two. So at meetings of Fulham FC’s board, he seems to have kept his head down, not voicing any contrary opinions when the big decisions needed taking. It would be interesting to know what he thought in 1910 when Henry Norris and William Hall got involved in rescuing Woolwich Arsenal FC from bankruptcy. If he resented the two men’s involvement he kept his views to himself. In fact I suppose he made the best of it; because when in 1913 Norris and Hall resigned as directors after being criticised at the AGM of the Football League, all the remaining directors petitioned the FL to allow them to stay on, including Evans.
James Watts didn’t last as long as Dudley Evans as a director. He did not stand for re-election at the AGM of 1909. Writing rather a long time after the event, the sports newspaper Athletic News said in 1910 that he had left the board for the same reasons as John Dean had just done. AN was usually very authoritative, but I’m not sure it’s right about that. It’s assumed by Fulham FC historians that Dean resigned over Norris and Hall’s financial commitment to Woolwich Arsenal FC; which didn’t happen until the spring of 1910. It’s more likely that Watts - wanting to set up his own business - decided that he’d given the football club enough financial support for the present. He was elected again as a director of the club in July 1913, at the AGM at which the Fulham FC directors pleaded with Norris and Hall not to stand down; and continued as a director until after Henry Norris finally left the board in the spring of 1919.
Another connection between Henry Norris, William Gilbert Allen and Edwin Evans was the solicitor’s firm Taylor Willcocks, whose main office was in The Strand but who had a branch office on Lavender Hill, just across the road from Edwin Evans’ estate agent’s office. Walter Morgan Willcocks was the senior partner in the firm at least from the 1890s until he retired in the mid-1920s. He acted as solicitor for the Allen and Norris partnership. He was also executor of Edwin Evans’ will and though I don’t have any direct evidence, that does suggest to me that he was the Evans’ solicitor for their family business. Of course, two firms who share the same solicitor don’t necessarily ever meet; but Dudley’s interest in football might have brought everyone together even if they had not already met while going in search of property suitable for building; or in local politics.
The Conservative Party in Battersea was another institution where Henry Norris and Edwin Evans could have met. Norris was a member of Fulham Vestry, elected as a Conservative, in the mid-1890s. Evans’ prominence in the local party came rather later but he was probably an ordinary member long before he was chosen to fight one of Battersea’s LCC seats.
The first function organised by Henry Norris and attended by Watts and any member of the Evans family was Fulham FC’s annual dinner of 1905, at which Dudley Evans and James Watts both made their first public appearance as directors of the club. Dudley Evans missed the dinner of 1906 but attended that of 1907, the last time such a function was held; James Watts went to the dinner both years. But the 1907 dinner was the last the club held.
In the years after he became mayor of Fulham (November 1909) Henry Norris held several social events at the town hall. The largest of these took place in March 1913 and had a guest-list of several hundreds. Dudley Evans and his wife went to it; Edwin and Elizabeth Evans and the youngest son, Montague and his wife also attended. However, James Watts didn’t go.
In March 1915 Dudley Evans (though rather over the required age, and married as well so not obliged to volunteer) enlisted in the Footballers’ Battalion. Recruitment to the battalion had been launched at a meeting held at Fulham Town Hall; Henry Norris was a member of its recruitment committee. In 1917 Dudley Evan’s occupation was listed in Fulham Football and Athletic Company’s Annual Report as ‘army officer’. I believe he survived the war; though (January 2009) I’m investigating the possibility that his brother Montague was killed.
I’m wondering if for some reason, Dudley Evans and Norris grew apart after the war. None of the Evans family attended the Norrises’ last reception as mayor and mayoress of Fulham, held in October 1919; but the loose ends of the war were still being tied up. The reception itself was a much smaller affair than that of March 1913, reflecting the changed times. Dudley Evans might not yet have been demobbed, and perhaps none of the family could afford the time as they got their business back on track. However, only Edwin Evans and Mrs Montague Evans went to Joy Norris’ wedding in July 1923 (Edwin’s wife had died in 1921) and that does seem odd if Dudley was still alive (and I’ve reason to suppose he was). None of the Evans family went to Norris’ funeral (August 1934) or sent a wreath.
James Watts and his wife and a Miss Connie Watts who may be their daughter all attended the reception of October 1919. James and Mrs Watts, and their son Henry (who worked in his father’s business) and his wife all went to Joy Norris’ wedding in July 1923. James Watts, and Mr and Mrs Henry Watts went to William Gilbert Allen’s funeral in 1931; none of the Evans family did. None of the Watts family went to Henry Norris’ funeral in 1934.
This not attending Norris’ funeral is an odd one; I wonder if a lot of people missed it because he died during the summer holidays and was buried only three days later. I’m not sure how much I can read into the list of people who didn’t go, and didn’t send a wreath either. It’s possible that Dudley Evans didn’t like Norris abandoning Fulham FC for Arsenal FC, which he certainly did in the years between 1919 and 1927; and this resentment caused Dudley Evans to refuse invitations. It may be so. But I can think of some other reasons why no one from either family took public notice of Norris’ death.
Firstly, the friendships of men in the Evans and Watts families were with two men: Henry Norris and William Gilbert Allen. Edwin Evans may have known Allen better than Norris. And I think you can say that Allen was the easier man to get on with. Norris did tend to make enemies where none were necessary.
Secondly, I think that Henry Norris’ acquaintanceships were based on the institutions he was a member of in football, the freemasons and politics. Despite the receptions and dinners he gave, I don’t think Henry Norris was a natural host. He was not a genial man. Attending meetings, matches and dinners - these semi-formal situations were how he maintained contact with his acquaintances. He was not a man whom you dropped in on. So when he stopped going to the meetings, matches and dinners he fell off the social radar very quickly.
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