Allen and Norris continued:

Clapham; the Streets off Fulham Palace Road; Southfields; and Crabtree Lane

Last updated: December 2008






Some indication of how quickly the Allen and Norris partnership began to make money for its partners can be seen as early as 1897.  On 27 October 1897 Battersea Vestry passed a drainage application for a house on the north side of Thurleigh Road, which led westwards from Clapham Common.  This house was initially called Hill Crest (though it seems to have lost that name since) and was built by Allen and Norris for Henry Norris and his first wife Mary Jane.  In 1898 Norris put in a second application for the property, intending to add a stable block.  He changed his mind at the last minute, though, and the stables were never built - he was never a ‘horse’ man, more a ‘horse-power’ one: he once confessed cheerfully to knowing little and caring less about horses, but he took to cars very quickly though never drove them himself. 


Hill Crest is a substantial, more-or-less detached house (the next door house is very close but doesn’t quite touch!).  Its design, by Allen and Norris’ usual architect William Clinch Poole, resembles the houses the partnership built elsewhere, but writ large and with more Bedford Park-inspired features (I discuss these more in my file on Norris’ architects): it’s the house of a man who was moving from (relatively) rags to (big) riches quite rapidly and wanting people to notice it.  Hill Crest is unique in England: he didn’t live in it for long, but it’s the only house built by Allen and Norris that Henry Norris ever lived in at all.  As he got richer and richer, he moved quite often but always preferred older - not to say antique - houses that spoke of money even more clearly and had accommodation not only for his family, but for several servants.


In October 1898 William Clinch Poole applied to Battersea Vestry again, to build a second house on Thurleigh Road.  This was originally called Brooklands and was built for William Gilbert Allen and his growing family (eventually, he and his wife had seven children).  Again, Brooklands is an Allen and Norris house and then some, on a corner site with a large garden and some out-houses.  The Allens lived in it until 1907 when they moved one street away to a very big, early Victorian house on Nightingale Lane, in its own grounds with a stable block that Allen (in due course) turned into a garage.



The Fulham Palace Estate


I’ve suggested that one of the reasons William Gilbert Allen decided he wanted a partner was so that he could have someone doing the land-purchase side of the business.  By 1897, Allen and Norris were well away on the Morrison’s Farm Estate, all the legal work had been completed there, and Henry Norris was leading the search for the partnership’s next large enterprise.  Norris’ grand-children still have copies of a number of the leases Allen and Norris negotiated for land they built on.  The earliest of these is from 25 December 1897: a small plot of land on the south side of what is now Queensmill Road; for 99 years at a rent of £2 per year (isn’t that an extraordinarily small sum??!).  It shows very clearly what Henry Norris had identified as the next big thing for him and William Gilbert Allen: the bishop of London’s estate at Fulham Palace.


The bishop, of course, never owned the Fulham Palace estate himself: it was (maybe still is) owned by the Church of England, which used it to provide an official residence for the bishops of London.  By 1897 the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, who administer the land owned by the Church of England, had been leasing plots of the Fulham Palace estate for property development for some years: Cloncurry Street and Doneraile Street, for example, had already been built by then (not by Allen and Norris).  Allen and Norris, however, cornered the market in the Fulham Palace estate after 1897 with a series of leases of the Church of England’s land.  This is what they built there:

-           a short row of houses on Finlay Street (the rest of the street was built by another firm)

-           all the houses and maisonettes in Harbord Street, Greswell Street, Inglethorpe Street, Kenyon Street, Queensmill Road, Lysia Street and Niton Street

-           a long run of maisonettes along Fulham Palace Road where the streets above meet it

-           all the houses in Atalanta Street and Branksea Street off the east side of Fulham Palace

Road, and a row of houses on Kingwood Road; and the maisonettes between those streets

on the east side of Fulham Palace Road

-one row of houses, and possibly a second row, on Woodlawn Road (5 December 2008 I will be investigating this further in due course).


Allen and Norris didn’t actually build Craven Cottage football ground themselves, but William Gilbert Allen and Henry Norris were members of the Craven Cottage Syndicate that in 1903 leased that particular plot of land on Stevenage Road from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. 


The Queensmill Road lease is just the earliest one I know about.  Leases for other parts of the bishop’s estate were definitely negotiated around 1897/98, they’ve just been thrown away since.  When Allen and Norris began building, they chose to start on the northern boundary of the bishop’s estate.  They must have had a lease for that by 27 July 1898, when Fulham Vestry passed Allen and Norris’ drainage application for 35 houses on the southern side of Crabtree Lane.


A lease dated 18 July 1901 and still in the possession of Henry Norris’ grand-children illustrates how the partnership protected the partners from the full force of any possible bankruptcy.  It’s a complicated transaction, beginning with the Ecclesiastical Commissioners leasing a particular plot of land to Allen and Norris: land on the north and south sides of Queensmill Road and on the corner where it meets Fulham Palace Road.  Then there’s a second lease of the same land, by Allen and Norris, to Municipal House Property Trust Limited of 56 Cheapside.  William Gilbert Allen’s grandson told me that shares in this limited company were wholly owned by other limited companies whose only shareholders were his grandfather and Henry Norris (I said this was complicated).  As a limited company, its assets couldn’t be seized in payment of any debts run up by the two men as partners in Allen and Norris, or by any of the other limited companies they were shareholders of.  Quite why its offices were at 56 Cheapside rather than in Allen and Norris’ office on Wandsworth Bridge Road, I don’t know; perhaps they had to be, for the sub-lease to be legal.  In 1901 56 Cheapside, in the City of London, was a multi-occupancy office building; looking at the PO Directories I couldn’t identify any of the residents at that address as business acquaintances of either William Gilbert Allen or Henry Norris; but one of them was an accountant. 


I have recently (December 2008) been able to see the original lease of one of the houses at the west end of Harbord Street (built 1906).  William Gilbert Allen and Henry Norris had leased the plot of land - like they had all the other plots in the street - from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners; NOT as the Allen and Norris partnership, but individually.  This particular plot was then sub-leased by Henry Norris, individually, to the buyer of the house for 99 years for a fixed rent.  William Gilbert Allen and Henry Norris must have had a deal - probably part of the legal document that set up the partnership - for each of them to take the profits from particular, designated properties as they were built - either in a lump sum if they were sold as freehold properties, or in fixed rents for the ones sold leasehold, or as actual rents from tenants: the basis of the two partners’ wealth in later years.


The Allen and Norris partnership was building on the Fulham Palace estate from 1899 (south side of Crab Tree Lane) to 1908 (row of houses on the north side of Finlay Street); and they didn’t build anywhere else during those years, as far as I can tell.  However, by 1906 the peak of production on the estate had passed and Henry Norris was on the look-out for land onto which Allen and Norris could make its next move.  This time, though, he looked further than just in Fulham.




Or he may not have had to look: by 1907 both William Gilbert Allen and Henry Norris had a great many contacts in the property world and the local government of London world.  They could have heard about the likelihood of property being released for development in south Wandsworth from a number of different sources.  Norris’ grand-children have three copies of a very complex lease dated 25 March 1907, part of the breaking-up for development of a landed estate that had been in the country but was now being engulfed by the march of the suburbs.  Allen and Norris leased the land that became their Southfields estate from this landed estate for 99 years but I couldn’t find where in this long document it said how much annual rent they had to pay to the freeholder. 


First get your lease.  But there was a gap of over two years between the signing of the lease, and the first building on the site.  In 1899 Allen and Norris had chosen to start work on the Fulham Palace Estate before finishing at Morrison’s Farm.  However, in 1907-09 there was a sharp economic downturn, and it seems that the two partners opted to sit it out and wait for a boom to follow the bust, rather than be committed on two fronts in dodgy economic times.  Though the LCC had approved William Clinch Poole’s street layout for the Southfields site as early as December 1906 - before Allen and Norris had even secured the land - it was not until 15 June 1910 that the first drainage application was approved by the London Borough of Wandsworth.  By that time, all building work on the bishop’s estate had finished and the economic prospects had improved.  Allen and Norris had never bothered with a separate estate office when building on the Fulham Palace estate, they’d dealt with sales and administration from the partnership’s head office.  In September 1910, however, Allen and Norris opened an estate office for Southfields at 130 Wimbledon Park Road, a long-established main road which ran through the property they had leased; the corner property is still an estate agent though when I walked past it on a Monday afternoon in October 2008 it was closed and looking pretty down-at-heel!


Quite when actual construction work began on the houses at Southfields is something I’ve begun to wonder about.  William Clinch Poole’s office had been asked to provide a new design for Southfields; it seems likely that the design-work was done by Frank Poole, William’s step-brother and employee.  The designs had been approved by the LCC and the London Borough of Wandsworth already when in November 1910 the Pooles began a series of re-submissions, with the bay windows and porches that the houses all have as a new feature requiring new consent.  Over the next few years, the bay windows and porches of Southfields and then Crabtree Lane were submitted as new, street by street, and argued over every step of the way.  The LCC in particular didn’t like the idea of them at all; a dispute broke out over them between the LCC and the London Borough of Wandsworth, which had never had a problem with them.  Eventually the LCC did give in and agreed to allow the Southfields properties to be built with bays and porches.  But they did so only with the utmost reluctance, and insisted on sending Allen and Norris a detailed set of instructions about exactly how the bay windows and porches were to be constructed. 


There’s some evidence to suggest that building work at Southfields came to a halt between December 1910 and March 1911 while the LCC and Wandsworth Council argued; and then started up again so much behind the original schedule that it was still going on when Allen and Norris started on the Crabtree Lane Estate - with more or less the same design of house, and the LCC still arguing about bay windows and porches, especially disliking Allen and Norris’ proposed use of them on Fulham Palace Road.  The LCC really dug its heels in about them there, saying that the designs didn’t follow the line of the road that the LCC had approved.  Allen and Norris had to appeal to the planning inspector against the LCC’s decree.  They won, and the properties were built as Allen and Norris had proposed, but it all took time and money too.


I’m sure it didn’t help that William Clinch Poole, having done the initial persuading of the LCC as regards Southfields, died in April 1911; his architect’s practice continued under Frank Poole and continued to have Allen and Norris as a client, but the change-over will have caused yet more delay.  One result of the elder Poole’s death was that Allen and Norris started to do more of the form-filling for the drainage applications themselves, rather than continuing to let Poole’s employees do it.  They didn’t do it so well though!


1911-14 were Allen and Norris’ busiest years, with the partners choosing to do what they had avoided doing in 1907-08 - house-building on a large scale in two different places.  As drainage applications for the Crabtree Lane Estate began to be required as well as those for Southfields, the Allen and Norris staff were rushed off their feet.  Drainage applications in Wandsworth, always filled in very carefully before (by Poole’s office), now began to be sent in for approval from Allen and Norris’ offices in lots of different hand-writing instead of only one, with the exact details of the properties left out, dates missing and not properly signed-off.  Henry Norris said in later years that his company secretary at Arsenal FC, Harry John Peters, had previously been employed by him at Allen and Norris; but he’d had to give up his job after a severe illness.  I can’t help wondering if Peters’ illness occurred around 1911-12.  It was all too much for everyone, this building on two fronts, it seemed: in June of 1914 the LCC granted Allen and Norris an extension of their deadline by which time the remaining houses on the Southfields estate had to be finished.  The last of the drainage applications for Southfields had been approved as early as March 1913 but it seems that over a year later Allen and Norris still hadn’t completed all the houses on Hambledon Road, Wincanton Road and Granville Road.


The finances of all this were big; but then, by this time the Allen and Norris partnership had made a fortune.  They were as credit-worthy as any building firm could be, and could operate on a big scale.  In the ‘advertisement feature’ article in the Fulham Chronicle which announced the first sale of houses on the Crabtree Lane Estate (September 1911), the reporter wrote that he’d been told the labour costs of that estate alone would be £90,000-£100,000 (multiply by 200 to get a rough estimate in modern terms).  In addition, Allen and Norris would have to pay at some stage for the bulk orders of kitchen stoves and mantelpieces they had negotiated for the estate’s houses; and the wood for the joinery; different types of tiles for the roofs, the floors and the front paths; painting and decorating; office administration; the new burdens of national insurance and pension payments; etc etc - building costs are never-ending!  If Allen and Norris had to pay the whole of the bills up-front without a single property having been sold I would be amazed and Norris would have fallen down on his job; but bills have to be paid sooner or later.  Still, as I say, by this time Allen and Norris were big and rich.


Crabtree Lane


Maybe William Gilbert Allen and Henry Norris might have thought the Crabtree Lane Estate was a bit soon in coming when they were already committed big-time in Southfields.  But then, undeveloped property in Fulham had almost all disappeared under terraced housing by 1910, and the Matyear family’s market garden, immediately north of the land owned by the Church of England, was too good an opportunity to miss.  Allen and Norris were not going to miss it.  They must have been coveting it for years!


Edward Matyear died in September 1910.  Though he himself was a bachelor, the Matyear family was a large one; however, none of Edward’s relatives expressed any interest in carrying in taking over from him at the Crabtree Lane market garden.  So when probate was obtained, in October 1911, his executors put the land up for sale.  It was divided into two plots and sold at auction on Wednesday 14 December 1910.  Allen and Norris bought plot 1 for £21,000: 9½ acres between Crabtree Lane and Dorset Lane, containing a 631-foot frontage on the west side of Fulham Palace Road.  The second plot of land was withdrawn after it had failed to reach its reserve price of £25000; this plot was immediately north of plot 1, with frontages of 467-feet on Fuham Palace Road and 300-feet on the Thames.


After their successful bid at the auction Allen and Norris took possession of the first plot of land in March 1911.  During March and April 1911 the LCC approved with reservations the layout of four new roads on this land, including the replacement of the rather winding Dorset Lane by the very straight Nella Road (note that Nella is Allen backwards).  The LCC’s reservations were about some of the proposed names for the streets: they wouldn’t let Allen and Norris name their main street Gilbert Road; it was eventually built as Rannoch Road; nor did they like Dalton Road, named after Allen and Norris’ bank manager, it became Silverton Road; nor Nanette Road, named after Henry Norris’ youngest daughter, it was built as Larnach Road.  However they did let the name Ellaline Road through; that was William Gilbert Allen’s youngest daughter’s name.


Edward Matyear’s executors tried again with the original plot 2 on Wednesday 5 April 1911; but again they couldn’t resist the temptation to maximise profits - plot 2 was subdivided and sold in two smaller lots.  The first of the subdivisions was bought by Allen and Norris at the auction: 10½ acres with a 470-feet frontage on Fulham Palace Road.  I couldn’t find out what they paid for it.  The second subdivision remained unsold at that auction.   Allen and Norris became the owners of the first subdivision from the April auction in August 1911: the land between Dorset Lane and the south side of Wingrave Road.  Shortly afterwards, they were given permission to put up a temporary building as their site office at what subsequently became 190 Fulham Palace Road on its north corner with Nella Road.   It had to be a temporary one because of the ongoing dispute with the LCC about the line of Fulham Palace Road.


The next set of planning and drainage applications went through in the first few months of 1912: the northern end of Rannoch Road up to the site then occupied by the Pimlico Wheel Works, and all of Bowfell Road, Skelwith Road and Rosedew Road.  At the end of that year permission was given to build on the north side of Wingrave Road and along Colwith Road, which Allen and Norris built to a different design from the rest of the estate; Colwith Road also has the estate’s only purpose-built maisonettes.


Edward Matyear’s executors had a lot of trouble disposing of that second subdivision of the original plot 2 of Crabtree Farm, probably because it was so small, less than one acre, though it did include a 300-foot frontage on the River Thames; and because it was only deemed suitable for commercial or industrial development.  It was put up for auction in June 1912 but must have again failed to meet its reserve price; because in July 1913 it was auctioned again, and this time someone did buy it though the Times didn’t say who.  I believe that Allen and Norris were the someone, though I’m not quite sure why they did so if they couldn’t build houses on it.  They may have been trying to buy a buffer zone between the houses they were building and the wharves and factories to the north of them and to the west along the river.  By February 1914 they had come to own about 5 acres between the Pimlico Wheel Works (next to Allen and Norris’ 127 Rannoch Road) and the River Thames; though if they ever intended to build anything on the 5 acres, or lease them out, these plans were overtaken by war.


The outbreak of World War I in the first days of August 1914 caused the Allen and Norris partnership to split in two after 18 years of work.  Henry Norris, as mayor of Fulham, felt it his duty to suspend his work for the firm to concentrate on recruiting young men to fight and guiding the borough through the emergency; William Gilbert Allen, agreeing with this patriotic view, said he would take on all Norris’ duties at Allen and Norris.  The two partners also agreed that they would not stand in the way of any of their employees who wanted to answer Lord Kitchener’s call for volunteers.  Of course, William Gilbert Allen and Henry Norris were assuming that the war would be short, and for normal service to resume in the building industry when peace was declared.  Neither of those expectations were fulfilled; and the Allen and Norris partnership never again worked as it had done before war was declared.


I am looking further into exactly when all the houses on the Crabtree Lane Estate were finished.  I can say that no planning and drainage applications of any size were made by the Allen and Norris partnership after the war began, and none at all after one in June 1916 for 275 Fulham Palace Road which might only have been for a workshop, not a residence, as the house had been built (by Allen and Norris) several years before.  William Gilbert Allen concentrated his energies and increasingly limited resources on completing those houses that the partnership had already got permission for: some at least of the houses in Rosedew Road were built by 1917.  However, the shortage of manpower might have meant the roadways and pavements were not laid: in the spring of 1915 Fulham Council extended the deadline by which the roads on the Crabtree Lane Estate had to be laid to a standard which was acceptable to the Council, presumably because there were no longer enough labourers to do the necessary work.  The Council’s own programme of putting up electric lighting in all Fulham’s streets had ground to a halt by this time as all its qualified workers went to war. 


When World War I finally reached its conclusion conditions had changed, both within Allen and Norris and in the outside world.  In the world at large the pre-war boom in housing was well and truly snuffed out by post-war changes in legislation, and by economic depression.  Within the partnership, William Gilbert Allen ended the war in very poor health - worn out by doing the work of his energetic partner as well as himself for so long under wartime conditions.  He retired from active, daily participation in the partnership’s affairs.  Norris, too, took a back seat as he pursued his long-held political ambitions to their limit.


The Allen and Norris partnership did continue, but its activities were curtailed: it did no more new building, only repair and maintenance of the properties which were still rented; collection of the rents; and sales of property in the modern estate agent manner, property not necessarily built by the partnership.  All the offices that Allen and Norris had worked from before the war were shut down except for 190 Fulham Palace Road. 


I have been told by William Gilbert Allen’s grandson that when the Allen and Norris partnership was set up, the legal documents left it solely to the surviving partner to decide what should be done about the partnership when the first of the two men died.  So in 1931, the death of William Gilbert Allen offered Henry Norris (by now in indifferent health himself) an opportunity to wind up the partnership altogether.  Instead, Norris took the decision to turn it into a limited company which would manage the property that the partnership still owned and continue to do so after his own death, still controlled by the families of the partners.  As Walter Morgan Willcocks had retired, Norris’ football acquaintance William C Cuff did the legal work necessary to register the new company, whose official address was Allen and Norris’ office at 190 Fulham Palace Road.  Henry Norris became its chairman; the other directors in 1931 were his brother John Edward; Francis Plummer; and Frederick Allen, the only one of William Gilbert Allen’s sons who had joined the Allen and Norris estate agent’s business. 


Henry Norris’ Will required his executors to sell land that he owned and use the proceeds to set up a trust fund which would provide an income for his daughters.  So after his death in 1934, the properties he owned began to be sold off.  After Henry Norris’ death, William Gilbert Allen Junior, an accountant, joined the board.  Frederick Allen died in 1939 and after him, none of the directors of the company had anything to do with its daily running; they all had other jobs and were not estate agents.  When John Edward Norris died in 1946, Edith Norris joined the board in his place and continued in that role until her own death (1951) but she seems not to have been a very hands-on director and in essence, Allen and Norris Limited was run by the children and then grand-children of William Gilbert Allen; none of Henry Norris’ daughters was ever a director of Allen and Norris.  It was the decision of the Allen family, in the 1970s, to close the office at 190 Fulham Palace Road and sell-off the remaining leases owned by the company although they kept the freeholds.  Descendants of William Gilbert Allen and Henry Norris continued to own shares in Allen and Norris Limited until the 1990s when it was bought out by the commercial property development company Merivale More.  I understand that no property in Fulham or Southfields is owned by Allen and Norris Limited or by Merivale More now.







Copyright Sally Davis December 2008