Edith Anne Featherstone: Henry Norris’ Second Wife
Last updated: February 2009
EDITH’S LIFE IN PUBLIC: 1907-23
Even during his courtship of her, Edith Featherstone must have been aware of Henry Norris’ political ambitions: perhaps his ambitions were part of his attraction for her. She will have known that he had already spent several years as a vestryman in Battersea in the 1890s. In November 1900 he stood as a councillor in Fulham; Edith will have been acquainted with him by then, perhaps she helped his campaign. He didn’t get elected that time; he even swore he wouldn’t get involved in local politics again; but as she got to know him better Edith must have realised that it was only a matter of time before he had another go.
He had another go in November 1906 and was elected one of the councillors for Sand’s End Ward on the London Borough of Fulham. Several months pregnant at the time, Edith probably didn’t take an active part in the campaign but her husband’s over-commitment as a councillor provided her a year later with an opportunity to enter public life on her own account; and she took it. At Fulham Council’s meeting of 18 December 1907 Henry Norris resigned as a manager of one group of Fulham’s LCC schools - he just couldn’t fit its meetings into his busy schedule. He put forward Edith as a suitable replacement and the Council members agreed to his suggestion. Being a school manager in Fulham may not have been all that onerous a task - in October 1908 the LCC sent a letter of rebuke to the London Borough of Fulham as so many of its school managers continually missed important meetings. I hope Edith Norris was more conscientious than most; it doesn’t sound as though it would have been difficult.
Being a school manager began the process of putting Edith’s name on the Fulham map: she started to get invitations to Council functions (usually those held by the mayoress rather than those held by the mayor) and to be named in press coverage of those functions (usually the press named only those guests whom they thought their readers would know). However, her public life was not particularly busy until the autumn of 1909. Local authority elections were due in November 1909. Henry Norris’ name was being bandied around as the most likely mayor if the Conservatives maintained their majority in Fulham, and it’s obvious from the press coverage of the campaign that Edith was being groomed as the next mayoress. On 30 October 1909 - two days before voting - she carried out her first official engagement as “the wife of Councillor Norris”, opening a Japanese Bazaar held in the church hall of Christ Church Studdridge Street. In front of her husband, she made her first public speech, a short one saying how delighted she was to see on the stalls such “tangible results of united effort and energy”. Later in the proceedings Henry Norris made a speech too; and donated a big cheque to the organ fund. Commenting on this occasion the West London and Fulham Times said, “Mrs Norris will doubtlessly prove a brilliant mayoress”.
And she did. The Conservatives held on to their majority and on 9 November 1909 Edith was in the public gallery of Fulham Town Hall, with Ada Patience, almost certainly his mother, and other members of the family, to see Henry Norris elected mayor. Her duties as mayoress began immediately after the meeting, when she and Henry hosted a dinner in the town hall. Music was provided by the Imperial Ladies’ Orchestra - I hope that was Edith’s choice. The following Sunday, Edith and Henry led the procession of councillors to the Sunday service that began the mayoral year; at All Saints Fulham, down by Putney Bridge. Edith almost certainly already knew the senior woman in Fulham’s public life - Mrs Hayes Fisher, wife of Fulham’s MP - through their husbands’ interest in Fulham FC. If by some chance the two women had not already met, they did so when Mrs Hayes Fisher did some bazaar opening at St Andrew’s Church on 17 November 1909; on this occasion Edith attended as mayoress for the first time without her husband.
Those few days in November 1909 set Edith on a course of attending official events which in theory was supposed to last for 12 months but in fact continued for ten years: bazaar openings (with as Henry Norris said, much buying of the goods on sale expected); dinners given, in the town hall and later at the restaurant at Hammersmith owned by the Norrises’ acquaintance Henry Foreman; dinners attended in Fulham and elsewhere, even at the Mansion House in the City as the Norrises got onto the London mayors circuit, the senior member of which was the Lord Mayor of London; prize givings, whist drives, fund-raising dinners and every other kind of charitable event. There were political meetings-cum-socials to attend in Fulham too: both at the male-dominated Conservative Clubs and at the Fulham branch of the Primrose League, the women’s wing of the Party. Edith attended many events organised by the Primrose League but she was always careful when she did so, not to upstage Mrs Hayes Fisher, its perpetual President. There were also more difficult occasions to attend. Henry Norris became mayor during a sharp economic depression. On 4 January 1910 Edith went with him to open a soup kitchen in Cassidy Road, for the borough’s unemployed.
In February 1910, Henry Norris was inveigled by a fellow mayor to stand for election to the LCC in Lambeth North. He didn’t get in, but Edith may have gone to campaign meetings with him over the next few weeks.
It was only a very short time into her first year as mayoress that Edith Norris attended two functions that showed very clearly where she was headed in her career in public life. The first came on 8 February 1910 and she may have been the principle mover behind it taking place at all: a party for 1000 local children, held at Fulham Town Hall. It was on this occasion that Edith’s daughter Joy made her first public appearance at the age of 8, doing what the WLFT described as a “tambourine dance” while Edith played the piano for her. It would be interesting to know who paid for this large party; it was almost certainly the Norrises and perhaps I should say here that the job of mayor of Fulham was unpaid until 1919; the fact that the mayor and mayoress had to pay their own expenses put a great many otherwise excellent candidates off standing for election as mayor.
The second occasion pointed Edith’s way even more clearly: she attended the first AGM of Fulham School for Mothers, held at its HQ at 92 Greyhound Road. The School’s chairman and founder was Agnes Stroop, the wife of a wealthy stockbroker; it had grown out of Fulham Day Nursery, a service for working women that Mrs Stroop had set up several years before. I might think it a big cheek for women who didn’t have to count cost in their households to set themselves up to teach working mothers how to manage; but Edith became a long-serving supporter of this particular effort and its various offshoots, and she did at least know from her childhood what a restricted household budget was like. At the AGM of 1910 she made the speech in favour of re-electing all last year’s officers to their posts for another 12 months; so she had probably been involved with the School for a while by this time. She argued that the committee members had worked so very well as a group during their time in office that they should be allowed to continue; and she commented on how the School’s funds had been “properly and judiciously dispensed”. We can conclude several things from this speech of Edith’s as reported in the WLFT: she had done her homework in preparing her speech, reading the Annual Report thoroughly, perhaps she had even been the one to prepare it; she could understand a balance sheet; and she didn’t like to see money wasted, probably especially the money donated to a small local charity.
It was shortly after these two child-centred commitments that Edith was described by Councillor Flèche in a speech at South Fulham Constitutional Club as having “endeared herself to the inhabitants of the borough by her charming personality”. I’ve noticed that reporters in the local papers do tend to describe nearly all their local mayoresses as charming, and often as gracious: it seems to be part of contemporary media etiquette to so describe them. But it Edith’s case I think it was actually true: she really was charming in the execution of her duties. Councillor Flèche and his wife might be friends of the Norrises, but he was just expressing what was widely felt about Edith, even after only a few months in the public eye. People liked her.
By March 1910, Edith had decided that she no longer wanted just to carry out the largely ornamental role of a mayoress, she wanted to have more impact, and take part in the making of decisions. On 9 March 1910 she was adopted as a Conservative Party candidate in Sand’s End Ward to seek election to the Board of Guardians which operated the Poor Laws in Fulham. Now Edith must have been well aware of the reputation Fulham Guardians had as a very strict interpreter of the Poor Laws. She must also have heard of a couple of recent incidents that showed the Guardians in a very poor light: a man in their care had been left to die of the DT’s without proper care; and a confrontation at the workhouse between inmates and management had led to criminal prosecutions of some Board employees. I would like to think that Edith Norris was seeking election to protect the disadvantaged from the worst excesses of the Board; but given her speech at Fulham School for Mothers she may also have wanted to supervise the Board’s budget to see that it wasn’t wasted. Fulham Board of Guardians raised money by a separate local rate; its budget was bigger than the London Borough of Fulham. Despite the large amount of money Fulham’s voters contributed to the Board of Guardians, interest in elections to the Board was always slight and voter turnout poor. I presume Edith did do some campaigning, but she may have got depressed at the inertia she met with. However, she must have been pleased when the votes were counted to find that she had got more than any other candidate: 776. And to find that she was not going to be the only woman on the Board: five others were elected.
Fulham Board of Guardians was organised rather like a local authority - which in most senses it was, of course: every other Thursday afternoon there was a meeting of all the representatives, which passed (or didn’t) recommendations and reports made to it by a number of more specialist standing committees that oversaw the daily work of the Board. The continually re-elected President of Fulham Board of Guardians was the Rev Peregrine Propert, vicar of St Augustine’s Lillie Road. Edith must have developed a close relationship with this man because she asked him to officiate at Henry Norris’ funeral. Rev Propert represented Fulham Board of Guardians on a number of national Poor Law committees and review boards. The Board had a large staff as well as elected representatives. The senior staff member was Edward Mott, a career Poor Law official. He was based at the Board’s head office next to the workhouse on the site which is now occupied by Charing Cross Hospital, on Fulham Palace Road. The Board also had a number of other institutions, mostly different kinds of hospitals - including some that were not in the borough.
The elected Representatives’ main duty was the careful spending of the money gathered through the local rates. As well as sending people to be maintained in the workhouse, they also doled out money - an equivalent of supplementary benefit - to people living in their homes; and later in Edith’s time as a representative, they maintained a dispensary. Edith attended her first Board of Guardians’ meeting on 18 April 1910 and was elected onto several standing committees for the next 12 months: the north-west district relief committee, one of the district groups responsible for visiting the people receiving money at home; the infirmary visiting committee; the schools visiting and children’s committee; and a committee which oversaw prosecutions and the charge of the mentally ill. Edith didn’t attend meetings of the full Board very often. However, if she was diligent in all other respects she would have had a great many standing committee meetings to go to, and a great many visits to make.
Social events in 1911 were disrupted by the death of Edward VII; but 1912 was a year of celebrations for the coronation of George V and Queen Mary. Edith Norris must have been so very disappointed that only the mayors of London boroughs were invited to the coronation, there wasn’t room for their wives amongst all the dignitaries. However, she organised a Coronation tea at the Bishop’s Palace for every single school-age child in the borough. On the day of the tea, she and Henry Norris visited every school to give each child a medal to commemorate the coronation.
In 1913 Edith was re-elected to Fulham Board of Guardians, with the greatest number of votes of any candidate in Sand’s End. She was elected back onto all the standing committees she had served on for the last three years; onto the committee which supervised the repayment of money paid out to people at home (because it was only a loan - that’s what I mean about strict interpretation of the Laws); and onto the committee which dealt with the mentally ill but which now also had charge of the dispensary and the Board’s programme of vaccination. By this time, of course, she was a noted local figure; in her fourth year as mayoress.
In 1911, school managerships in Fulham were up for renewal; and Edith didn’t stand again. However, she kept up her involvement in Fulham Day Nursery, possibly taking it over from its founder Agnes Stroop so that Stroop could concentrate on the School for Mothers and all the initiatives that grew out of it. In January 1913, Edith organised a fund-raising concert at Fulham Town Hall for the Day Nursery, button-holing every single councillor to buy tickets for it (only two said no). Strenuous and publicity-conscious efforts to raise money for the Nursery were to be a feature of Edith’s public life in the next decade.
In February 1913 Edith and Henry Norris went to a fancy dress ball organised to raise funds for Kensington and Fulham General Hospital. I cannot get my mind round Henry Norris in fancy dress! I wonder what character he and Edith went as? West London and Fulham Times’ description of the evening didn’t give any details it only noted that “some beautiful dresses were on view”; if WLFT’s reporters had been women I bet they would have said.
1913-14 was a high point for Henry and Edith Norris. At some stage during that period they moved from Roehampton to Richmond and started spectacularly to enjoy the fruits of success. They leased from a Mr and Mrs de Trafford Queensberry House, Friars Lane, just off Richmond Green: a regency house in the classical style with 14 bedrooms and gardens down to the river. It was the sort of house which needed a large staff and a large income to maintain it. Not bad for the grand-daughter of farm labourers and a smith.
In June 1914 Henry Norris made the next step up in his political career, being selected to fight a House of Commons’ constituency in Stockport for the Conservative and Unionist Party. In fact, both the Stockport constituencies were Liberal Party strongholds so Henry Norris was being asked to show his willingness by being sent to an unwinable seat; but of course, he had to go through the motions. The selection meeting took place in London. I couldn’t tell from the report in the Cheshire Daily Echo whether Edith had attended it, but either by having met her in person or by having a kind-of CV of what she had done so far, the Echo was able to publish a profile of Edith for its readers, as well as one of Henry Norris. It reported Edith’s work as mayoress and member of Fulham Board of Guardians and noted that she “shares with her husband a liking for public work” - so Edith was making exactly the impression on her husband’s future constituents that a good political wife should do.
Life went on until August 1914, when Henry and Edith Norris’ proposed holiday tour of the Rhine Valley with some friends was cut short in its early stages by the outbreak of World War One. Although I’m sure she never thought of it as anything other than the most terrible disaster, the war offered Edith and others like her new opportunities to step into the gap left as men went to fight. It was their willingness to step into that gap that got women (at least, women over 30) the vote in 1917.
The declaration of war began the second phase of Edith Norris’ public life and the first things to happen were a series of calls for money. A National Relief Fund was set up to give money to the families of those men who were answering Lord Kitchener’s call to arms. Local authorities were in charge of raising money for the Fund and Henry Norris organised the effort in Fulham through committees based in each of the borough’s political wards. Edith Norris went on the committee in Munster Ward. She and her husband gave Fulham’s biggest contribution to the Fund - £100; and they insisted their daughters also contribute so Joy, Peggy and Nanette each gave 2/6. Edith will also have had more work, and more financial headaches, at Fulham Board of Guardians, for the first results of the declaration of war in England included the abrupt laying-off of a large number of factory workers. By mid-autumn another need for funds had arisen: on 20 November 1914 Edith had a letter published in the West London and Fulham Times letting everybody know that she was organising a flag day in Fulham to raise funds for the Belgian refugees now arriving in London and being housed at Earl’s Court.
Edith was co-opted very soon onto the local committee of the Red Cross. I think all mayoresses were co-opted. I don’t know how active a member Edith was, she did after all have a lot of other commitments and as the war dragged on and the UK began to run out of food (in 1917) her duties on the Fulham Board of Guardians must have got very demanding and harrowing. However, as an honorary commandant she did go on several marches through the London streets organised by the Red Cross.
Henry Norris spared no efforts as mayor of Fulham in encouraging young men to enlist; he was like an unpaid recruiting officer in the borough. Edith seems to have supported him fully in this work. On 15 September 1914 she was amongst the local grandees on the platform at Fulham Town Hall for her husband’s ‘call to arms’ meeting. In 1915, all mayors were called on by the War Office to raise a battalion in their borough. In July 1915 the first of three artillery battalion raised in Fulham by Henry Norris’ efforts marched through the streets from Fulham Town Hall to Shepherd’s Bush, led by the Harry Lauder Pipe Band. Henry and Edith joined the march which ended outside the Shepherd’s Bush Empire where a concert was given for the new recruits in which Joy, Peggy and Nanette Norris were amongst the performers.
I shall say here that the Norrises were very lucky in World War One. While I don’t deny the distress they did feel about the cost of the war - it comes over in Norris’ wartime end-of- year speeches as mayor - they had no sons to go off to war and be killed, injured or lost without trace. I think that the closest they came to that kind of loss was the death of Francis Plummer’s eldest son, also called Francis; and anxiety over William Gilbert Allen’s three eldest sons who all served and I think were all injured. The war and the temporary cessation of professional football did cause Henry Norris to have to shoulder a heavy financial burden as a director of Arsenal FC; but it was a burden that his fortune was able to bear.
Edith might support the necessity of fighting the war - it’s the post World War Two generations that question whether the first world war need have been fought - but I imagine she was quite horrified on 15 December 1914 when her husband volunteered to fight himself at the end of the meeting which launched recruitment to the Footballers’ Battalion. Fortunately for Edith, if she was appalled at the idea, she wasn’t the only one. William Hayes Fisher, MP for Fulham, led the group of men who talked Henry Norris out of it on the grounds that he could best serve the war effort by continuing as the mayor of a London borough; but not before Norris had pushed it as far as undergoing a medical - which he failed on grounds of age and poor eye-sight. He was rewarded for staying put in Fulham by a summer (1915) without more than a day or two off, while the War Census was being organised and its data filed for future reference by the local authorities. Henry Norris was so busy with this colossal administrative programme between August and October 1915 that he took to sleeping on a make-shift bed at the town hall.
1915 was the year of the Dardanelles, the shells shortage, and Ypres round one with the use of mustard gas, Lusitania; but mainly it was the year with Britain woke up to the fact that the war wouldn’t be over by Christmas. On 3 December 1915, in its last ever issue, the West London and Fulham Times printed a letter from Henry Norris as the mayor, urging people not to spend lavishly at Christmas, and painting a dire picture of a war lost not on the battle field but at the bank. I’m sure Edith fully supported - perhaps had even suggested - this call for financial restraint. The following Friday, this time in the Fulham Chronicle, Edith had a second letter of her own published, explaining that she was going to follow the trend begun elsewhere in London by trying to set up a series of work-rooms across the borough where volunteers could help make bandages and clothing for hospital patients. She urged the paper’s readers to volunteer in two ways: firstly by giving money to the scheme - “If everyone in Fulham gave even a penny a large sum could be collected” - and secondly by calling in at the work-rooms to do some practical work - even an hour’s worth of work would be a big help. She ended by saying that if her appeal didn’t raise enough money to get the scheme going, she would donate the money she had been sent to the Red Cross. I don’t know what happened to this scheme; which is a pity. By this time, the results of the war were beginning to impinge heavily on daily life in Fulham. The Fulham Board of Guardian’s main infirmary had been commandeered, like most other hospitals had been, by the War Office for casualties. For the next four years, the infirmary was run by a joint committee of the Guardians and the War Office - except that the War Office went ahead with what it had decided it required without consulting anyone else, a source of continual aggravation at the Board of Guardians. When the building was handed back to the Guardians in 1919 it needed a complete refit. I couldn’t find a list of the members of the joint committee. If Edith was not on it (I think she probably wasn’t) she was well out of the arguments over money, seniority and priorities that dominated its meetings.
Although Henry Norris did not fight, his willingness to serve, and his vigorous efforts at recruitment, had been noticed at the War Office and in March 1916 he was appointed Supervisor of Military Representatives for the Number 10 District of the Eastern Command - a lengthy title which I think meant he oversaw in one area the process where men could come before a tribunal to make a case against being called up. It was a civilian post, newly created in the wake of the first national service acts, but in order to give Norris a place in the military hierarchy he would be working with, he was made an army Captain. His job was based at Worthing, and meant that although he made it to most Wednesday evening meetings of the full Fulham Council (which was only once a month from 1915-18) he couldn’t attend any daytime committee meetings. Edith often took over from him. She did so for the first time at the AGM (March 1916) of Hammersmith and Fulham District Nursing Association. This had been founded in 1890; I don’t know how long Edith had been involved with it but taking an interest would have been a natural next step from her commitment to Fulham Day Nursery. Soon afterwards she represented the mayor at the funeral of Rev Muriel, vicar of All Saints Fulham. Henry Norris continued to work for the War Office until 1918, getting promoted several times in the civilian sense as well as ending up a Colonel, and in Fulham it became an established procedure for Edith to deputise for him: March 1917, for example, saw her at the Peabody Buildings on Fulham Palace Road unveiling a roll of honour to the residents’ war dead.
Edith must have been thrilled when she first heard that Henry Norris had got a knighthood. He went to Buckingham Palace on 13 June 1917 to receive it from George V and I hope that Edith went with him.
As more and more young and even older men, single and married, were called up to fight, women were taking jobs that the men left vacant and I should imagine Fulham Day Nursery was busier than it had ever been. On 4 July 1917 Edith chaired the opening ceremony of its new premises at Eridge House, 2 Fulham Park Road. The Norrises’ great friend George Peachey lived in the road and he may have found it for Edith when the Day Nursery was needing to move. Probably through the agency of William Hayes Fisher, MP for Fulham, Edith had been able to book Sybil, Lady Rhondda, to perform the opening ceremony; her husband - who had inherited a fortune made in the Welsh coal mines - had recently been appointed Food Minister to oversee the introduction of rationing.
The opening of the new Day Nursery was part of the first local authority Baby Week. The process of medical examinations of would-be recruits to the armed forces had exposed the poor mental and physical health of the British working class male. One of the results of this was an anxiety, even an hysteria, about infant health and care - something that Edith would easily have identified with. Edith had been made chairman of the London Borough of Fulham’s committee planning Baby Week. At its first meeting on 2 July 1917 several speakers had commented on Fulham Council’s record of poor investment in childcare. Edith didn’t go so far as to agree with them in so many words but in her speech she did comment on the high infant mortality in the district, which she set down to “ignorance, bad housing and impure milk” all of which, she said, were avoidable. Edith went on to say that she felt the good health of all children to be a “birthright”; and that she believed the future of the Empire depended on well-being of its children. The committee organised a Child Welfare Exhibition which Edith opened at the Fulham Town Hall on 9 July. Henry Norris was actually free to attend the opening with her; in his speech he made a joke about Edith’s shopping habits at bazaars, saying that she’d managed to buy him two combs recently at two such events, completely ignoring that he was now pretty bald on top. On 14 July Edith was out presenting prizes again, this time at a cooking competition organised for local school children. The next event she organised was a baby show and competition as part of Fulham’s regular flower show at Hurlingham but this occasion exposed some differences of opinion amongst the local population, possibly between members of the Baby Week committee. The Rev Orpwood, who always organised the flower show, had his nose put out of joint a bit by having Edith’s baby competition thrust on him at short notice. He had already asked Edith to open the flower show (not the baby show) but only because he couldn’t get Queen Alexandra. After it was all over a furious onlooker (who didn’t want to be named) wrote to the Fulham Chronicle saying that it was an insult to the local mothers to give books on child care as prizes in the baby competition. It’s most likely that Edith chose those prizes.
By November 1917, as part of the campaign to improve the health of Fulham’s children, the Hammersmith and Fulham District Nursing Association had set up a School Treatment Centre in Fulham. Edith was almost certainly involved in running and financing this scheme, which employed one full-time nurse, and a dentist for one day each fortnight.
Edith’s ceaseless championing of child care in Fulham had its funny side. In April 1918, again standing in for the mayor, she opened the Fulham branch of the National Federation of Discharged and Demobilised Soldiers and Sailors’ new clubhouse at 57 New King’s Road. Several other speakers referred to her work with children and one suggested she consider the Fulham branch of the Federation as one of her babies. So when Miss Violet Leonard presented Edith with a bouquet of flowers, Edith replied, “Bless you my children”, which brought the house down. Shortly after this, she was back raising funds for Fulham Day Nursery, organising a concert at Fulham Town Hall and then playing several roles in it herself. Her daughters Joy and Nanette did a dance; and Peggy and some other local girls acted a series of dramatic sketches. Then Edith, Nanette and others appeared as some of “Madame Tussaud’s Up-to-Date Waxworks”, a humourous comment on notable modern personalities. A few days later a collection for Fulham Day Nursery was taken after a concert at the Granville Theatre organised by the recently-formed Fulham Tradesmen’s Association.
The war brought women out of the home, into paid work but also into the kind of charitable work I’ve described above. So it was not surprising that as the war advanced, women should start getting together to discuss the role and future of women in local politics. On 9 May 1917 Edith went to Melmoth Hall in Eustace Road to chair the first meeting of Fulham Women’s Local Government Association. This was not Edith’s idea, the Fulham Chronicle said that a Mrs Bloxam had first suggested it. FC didn’t give Mrs Bloxam’s first name. In the 1901 Census I found several families called Bloxam living in the Hammersmith and Fulham area; the most likely candidate is Alice, wife of Frederick Bloxam, a civil servant who in 1901 was living at 38 Godolphin Road. If this is the correct woman, she was a few years older than Edith. The FC’s account of that first meeting left me in some confusion about the Association’s purpose. Edith’s chairman’s speech seemed to suggest that it was a forum for women ratepayers, rather than a grouping designed to help women stand for election. She saw the Association as fulfilling a great need to get women to understand how public money was spent. Edith certainly understood that herself; in November 1915 a Fulham councillor had described her as having “a remarkable interest in municipal matters”. And yet she never stood for election to a local council or the LCC.
I couldn’t find out anything more about Fulham Women’s Local Government Association. It may have been absorbed into, or a local offshoot of, the Women’s Municipal Party, a meeting of which Edith went to, but didn’t chair, on 9 April 1918. The WMP had been founded in 1913 by Consuelo (née Vanderbilt) Duchess of Marlborough. The Duchess attended the meeting Edith went to, to explain what the WMP’s aims were. Edith made the speech thanking her for coming. On 15 November 1918 in the euphoria of the Armistice Edith welcomed Mrs Oliver Strachey to the Fulham branch of the London Society for Women’s Suffrage. For Edith, women’s suffrage had arrived by this time: the Representation of the People Act 1918 had given women over 30 the vote. The local press didn’t record what Mrs Strachey said to the Society but it’s likely to have been along the lines of how very far there was still to go: the under 30s still couldn’t vote in national elections and women were still sprinkled around very thinly as candidates in elections, national and local.
In 1917, with no end to the war in sight, more funds were needed to pay for the fighting and the Government rolled out the War Savings Certificates scheme in which the people lent money to the government. Once again it was organised through the local authorities, who collected money from subscribers and issued the certificates (to be redeemed after the war). In November 1917 Henry Norris waved a £20 note at a meeting when he was trying to urge local people to invest; it had been given him by Edith as a notable contribution to Fulham’s own scheme. The continuing efforts to raise funds for the War Savings scheme led to some truly bizarre events. In March 1918 Fulham prepared its best welcome for a visit from the latest military technology: at 8 o’clock in the morning, Henry and Edith Norris as the mayor and mayoress were standing at the legal boundary of the borough on Chancellor’s Road to meet and greet a tank. They then led the procession that marched behind it as it lumbered its way to Walham Green where Henry Norris made a speech officially welcoming it and urging his listeners to invest in the Savings scheme. The visit of the tank was organised by Fulham Council. On 14 October 1918, this time alone, Edith was back at the borough boundary to meet and follow an artillery gun to Walham Green. Edith had helped organise the visit but it wasn’t a Council-sponsored event, the gun had been organised by Fulham Tradesmen’s Association. It was a much pleasanter occasion because although the influenza epidemic was at its height in London that month, it was generally understood that an end to the fighting was imminent.
I get the impression that 1917 was the toughest year of World War One in the emotional sense. 1918 wasn’t any better in most respects but in the Fulham local press and the Minutes of the LCC I noticed a very different feeling about it. Times were hard, I’m not saying they weren’t: in May there was an influenza epidemic, a dress rehearsal for the autumn’s main event; and soup kitchens were needed again in Fulham, Edith opening the third of them on 11 June 1918 in a building on the corner of North End Road and Star Road. Edith made a speech beginning “Sweet are the uses of advertising” to the listening councillors, suggesting an advertising campaign as a solution to the fact that the soup kitchens weren’t very well known locally.
As well as getting the vote, 1918 was an important year for Edith in a second way. Since her marriage, she had never earned any money of her own and had thus been dependent on money doled out by her husband - in which she was no different from most women. But when Henry Norris retired from his job at the War Office in July 1918, he acknowledged Edith’s important contribution to his political career and the way she had coped in his almost continual absence during the last two or three years by setting up a trust fund to give his wife an income of her own from the rents of properties built by Allen and Norris. The trust fund was administered not by Henry Norris but by his brother John Edward and his most trusted employee, Harry John Peters. It left Edith very comfortably off on her own account with a source of income that could only be taken away if Henry Norris applied to the courts - which of course he never had any intention of doing. Edith was not mentioned at all in Henry Norris’ Will which, the main purport of which was the setting up of a second trust fund for his daughters.
At the end of the year came the end of the fighting. I’m sure Edith was as overwhelmingly relieved as anyone. Immediately after the Armistice the inner workings of Government did Henry Norris a big favour: William Hayes Fisher accepted the offer of a peerage and left the new constituency of Fulham East vacant for Henry Norris to step into. Edith will have been pleased with a campaign speech made by her husband on 3 December 1918: he said not only that he was in favour of women getting the vote, but also that he favoured women having equal access to job opportunities and getting equal work for equal pay - two things they haven’t achieved yet in 2009. Of course this was an unashamed bid to get the votes of Fulham’s newly enfranchised women over 30; but the principles of it were in keeping with Henry Norris’ political views.
On 14 December 1918 Edith Norris - aged 42, a mayoress for the last decade, elected member (still) of Fulham Board of Guardians, mother, hostess and charity worker - cast her first vote, not for her husband of course, but in her local Richmond constituency. She had to wait for two weeks to find out whether Henry Norris had been elected; but when the votes were counted, he had a majority of over 10,000 and Edith became a House of Commons wife.
[ROGER THE NEXT FILE IN THIS SEQUENCE IS SLEDITH2]
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Copyright Sally Davis January 2009