Edith Anne Featherstone: Henry Norris’ Second Wife
Last updated: January 2009
When he was elected MP for Fulham East in December 1918, Henry Norris was still mayor of Fulham - for positively the last time! So until 9 November 1919 Edith Norris continued to do all the multifarious duties that had come to be synonymous with her as Fulham’s mayoress. To these she added a second stint as the manager of one group of Fulham’s LCC schools, beginning in January 1919. As an MP Henry Norris was conscientious about attending sessions at the House of Commons, so Edith continued to stand in for him at events in Fulham. Other things were much the same as they had been before, too: the need for soup kitchens hadn’t gone away and on 17 January Edith opened the borough’s fourth kitchen that winter, at 155 Dawes Road. She stood again in April as a representative on Fulham Board of Guardians and was elected in Sand’s End again; however she didn’t top the voting this time, she came third.
As the year advanced and the end of Henry Norris’ long mayor-ship began to hove in sight, Edith began to prepare for life beyond, by putting more effort into two areas she was intending to carry on working in after her long period as mayoress was finally over: women in politics; and nursing care for mothers and infants.
Fulham’s branch of the Women’s Municipal Party (that’s the Conservatives) was still active. On 27 March 1919 Edith went to a meeting there at which the main speakers were Lady Frances Balfour and a new player on the Fulham political scene, Beatrix Hudson Lyall, who was elected shortly afterwards to represent Fulham East on London County Council. On Thursday 3 July 1919 Edith played her part in a concert at Fulham Town Hall to raise money for Fulham Women’s Municipal Party, acting opposite fellow member Alice Mellish in a sketch which the Fulham Chronicle called “Emery Brown” (?) Later in the month she opened her home at Queensberry House in Richmond for “an alfresco thé musicale” to raise funds and interest for the women’s branch of the National Unionist Association, with sixty guests listening to speeches by Beatrix Hudson Lyall, and Winifred Wiseman from Municipal Party headquarters, and to music from a group of musicians concealed behind the rose bushes.
When opening a two-day arts and industrial exhibition organised by south-west London’s Sunday School Union, at Fulham Town Hall on 7 May 1919, Edith used her speech to make a particularly personal statement about the way she saw her involvement in public life: she described herself as loving all children through her own three. Another speaker on that occasion described Edith as, for all her busy schedule, someone who was endlessly willing to find time to get involved in any event that would help children. One of the last events Edith organised as mayoress of Fulham was two parties at Hurlingham for all the children at the LCC’s schools in the borough to celebrate peace at last; a feat of organisation described by the FC as “stupendous”. She doesn’t seem to have been able to attend the first day, but she was there on the second day, 17 September 1919. There were sports events, and every child was presented with a bag containing cakes, buns, chocolate and ginger beer.
Hammersmith and Fulham District Nursing Association was going through big changes at this time. The lease on its premises in Hammersmith was up in October 1919, and its management committee decided that the time had come to divide it in two, with Fulham setting up its own association. Planning for the breakup and the new association in Fulham began in July 1919 with Edith heavily involved, as chairman of Fulham DNA’s management committee. The break officially took place on 20 October 1919. By April 1920 Fulham DNA was up and running from premises at 56-58 Harwood Road, employing five qualified nurses and a matron. It charged for its services, but on a sliding scale according to its users’ ability to pay. Fulham DNA rapidly became a victim of its own success, which just goes to show how great the need for it was: in April 1920 its nurses were making 3000 visits each month. Fulham DNA cost £1000 a year to run, and Edith made it her task to make sure its finances were on the securest possible footing.
Edith didn’t attend Fulham DNA’s AGM on 20 June 1920. She may have been in the process of moving at the time; otherwise I think she wouldn’t have missed such an important meeting. And in any case she was working away for its better future behind the scenes by arranging what she hoped would be a large donation to be made in due course. As had most local authorities, the London Borough of Fulham had decided to raise money for a memorial in the borough to Fulham’s war dead. The committee charged with organising this couldn’t make up its mind how to spend the money being raised. Edith persuaded its members to donate most of the money to Fulham DNA.
Henry Norris’ last meeting as the mayor of Fulham took place on Wednesday evening, 15 October 1919. He and Edith had bought gifts to Fulham’s long-serving town clerk, Percy Shuter, to commemorate his hard work during their reign. When Edith presented him with a cut-glass jug and an elaborate inkstand-cum-clock, she told him that she’d always considered what success she’d had as mayoress to be based on his unflagging support behind the scenes. October 1919 had a valedictory air in Fulham: the first local elections since 1912 were due and others as well as Henry Norris had opted not to stand. It was in these circumstances that Henry and Edith Norris held their last reception at Fulham Town Hall. In the elections of 1 November 1919 the local Labour Party went from not even fielding candidates in most of the wards, to having a majority of the seats on the council. Henry Norris’ last duty as mayor was to hand the mayoral regalia to his trade union activist successor and to be well-beaten in elections to the three vacant alderman-ships. After ten years, Edith was no longer mayoress.
Another break with Fulham’s past came on 2 July 1920 when William Hayes Fisher, MP for Fulham for most of Norris’ decade as mayor and past President of Fulham FC, died. Henry and Edith Norris went to Brookwood to attend his funeral, on 6 July 1920 at which they had some very distinguished political company: Conservative Party leader Bonar Law, a representative of the Duke of Connaught (senior freemason in England) and Earl Curzon of Kedleston.
As 1920 turned into 1921, Fulham DNA still had financial worries because Fulham’s fund for a war memorial hadn’t raised as much money as expected. So Edith was delighted to get involved with Fulham Tradesmen’s Association in May 1920 when it decided to organised a three-day fund-raising event at Fulham Town Hall, Old Fulham Fayre; the Association promised Fulham DNA part of the money raised at the event. Edith and her friend Mrs W J Hammett ran a confectionery and cigarette stall for the three days. Beatrix Hudson Lyall and Fulham’s Primrose League also ran stalls. All the stall holders went in historical costume: one of Edith’s grand-children still has a photograph of her in her dress for the event - she went as Elizabeth I. I think Edith couldn’t get to the first day, 8 June 1921, when Lady Astor - the first woman MP to take her seat in the House of Commons - opened the fair with a speech the FC described as “racy”. However, she and Henry Norris were there on the second day to introduce Lady Meyer, and on the last day when Lady Constance Hatch did the opening ceremony. After it was all over George Peachey, the event’s treasurer, announced that the event had made a profit of £1116; I wonder how much of that Edith’s Fulham DNA got - enough, perhaps, to see it through its next few months? Edith made the speech thanking everybody involved for all their work; and then there was a dance. Edith couldn’t have guessed it at the time but this was the last big fund-raising event she was involved in, in Fulham.
At some time during 1920, the Norrises’ lease on Queensberry House Richmond expired. They decided not to renew it. Instead they left London to live in Bray (now under the M4) and it was probably at this time that Henry Norris invested in a London flat to go back to when Parliament was in session. It was an unsatisfactory arrangement, it seems, and it was only a year later that Henry and Edith Norris bought Lichfield House, 24 Sheen Road Richmond, a house in the classical style of the 18th century previously the home of the novelist Mary Elizabeth Braddon.
Edith Norris still had many social and charitable engagements in Fulham; and I wonder at what stage she became aware of the decline in relations between her husband and his constituency party in Fulham East. Henry Norris had only agreed to be adopted as Conservative Party candidate in Fulham on the understanding that his financial commitment to the local party should be limited; and Edith seems to have agreed with that view. However, funds from other sources proved hard to come by and at the end of 1921 his constituency asked Norris to raise his contribution by half. Both he and Edith were angry, and Henry Norris wrote a response almost immediately, resigning as the candidate rather than pay the increased amount.
There was another flu epidemic in the winter of 1921-22 - not nearly as serious as that of 1918 but nasty enough if you caught it. Whether it was the flu, or the stress of the recent dispute in Fulham East, or some other cause, in late November 1921 Henry Norris became very ill. By Christmas he and Edith had gone away to Italy in the hope that the warmer climate would aid his recovery; leaving his relations with Fulham East Conservative Party in an uncertain state. By February 1922 they were in Nice - which they very much liked - but it was not until early March that they returned to England.
In their absence, rumour had been rife and the name of at least one alternative parliamentary candidate bandied about. It was also put about that Henry Norris was thinking of standing in Fulham East as an independent Conservative against any candidate the constituency party might elect in his place - and that rumour happened to be true, at least for a while. The problems in Fulham East, and the long time abroad that was needed to return Henry to health, caused Edith to decide not to stand in the elections to Fulham Board of Guardians, which took place just after the Norrises returned to England, April 1922. Also very soon after their return, an olive branch from Fulham East Conservatives was waved at them. Henry Norris went to a meeting and reached a compromise with the constituency party. He was re-affirmed as the only candidate to fight the Conservative cause at the next general election. Henry Norris had agreed to do what his constituency party wanted and increase his financial contribution to the party’s expenses. So he was amazed when he received a letter from Fulham East Conservatives only a day or so afterwards, saying that he didn’t have enough support amongst them for them to want him to continue; and that they would ask Conservative Party central office to send them someone else.
Henry Norris was furious, deeply hurt and very bitter. And as he told a reporter from FC in the autumn, Edith was even more so. Over the next few weeks they discussed their options, but it seems they both agreed without much debate what they would do. In June 1922 Henry Norris let it be known that at the next general election he would retire from politics altogether. A few weeks later, in interview he gave to FC in September, he announced that he and Edith would give up all their work in Fulham, which must, I presume, have included Edith’s duties as a school manager. The FC’s reporter seemed to view the loss of Edith’s work in Fulham as more of a catastrophe than the loss of Henry’s, saying that Edith would be all but irreplaceable. She had (the FC said) made hundreds of friends in Fulham; she’d opened more bazaars and fêtes than any other woman in Fulham’s history; and wherever she went, people always wanted her back.
It must have cost Edith a great deal to let go her work at Fulham DNA and Fulham Day Nursery, but she doesn’t seem to have had any hesitation about doing it. It must have been at this stage - with the collapse of Lloyd George’s government imminent - that Edith received offers to stand as an MP herself. The offers came not just from the Conservatives, as a straight swap for Henry Norris; but also from the Liberals in Fulham East. She declined both, and let it be known that she did so because she deplored the way her husband had been treated.
What a sad ending to so many years of commitment to the cause of children’s well-being in Fulham!
HENRY AND EDITH NORRIS’ ENTERTAINING IN FULHAM
If you’ve read very much of the Life of Henry Norris you will know that Henry and Edith Norris held several very large social events as mayor and mayoress of Fulham, to which they invited a wide range of family, political, social and freemason contacts. They were a tour de force of organisation, logistics and social skills. The first of these was held at Fulham Town Hall two months into their first year in the job. It began at eight in the evening with Edith as the hostess formally welcoming people as they arrived; and continued until one the following morning with dancing. Lord Kinnaird, President of the Football Association and also owner of the land being built on by Kinnaird Park Estate Company, was the most high-ranking guest: quite a coup to get him there. In its write-up of the event, WLFT commented that after this evening at the Norrises’ expense their popularity in Fulham was “increasing” - implying that it hadn’t been so great before. I think Edith was largely the one responsible for its increase. I’ve said above that people liked her. Now I shall say that people liked her more than him.
The next major social occasion hosted by Henry and Edith Norris was a political one: they hired the new Coronation Room at the Clarendon Restaurant in Hammersmith, to give a dinner for Henry’s political colleagues on Fulham Council. They did the same again in October 1912, just before local elections that saw every seat in Fulham go to the Conservatives.
On 13 March 1913, the Norrises held another social event at Fulham Town Hall. No expense was spared in arrangements that WLFT described as “sumptuous”; there was a concert, and dancing, and food from Harrods. The guest-list ran into the hundreds; I have taken it as the basis of my Norris contacts list. I think of this occasion as the social pinnacle of Edith and Henry Norris’ time in Fulham.
The war prevented any repeat of the March 1913 event. On Thursday 16 October 1919 Edith and Henry Norris held what they called the Peace Reception at Fulham Town Hall, but it was a noticeably different occasion from that of March 1913. Only about 200 people were invited, and there were fewer names on the guest-list that I recognised as people living or working in Fulham. Instead, some recently-made acquaintances attended, from the House of Commons and perhaps the War Office.
EDITH AND POLITICS
During a speech many years after they had married, Henry Norris said of Edith and politics that they didn’t discuss them very much, because their views were in accord. Let’s hope that was true! If it wasn’t, Edith played the political wife role to the full by never saying so in public. I should imagine that it was true in the macro-political sense of their having the same views on Ireland and unemployment and German reparations after World War One; possibly even on free trade, on which Henry Norris’ views did not chime with most of his Party. What about the micro-sense, though?
This is more difficult to work out - because if Edith made any political speeches (and she ought to have done) they were not recorded for posterity in the local press. Henry Norris always stood as a Conservative Unionist, and if their views were in the accord he claimed, Edith’s politics must have been Conservative as well. In local elections, both to council and to boards of guardians, the Conservatives always stood on a policy of cutting the rates - which was always welcomed by the business community but for those requiring the services of the local Poor Law it meant a cut in services. The fact that, once elected, the Conservatives often found themselves putting up the rates despite all their promises was beside the point: if Edith toed the Party line she must have been elected to the Board of Guardians prepared to wield the budget-cutting knife. I wish I knew more about the inner workings of Fulham Board of Guardians: it would be very revealing to know Edith’s voting patterns when cost-cutting came up on the agenda. However, Edith was re-elected, often with the most votes of anyone on the Board, for a decade as a representative of one of Fulham’s poorer districts; so her constituents can’t have seen her as too much of an axe-wielder. Perhaps her political instincts were not as great as her caring ones, when it came to the crunch.
Edith’s public career was very much in the Edwardian style not the Victorian one. In reading about the lives of conservative upper-class and even middle-class women in late Victorian and Edwardian England I always get a sense of wilful dichotomy about their thinking, borne of the ideology of womanhood under which they had been brought up. By Edwardian England I think the idea of the angel in the house, divorced from the rough and tumble of the world outside, was dead in the water if it had ever been alive. And as I’ve shown, women were involved in public life as political wives, and in local institutions as candidates and elected representatives in their own right. But they were all the time expected to do it all, and expecting themselves to do it, while keeping intact a home-based ideology of femininity designed to keep women powerless. It’s taken us all a long time to break out of that and Edith Norris played a small part in moving us forward.
Edith played the role of supportive political wife very well. She also took part in political campaigns on her own behalf to get herself elected and re-elected to Fulham Board of Guardians. I think if you had asked Edith to justify why she took such an active role in local public life she would have argued that she did it as a mother, for all children: she certainly carved out that role for herself as mayoress of Fulham and several times referred to her work in Fulham in that way. Standing as a candidate in a General Election, however, was a step too far for her, especially after she had watched, enraged, what had happened to her husband at the hands of the men who should have been his local supporters.
EDITH AND HENRY NORRIS IN RETIREMENT
If Edith Norris did any charitable work after the autumn of 1922, it was on a small scale and wasn’t recorded in great detail in the press. Henry Norris, in his enforced retirement, turned his energy and managerial skills onto Arsenal FC. For the most part, however, Edith and Henry Norris enjoyed a wealthy retirement.
Although for Edith the months in southern Europe in the winter of 1921-22 must have been attended by some anxiety about Henry’s health, they both enjoyed the social life they found on the Côte D’Azur so much that they went back many times. I do not know when the Norrises’ villa on the south of France was built; but I suggest that the decision to have a house in the south of France was the outcome of their winter abroad. They bought a plot of land, not in the more fashionable towns of Nice or Cannes, but at nearby Villefranche, where both land prices and the social life were less alarmingly expensive. Winters at Villetta Joy enjoying the ex-patriot social round became part of the Norrises’ yearly schedule. From 1933 there’s a glimpse of them, staying in a hotel this time, playing bridge with some chance-met English acquaintances.
Summers were spent at Summerholme, the houseboat Henry Norris had bought and turned into a cottage on a small island just outside Henley-on-Thames. The Norrises were at Summerholme in July 1926 when Edith inadvertently set in train the events which led to Henry Norris’ dismissal from Arsenal at the hands of the FA in August 1927. She happened to mention that her bank account was overdrawn by £100. From Henry Norris’ account of this conversation, Edith wasn’t looking for a loan or a gift; all the same, her husband didn’t like the idea of her getting into debt. Searching in his wallet for some money to give Edith to put her back in the black again, Henry found a cheque for more than the necessary amount, and decided to give Edith that. It was payable to Arsenal FC but he endorsed it - clumsily, in Herbert Chapman’s name - so Edith could use it. Edith duly paid it into her account. The cheque made its way back whence it had come, to a garage in Islington where it was spotted by a man who knew Henry Norris of old...
Edith played another, passive role in the unfolding tragedy of Henry Norris and Arsenal FC: early in 1927 she was very ill. That winter there was yet another flu epidemic so her illness may have been complications from that. I imagine that Henry and Edith had originally intended to spend the winter abroad, as had become their habit, but instead they stayed in England during January and February. Edith had to have an operation. While she was so ill there was no question, of course, of Henry Norris leaving her side, so he missed several football matches including an FA Cup replay during which there was a row between the manager and the first team coach that had widespread repercussions at the club. After the operation Edith needed a period of rest and recovery, so despite the problems at Arsenal FC Henry Norris went with her and the family to Villefranche. They travelled in their normal way, taking several days being driven through France in their car. They had only been at Villetta Joy a few weeks, however, when Henry Norris received a telegram from Arsenal (probably from Harry John Peters) saying the Football League were coming to investigate the club’s finances; because some rumours were going round that Henry Norris had stolen £170. Norris hurried back to England by train, intending to sort the situation out and return to France at once. However, the situation didn’t lend itself to any quick solution so in the end Edith and the rest of the party had to take a boat through the Bay of Biscay to rejoin him in England.
As well as at Villetta Joy and Summerholme, the Norrises lived for part of the year in several different houses in central London. They sold Lichfield House in 1925. In the late 1920s they lived at 24 Queen’s Gate, a house which is remembered by Edith’s grand-children chiefly for its lift - an unusual feature in an English house at that time. After a brief period in a house on King’s Avenue Clapham, in late 1933 they moved to a house they renamed Sirron Lodge, an 18th-century villa with views across Barnes Common. They had only been there a few months when Henry Norris died.
[ROGER ONE MORE TO GO IN THIS SEQUENCE - SLEDITH3]
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Copyright Sally Davis February 2009