Henry Norris as an Employer: The Accounts Office at Arsenal

Last updated: November 2008

I’ve argued that results on the pitch were not of over-riding importance to Henry Norris in the 1920s.  To Norris, the most important part of Arsenal in the early 1920s - where he installed both family and ‘family’ - was the accounts office.


Two more shadowy figures for you!  They both came to Arsenal having worked for Henry Norris before.  And they were both money men.




Henry Norris’ brother was nine years younger than he was, born in 1874.  By 1891 he was working as an accountant’s clerk: that is, he was to a qualified accountant what Henry Norris was to a qualified solicitor. 


The suicide of Herbert Jackson in 1906 gave Henry Norris the opportunity to recommend John Edward Norris to the board at Fulham FC as the club’s new secretary.  The other directors accepted his suggestion and John Edward was offered the job.  He worked at Fulham FC until 1914.  Football clubs seemed to have managed with quite a small office staff at this stage and Fulham in Norris’ early years at the club was a fine example of how the job of secretary-manager was still manageable enough to be carried out by one man.  Harry Bradshaw had charge of the team at Fulham FC when John Edward arrived there, but also had to spend time in the office doing the job of company secretary to Fulham Football and Athletic Comany - for example, it was Bradshaw who signed off the limited company’s annual accounts.  While Bradshaw was manager, John Edward did the daily money work, though he may have taken on more of the company secretary work when Bradshaw left and Phil Kelso took his job.  By 1910 it was John Edward Norris who was booking Fulham Town Hall for the AGM of Fulham Football and Athletic Company Limited - which is a task for the limited company’s secretary.  In 1910 he also took over from Frederick Oscar Drew/Merula as editor of the match-day programme, extending Norris influence into an area where it hadn’t been able to assert itself so easily before.  By 1912 John Edward was also preparing the Fulham FC yearly handbook.  His style as was described as “excellent: chatty, bright, brisk” by Drew in his football column in the West London and Fulham Times.  John Edward Norris had become the mainstay of Fulham FC’s office administration.


John Edward Norris was family: John Edward and his wife were always invited to the receptions and dinners Henry and Edith Norris gave as mayor and mayoress of Fulham.  And although they were very different characters, John Edward and Henry Norris do seem to have had the odd interest in common.  They had football - though John Edward confined his support of Fulham FC to doing the programme, and never owned any shares until after Henry Norris’ death.  And they did both get involved in Fulham Amateur Boxing Club when it was set up in 1910.  John Edward was a more active member than Henry Norris, attending its annual dinners more regularly than his brother in the years before World War I and in 1912-13 serving as its vice-president.


The declaration of war in August 1914 seems to have affected John Edward Norris very much as it affected Henry Norris: according to Henry Norris’ 1927 account, John Edward gave up his job at Fulham FC at once and volunteered to do war work.  He ended up as an auditor at the Ministry of Munitions, spending a lot of time in the north of England overseeing factory accounts.  He was promoted to Senior Auditor, and his bosses praised his initiative, his thoroughness and his attention to detail, saying that he had helped the Government save a great deal of money. 

However, after the loose ends of the war had been tidied up, his job was no longer necessary.


From Henry Norris’ evidence of 1927 it looks as though John Edward Norris joined the accounts staff at Arsenal FC in 1921.  Henry Norris describes himself as getting the consent of the club’s other directors and approaching his brother about taking the job.  I’m sure there was no question of coercion in Henry Norris getting the other directors’ consent: William Hall and George Davis and George Peachey would already have known John Edward Norris; maybe even Charles Crisp knew him; and of course he had several years of experience of football administration.  However, there also doesn’t seem to have been any question of advertising the job and allowing other people to apply.  


From 1921, the history of John Edward Norris is tied up with that of Harry John Peters, so I’ll deal with them both together below.  Here I’ll continue with John Edward Norris’ role in Henry Norris’ life after his expulsion from football.   In 1931, William Gilbert Allen died.  When the Allen and Norris partnership became a limited company, John Edward Norris was one of its directors; so he must have been a shareholder too.  When Henry Norris made his Will in August 1933, John Edward Norris and Harry John Peters were its executors; they were to sell property to set up a fund to give an income to Henry Norris’ daughters.  In the Will, John Edward is described as “of no occupation” so he may have been retired by then.   By 1937, John Edward had bought from Edith Norris the 200 shares in Fulham Football and Athletic Company owned by Henry Norris at his death; he thus became one of the club’s biggest shareholders, though not an active one, I think.  John Edward Norris continued to be a director of Allen and Norris Limited; and a trustee of the fund for Norris’ daughters, until his death in January 1946. 


In 1902 John Edward Norris had married Helen Charlotte Louis (known as Nellie), a woman of French extraction who until her marriage worked as an artist.  I couldn’t read exactly how she was earning her living at the time of the 1901 Census, but I think she was telling the Census taker that she hand-painted designs onto china.  The fact that she was earning her own wage at all is very interesting; and she was living alone in a lodging house in London, which is also surprising in a young, unmarried woman in 1901.  John Edward and Nellie began their married life in a house in Lambeth but by the end of World War I they were living in Streatham.  By 1928 they had moved to Sunbury-on-Thames, where they were still living when John Edward died.   They had no children.



I have given an outline of John Edward Norris’ career.  I’ve found out so little about him that an outline is all I’m able to give.  However, I think that almost everything one needs to know about him is contained in Henry Norris’ assessment of him, given to the FA enquiry into Arsenal in 1927.  Of John Edward, Henry Norris said, “He possesses one of the finest characters I have ever known - I would I possessed the equal”.  However, Henry Norris went on immediately to add that, “Unfortunately [my italics] he has never been ambitious”.  This is SUCH a revealing statement; it says so much (I’m sure quite unintentionally) about what Henry Norris thought men ought to be like.  It suggests that Henry Norris thought his brother lacking in manliness - at least by his own standards, which were typical of his era and gender.  And it hints that despite what he was saying, Henry Norris was rather thankful he did not possess the characteristics he’d just praised his brother for.  There’s an ambivalence about it all, however, because it was that very lack of ambition in John Edward Norris that Henry Norris relied on, in appointing him to jobs in enterprises he was in charge of.  John Edward would do an excellent job on Arsenal’s finances without rocking the boat by wanting promotion.  He would be a spy in the camp (probably not intentionally), but people would still like him.  John Edward Norris appears in several photographs of Fulham’s players and office staff, looking much younger than the nine years that actually separate his birth from that of Henry Norris.  There’s an open-eyed-ness about him in the photos that Henry Norris would never be capable of; on the other hand, I bet John Edward was a lot easier to get on with! 



HARRY JOHN PETERS (known as John) is unique because he moved into football from another part of Henry Norris’ employee-empire. 


I know virtually nothing about Peters’ life before 1914.  I can’t identify him for certain on the censuses of 1891 or 1901; so I don’t know how old he was, where he was born, what his father did, who he married (he was married) or any of those things the census can help you with.  All I do know is that he trained as a book-keeper and some years before 1913 he got a job working in the accounts department at Allen and Norris, in Fulham.  He was one of the employees of Allen and Norris who lived in one of the partnership’s houses: he bought 155 Wimbledon Park Road soon after it was built in 1910, and lived there until his death. 


According to Henry Norris’ account of his connection with Peters, written in 1927, Peters contracted pneumonia and had to resign from Allen and Norris on doctor’s orders.  He was then unemployed for a while until 1914, when he was well enough to be taken on by Arsenal FC on Henry Norris’ recommendation, I think to do roughly the job that John Edward Norris was doing at Fulham FC - working as club secretary, under a manager who was the secretary of the limited company.  It says everything about how important Henry Norris thought this particular job was, that at one of his clubs it was done by a family member, and at the other by someone who’d worked for him before.  Managers might come and go - the directors might sack them, for example - but the club secretary must continue to be as close to Henry Norris as was possible.


There was, I should suppose, no question of Harry John Peters getting actively involved in the war effort, after such a serious illness.  Instead, he kept his job at Arsenal FC after the manager, the players and the coaching staff were all sacked at the end of season 1914/15 when professional football ceased for the duration of the fighting.  At that time Arthur Bourke could describe Peters as the club’s acting secretary; by 1918, he was describing him as secretary - by which I suppose he means company secretary in the continuing absence of a club manager.  He was also in charge of match-day arrangements.  As the war dragged on, the Arsenal directors were able to attend fewer and fewer matches and I think there were very few if any board meetings.  As a result, Peters became pre-eminent at the club; like John Edward Norris had done at pre-war Fulham FC but more so, due to the odd circumstances of wartime.  And perhaps he was a different character from John Edward Norris; because his pre-eminence continued into the 1920s.


In April 1919, Leslie Knighton was appointed manager of Arsenal FC after the club had been re-elected to Football League Division One.  There was a certain amount of confusion in the press about the exact nature of Knighton’s duties, some papers describing him as ‘team manager’ rather than club manager, as if he would only be dealing with football matters.  Arthur Bourke was able to put his readers right on this point, telling them that Knighton’s job title would be manager, with all the extra powers and responsibilities that the job title implied.  However, he said that Harry John Peters would continue in the role of club secretary, suggesting that Knighton would have less involvement than any of his predecessor at Arsenal FC in the club’s daily finances.  Here we see the manager’s original job of doing both the football and the money taking another small step towards being split in two; unlike the professionalisation of the players, it took a long time and came about without any active move towards it.  The result seems to have been that Knighton had less involvement in daily financial matters than he predecessors; and Harry John Peters retained much of the pre-eminence that had accrued to him during the war. 


In 1921, Peters was joined in the accounts office by John Edward Norris; but apart from that there were no changes in senior personnel that I know of until 1925 when Knighton was sacked.  When Herbert Chapman was appointed Knighton’s successor, Peters and Norris were still in-post, still doing the jobs they had been doing for several years.


Who did what in Arsenal’s accounts office?  Henry Norris’ own evidence to the FA Commission of 1927 and in his libel case of 1929 has Peters doing the paperwork involved in sending money from Arsenal FC’s bank account to William Hall’s, for the payment of Hall’s chauffeur’s wages.  It has Peters filling in the amount on the cheque for £170 when the Reserve team bus was sold in 1926; and then letting Henry Norris take the cheque himself rather than put it into Arsenal’s bank account.  It has Peters accepting a promissory note from Henry Norris for the £170 sometime in the autumn of 1926; and waiting for Norris’ permission to bank it - which he didn’t get until spring 1927.  It has Peters making out cheques before a board meeting, ready for them to be signed by two of the club’s directors; including one for £125 in May 1926 that was used to make a payment to Charles Buchan which was against the FA rules.  And in 1925 it was Peters who acted for Arsenal FC in the purchase of the house in Hendon which was to be lived in by Herbert Chapman and his family as part of the financial package that brought Chapman to the club.  I list these not to give evidence that Peters knew of FA rule-breaking at Arsenal; but to show that it was Peters who did the confidential and big-money work at Arsenal.  I suppose that the ambition-free John Edward Norris did the less responsible, more routine accounts work; and there were two other people in the office, probably junior to both Peters and J E Norris.


In his statement to the FA Commission in 1927, Henry Norris gave the reasons why he valued Harry John Peters as an employee.  He described him as loyal, devoted and honest; and his work as “a model of what bookkeeping should be”.  However, as he had done with his own brother, Henry Norris went on to comment, “It would be exaggeration to say that he is brilliant, as a matter of fact he is what one should describe as rather slow...in all other respects he is an eminently capable official within the limits of the position”.

Damning with faint praise again?  Yes, and no.  As with Henry Norris’ summing-up of John Edward Norris, it would seem so.  However, I think that Henry Norris was very well-suited by his brother’s lack of ambition and Peters’ lack of cutting-edge.  I think he would not have employed them otherwise.  He knew that he could rely on them not to get uppity or restless in a subordinate position.  They would do as they were told without question or resentment; even when helping to break the rules.  It took an investigation into Arsenal’s finances to awaken Henry Norris to the possible consequences of all this unquestioning carrying out of orders.  Only then did he realise that he’d left Peters in particular open to accusations of stealing money from the club himself or helping his chairman to do so. 


John Edward Norris and Harry John Peters were closer to Norris than any of his other employees.  They were special, so special that he trusted them to become involved in the financial affairs of his own family.  In 1918 he made the two men trustees of the fund he set up to give Edith Norris her own income.  And in 1933 he made them executors of his Will and trustees of a similar fund for his daughters.  That’s a lot of trust.


John Edward was family.  Harry John Peters was ‘family’ - not a blood relation, but the next best thing.  I’ve illustrated that very few of Henry Norris’ employees became ‘family’ in his eyes.  He was very loyal to those that did.  Never mind whether they were up to the job.  And so we come to Henry Norris’ managers, and Herbert Chapman.






Copyright Sally Davis November 2008