Henry Norris as a Freemason: Fulham Lodge number 2512
Last updated: January 2009
As you can see from its number, Fulham Lodge was a much later foundation than the first lodge Henry Norris joined. It was a more typical freemasons’ lodge than Kent Lodge number 15 had become by the time Norris was initiated there, being founded by a group of businessmen who either lived or worked or did both in Fulham; and continuing to be very Fulham-focused even after it decided to hold its meetings in central London.
There’s a problem with researching the years in which Henry Norris was a member of Fulham Lodge number 2512, because its early records were destroyed by bomb damage during World War One. However, I did find enough information to get a feel of what the lodge was about and who was important in it.
Fulham Lodge number 2512 was consecrated in 1894 and was the idea of Thomas Blanco White, whose solicitor’s practice was in the City of London but who lived in the borough and had many clients there. Blanco White served as the lodge’s first Worshipful Master (WM) in 1894/95 and then as its honorary secretary from 1895 until his death in 1924 when he was succeeded in the role by his son Noel. The job of lodge treasurer also stayed in one man’s hands for many years, Charles Walter serving from 1894 until his death in 1923 when he was succeeded by Percy Shuter.
Thomas Blanco White climbed very far up the long hierarchy of rank in the Grand Lodge, serving as Assistant Grand Deacon in 1911, higher up than Henry Norris got. However, when I was looking through the minutes of meetings of the Grand Lodge, I didn’t see the names of any other men that I knew were members of Fulham Lodge number 2512.
It’s not very likely that Henry Norris knew anyone who was a member of Fulham Lodge number 2512 until 1896 when he accepted William Gilbert Allen’s offer of a partnership in his building business. Allen was not a member of the lodge. He knew members, though he may not have known they were freemasons, it supposedly being a secret: he had gone to Thomas Blanco White for legal advice, for example. Over the next few years, as Norris became more involved in Fulham business life, he will have met some members of the lodge, up to the point where he was initiated as a member in February 1902. There are one or two queries about this. Was he invited or did he volunteer? Even if the records of the period had survived I doubt if I could say; the ones I did find don’t give that interesting information. However, I don’t actually think it was Norris that made the first move - Kent Lodge number 15 was his lodge and remained so, and I’ve said above that he was making his way towards a year as its WM in 1902. And what about William Gilbert Allen? By 1902 he was a freemason in Kent Lodge number 15; but he never joined Fulham Lodge number 2512. I can think of two reasons why not. Firstly, Allen doesn’t seem to have been what you could call a ‘career’ freemason: he never served as WM in Kent Lodge number 15 although as entitled as anyone else to do so. He was not that kind of man. Secondly, whether he volunteered or was chosen, I think Norris was initiated into Fulham Lodge number 2512 as a carefully considered step towards building a platform for a political career. Allen had no such ambitions.
Norris lasted less than a year! Before resigning in January 1903. Why? He might have found it difficult to get to the lodge’s meetings. Surely, though, he would have thought of that before he put himself up for initiation. I have a feeling that it was not to do with other commitments that Norris resigned. In 1903, the lodge was going through the process of setting up its own Chapter; I don’t understand Chapters but they do have to be set up in the manner of a lodge, and are comprised of a lodge’s members; but not all its members. I found a list of the Fulham Lodge number 2512's members whose names were being put forward to be initiated into its new chapter. Norris’ name wasn’t on it so I wonder if he resigned in a fit of pique at being left out.
Four years later though, he was initiated into the lodge for a second time, in October 1907. I wonder which side made the first move this time? Norris had been elected to Fulham Council the year before. Perhaps he was finding it hard going in Fulham’s local government body without being a member of the local lodge. Perhaps the lodge’s members were prepared to overlook past problems in order to have this future local leader back amongst them. Both sides shifted their ground, and Norris was let back in. This time he remained a member until May 1923 when he again resigned. Although I haven’t found any confirmation of the reason why, it can’t be a coincidence that he did so in the same month that he was de-selected by the constituency party in Fulham East. I say more about this unhappy episode in several other files. Here I’ll say that in May 1923 Norris seems to have considered that he could no longer be a member of Fulham Lodge number 2512 - or that he did not need to be a member - now he was losing his job as one of Fulham’s MPs.
Although information on membership in Fulham Lodge number 2512's early years is lacking, I’ve found enough names of members to get together a theory, that Norris suffered the same problem with the local freemasons as he did with the Conservative Party in Fulham: he did not socialise with them enough, he did not make them feel that they were an important element of his political and social success. When speaking to a journalist from the Fulham Chronicle in September 1923, Norris freely admitted that he had not been a regular at Fulham East Conservative Party meetings. I think he didn’t put enough effort into Fulham Lodge number 2512 either. He chose not to serve as its Worshipful Master. He doesn’t seem to have encouraged his acquaintances to try for initiation in Fulham Lodge number 2512, he encouraged them to try for it in a rival lodge. And he doesn’t seem to have made many close friends at Fulham Lodge number 2512 either. When I looked at the lists of important members of Fulham Lodge number 2512 between 1894 and 1923, I was surprised how few names I recognised. If he had been a dedicated member of the lodge, going to meetings and functions regularly (the lodge held a ladies’ night, something Kent Lodge number 15 never did) and taking his turn at the lodge’s leadership, more names of its members would have appeared on the guest-lists for his dinners and receptions when he was mayor of Fulham.
Politics in Fulham was a small world. In what became Henry Norris’ Parliamentary constituency, three organisations were important in getting and keeping you elected - Fulham East Conservative Party, Fulham Lodge number 2512, and Fulham Tradesmen’s Association - and they had overlapping membership. Obviously. A few energetic men were active members of all three. Offend one of the three and you offended them all. I wonder if Norris ever fully appreciated just how entangled the three organisations were?
Three men who were members of Fulham Lodge number 2512 during Henry Norris’ lifetime bucked the general trend by becoming his close friends - by which I mean that their relationship with Norris was based on something more than freemasonry and local politics. George Peachey was such an important man in Norris’ life, perhaps his closest friend in Fulham and certainly the most loyal one, that he has his own files. Peachey was a very long-serving member of Fulham Lodge number 2512 and was its WM in 1918/19. He was a councillor in Fulham for a longer period than Norris was; always a loyal Conservative. However, in local terms he was rather an oddity: he was a man of independent means, and didn’t work at all; he was involved in some local businesses, I think as a landlord, but he didn’t own any of them. Norris’ other two friends were more typical of the kind of person who was a member of one or more of these local organisations.
The two men were Edward Easton, and Tom Green. I know less about Easton even though I actually came across his name more often in the local papers because all I could find out about him was that he was an editor - of what newspaper or magazine I couldn’t discover. Tom Green ran a grocer’s shop; his business occupied various addresses in Fulham in the 1870s and 1880s before moving out to Clapham by the 1891 census. Both men were married, with large families, and they were both older than Norris.
Easton and Green were in at the start of Fulham Lodge number 2512. Easton served as its WM in 1900/01, just before Norris first joined, and may have been instrumental in his joining. He continued to be an important lodge member, and at the lodge’s January 1913 meeting, all six of Easton’s sons were initiated into the lodge, a ceremony sufficiently unusual to have been covered by one of freemasonry’s two weekly newspapers. Green didn’t serve as WM as far as I can see, but he was a founding member of the lodge’s chapter and served as its MEZ, a chapter’s equivalent of a lodge’s WM.
The earliest published Minutes of Fulham Vestry (which later turned into the London Borough of Fulham) are from 1886 and show both Easton and Green as vestrymen (the equivalent of a councillor), both elected as Conservatives. Green was a member of the Fulham Conservative Party’s ruling committee in 1888. He was still a vestryman in 1889, along with Easton and other men who were members of both the lodge and the Conservative Party: J P Flew, G R Haines and J H Margrie. J H Margrie later became one of the most prominent members of Fulham Tradesmen’s Association. Once Green and his business had moved away from Fulham he played less of a part in local politics although he continued his membership of Fulham Lodge number 2512. Easton continued to be elected to Fulham Vestry and the Council that succeeded it; until his death. The councillor’s sent him as one of the borough’s representatives at the Metropolitan Water Board. He was also elected to the LCC and served from 1907 again until his death.
Norris knew both of them very well. Easton was a football fan and often went to matches at Craven Cottage. However, he died in 1916 and Norris doesn’t seem to have been quite so friendly with his children, most of whom did not live in Fulham. Tom Green doesn’t seem to have been a football fan but he and his wife Matilda continued as close friends of Norris and his family until Norris died, surviving the breakdown of Norris’ relationship with the Fulham Conservative Party and his second resignation from Fulham Lodge number 2512. Mr and Mrs Green went to the Norrises reception of March 1913; they went to Joy Norris’ wedding in 1923. They also both went to his funeral, but just as friends. No one represented Fulham Lodge number 2512 at the funeral; and the lodge didn’t send a wreath.
There was one other member of Fulham Lodge number 2512 that Henry Norris knew very well and they seem to have become friends despite circumstances that might have mitigated against it. I’ve mentioned Percy Shuter above as taking over as treasurer of the lodge in 1923. Shuter had served as the lodge’s WM in 1913/14. He also set up the lodge’s benevolent fund, in 1919. I haven’t been able to find out when he was initiated into the lodge, but he was almost certainly recommended by members who were Fulham councillors. Shuter worked for Fulham Vestry/London Borough of Fulham, being hired as second assistant clerk in 1890 and rising through its administrative ranks to become Town Clerk. So when Henry Norris was elected a councillor in 1906, Shuter became one of his senior employees, so to speak. They must have known each other before at least slightly, however, because Shuter was a football fan: when William Gilbert Allen and Henry Norris and their employees took over Fulham FC in 1903, Shuter bought 20 shares in the company they formed to run the club.
Records from the London Borough of Fulham show how highly Norris valued Shuter’s work. The relationship between the two was close from the time Norris was elected mayor (November 1909) and was cemented during World War One, when they essentially ran the London Borough of Fulham between them, organising and managing all the extra burdens of administration and information-gathering that fell on local councils as the fighting continued (and had to be paid for) and so many employees were called up. Norris gave credit to Shuter’s hard work during that period when speaking to local journalists - an unusual thing for him as he preferred to keep his relations with employees private. He also led the other councillors into voting to give Shuter large financial bonuses in 1917 and 1918. Shuter attended Norris’ dinner of 1911 and the great reception of March 1913, along with other senior Council staff. Shuter and his daughter went to Joy Norris’ wedding. And although I haven’t been able to locate the property, I believe that the house Shuter lived in, on Fulham Palace Road, was one of those built by Allen and Norris. I’m not sure how far you can have a friendship between elected mayor and employee but there’s no doubt that Shuter and Norris were very close. Shuter didn’t go to Norris’ funeral (August 1935) nor did he send a wreath; but he may have been dead himself, by then.
Wherever you looked in Fulham politics in Norris’ time, you found a freemason. The only notable exception seems to have been Timothy Davies, MP for Fulham from 1906 to ?1911. I couldn’t find any evidence that he was a freemason but he lacked what seems to have been an important requirement for being invited into Fulham Lodge number 2512: he wasn’t a Conservative, he was a Liberal. William Hayes Fisher, Conservative MP for Fulham before and then after Davies, was a freemason. He was present at the consecration of Fulham Lodge number 2512. But he was never initiated into it, he kept aloof from it, rather in the manner I’ve suggested Norris did. Unlike Norris, though, his aloofness never became a matter of complaint. Norris’ relationship with Fulham’s freemasons was another instance of his being blamed for doing what other people did without criticism. It was a matter of social class. Hayes Fisher had been born a member of the professional upper-middle classes - way above Fulham Lodge number 2512's members; perhaps they didn’t even expect him to want initiation into their lodge. Henry Norris, on the other hand, had come to the lodge’s notice as a local businessman like most of the rest of them, before using his wealth to pull himself away from them into more exalted circles. I think Fulham Lodge number 2512's members sensed that Norris’ membership was a matter of form, not one of his life’s great commitments, and they resented it. They might not have done so, if Norris had been a different kind of man. So it was a matter of personality too. When he resigned for the second time, I think they thought he was no great loss.
[ROGER THE NEXT FILE IS SLFMOTH]
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Copyright Sally Davis January 2009