1918: an end to the World War 1 fighting: Henry Norris is libelled and elected an MP; and football starts getting back to normal

Last updated: March 2008


Only one day after the Armistice, on Tue 12 November 1918 the FA held a conference on the future of football; the delegates came down strongly in favour of continuing with the currently-operating amateur leagues - something Henry Norris would have opposed.  However, it seems that Henry Norris wasn’t at the conference to argue the matter: at 2.30pm, Tue 12 November 1918 he was in Spring Gardens on the South Bank, for the regular meeting of the full LCC.

Meanwhile across the Thames, the House of Commons was hearing a statement on how the process of demobilisation would be carried out.


In the House of Commons on Thurs 14 November 1918 came the long-awaited announcement of a general election.  Voting would take place on Saturday 14 December 1918 - long before most soldiers could hope to be demobbed.  The announcement, made by Bonar Law, said that the coalition that had run the country since December 1916 would fight the election as a coalition.  It consisted of those Liberals who agreed with Lloyd George, the Conservatives, and some Labour M Ps.  That evening however, a meeting of the Labour Party resulted in a split in the ranks: those MPs who’d served in the coalition refused to leave it. The intention of the current government to stand in the election as a coalition meant that despite having been selected as a Parliamentary candidate in Stockport for the Conservatives before the war had begun, Henry Norris was not allowed to fight that seat.  But there was a vacancy on his own patch: William Hayes Fisher would not be standing in Fulham East. 


On the afternoon of Sat 16 November 1918 Henry Norris was at Highbury to watch Arsenal 1 Fulham 3.  With him in the directors’ box were William Hall and Hall’s brother-in-law George Davis.


On the evening of Mon 18 November 1918 Henry Norris may also have had the time to go to the Freemasons’ Hall to attend the installation of the new Worshipful Master of the London Mayors’ freemasons’ lodge, number 3560.


Between Thur 14 November and Fri 22 November 1918 Henry Norris went through the proper processes in Fulham and was selected as the Conservative and Unionist Party candidate to stand in Fulham East.  The constituency, created by the Representation of the People Act 1917, included Sand’s End, which he already represented at the London Borough of Fulham: it was his political heartland.  The list of all candidates declared so far in Fulham was printed in the Fulham Chronicle on Fri 22 November 1918 together with the Coalition’s election manifesto, which made getting a good peace deal to end World War 1 its major priority; with a national and local government scheme for building housing in second place - something that Norris opposed later in his career, but not at this stage, at least, not openly.  His only opponent so far in Fulham East was a Mr Coysh, secretary of the Commercial Travellers’ Association,  representing those in the split Liberal Party who followed ex-Prime Minister Asquith rather than current PM Lloyd George.


Henry Norris definitely had more time at his disposal for his civilian duties now than for several years.  On the morning of Fri 22 November 1918 he went to a meeting of the full LCC at which the only item on the agenda was its Theatre and Music Halls Committee’s latest report - these reports, mostly concerned with licensing, were so big that they needed a dedicated meeting.  Also on Fri 22 November 1918 the Football League held its first meeting since the cease-fire.  I guess Henry Norris didn’t attend this; William Hall was on the FL Management Committee and probably represented Arsenal FC at the meeting.  The FL gave its member clubs permission to start paying players at once, at a rate of £1 per player per match plus fares.  This was actually a big problem, however, for clubs around London, who’d all got a number of serving members of the armed forces in their teams.  They argued that the armed forces wouldn’t allow the players to accept the £1 per match while they were still their employees.


On Mon 25 November 1918 the wartime Parliament was dissolved.  And for the first time since May 1915 the Times printed a football league table.


At 2.30pm on Tue 26 November 1918 attended a meeting of the full LCC; it was very short indeed, being declared over at 2.51pm.


On the evening of Thur 28 November 1918 the Liberal Party began its campaign in Fulham East with a meeting at the Congregational Hall in Dawes Road.


On Fri 29 November 1918 Henry Norris’ campaign in Fulham East got under way with an official notice in the Fulham Chronicle from his constituency agent, James L Whitlock at 404 North End Road.  The notice listed a number of reasons why the local population should vote Norris, including that he had the support of “a number of discharged soldiers”.  That evening, Fri 29 November 1918 the Fulham Labour Party held its first campaign meeting, at Fulham Town Hall.  The Labour Party was only fielding one candidate at this point; local trade union official R M Gentry was standing in Fulham West.


On Tue 3 December 1918 the Times turned to west London in its series on the General Election.  In Fulham East it thought the Liberal Party candidate was the most likely of the two to pick up the floating votes there would be “in the absence of a Labour candidate”.  On Tue evening, 3 December 1918 Henry Norris’ first campaign meeting took place, at Christchurch Parish Hall, Studdridge Street.  It’s clear from the speeches made that night what Norris thought were the characteristics most likely to get the population of Fulham to vote for him in the general election.  He had got a local soldier, Lieutenant H J Niss, to make the first speech.  Niss seems to have been a Liberal Party sympathiser: he told the audience that he did not support the coalition, because it would split the Liberal vote.  However, he was supporting Norris against Coysh, because Coysh neither lived nor worked in Fulham.  Niss described Coysh as imported goods; and Norris as  “British throughout”.  This choice of a Liberal voter to speak at his first campaign meeting was emphasised by Henry Norris in his own speech as a statesmanlike gesture in unusual times: he said he’d  “forgotten” all his political views and just wanted, now, to serve his country.  He described the group of Liberals Coysh represented as being jealous of Lloyd George’s success in having led Britain to victory in the war.  Norris said he was happy to stand as Coalition candidate as he saw the coalition of all parties as necessary to negotiate the best possible conditions for peace.  With a jingoism he had never displayed - at least, not in public - before the war, Norris expressed some strong views on the subject of what should happen now to Germans living in the UK when the war had broken out.  He thought that those who had been interned should be re-patriated soon.  And when a voice from the audience asked him, “What about naturalised Germans?” Norris thought that they too should be sent back to Germany rather than stay here to compete with British men for work.  He also came out in favour of prosecuting Kaiser Wilhelm for war crimes. 


Up until this point it had been a two-horse race in Fulham East.  But then came the official procedures for the nomination of candidates standing in the General Election, on Wed 4 December 1918 at Fulham Town Hall.  Henry Norris and Mr Coysh were going through the necessary administration of their candidacies when up popped a man willing to stand in Fulham East for the Labour Party.  The nomination of Cook as an independent Labour candidate (that is, against Labour taking any part in the Coalition) took everyone by surprise, including (it would seem) the Labour Party in Fulham.  The West London Observer later reported that “nothing was known of him until the 11th hour”.  He had paid his own deposit and would be acting as his own agent.  Despite having come out of nowhere and apparently having no Party support, he had nevertheless told the other candidates he’d have “the strongest election address in London”.


The fact that it was nomination day on Wed 4 December 1918 meant that Henry Norris was unable to attend the quarterly meeting of the freemasons’ United Grand Lodge of England, at the Freemasons’ Hall in Covent Garden.


The following evening, Thur 5 December 1918 Henry Norris went to his second campaign meeting, at the Bethel Hall in North End Road.  What he said on this occasion shows that in many ways his political views were not typically Tory.   It was acceptably Conservative Party policy to defend the Liberal Lloyd George’s leadership during the war, and speak out against sections of the press that had attacked him (being attacked by the press being something Norris knew a lot about!).  His views of women and work were not especially Conservative; and I suspect that they were not now anything like what they had been before the war: Norris defended women’s suffrage but he went further, saying that in his personal view, many jobs now carried out solely by men could equally well be done by women and that he thought women should get equal pay for equal work (they are still far short of getting that in 2008).  He spoke in support of state care for the servicemen who would shortly be returning home, saying there should never be a repeat of the scenario common after the wars of the past, with ex-soldiers being reduced to begging in the streets.  Ex-servicemen still capable of work should be taught a trade; those too disabled to work should be in the state’s care.  Norris then got more radical still: he said that if the country could spend £8 million per day on a war it could spend something to keep its ex-soldiers in comfort.  On the question of industrial relations, Norris seemed to acknowledge that after World War 1 the old relations between the classes could and perhaps should never be the same.  He said that capital and labour had to conduct their negotiations differently from the way they had done in the past.  His own view of employer/employee relations was not particularly orthodox.  It reflected the fact that he himself was not from the old governing class; he had come up from the working-class to end up a manager and employer of the working-classes.  This evening, he told his audience that in his opinion, strike action tended to be caused, not by workers taking advantage but by government or employer ineptitude.  He said he’d been impressed by the representatives of the labour movement that he worked with on the various committees he’d been on during the war.  Touching on other thorny issues, he thought train fares should be cut, by reversing completely the 50% price increase that had been introduced as a war measure; and again he stated that he favoured the re-patriation of all Germans, whether or not they were naturalised UK citizens.


It’s clear that the unexpected Labour Party candidate in Fulham East had caught his own party on the hop: on Fri 6 December 1918 the West London Observer publicised a series of Labour Party rallies to be held in the next week; but they were all in support of Mr Gentry who was standing in Fulham West; there were none organised - at least, not so far - for a candidate in Fulham East.  That evening, Fri 6 December 1918 representatives of all the clubs in the London Combination met at Winchester House in Old Broad Street, City of London, to make some decisions about football in London over the next few months.  They agreed to start paying players as from the following day’s matches - Sat 7 December 1918 - and drew up a scale of payments.  And they voted to hold a cup competition - a one-off, to be called the London Combination Victory Cup.  (Thereby hangs a tale! - see 1919).  I don’t know for certain that Henry Norris represented Arsenal at this meeting, but he probably did so.  On Sat 7 December 1918 Arsenal 0 Spurs 1 became the first match at Highbury since May 1915 for which Arsenal FC had to pay the players a wage.  I don’t think Henry Norris attended it, but George Elliott, the mayor of Islington did so.  Even though Arsenal FC had been camped in his borough for 5 years by now, this was Elliott’s first ever football match; I take it he went there because he too was on the campaign trail in the general election.


At 8pm on Sat 7 December 1918 Henry Norris had another campaign meeting, at the Fulham Town Hall, under the slogan he’d picked for his entire campaign: ‘Empire Before Party’.  A Mr Spencer Leigh Hughes was a guest speaker on this occasion; I don’t know anything about him except that he was not an acquaintance of Norris’ as far as I am aware.


By Mon 9 December 1918 the most authoritative football newspaper of Norris’ time, the Manchester+based Athletic News was noting how much discussion there already was about the organisation of football after World War 1.  Almost every aspect of football was up for review, it seemed.  One idea that the report mentioned was the brain-child of Norris’ acquaintance at Spurs, T A Deacock: he was advocating a third division of the Football League - and this was one idea that was actually carried out.  Athletic News  said that two London clubs were known to favour continuing with “a sort of glorified London Combination” rather than going back to the Football League as the basis for football in the London area.  The two clubs were probably West Ham and Fulham.  That evening, at 8pm on Mon 9 December 1918 Henry Norris held a campaign meeting at the West Kensington Lecture Hall in Challoner Street; West Kensington was the only part of Fulham East constituency that wasn’t in the London Borough of Fulham.


Probably during Tue 10 December 1918 though I am not certain of the date as the Times didn’t specify it: Henry Norris went to court and obtained a legal injunction forcing the independent Labour Party candidate in Fulham East to withdraw all from circulation all copies of his election manifesto.  This was the beginning of Henry Norris’ first libel case (first of three; 2-1 to Norris).  For how it panned out, and what Norris objected to, see my file HENRY NORRIS AND POLITICS: Free-trading Tories and Two Libel Cases.  [ROGER THERE WILL NEED TO BE A LINK HERE BUT THE LIBELS FILE ISN’T WRITTEN YET.] On the afternoon Tue 10 December 1918 there was a meeting of the full LCC but Henry Norris didn’t attend it; I suppose he was consulting his lawyers.


At 8pm on Wed 11 December 1918, with the general election three days away, Henry Norris held another campaign meeting, this time in St Matthew’s Parish Hall, Wandsworth Bridge Road.


The day before polling, Fri 13 December 1918 most candidates in the general election had an advertisement in their local paper.  Henry Norris’ announced that - as the Coalition Government’s candidate in Fulham East, he had the support of Lloyd George for his Liberals, Bonar Law for the Conservatives, and G H Barnes of the coalitions’ Labour supporters.


The ballots were open in the 1918 General Election from 08.00 to 21.00 Sat 14 December 1918.  Henry Norris’ wife Edith was eligible to vote for the first time; so was his unmarried sister, who lived with them, Ada Norris.  I’m sure both of them used their new vote, in Richmond; but on a rainy day and with so many young men still in the armed forces abroad, this was the lowest percentage turn-out until Tony Blair’s last victory.  A mix-up at a polling station resulted in 600 spoiled ballot papers in Fulham East.  The votes weren’t counted until after Christmas so Norris had to wait nearly three weeks to know if he had won.


After the matches of Sat 14 December 1918 a group of professional footballers based in London got together in Farringdon Street to be annoyed about the “niggardliness” of the recent pay offers.  At the end of the meeting, the Players’ Union was re-founded.  All the London Combination clubs were represented at this meeting, which was chaired by Arsenal FC’s Hardinge.


On the morning of Mon 16 December 1918 the repatriation of the Belgian refugees housed at Earl’s Court began, easing one of the extra strains on the wartime resources of the London Borough of Fulham.


At 2.30pm on Tue 17 December 1918 Henry Norris attended the last meeting of the year at the LCC.


In the evening of Tue 17 December 1918, at the Anderton’s Hotel, representatives of clubs in the Southern League met for the first time since May 1915.  The result of the meeting was an approach by the Southern League to the Football League, to suggest that the two amalgamate.  Athletic News thought that amalgamation would probably involve the election of clubs to an expanded FL Division One and Two; and possibly the creation of a FL Division Three again with the clubs in it being chosen by election.  Henry Norris may have attended that meeting, as a representative of Fulham.  I think it’s more likely he was at the meeting that evening, Tue 17 December 1918 of the London Combination and the newly re-formed Players’ Union; though he was no longer chairman of the London Combination - that was Chelsea’s Claude Kirby, who chaired this meeting.  The London Combination rather ducked the question of players’ wages, by saying that it was only a temporary organisation, with no legal functions.



Although counting of the votes in the General Election hadn’t yet taken place, rumour was rife.  On Fri 20 Dec 1918 the Fulham Chronicle reported that it was understood in the district that the two Fulham seats had been won by the Coalition’s candidates, Cyril Cobb and Henry Norris.


By Mon 23 Dec 1918 a club based in London had applied to the armed forces to have its players demobilised early.  Athletic News, which printed the news, didn’t name the club.


I hope Henry Norris got to see this: Arsenal 9(yes, nine) Clapton Orient 2 on Boxing Day, Thur 26 December 1918.  Orient had been the first to score, after 2 minutes.


Beginning at 10.00 Sat 28 December 1918 the official count of the General Election votes took place; Fulham’s were counted at Fulham Town Hall.  The Fulham Chronicle was proved right, and Henry Norris became the MP for Fulham East.  When the count was over and the result confirmed, Norris and Cobb went to the Fulham Central Library where they unveiled a memorial to Fulham’s first World War 1 VC, Edward Dwyer.  This gesture had been Henry Norris’ idea - he thought it was a fitting and symbolic action for the newly-elected MP’s to undertake.  Later in the day Norris composed the letter the elected MP usually wrote, thanking those who had voted for him; this was published in the West London Observer on Fri 3 January 1919.  His acquaintance George Elliott, mayor of Islington, was elected MP for Islington West; and a Baldwin Raper, an RAF pilot, became MP for Islington East, the constituency in which Arsenal FC lived.  Both were Coalition MP’s.  Raper was not a local man in Highbury although until World War 1 he had worked for a City-based timber merchants.  On being chosen to fight Islington East he’d quickly shown he knew which sides his bread was likely to be buttered: he’d spoken in favour of women having been granted the vote; and he went to Highbury on Sat 30 November 1918 to watch Arsenal 0 West Ham 2.  During his term as an MP he was a regular at Arsenal games.


Mostly likely on the evening of Sat 28 December 1918 there was a party at the Conservative Club in Shorrolds Road, Fulham, for the two successful Coalition candidates; although Henry Norris later remembered it as having taken place on the following day, Sun 29 December.  He of course attended it, but it’s not clear whether Edith Norris went with him - it may have been an all-male do.  The party took on a significance later that it didn’t have at the time, because not many people actually turned up for it.  Press coverage of the event at the time ascribed that to the heavy rain that was falling on the day it was held; but in 1922 Norris saw the small attendance as a snub - to him personally, not to Cyril Cobb although the party was for him too.  Also that evening, Sat 28 December 1918 Frank Bradshaw of Arsenal FC chaired a meeting of the Players’ Union at the Memorial Hall Farringdon Street, to prepare a set of demands that had to be met on wages and contracts before the resumption (which all in football now expected, if not immediately) of professional football.


The ideas for the improvement of football kept on coming.  Before Mon 30 December 1918 Blackpool FC had put forward a plan to lengthen the football season at both ends, back to mid-August and forward into mid-May.  The plan would mean less mid-week games - I’ve found in my own researches on Arsenal, Spurs and Clapton Orient, that mid-week games consistently had poor crowds compared to Saturday ones.  It would also be needed to accommodate the fixtures of a larger Football League with all of its divisions having more teams in them.


In its edition of Mon 30 December 1918 Athletic News began a campaign which was important for Arsenal though in a very indirect way: it printed articles in which the writers argued that Chelsea FC, relegated in May 1915, should be returned to Football League Division One before the restart of professional football.  For the reasons why the writers felt that way, see my file on 1915 [ROGER THIS NEEDS A LINK TO SL15] and the one for next year, 1919 [ROGER IT ALSO NEEDS A LINK FORWARD TO 1919].




Copyright Sally Davis March 2008