William Hall: The Great Betrayal

Last updated: July 2008


William Hall was vice-chairman of [Woolwich] Arsenal FC to Henry Norris’ chairman, from 1910 to 1927.  In July 1927 it was William Hall who asked the Football Association to investigate Arsenal FC’s finances in case Norris had taken the club’s money for himself.  The investigation led to the banning of both Norris and Hall from football management.  A tragic end to a long football relationship.  How did it come to that between them?


As William Hall is a common name, alas!  - so I am not absolutely certain I have got the correct birth, but I believe Arsenal’s William Hall was born in Lambeth in 1858 to Francis Hall and his wife Grace, née Hastwell.  Francis Hall was described as a dealer in ‘marine goods’ in the 1861 census; I suppose that means he dealt in supplies for shipping; or possibly for ship-building.  In 1861 the he and Grace were living at 9 Chapel Street, Stockwell.  They had a large family: five sons (William was the fourth) and one daughter. 


Francis Hall died in 1864, with his eldest son only 15; it seems that the marine goods business wasn’t carried on without him.  In 1871 Grace Hall had moved to 69 South Island Place, Vauxhall and was in business on her own account as a dealer in rags - either as a second-hand shop or as a supplier of raw materials for the flock mattress-making trade; if it was the latter she may have known the employers of Henry Norris’ father, the Pike brothers, whose mattress-making factory was in Wandsworth.  Grace’s two eldest sons were helping her in the business; William was still at school.


The next decade saw more changes in the Hall families fortunes, ending with the second son, Walter, being back in the marine goods trade, at 4 St George Terrace, Battersea, in the 1881 census.  Grace had given up the rags business and was living with Walter and his wife Jane.  None of Walter’s siblings were living with them.  I couldn’t find William Hall at all on the 1881 census though as I say, it’s a common name and I might have missed him.  It’s unfortunate, because I can’t tell within about 20 years when Hall started his own business. By 1891 it seems to have been thriving.  In the 1891 census William Hall, now 33, was living above the shop (as it were) at 87 Winstanley Road Battersea, near Clapham Junction station, and he was described as a ‘metal merchant’.  His mother Grace lived with him, keeping house as he was not yet married, and his business was doing well enough for them to employ one general servant, who lived in - the mark that distinguished (at least in contemporary eyes) between the working class and the middle class.


The censuses are not in the business of describing people’s source of income at great length; it’s a pity, but there it is.   The Post Office director for 1902 includes William Hall in its list of lead manufacturers and states that Hall’s business built lead pipes and ‘composition gas tubes’ which I take it were also made of lead: the entry means he was making pipe-work for carrying gas and water supplies to and from buildings.  The firm’s entry in 1915 makes it clear it made sheet lead as well - for laying on church roofs, for example; and also zinc sheeting, for flat roofs.  In a time of huge and rapid expansion of the suburbs of London, a reliable, well-run business of this sort could hardly fail and Hall’s business prospered.  By 1902 it had expanded, taking up 87 and 89 Winstanley Road and also occupying a site round the corner, at the Britannia Works, Plough Road.  The business continued on those two sites until 1929, though Hall himself moved his family away in the 1900s (see below).


How did William Hall get started in the business of manufacturing lead pipes?  No idea - it’s lost in those missing 20 years.  Name one firm whose bank and architects had offices in Battersea and which was building houses at a great rate very close to Hall’s business?  Allen and Norris.  Neither Henry Norris nor William Hall ever explained how they met.  I don’t suppose anybody asked them.  But one obvious way they could have met is if William Hall’s lead pipe and sheet metal business was one of Allen and Norris’ sub-contractors.


Another way they could have met was through the freemasons.  William Hall was initiated into Bolingbroke Lodge number 2417 on 10 March 1898.  On 3 September 1898 he became a member of the Rose of Denmark Chapter number 975 as well; though he had ceased to be a member as early as 1903.  Norris was never a member of either of these, but he and Hall may have met at freemasons’ functions. 


If Norris and Hall met through football, it was not because they both played it.  In an interview given in 1908, William Hall said that in his youth he’d been keen on swimming and cycling.  Later in his life he enjoyed driving (in those days when it wasn’t a penance and a purgatory) and a game of bowls.  But he doesn’t ever seem to have played football.  His first connection with football had come when he was much older, and as a spectator.


William Hall married late in life.  His marriage to Kate Elizabeth Davis took place in 1899.  Kate Elizabeth was the daughter of a servant at one of the Cambridge University colleges.  Her brother George also lived in London, working as a pharmacist; for a short while he was a director of [Woolwich] Arsenal FC (see below). 


It may have been on his marriage that William Hall moved away from living above his metal workshop.  At the time of the 1901 census he and Kate Elizabeth were living at 36 Bolingbroke Grove, near Clapham Common.  I do wish William Hall was not such a common name!  I can only be completely certain of one child that they had: Elsa Kate Hall was born in 1902; though I think this may be a son of William and Kate Elizabeth: William Francis Hall, born 1907.


In 1903 William Hall joined two more freemasons’ lodges.  He became a founder member of St Michael le Querne Chapter number 2697 though his membership had ceased by 1919.  And on 14 October 1903 he was initiated into Kent Lodge number 15 at the end of the year which Henry Norris had served as its worshipful master.  It could have been that Kent Lodge number 15 in 1903 was the place and time where Hall met Norris; but I think it’s more likely that they already knew each other and that Norris was one of Hall’s sponsors when he was being vetted for membership.  Hall remained a member of Kent Lodge number 15 until March 1928.


If Norris and Hall already knew each other in 1903 then Hall had (so far) resisted getting involved in Norris’ other big project of 1903 - the take-over of Fulham FC by a group of local men focused on the Allen and Norris partnership.  The first list of shareholders in Fulham Football and Athletic Company Limited, issued 27 July 1903, does not have William Hall’s name on it.  However, by the end of the following year he had got himself involved.  In the new issue of shares in the company that funded the refurbishment of Craven Cottage in 1904/05, he bought firstly ten shares (December 1904) and then 200 (14 April 1905).   Owners of over 25 shares were eligible to stand for election to the board of directors - though of course it didn’t mean that the owners wanted to do so.  However, the annual report of Fulham Football and Athletic Company Limited of 14 July 1905 shows that William Hall was now a director of the company - that is to say, he had immersed himself in the cold water of transfer fees,  relegation and promotion, injury crises, 0-0 draws on freezing afternoons in December... (It’s July 2008, the end of last season was grim - the more so because the beginning showed such promise - it looks like Adebayor and Hleb are leaving us because we never win anything and season 2008/09 is only a few weeks away.)   On Saturday 28 April 1906 he attended his first Fulham FC annual dinner, at the Holborn Restaurant (often used for large football functions) but he was so little known to the local pressmen that he was called “W. Hull” in the Fulham Chronicle’s account of the evening.


By 1907 William Hall had also moved into Henry Norris’ house!  Norris had been living since his second marriage at 28 Woodborough Road Putney.  He wanted to move to somewhere bigger and Hall either leased or bought the house from him.  Unlike Norris, though, Hall stayed living at that address and it was still his home when he died in 1931 and his widow’s until at least 1938.


On Monday 18 March 1907, Craven Cottage played host to England 1 Wales 1.  One of Henry Norris’ grand-children has a photograph taken that day, one of only two I’ve found with Hall on them.  He’s a small man, hair and moustache already grey, giving impression of neatness in his best suit and bowler hat for this important occasion in Fulham FC’s history.  After the match, he was amongst the guests at Fulham FC’s annual dinner, held like the previous year’s at the Holborn Restaurant; Hall was better known to Fulham Chronicle this year, of course, and they got his name right.


Next, he succeeded Henry Norris as chairman of Fulham FC, taking office in August 1908 with William Gilbert Allen as the vice-chairman but with Norris as still the loudest voice.  It was on this occasion when he gave what seems to have been his first press interview, to reporters from Football Chat (of which Norris was part-owner at the time) and the West London and Fulham Times, at which he expressed some bewilderment at having been chosen to follow Norris at the club.  He told the reporters that he’d only been involved with Fulham FC for four years (since 1904) when he’d accepted an invitation to go to a match; he didn’t say who the invitation was from, but William Gilbert Allen and Henry Norris were quite likely to have been the ones to issue it.  He’d gone to the one match - gone to several matches - he’d bought shares - he’d been invited to join the board - and now here he was, its chairman.  Hall said, however, that Norris would always be chairman in his eyes - an important comment and statement of how Hall saw their relationship, given how many years they worked together in football.  Having made this statement of how he saw Norris’ influence over Fulham FC, it can’t have surprised the reporters when Hall announced that there would not be any change in the club’s strategy (financial or tactical) under his chairmanship.  He was saying, in essence, that he and Norris saw football club management in the same way - that is, that if it was a question of balancing the books or building a winning team (and it usually is a question of one or the other), he like Norris would balance the books first.


In this first interview Hall was mostly questioned about Fulham - naturally. But he did give his views on one or two wider issues, one of which was his strong belief that Football League Division One was ‘the’ place for a football club to be, and that a national football league was inevitable, and something to be desired; both points of view that Henry Norris agreed with strongly.  Hall had been a supporter of Fulham’s decision (in 1907) to leave the Southern League for the Football League Division Two.  Another issue on which Hall shared the views of Henry Norris was that of the maximum wage.  Questioned on whether the maximum wage should be continued, Hall replied, “I think it would be better for football in general if there was no wage limit at all...”.  He wanted the football authorities to allow clubs, “to manage their own financial affairs entirely...There is no reason why a man should not be paid what he is worth.”  This replay turned out to be rather disingenuous, implying as it did that Hall would be happy to pay a gifted player more than the maximum the football authorities allowed.  However it was rumoured that during most of Hall and Norris’ period in charge of [Woolwich] Arsenal FC only one player was considered worth the maximum wage; and Norris, at least, in some interviews, gave the impression that he hoped having no maximum wage would - for the average player - result in wages going DOWN not up.


In general terms, then, Hall’s first encounter with the press gave the impression that the change of chairman at Fulham FC would not lead to great upheavals of policy: it would be like having Henry Norris in charge still, but with a figurehead who did not have Norris’ sometimes jagged-edged personality.  How very little William Hall was known at least to the football press was indicated by Athletic News’ coverage of Fulham FC’s AGM: it reported that William Gilbert Allen had become chairman, and didn’t mention Hall’s name at all.


Although the Norris-plus-Hall duo was mostly known for running [Woolwich] Arsenal FC, it really began work at Fulham FC.  When Henry Norris was spotted at a London music hall meeting Phil Kelso (ex manager of Woolwich Arsenal but now not employed in football) and player Jimmy Sharp, apparently by accident; and both of them had become Fulham FC employees within a few months, no press coverage named the Fulham director who was with Norris; but it’s most likely to have been William Hall.  This was in late 1908.  When Fulham FC were asked (probably by Charles Crisp) to contribute some prizes to a whist drive being organised by the Society of Association Referees, it was Norris and Hall who responded; this was March 1909.


This was not to say that William Hall was incapable or too shy to act alone.  It was Hall, as the chairman of Fulham FC, who organised pre-match entertainment at Craven Cottage for the hierarchy of football on Saturday 3 April 1909 before England 2 Scotland 0 was played at Crystal Palace.  After such football luminaries as Charles Clegg (vice-president of the FA) and J J Bentley (past editor of Athletic News) had had lunch in the dining room at the club, they watched the boat race from the terraces before leaving for the football match.  In this way, William Hall was beginning to make a name for himself as a personality separate from Henry Norris.  As the chairman of a football club he will have also represented it at the AGM of the Football League and at the AGM of the Football Association.  These were always held on the same day, both in London, with a dinner in the evening at the Holborn Restaurant (at the junction of Kingsway and High Holborn) at which, in May 1909, Hall would have had his first chance to meet the wider football world all together in the same places.  The movers and shakers in football, in turn, would have begun to get to know a man described by Athletic News in 1912 as, “genial and kindly, with a touch of humour”, a plain dealer and plain speaker when it seemed necessary, who wasn’t afraid to admit mistakes.  A good guy, then (though such thumb-nail sketches in the press of that time are usually a little rose-tinted) and easy to work with.


However, he was not able to prevent the resignation as manager of Fulham FC of the very capable Harry Bradshaw in May 1909; Phil Kelso was quickly given the job of replacing him but Bradshaw’s sudden departure (at least, it looked sudden to the press) was made a lot of, and wasn’t a good way to finish Hall’s first season as chairman.


Later in 1909 William Hall, Henry Norris and William Gilbert Allen became involved in a second sporting venture together, although this one didn’t involve so much effort either in time or money: on Thursday 11 November 1909, Henry Norris officially opened Fulham Amateur Boxing Club at Kelvedon Hall.  Hall, Allen and Phil Kelso were all present.  Earlier that week, Henry Norris had become mayor of Fulham - the first of his ten years in the post.  After Council meeting at which he had been elected, on Tuesday 9 November 1909, he and Edith Norris had given a dinner at Fulham Town Hall.  William Hall had made the speech responding to the toast ‘the visitors and the ladies’.  His name wasn’t mentioned in the press coverage because he didn’t make a speech, but it’s almost certain that Henry Norris’ good friend George Peachey was also at the dinner and if he hadn’t done so already, Hall would have met him on that occasion.  Though having little interest in football, George Peachey was from 1920 to 1927 a director of Arsenal FC.


By this time, then, William and Kate Elizabeth Hall were established members of Henry Norris’ guest-list: they went to the Holborn Restaurant on Monday 20 December 1909 for a dinner given by the councillors of the London Borough of Fulham for Norris and his friends.  Peachey was definitely there that evening. 


Hall was also becoming better known in Kent Lodge number 15.  At the most important meeting of the year, the one at which the new worshipful master took office for the next twelve months, Hall acted as junior warden.  This post was the first step on the year-by-year ladder towards a year in which he would be the lodge’s master himself.  The meeting took place at the Criterion Restaurant at Piccadilly Circus, on Wednesday 9 March 1910.  Hall’s 1910, however, was mostly taken up with the trials of Woolwich Arsenal FC.






Copyright Sally Davis July 2008