Henry Norris and the Law: court cases and solicitors
Last updated: December 2008
Henry Norris was involved with the law all his adult life.
From age 13 to age 31 the law employed him - he was a clerk in a solicitors’ office. He started, I presume, at the bottom, maybe as a ‘runner’ taking documents from his employers’ office to their clients. Then he made his way up through years of copying documents by hand until, by the 1890 census, he seems to have had some kind of supervisory or managerial role in the clerks’ office. During those years he will have built up a reserve of knowledge of how the law worked and was interpreted. He also seems to have developed a faith in the law and the way it worked. However, he was never qualified to practice law himself - he was not offered the chance to train as a solicitor until his employer was trying to hang on to him in the face of an offer Norris didn’t refuse.
In accepting William Gilbert Allen’s offer of a partnership in his building firm Norris moved from being employed by the law to using it to his own and the partnership’s advantage. As a partner in Allen and Norris, Henry Norris he went from earning a living in the law to employing lawyers. In later years he described himself as an auctioneer sometimes, and as an estate agent other times, leading me to gather that he may have dealt with the land purchasing side of the firm’s business: watching the property market, looking out for property the partnership could build on, negotiating with the seller. He was probably also the partner who kept an eye out for new and relevant legislation on the partnership’s behalf. William Gilbert Allen was an intelligent man but his training and experience were in the practical side of building, not the interpretation of wordy and lengthy legal clauses in laws like (taking an example which any building company had to deal with on a daily basis) the London Building Act 1894. Norris was also the one who knew how to use the law to maximise the partners’ profits while minimising their liabilities, by setting up companies in which he and William Gilbert Allen were the major - perhaps the only - shareholders; these companies were the legal owners of the various plots of land that the partnership bought to build housing on.
It was also going to be Henry Norris that his partner and the firm’s employees looked to to tell them what to do when they strayed into unknown territory in the process of buying property. The Crabtree Lane Estate was the biggest housing venture the partnership undertook. Most of the land, between Fulham Palace Road and the Thames just north of Craven Cottage, had previously been market gardens and had been owned by the same family for generations. The last member of the family died an elderly bachelor with no close relations. Allen and Norris had probably had their eye on the site for years; they won’t have been the only ones, of course! Their purchase of the land that became the Crabtree Lane Estate was done in several stages and on three occasions between 1911 and 1914, Allen and Norris had to go through a legal procedure under the Land Transfer Acts of 1875 and 1897 which you only had to carry out if some of the documents establishing the seller’s right to sell the property had been lost. It involved both the potential buyer and the seller making sworn statements; and the potential buyer putting a legal notice in the official court newspaper, the London Gazette (and therefore in the Times which usually published what was in it) stating that the buyer would become the owner of the property described unless people believing they had a better right to be the owner made themselves known to the Land Registry within a specific number of days. In the case of the Crabtree Lane Estate, nobody came forward to challenge Allen and Norris’ purchase. Allen could have asked a solicitor to give him legal advice on the problem of the missing documentation, of course, and paid for that advice by the hour; and all the documents in the Land Transfer Act procedure were drawn up by the partnership’s lawyers as Norris was not qualified to do that. But Allen seems to have decided in 1896 that it would be better for him to have a man with legal knowledge as his partner, to lessen the number of times he had to consult and therefore pay his solicitor.
In 1903 William Gilbert Allen and Henry Norris got together with other men they knew to buy Fulham FC. As directors of the club they took on another employer-like role involving all the legislation they were already familiar with, plus the rules governing football that were being laid down by the Southern League, the Football League and the Football Association. As Norris was reminded to his cost in 1927, these rules were often stricter than the law thought was necessary. In 1910, Norris added a second football club to his legal burdens as an employer. In trying to help Woolwich Arsenal FC stay viable, he became involved in its voluntary liquidation proceedings, though at no time did he have to go to court, it was all dealt with by the official liquidator and the lawyers of the various interested parties.
The years leading up to World War 1 saw the passing of the laws setting up the first national insurance and pensions schemes. The payments into these by employer and employee involved completely new law and new bureaucracy. In Allen and Norris and both the football clubs he was involved in, Norris was probably the man everyone looked to set up the new office procedures which were needed to carry out the law’s provisions. He will also have had to keep a watch out over the next two years for the first, test, cases to reach court, noting their decisions; two at least that I know of were brought either by football players or by their football club employers as they sought to discover how to apply the law in their rather special case.
In the late 1890s and from 1906 to 1919, Norris, as a local councillor, had the responsibility of carrying out the provisions of the laws that regulated what local authorities’ duties were and how they should carry them out. This was a period where the amount that local authorities did expanded hugely and rapidly. Everything from building sewers under the main roads to running the previously independent free libraries became subject to local authority jurisdiction during that time. They were also required to carry out new tasks as the agents of central government: laying sewers down the middle of the roads and putting in street lighting, for example, and enforcing laws like those regulating shop opening hours and the selling of sub-standard groceries. The mayors of the local councils were supposed to try to interpret all this extra law, which came through to them as an ever-lengthening list of rules about what to do in all situations. Mayors were also meant to act as the final arbiter for the ways in which the local authorities were to reach decisions: how councillors were to be elected, how they were to conduct their meetings, who was allowed to be present while they debated, etc. Norris did the mayor’s job in Fulham from 1909 to 1919.
By way of the 1918 General Election Henry Norris moved onto the biggest stage of all in law: Parliament. He did not have as much of a role to play in the making of the country’s law as I imagine he would have hoped; but from 1919 to 1922 he played his part in passing new law, arguing about its wording and deliberating about what penalties should be paid by those who disobeyed it. It’s rather ironic, really, that most of his rule-breaking in the football world took place during this time; though he wasn’t caught for some of it at least, until later.
It was as a result of things written about him in a political manifesto by one of the other candidates during the 1918 General Election campaign that Norris first used the law to protect his public reputation. In 1922, a furious letter written by another political opponent - this time one in his own party - caused Norris to go to court as a plaintiff for a second time. He was successful on both occasions and was awarded damages, but the money wasn’t important to him. There’s evidence that at least in the second case he had refused an out-of-court settlement. Out-of-court settlements do involve making a public apology for what has been said or written in public, but Henry Norris seems to have decided that for him, they weren’t quite public enough. He seems to have been determined to put his side of the argument; so in each case he insisted in going into the witness box and making a statement, which was heard by the judge and the jury and by the court reporters who then printed it in the newspapers. Using the libel laws to make people give you an apology for making inaccurate and harmful statements about you is, of course, something only the very wealthy in this country can afford to do; but thanks to the success of the Allen and Norris partnership Henry Norris had become a very wealthy man.
Twice successful as the plaintiff in libel cases, Norris tried the same again when he felt in 1927 that his public reputation had been besmirched by the Football Association. He certainly had his two days in the witness box but this time, the circumstances were different. His opponent was the one who had refused the out-of-court settlement; and the opponent’s lawyers successfully argued that all that they had implied about Norris was protected by privilege - the same protection that means that MP’s can slander and defame with impunity provided they do it in the House of Commons and not in the street outside. Norris never attempted to be a plaintiff again. Perhaps he did not feel quite so sure, after this case, that the law would protect him. Though after 1927 he slipped more or less completely from the public eye and so had less of a public reputation to protect.
Norris appeared as a witness in quite a few cases. A couple of them involved Allen and Norris challenging the laws on drains and sewage pipes, as interpreted by Fulham Vestry and London County Council. One got as far as the Court of Appeal, but Allen and Norris lost it in the end. Norris was also a witness in a case where the London Borough of Fulham and the London County Council went to court on a point of law involving the grandstand at Fulham FC. He was a character witness when an ex-mayor of Fulham, the Catholic widower Councillor Littleboy was arrested in Hyde Park and accused of the sexual harrassment of two young women walking there. And his last court appearance, in spring 1933, was as a witness-cum-victim in a case of conspiracy to defraud.
There was only one legal role that Henry Norris didn’t play in his lifetime: he was never a defendant in a criminal prosecution. He could have been - in counter-signing a cheque payable to Arsenal FC with Herbert Chapman’s signature (July 1926) he had committed a forgery and might also have been considered guilty of embezzlement. There is one mention in press coverage of the case of the police being involved. But by that time, it seems the cheque had been destroyed (not by Norris) so for lack of evidence, he was never charged.
NORRIS AND SOLICITORS
Having worked for solicitors for nearly twenty years, Henry Norris then jumped to the other side of the desk and became a client of solicitors - a lot of solicitors, a greater number than seems necessary to my untutored eye. Some were just professional contacts, some were friends who then did work for him, some occupied that ground where the personal and professional meet. I give some details of their careers below.
THOMAS BLANCO WHITE seems to have been inherited by Henry Norris, and perhaps superceded by Norris’ legal contacts, when he and William Gilbert Allen set up their building partnership in 1896. One of the earliest drainage applications made by Allen, dated 1890, had a note on it suggesting he’d gone to Blanco White for a legal opinion on whether the application met all the criteria that Fulham Vestry would insist on before they passed it.
Thomas Blanco White’s solicitor’s practice was at 59-60 Chancery Lane. But he was a Fulham man, very prominent in local life through having been a founder member (in the 1890s) of Fulham Lodge number 2512, the freemasons’ lodge which a great many Fulham businessmen were members of, including Henry Norris between 1902 and 1923. As well as being the Lodge’s secretary for nearly all his life, Blanco White made steady progress up the ranks of England’s United Grand Lodge of freemasons; in fact he achieved higher ranking in it than Norris did.
When Allen, Henry Norris and their group of footballing acquaintances took over Fulham FC in 1903 and registered it as a limited company, Blanco White (though not a football fan himself) was asked to be the club’s solicitor. He steered the club through the case when it was dragged into a struggle between the London Borough of Fulham and the London County Council over the finer points of the London Building Act. The 1903 grandstand at Craven Cottage was only meant to be a temporary structure. So who had the right to order its demolition? Blanco White did well for Fulham FC: when the case reached court the judge found that the football club had done everything they had been asked to by both institutions and it was not the directors’ fault that the law wasn’t specific enough when it came to the demolition of structures made of both wood (demolition orders issued by the local council) and iron (demolition orders issued by the LCC).
Henry Norris certainly counted Blanco White as an acquaintance; and he thought it politic during his years of prominence in Fulham to be a member of the freemasons’ lodge Blanco White dominated during his lifetime. Blanco White and his wife attended the great reception at Fulham Town Hall given by Henry and Edith Norris in March 1913. And in 1919 Norris made a donation to Dr Edwards’ Charity and Bishop King’s Charity, two historical Fulham charities of which Blanco White was clerk to the trustees.
However, and despite the professional advice Blanco White gave to William Gilbert Allen in 1890, I’m not quite sure that Blanco White was solicitor to the Allen and Norris partnership. That was Walter Morgan Willcocks’ privilege.
WALTER MORGAN WILLCOCKS was, I think, a contact of Henry Norris rather than William Gilbert Allen. In fact, it’s just a hunch but in my file on Allen and Norris I suggest that Henry Norris’ unknown solicitor employer was Walter Willcocks’ firm. He was certainly rather more than just a professional advisor to Henry Norris.
Walter Morgan Willcocks was the son of a civil servant. He was born in 1861, so he was four years older than Henry Norris. When he left school he went into the law but unlike Norris, he became an articled clerk, not an ordinary clerk, and qualified as a solicitor in 1885. The Law List for 1893 shows him in practice apparently on his own at 8 New Inn, the Strand and 109 Lavender Hill. By 1900, however, he had acquired partners. Taylor Willcocks and Lemon were now at Bank Chambers 218 The Strand, and 226 Lavender Hill and as the years passed various other solicitors were taken into partnership with these senior three. Willcocks was the most senior of the three for most of his career; Taylor seems to have disappeared in the 1900s. Willcocks may have worked mostly in the Lavender Hill office which was close to where he had grown up. After he retired, the remaining partners in the practice seem to have shut the Lavender Hill office down.
My hunch that Willcocks may have been Norris’ employer is based on the Lavender Hill connection. Norris’ first wife Mary Ann lived near there and when they were married they lived in various addresses off the Hill. But it’s also based on Willcocks’ long association with Norris, longer and closer to the family than any other solicitor Norris knew. He was present at the two most important social events organised by the Norrises at Fulham Town Hall, in March 1913 and October 1919. But then, those two receptions had very long guest-lists full of Henry and Edith’s professional and political contacts. However the Norrises also invited Willcocks to their important family occasions. He was a guest when Henry Norris married Edith Featherstone in July 1901. He went to their daughter Joy’s wedding in July 1923 and made one of the speeches at the reception so he may have been Joy’s god-father. And he went to Henry Norris’ funeral in August 1934. Only one other solicitor was that close to Henry Norris; and he probably was not close enough early enough to go to Henry Norris’ second wedding.
Willcocks was also a guest at the dinner Henry Norris gave on 9 November 1909 to celebrate his being elected mayor of Fulham. Willcocks made a speech on that occasion in which he took some credit for bringing Allen and Norris to Fulham. He said that he had done work for them, and made a joke about the “exorbitant” commission he’d charged them for it. However, my main argument for saying that Taylor Willcocks were Allen and Norris’ solicitors, rather than Blanco White, is a file of correspondence between Taylor Willcocks and the London County Council’s architect’s department. Dated March to April 1912, the correspondence is about bay windows and passageways between roads on the Allen and Norris partnership’s Crabtree Lane Estate. Walter Morgan Willcocks was arguing Allen and Norris’ case for the addition of bay windows to houses they were about to build on Rannoch Road which hadn’t been in the original design already passed by the LCC. The LCC’s Building Act standing committee agreed Allen and Norris’ bay windows at its meeting in April 1912.
Perhaps Walter Willcocks wasn’t joking about the size of his commission. By 1911 he had moved out of London to a house in Surbiton, part of the commuter belt made possible by the expansion of London’s suburban railways. He was still living there in the early 1920s and continued to do so after he retired. Willcocks was married, but he and his wife Elizabeth had no children. Mrs Willcocks may have been an invalid, or died young, because he is reported as having attended the various Norris functions with a Miss Willcocks who I think was an unmarried sister rather than a daughter, perhaps keeping house for him. Willcocks retired from his solicitors’ firm in 1925. I presume that it was because Willcocks was no longer practising that Henry Norris used another solicitor when he ended the Allen and Norris partnership by turning it into a limited company after William Gilbert Allen died.
Very soon after he moved to Surbiton Walter Morgan Willcocks had become active in local government and political life there, serving as a councillor in Surbiton and on Surrey County Council. He continued active in local politics after he retired. When Surbiton became an urban district council in 1935 the councillors celebrated by making Willcocks a freeman of the borough. Walter Morgan Willcocks died in 1938. Taylor Willcocks still exists (December 2008) though as a financial advice firm rather than as a solicitors; the firm is based in Surrey.
WILLIAM CHARLES CUFF was the solicitor chosen by Henry Norris to register Allen and Norris Limited under the Companies Acts in 1931. Cuff had qualified as a solicitor in 1894 but he lived and practised in Liverpool all his life and he and Norris would never have known of each other’s existence if it hadn’t been for football. Cuff’s association with Everton FC went back to 1890 so he’d been involved with football management for much longer than Henry Norris. Cuff had been the Everton’s secretary in the past and in the 1920s, a turbulent period at the club, he was its most powerful director. At the AGM of the Football League in 1923 Cuff had been one of the few delegates who’d supported Henry Norris’ attempt to put a top limit on transfer fees. Though he had not seconded the motion, he had cast one of the 12 votes (out of 44) in its favour. This seems to have created a bond between them though it doesn’t explain why Cuff was asked to act as solicitor when Allen and Norris became a company. Perhaps Cuff had a great deal of experience in doing that kind of companies law work. Cuff was elected to the FL Management Committee in 1925; he became one of the FL’s vice-presidents in 1936 and then its President on the death of John McKenna.
In 1923 Norris and Cuff were opposed at the FL’s AGM by another solicitor acquaintance of Henry Norris’, CHARLES SUTCLIFFE. I write at length about Sutcliffe in the files on the downfall of Henry Norris in 1927. Here I shall say that Sutcliffe did do some important work for Woolwich Arsenal FC in 1913, called in by Henry Norris and William Hall, but that it was not legal work in the accepted sense. Norris and Hall didn’t need Sutcliffe to give them advice on the club’s proposed lease of land in north London. What they wanted was for him to speak as a lawyer to the councillors of the London Borough of Islington and the governing council of the freeholder, St John’s College, using legal language to soothe their anxieties about professional football arriving in their midst. This was the only occasion on which Sutcliffe’s experience as a solicitor with experience in football management was used by Henry Norris; I don’t know whether the arrangement included Sutcliffe being paid for his time.
Sutcliffe was called in by Woolwich Arsenal FC to give advice in one particular situation. When Henry Norris and William Hall became the major shareholders in the club in 1910, and set up a new limited company to run it, they brought their own solicitor with them - Arthur Gilbert.
ARTHUR GILBERT was, after Walter Morgan Willcocks, the solicitor Henry Norris knew longest and used most. Gilbert and Norris seem to have met via the freemasons - which is what being a freemason is for, I guess. The reason they came together was that Arthur Gilbert was like William Gilbert Allen was in 1896 - he was in need of a man he could work with, who had legal knowledge and an understanding of the property market.
The reason why Arthur Gilbert needed someone like that goes back to 1897. At the end of that year John Jarvis Rodgers died suddenly, probably in an epidemic (there was typhoid and scarlet fever going around in south London at the time). Rodgers was a solicitor, senior partner in Rodgers and Gilbert of 4 Wallbrook in the City of London. He had four sons. The eldest, Stanley, eventually became a partner in Rodgers and Company but when his father died he was either still at school or had only just left and started work as an articled clerk. Arthur Gilbert, who had qualified as a solicitor in 1891, was the firm’s junior partner.
There was some connection between John Jarvis Rodgers and Lord Kinnaird, who owned the Plaistow Lodge Estate on the northern edge of Bromley in Kent. I think it must have been that Rodgers was the Estate’s solicitor; Lord Kinnaird had decided to sell part of the estate for housing development. At his death, Rodgers was involved in putting through the first sales of land in connection with this project. When he died so unexpectedly and with his son not yet qualified to act, Arthur Gilbert took over Rodger’s role; he kept it even after Stanley Rodgers was registered as solicitor in 1901.
I don’t know who invited Arthur Gilbert to become a freemason in Kent Lodge number 15. Maybe it was Henry Norris, who had been a member of that lodge since 1894. Even if it wasn’t Norris who issued the invitation, Gilbert was initiated into Kent Lodge number 15 at its meeting on 13 October 1897 so the two men will have met that day at the latest.
I don’t know, either, exactly when Kinnaird Park Estate Syndicate was set up, or by whom; but my guess is that it was set up by Arthur Gilbert as a means of running Lord Kinnaird’s property development project. KPES was in existence by 1900, when it was in negotiation with Bromley UDC which wanted to buy some of the land it owned on London Lane for a road-widening scheme. And this is my point about Gilbert’s need for someone like Henry Norris: he needed a person knowledgeable enough to undertake that type of negotiation. John Jarvis Rodgers may have felt he had the necessary skills and experience to do the best deals for his client; Arthur Gilbert didn’t feel he had.
I’ve said in my files on Kinnaird Park Estate Company - which KPES turned into - that Henry Norris’ Who’s Who entry for 1918 lists him as its chairman but that I don’t have any information on when he became involved. However in those files I argue for an early date for his involvement and that of William Gilbert Allen as well; and in terms of being known to Arthur Gilbert, KPES’s solicitor, they could have got involved any time after 1897. As Gilbert was the first of the three to be involved with KPEC it was his privilege to ask them to join him, not theirs to angle for an invitation. KPEC built houses in Bromley, Bickley and then in Chiswick from 1907 until the mid-1930s and both Allen and Norris were still involved with the firm, I guess as directors, when they died.
Arthur Gilbert was not a footballing man as far as I can tell. But when William Hall and Henry Norris went to the rescue of the (very) ailing Woolwich Arsenal FC, they asked Arthur Gilbert to undertake the large amount of legal work taking over at Woolwich Arsenal was going to involve. By mid-July, Arthur Gilbert had done the necessary work and registered a new limited company to run the football club: Woolwich Arsenal Football and Athletic Company, which still exists as far as I know, buried under all the more holding companies created in recent years. At its statutory first meeting, on 25 July 1910 at the Royal Mortar Hotel in Woolwich, Gilbert was present as the new company’s Secretary. When the Kentish Independent wrote its report of this fractious affair, Gilbert appeared as a protagonist in some of its more brusque exchanges as a Dr Clarke got right under his skin.
Firstly Clarke asked Gilbert to produce a list of the company’s current shareholders. Then he asked Gilbert and Henry Norris how many shares in the new company had been applied for - not as harmless a question as it appears. Arthur Gilbert assisted Henry Norris as Norris tried to flannel his way out of telling Clarke what he really wanted to know, Gilbert saying that he didn’t know how many shares had been applied for. This unsatisfactory answer provoked Clarke into asking, straight out, why the applicants for shares in a previous attempt to form a limited company (which had failed, which was why Hall and Norris had got involved at all) had had their money returned to them by Hall and Norris rather than being offered shares in this latest company. Gilbert tried to dodge answering this one by telling Clarke that his enquiries were “entirely outside the discussion”.
Clarke moved onto a set of questions about the new company’s financial arrangements, intended to embarrass the chairman George Leavey rather than Norris and Gilbert. However, after a few minutes he returned to the question of share ownership in the new company, pressing the directors on who would be allowed to buy shares until Arthur Gilbert, exasperated, told him, “The directors have the right to allot how many shares they like” - which I think was the answer Dr Clarke had wanted all along as it proved that ownership of the club was passing out of local hands. He certainly left the question of shareholders alone after that. But he changed back to asking about the club’s financial arrangements and there was another exchange with Arthur Gilbert which ended with Gilbert telling Clarke that he didn’t need to be told his job; and Clarke telling Gilbert that he was a veteran of this kind of meeting and knew exactly what interested parties ought to expect from it. Norris then took over from Gilbert as the man trying to deal with Clarke; and perhaps Gilbert’s blood pressure returned to something like normal. This is the only report I’ve found in my researches into Henry Norris, of Arthur Gilbert in action. It suggests he wasn’t used to dealing with fractious meetings and didn’t enjoy it. However, he didn’t play any further verbal part in that particular meeting and I think didn’t have it so bad ever again at [Woolwich] Arsenal FC’s meetings of shareholders.
I don’t know how long Arthur Gilbert continued to act as Arsenal FC’s solicitor; I guess he continued in post while Henry Norris was in charge - to September 1927. Then he acted for Henry Norris in his case of defamation against the Football Association Limited. He acted as Norris’ agent in the two attempt to reach an out-of-court settlement, meeting two separate sets of representatives from the FA on two separate occasions in 1928. But he was obviously instructed by Norris not to accept anything less than a lengthy written apology and amendments to the Report of the FA Commission of Inquiry into Arsenal FC. The FA would not agree to either of those conditions, so in late 1928 Gilbert had to hand the papers in the case over to the barristers for them to prepare for court action.
Henry Norris didn’t blame Arthur Gilbert for his failure to negotiate an apology by the FA. In August 1933 it was Arthur Gilbert who prepared Henry Norris’ last Will, the one that was enacted when he died in July 1934. I believe that in 1918 Arthur Gilbert had also prepared the trust fund set up by Henry Norris to give his wife Edith an income; I haven’t seen the document to get proof of this, but when Edith came to make her Will, in 1951, she too used Arthur Gilbert’s firm though Gilbert himself was dead by that time.
Being solicitor for Henry Norris on several different fronts, including that of family business, Arthur Gilbert, like Walter Morgan Willcocks, crossed the barrier which divides the professional from the personal. He was invited to functions organised by Norris, beginning with Fulham FC’s annual dinner in 1907; with his wife he attended the Norris’ great reception of March 1913 and Joy Norris’ wedding in 1923; he went to Norris’ funeral, and he and his wife sent a wreath.
Arthur Gilbert was born in Newington, Lambeth, in 1868, the son of a man who was a clerk in a warehouse and rose either to be its manager (or possibly its owner but I think manager is more likely). Norris also was the son of a man who worked in a warehouse, but Arthur Gilbert’s family was a cut above Norris’: by 1881 they were able to afford one live-in servant.
Soon after he qualified as a solicitor, in 1893, Arthur Gilbert married Agnes Sophia Cook. They don’t seem to have had any children; it’s curious how many of Henry Norris’ contacts were childless and his own first marriage was, of course.
Having grown up in south London, Arthur Gilbert took part in the great early 20th exodus from it, living from 1900 onwards in various parts of the Kent and Surrey commuter belt. Working with KPES seems, in fact, to have given him a taste for Bromley. His address in the Law Society list of 1901 is Beechcroft, Burnt Ash Lane Bromley, probably built by KPES; it was certainly very close to their offices, probably next door. However, on the day of the 1901 census it wasn’t quite ready to be moved into and I found Arthur and Agnes Gilbert in Mrs Mallet’s lodging house at 45 Hopton Road Streatham.
Arthur Gilbert was a committed freemason and rose further up through the ranks than Henry Norris. He remained active in its Grand Lodge and Grand Chapter longer than Norris, still holding office and attending meetings in the mid-1930s.
Arthur Gilbert continued to be registered to practice law until 1944. The firm he worked for saw relatively few changes during his lifetime and he remained the senior partner in it: only Stanley Rodgers (by 1919) and Alan Horsley (by 1939) were added to the number of partners in all that time and the partnership’s main office continued to be 4 Wallbrook until it finally moved to 7-8 Norfolk Street, the Strand, in 1944. Gilbert died in Beckenham Hospital, on 16 November 1944; his home address on that date was Basildon, Queen’s Mead Bromley, not one of the houses built by KPEC but very near the old Plaistow Lodge estate.
A promising relationship with a solicitor who did take a certain amount of interest in football began for Henry Norris in 1917 when he was invited to join the Feltmakers’ Company. There he met JOHN JAMES EDWARDS, a solicitor with a practice which by 1917 had been based for a number of years at 3 Budge Row in the City, and in Sackville Street, off Piccadilly. In January 1920, when Edwards was serving as the Company’s Master, William Hall also became a freeman of the Company, so there were now two Arsenal men to draw Edwards in. I don’t know when Edwards began going to matches at Highbury, but he was never mentioned in any match coverage before 1926. However by then he was taking part - I suppose at William Hall and Henry Norris’ suggestion - in the directors’ policy of buying up stray shares in ones and twos when they came on the market. He had bought enough shares by mid-1926 to join the company’s board of directors in time for season 1926/27, I presume at the invitation of Henry Norris and William Hall.
When the roof of his footballing world began to fall on Henry Norris, it was - at first - John James Edwards he turned for legal representation. He began in March 1927 by asking Edwards to act for him against Fulham FC’s chairman John Dean, the club’s manager Joe Bradshaw and its chief scout Edward Liddell. Edwards’ firm issued writs for libel and slander in a case against those three men and the garage owner James McDermott, over what they had been saying about the fate of the £170 cheque for the sale of Arsenal’s reserve team bus. However, this action was swallowed up by what happened later in the year and eventually Norris discontinued it.
An FA Commission of Inquiry into Arsenal FC’s finances began in July 1927 and at first Norris refused to cooperate with it. Three weeks into the FA’s enquiries, however, he began to worry that if he continued not to tell the FA anything, two Arsenal employees might get the sack. Again, he turned to Edwards for legal advice and to make legal points on his behalf at the FA Commission’s hearings; but this time it might have been perforce, because Edwards was the only solicitor of Norris’ acquaintance whom the FA were likely to accept in that role. The FA rules stated that any only members of the FA could act as legal representatives for clubs or individuals under investigation by them for alleged irregularities. Of course, Norris did know well another solicitor who was a member of the FA and had advised him before; but to Norris’ anger, Charles Sutcliffe was playing for the opposition this time - he was a member of the FA Commission of Inquiry; and he had recently given some legal advice to Herbert Chapman, whom Norris believed had mounted a campaign to get him out of Arsenal.
John James Edwards only gave Norris legal advice about the FA Commission of Inquiry for a few weeks. (Having been a director for only one year, he was not being investigated himself.) As far as I know, the other Arsenal directors who were being investigated didn’t ask for Edwards’ help either during the course of the enquiry or afterwards. And Edwards wasn’t able to prevent the FA reaching the conclusion that Norris, Hall and two other directors of Arsenal FC would all have to go. When Norris began taking legal action to prevent the FA publishing its Commission’s Report, he had already been told what was in it. He no longer had to employ Edwards to advise him and he opted instead to ask his solicitor acquaintance Arthur Gilbert to take the case. Rodgers Gilbert and Rodgers went to court for an injunction preventing publication - which they didn’t get - and then prepared a letter warning all the newspapers not to publish. One paper took no notice of the letter, and so Arthur Gilbert began to advise Henry Norris in another defamation case, against the Daily Mail. Gilbert continued to act for Norris until Norris v Football Association Limited went to court and he seems to have persuaded Norris to drop the case against the newspaper in order to focus entirely on the case against the FA.
In the split between Norris and Arsenal FC, Edwards went with Arsenal. When the annual report of Arsenal Football and Athletic Company was finally completed on 23 September 1927 he was one of only three directors of the club remaining after the FA’s banning orders.
John James Edwards, Henry Norris and William Hall all continued to be members of the Feltmakers’ Company between September 1927 and March 1929. On several occasions they all attended its meetings and these might have been uncomfortable occasions because although I couldn’t find any evidence of any hostility between Norris and Edwards, or Edwards and either of the others, Hall and Norris barely spoke again after a row in February 1927 which led to Hall’s resignation as a director of Arsenal FC.
Perhaps as Gilbert had guessed? - the court case Norris v Football Association Limited resulted in vindication for the FA and a lot of pretty incriminating evidence coming out during Norris’ cross-examination. In the immediate aftermath of the case, Norris had resigned from the Company; but then he’d changed his mind and written a second letter withdrawing that resignation. Norris did not attend the first meeting of the Feltmakers’ Company to be held after the court case. In his absence, the freemen who were present debated what to do about the two letters. It was John James Edwards who seconded a motion suggesting that the Company accept the first of the two letters and ignore the other one - that is, accept Norris’ resignation, rather than his withdrawal of it. The vote to accept the motion was unanimous, so both Edwards and William Hall voted for it.
Edwards continued as a director of Arsenal Football and Athletic Company into the Hill-Wood era. The hierarchy of football bore him no grudge for having represented Henry Norris. From 1936 to 1940 he was a member of the Football League management committee. He was last registered to practice law in 1938.
Norris’ decision to sue the Labour candidate in Fulham East, in December 1918, took him into unknown legal territory. I suppose this was the reason for his choosing to seek advice from a firm of solicitors he’d never used before and whose partners were not known to him personally. He went to Sharpe Pritchard and Company. Of course, no solicitor could argue their client’s case in court: only a barrister could do that. Sharpe Pritchard chose Mr Rawlinson KC and his understudy Bernard Campion to make Henry Norris’ case against Cook. Legally speaking it was a straightforward case and Norris won it. However, when he came to sue Edward Armfield in 1923 he went to a different firm of solicitors, Oswald Hickson Collier and Company; again a firm he’d not used before, with no partners that he was well-acquainted with. They, however, asked one of the same barristers to act in court for them so in this second case Norris was again represented by Bernard Campion, now a KC, and his understudy Mr Giveen. Again, there was not much in the way of legal argument to be done; Armfield had already admitted libel.
Henry Norris v Football Association Limited in February 1929 was a very different matter. For this case Rodgers Gilbert and Rodgers hired an ex-attorney general, Sir Patrick Hastings, as Norris’ barrister, with Robert Fortune as understudy. I suggest this was because Hastings had been willing to take on a case that other barristers (perhaps including Mr Campion) thought Norris was unlikely to win. The FA had a Mr Holman Gregory as their main barrister, backed up by a Mr Birkett and a Mr Paley Scott. This was a case in which both sides brought out their big guns. Hastings made the speech arguing Henry Norris’ case, focusing on the fact that although Norris might have broken the FA and FL rules as chairman of Arsenal Football and Athletic Company, he hadn’t broken company law. However, he wasn’t called upon to do any cross-examination, only to ask questions of his own client, as Norris himself was the only person who went into the witness box during the trial. It was Holman Gregory’s task to cross-examine Henry Norris during the several hours over two days that Norris gave evidence; he gave Norris a rough time but then, you could say that with his behaviour at Arsenal FC, Norris had rather invited it. The judge in the case - the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Hewart - certainly thought so; he asked Norris awkward questions himself , several times interrupted Norris to pick up on things Norris had said that he didn’t understand, and was palpably unsatisfied with some of Norris’ explanations. (There were several points in the Times’ account of the trial when I could almost hear Lord Hewart muttering, “Good God” to himself.) However, when reaching his legal judgement in the case, Lord Hewart decided that he had no need to take Norris’ answers too far into account. Hewart’s judgement in the case was that Holman Gregory had successfully argued that the conclusions reached by an FA enquiry fell into the same category as witness statements collected by the police during a criminal investigation: they might be libellous and defamatory but the law of libel and defamation didn’t cover them, they were specifically excluded from it.
As is customary in this kind of court action, the costs of the winners in Norris v FA Limited were paid by the loser. Norris had to fork out two sets of solicitors’ fees and two sets of fees for the most expensive barristers in the land, to learn that the law would not protect him if he didn’t keep to the rules. Norris continued to use solicitors, of course, for all the legal work he generated as a rich businessman and the owner of a great deal of property, but 1929 was the last time he tangled with barristers and going to court.
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Copyright Sally Davis Dectember 2008