Henry Norris at the London County Council 1916-17
Last updated: July 2008
Henry Norris was never elected as a councillor of the London County Council. However he did serve three years as an LCC councillor under the Elections and Registration Act passed in 1915 when local elections were suspended for the duration of the fighting in World War 1. The laws laid down a procedure for local government institutions to follow when a sitting councillor resigned or died: a replacement would be chosen by the remaining councillors from a short-list sent to them by the constituency the ex-councillor had represented. At its meeting on Tuesday 31 October 1916 the LCC councillors chose “Captain Henry George Norris of Queensberry House, Richmond, Surrey” to replace E G Easton (who’d died in August) as one of Fulham’s two LCC councillors. Henry Norris was the only person on the short-list sent from Fulham. He had been nominated by Cyril Cobb, the other Fulham LCC councillor (and someone Norris knew well though they did not have much in common) and seconded by Colonel Probyn.
Norris attended his first LCC meeting, and was sworn in as the first item on its agenda, on Tuesday 14 November 1916. Amongst the LCC councillors he might have met that day were several women - women had been allowed to stand in local elections for some years by then although none had yet been elected in Fulham. They included Jessie, Mrs Wilton Phipps. She was chairwoman of the LCC Midwives’ standing committee - licensing midwives in the LCC area was one of its responsibilities - and vice-chair of its Public Health standing committee. Later she was the first woman chair of the LCC Education Committee. Mrs Phipps was Joyce Grenfell’s grand-mother. He will also have met some other people he knew already. Lt-Colonel J B P Karslake he knew from the Metropolitan Water Board; Karslake was a member of the powerful LCC Finance standing committee. Norris had also been acquainted for some years with Major-General Lord Cheylesmore, who was head of the London territorial army. Whether Norris knew him before this day or not I haven’t been able to discover, but another LCC councillor was Percy Gates, who was touted as a possible successor to Norris’ Parliamentary seat of Fulham East, when he announced his retirement from it in 1922.
The London County Council, formed by the Municipal Corporations Act 1882. YES?? was organised in a way typical of local government: all its constituent boroughs sent two councillors each, under normal circumstances by direct election every three years. It had its own offices at Spring Gardens on the South Bank. The full complement of councillors met there once a fortnight on Tuesday afternoon but the real work of the LCC was done by its standing committees, which were many and various, superintending everything that the LCC was responsible for within its area, from licensing music halls to housing the mentally ill although by far the biggest in terms of remit and of budget was education.
Standing committees were elected at the first meeting of the LCC’s year, in March and served for twelve months; though in practice once you’d been on a standing committee for 12 months you continued to serve on it as long as you were able and willing. Standing committees which felt they needed expert advice could also co-opt non-councillors as members: for example, there were doctors and nurses on the midwives standing committee. Each standing committee had its own meeting day and some were so big they had to have their own standing sub-committees to take on particular tasks. So being an LCC councillor could be a very serious commitment of time and energy. The Tuesday afternoon meeting’s purpose was to make final decisions on the recommendations of the standing committees as set out in a series of reports. Most reports went through without further discussion though money and budgets were usually disputed and had to be resolved by vote. Because there was relatively little debate at these Tuesday meetings they tended to last about two hours; so councillors were usually away by five o’clock.
One important function of the LCC was granting (or withholding) planning permission: in Norris’ time local authorities played no part in granting it. Another, closely linked, was supervision of the London Building Act 1894 which laid down building standards within the LCC area. Planning applications and building regulations, therefore, were two areas of LCC’s work that Henry Norris will already have been very familiar with
I won’t follow in detail what happened at every LCC meeting during Norris’ time as a councillor and I’ve listed those meetings he attended in the ‘diary’ section of this website. I’ll just mention issues that he played an active role in and give a general picture of what was going on at the LCC while he was there - which was, at least at first, during wartime.
At that first meeting Norris plunged straight in, taking part in a vote about whether the LCC should continue to issue permits to people wanting to sell literature in its public parks. This was a more divisive issue than you’d think: some of the people and groups applying for permits were political affiliations. Norris voted with the majority, in favour of the LCC continuing to allow the permits. However, he wasn’t elected onto any of the standing committees.
One thing I will mention is the ongoing saga of Oswald Stoll’s attempts to build a Fulham Empire on his property at 444-446 Fulham Road. By 1916 he’d been trying to get planning permission for it for several years. The London Borough of Fulham had always been amongst the objectors to it, and so far the LCC had gone with the objectors and always refused permission to build. Stoll wasn’t easily put off, however, and when Norris attended a meeting of the LCC on Friday 24 November 1916, it might have been because Stoll’s latest application was on the agenda. Friday meetings of the full LCC weren’t common; normally the only item on the agenda was the report of the Theatres and Music Halls Committee with its hundreds-long list of licensing applications, each to be agreed or refused individually.
There were three other items Norris may also have been interested in, although they weren’t as controversial as Stoll’s Fulham Empire. There was a licensing application from Percy Shuter, Town Clerk of the London Borough of Fulham, for use of the Granville Theatre on The Broadway. And another from its secretary, Jeremiah O’Brien, for Kelvedon Hall at 36 Kelvedon Road Fulham which - amongst other things - hosted Fulham Amateur Boxing Club, of which Norris had been a member (like so many things the club was suspended while the war continued). There was also an application from William West for the King’s Hall, at 163 New King’s Road. A little further off but still of importance to Henry Norris as mayor of Fulham was an application for a license with conditions from Earl’s Court Exhibition Centre. Those applications had been agreed by the LCC standing committee without any trouble. Stoll’s re-application was another matter. There were a lot of objections to it, presented to the meeting by Cyril Cobb, Fulham’s other LCC councillor: from the owner of the Granville Theatre; from the Amalgamated Musicians’ Union and the National Orchestra Association (though I can’t imagine why - surely it would create more employment for their members); and from Edith Norris’ acquaintance at the Fulham Board of Guardians, the Rev P S G Propert, who was objecting on grounds of immorality. The objectors won the day again - Stoll’s re-application was refused again. (I don’t think the Fulham Empire was ever built.)
Reports on the agenda of the Tuesday meeting of 28 November 1916, which Norris attended, show just how varied and all-encompassing the work of the LCC was. Amongst the subjects the councillors had to consider were VD, its diagnosis and treatment; the state of repair of some LCC-owned flats at Battersea Bridge; and renovation work on LCC properties in Wandsworth High Street. This was a short meeting, over at 3.15pm. So far Norris had been lucky: he’d attended several meetings of the full LCC without being sent to serve on any standing committees. This couldn’t continue: Norris missed the Tuesday meeting on 12 December 1916 but in his absence he was added to the members of the Public Health standing committee, replacing Mr Pilditch who’d resigned from it. This committed Norris to attending the standing committee’s meetings at least until the end of the current twelve-month session (March 1917); I don’t know which day they took place on. Amongst the problems currently confronting the Public Health standing committee were hygiene standards in seamen’s lodging houses; and the breakdown of refuse collection in the London Borough of St Pancras, where several weeks’-worth of rubbish was sitting in the streets.
Norris attended the Tuesday meeting on 6 February 1917 where one of the reports was from the LCC’s Parliamentary standing committee; amongst the topics in it were the relations between the LCC and the Gas, Light and Coke Company. Norris will have taken a particular interest in this as the Gas, Light and Coke Company had a big works in Sand’s End, Fulham, which he represented on Fulham council. At the Tuesday meeting of 20 February 1917 there were a lot of votes, which was rather unusual. They were all about the planned reorganisation of another of LCC’s big commitments: the Tramways Department. The Public Health standing committee report focused on TB statistics and standards in abattoirs and lying-in homes. I am not clear from the LCC minutes of proceedings whether or not members of this standing committee actually had to visit premises to assess hygiene standards there; or whether this was always done by paid employees. The standing committee which dealt with the mentally ill in the LCC area had a rota by which its members visited all its mental hospitals (which included the notorious Colney Hatch, of course).
The Tuesday meeting on 20 March 1917 was the first of the LCC’s year, so the first thing to be done was to elect a new chairman. The councillors elected the Marquis of Crewe; I take it the process of casting votes was a formality and he’d been told about it some time before; he was not an LCC councillor. The vice-chairman and deputy chairman for the next 12 months were also elected and they were LCC councillors: John William Gilbert and Thomas Frederick Hobson. Then the standing committees were selected; as I’ve said above, you carried on unless you were no longer willing or able to serve, so the process was mostly about filling the vacancies and announcing the co-opted members. One co-opted member of the Asylums and Mental Deficiency standing committee that Henry Norris will have known was Eleanor Henniker, who served on Fulham Board of Guardians with Edith Norris.
The LCC’s education department was truly vast by 1917, covering every level of learning from nursery school to technical college and evening institutes. It did exam-setting, school dinners, school inspection, maintenance of the buildings; it special schools for deaf children and disabled ones; and controlled the recuitment and employment of hundreds of staff from lecturers to janitors. The LCC needed 32 councillors, 12 co-opted experts and a few others who were members under LCC Standing Order 152 (I found their names listed but didn’t recognise any of them) to man the Education standing committee and few councillors could hope to escape serving for at least one 12-month session. One of the 12 co-opted members in 1917 was Henry Norris’ old estate agent friend Edwin Evans. Henry Norris did not try to escape his turn helping to run this vast enterprise, but going on the Education standing committee did at least mean he was not expected to serve on any others. Because the Education standing committee was such an enormous enterprise it issued its own, separate minutes of proceedings; so for once I know which days a standing committee had its meetings. The Education standing committee met every other Wednesday afternoon at the LCC offices, beginning on Wednesday 28 March 1917; a commitment that was fine from Norris’ point of view provided the meetings didn’t coincide with his other major commitment in local government: the London Borough of Fulham held its meeting of all its councillors on Wednesday evenings at 7pm, though by 1917 they were only taking place once a month. At this first meeting Norris got put on the Accommodation and Attendance sub-committee (chaired by Mrs Phipps) but no others; and he was not chosen as the LCC’s representative on any boards of governors. Norris’ acquaintance Cyril Cobb, Fulham’s other LCC councillor, was elected chairman of the Education standing committee for the next 12 months.
The Accommodation and Attendance sub-committee’s obvious function was monitoring attendance rates at LCC schools. It also enforced all legislation about child labour and the school leaving age via a series of locally-based committees who collected statistics and pursued truants. Its other function was an odd one, I would have thought more appropriate to the Building sub-committee: it represented the LCC in issues where LCC property abutted on property owned by others (party walls and such like disputes) - an area of law and practice that Norris knew a great deal about. I don’t know when it sub-committee held its meetings but they were probably held every fortnight, another regular commitment for Norris. Even in the grim days of 1917 the LCC was trying to look to the future. When all the committee personnel had been decided the Education standing committee considered a report on likely developments in education after the war, including the raising of the school leaving age to 14, and the consequences for the LCC of the education bill currently before Parliament, which would require a greater focus on nursery education and further education. When it came to a vote on whether to raise the LCC’s school leaving age, at the Tuesday 3 April 1917 of the full LCC, Norris didn’t cast a vote although he was present at that meeting. It was unusual for him not to vote when a vote was needed; perhaps he had had to leave the meeting before the vote took place.
Another important vote that Norris didn’t take a part in took place at 5.45 in the meeting of Tuesday 22 May 1917 and I’m beginning to wonder whether Norris was there at the start of meetings - he was listed as present when this one began - but had formed the habit of leaving before the end. He was very busy at this time, but this vote was on the Education standing committee’s budget for the next financial year and I would have thought he’d want to have his say on it, because it was so big and such a huge slice of LCC’s total spending.
Meetings of the Education standing committee during the spring of 1917 make it clear that the LCC had opposite problems with its schools, reflecting changes in population density as people moved to the suburbs: while some of its schools were running out of spaces for children, others had falling pupil numbers. The LCC was closing some schools and diverting the few pupils left to other schools nearby; but they were also looking at whether they could bring into use other rooms in the schools that were full to accommodate more pupils. With the war continuing there was no question of buying new buildings or extending current ones.
World War 1 had not curtailed educational expenses very much. When Henry Norris attended tthe meeting of the Education standing committee on Wednesday 27 June 1917 he will have spent most of the afternoon discussing a report from the University of London setting out its budget for 1917-20 and arguing for a big grant increase. Another set of standing committee members were picked to serve as governors of LCC’s various educational institutions but again, Norris was not chosen for any of these.
Norris’ attendance at Education standing committee meetings got to Wednesday 27 June 1917 before a vote was needed! When a vote was needed it was on what seems to me to be a ridiculously small issue - unless the standing committee members saw it as a ‘thin end of the wedge’ problem. Henry Norris voted with the majority, against employing a woman as gardener and teacher at the LCC’s industrial school at Gisburne House. I’m not clear from the wording of the motion whether the issue was employing a woman, or employing anyone at all.
[ROGER SLLCC2 FOLLOWS IMMEDIATELY AFTER THIS ONE]
IF YOU WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT THE SOURCES OF ALL THIS INFORMATION, SEND ME AN EMAIL AND I’LL SEND YOU THE SOURCES FILE.
Copyright Sally Davis July 2008