Henry Norris: Houses and Grandstands

Last updated: February 2009




In the 1920s, Henry Norris had built for his family a house on the Boulevarde Carriot at Villefranche on the Côte d’Azur.  After spending winters there for several years Norris seems to have sold Villetta Joy around 1929-30, but many years later his grand-daughter tracked it down despite changes of house name and street name and proved that it still exists.  The house is a cube shape, without any wings, and with very austere frontages with doors in the middle and windows arranged symmetrically.  Below it are three garden terraces.  The design is classical and to my untrained eyes more like an Italian villa than a French house.  Norris employed a local architect for this, but nobody in the family now knows who it was.



I’ve said elsewhere in this biography of Henry Norris that I believe he was the buyer when the Thames houseboat called Summerholme was put up for sale in July 1922.  Believed to have been built around 1900, in 1922 it was moored on a small plot of land on Corporation Island just outside Henley-on-Thames and the land was included in the sale, as was furniture, linen and crockery ready for immediate occupation.  If Norris was the buyer then it was he who had Summerholme taken out of the river, swung around and lowered onto the land on Corporation Island.  Summerholme was 160' long and the island only 100' wide, so one end of the boat was cut off to make it fit; the chopped off piece was then set down and attached at right angles to the main boat structure, turning it into a T-shaped house.  Either then or some time later, Summerholme’s hull was removed and the boat’s super-structure mounted on concrete pillars.


When the Norrises owned Summerholme there was a canopy over the deck and next to the deck was a 14-foot long glass sun room.  Although the sun room was still there when Summerholme was sold in 2004, the deck canopy had been taken down and a pitched roof put on instead.  The sellers in 2004 had done some sensitive work on the house, replacingsome of the old windows with new ones to the same design;and  removing some recent boards from the walls to expose wood panelling which probably dated from when the houseboat was built.  An iron spiral staircase from the 1920s was still there in 2004; that must have been put in by Henry Norris. 


Corporation Island is now called Red Eyot.  Summerholme the house is still there.


No details remain of the work involved in turning Summerholme from a boat into a house.  I can’t decide whether Henry Norris would have needed an architect to design what Summerholme should look like after its move and rearrangement as a T-shape.  Perhaps he only needed a structural engineer and a building firm with heavy lifting gear.



ARCHIBALD LEITCH: Craven Cottage (1903/05) and Highbury (1913)


Simon Inglis has already written the standard work on Leitch’s career as a designer of grandstands for football stadia: Engineering Archie, published by English Heritage, 2005.  It only remains for me to add a few extra details of Leitch’s dealings with Henry Norris; and to emphasise that although Leitch saw himself as a structural engineer, not an architect, at Craven Cottage he ended up designing a brick-built wall, probably at Norris’ behest. 


Craven Cottage Grandstand 1903


A letter dated 16 November 1903, now in the London Metropolitan Archive, mentions Leitch as the designer of the 1903 grandstand at Craven Cottage.  Fulham FC had been playing their fixtures at Craven Cottage for several years, but there was no grandstand there before season 1903/04.  The need for a grandstand arose very suddenly, the result of the takeover of the club by a group based on the Allen and Norris partnership, who were building houses in the nearby streets.  The promise of the takeover had persuaded the Southern League to elect Fulham FC out of its second division, into its first.  By the start of season 1903/04, therefore, Craven Cottage had to be ready for life in that League, a big step up from what had gone before, and in the eyes of William Gilbert Allen, Henry Norris and their group of footballing acquaintances, this had to include a proper grandstand.  It took time, though, to raise the money to form a limited company to run the club at this higher level - the first share prospectus was not issued until mid-June - and with less than three months to go until the start of the season, the new company’s directors took the decision to fund a temporary grandstand, that could be erected quickly and be in for one season only before being demolished and replaced by something better. 


Even temporary grandstands have to pass the planning laws, reach the legal safety standards and be issued with a licence by the proper authorities; so does sports-ground terracing, no matter how primitive and lacking in facilities.  The directors of Fulham Football and Athletic Company chose Leitch to design theirs, as the man with the most experience in this new sphere of architecture, despite his having designed the grandstand at Ibrox Park which collapsed so catastrophically in April 1902.  Inglis suggests that the temporary grandstand was made with equipment lying around in its builders’ yards; I suggest Leitch modified a design he already had to hand, to use at Craven Cottage.  His grandstand was built NOT by Allen and Norris who had no experience with that kind of structure.  It was built by Robert Iles and Company, a building firm specialising in iron structures, who worked regularly for the War Office; their headquarters was in Walham Green and Robert Iles himself was one of the largest shareholders in Fulham FC’s new company at the time.  Robert Iles and Company worked quickly and the grandstand was ready for the first game of the 1903/04 season, issued with a licence to stand until May 1904, when it would be demolished and replaced.  It’s a testament to Leitch’s design and Iles’ building that the grandstand, from its first match, had 1500 people sitting in it rather than the 1000 it had been designed for, yet never gave any cause for concern on safety grounds.


It was this grandstand that was the subject of the dispute about authority powers between the London Borough of Fulham and the London County Council.  The London Building Act 1894 allotted powers to issue licences, or to order demolition, depending on what the building in question was constructed from.  Wooden structures fell under Section 84 and powers over them were exercised by the local boroughs; iron structures were under Sections 82 and 83 and powers over them were the LCC’s.  What about structures that were made of both iron and wood, though?  Fulham FC’s temporary grandstand became the subject of a legal test case which was only decided by a series of court hearings (Leitch was amongst the witnesses) held in November and December 1904.  While the case was making its very slow way towards these hearings, neither authority could issue the order to knock the grandstand down; so it stood, apparently, for an entire season longer than it should have done.  By December 1904 Fulham FC’s directors were so fed up with the endless delays that they applied to turn the temporary grandstand into a permanent structure; but the LCC’s Building Acts standing committee wouldn’t allow that.  As a result of that refusal, Fulham FC were prosecuted in the West London Police Court for unlawfully having left the grandstand standing during season 1904/05; but it was hardly their fault, as the magistrate acknowledged, and they were only fined ten shillings.  The demolition of the 1903 grandstand was finally confirmed by an LCC inspector on 11 July 1905.


Craven Cottage Grandstand 1905


I think I can say that Leitch had been employed by Fulham FC in 1903 on the understanding that he would design their temporary grandstand’s permanent replacement.  Leitch’s office was already working on plans for this permanent structure by December 1903.  A set of three drawings was sent by Leitch’s office (at 40 St Enoch Square Glasgow) to the LCC in July 1904.  Planning permission was being asked for a grandstand of 7800 seats, a press box and a room for the club’s directors.  The grandstand would be built of iron, brick and wood.  The roof would be made of corrugated iron supported by steel beams and steel columns, to be erected over a terraced embankment, with pay boxes and urinals underneath.  Planning permission was given for this by the LCC’s Building Act standing committee at its meeting on 25 July 1904.  The year’s delay because of the legal case over the 1903 grandstand, however, had a big impact on Fulham FC’s finances and by the spring of 1905 the club’s directors had decided that they had to make financial cuts to their scheme for Craven Cottage’s redevelopment.  Leitch had to ditch his 7800-capacity grandstand.  He was asked to draw up a new design for one with a capacity of only 4490.  Leitch submitted this more modest grandstand for planning permission in April 1905.  Permission was given for it in June.  By this time Leitch was also working on the redevelopment of the Stamford Bridge sports ground, at which Chelsea FC would play from the beginning of season 1905/06.  Work on the two grounds was finished in September 1905.


Please see Inglis’ book for best details on Leitch’s 1905 grandstand and street frontage at Craven Cottage, Fulham.  My photograph is to take what Inglis says about the Stevenage Road frontage a little further, anchor it in designs familiar to Henry Norris, and provide a possible reason for why it was built like this.  Looking from Stevenage Road you don’t see the grandstand, you see a long wall with a repeating design of curve-edged gables above windows on three levels, the ones on the first floor being picked out in white paint.  The windows and doors on the ground floor are all the same, with a long curve at the top - not quite as shallow as the one designed by Poole for Allen and Norris (see above); not quite as deep as the ones you can see at Bedford Park; but perhaps influenced by both.  No bays on this long wall, but there are other features reminiscent of Bedford Park: the red brick; the subdivided casement windows.  The wall has an almost classical feel in its proportions and restraint; it’s no wonder it’s now listed.


Leitch’s usual brief was to design a structure that would be safe and easy of access; incorporating as good sight-lines as could be managed; as weather-proof as could be expected; and as cheap as possible.  It can’t have been very often that he was asked to go to the extra expense of designing and building a wall to hide his grandstand away.  It may have been because unlike most football grounds, the site of Craven Cottage was on the edge of a new housing estate, much of which was being built by Fulham FC directors William Gilbert Allen and Henry Norris.  I think Leitch was asked to disguise the offices at the back of the grandstand as something that would pass at first glance for a row of houses.  Houses which had already been built further south on Stevenage Road (not by Allen and Norris) had red brick and tall, noticeable decorative gables.  I think Leitch was asked to come up with something to complement them.



Fulham FC’s 1905 grandstand was treated by the LCC like its predecessor - as a temporary structure.  Permission to build it was given in May 1905 but the resulting structure was to stand for only 12 months before it too was to be demolished.  However in June 1906 the LCC’s district surveyor inspected it again and gave permission for it to remain standing for another 12 months provided that the bolts were replaced as they were not those originally approved by the LCC the year before.  Permission was also given in 1906 to add on to the grandstand one more room, for use by the press.  Leitch designed this, and the two new store rooms for which planning permission was requested in November 1906.  And so on...  The 1905 grandstand is still there, that lovely street frontage protected now by Grade II listing.  Inglis views the Craven Cottage grandstand as one of the three pinnacles of Leitch’s career and the only one built before World War 1.  As Henry Norris was the chairman of Fulham FC when it was commissioned and built, he can take his due share of the credit for it.


Leitch’s terracing of the other three sides of the Craven Cottage ground doesn’t seem to have caused either the LCC or the London Borough of Fulham any problems.  It was constructed by Robert Iles and Company at the same time as the 1903 grandstand and was still being used, as originally designed, in 1907 and beyond.


As a result of his work at Craven Cottage, the directors of Fulham FC invited Archibald Leitch to the club’s annual dinners in 1905 and 1906; despite being very busy, he found time to attend both occasions.  Relations at that time between Leitch and Henry Norris were cordial.  The financial troubles of Woolwich Arsenal in 1910 may have put them under strain.



Woolwich Arsenal’s Grandstand of 1900-06


The directors of Woolwich Arsenal FC first asked Leitch to do the designs for their Manor Ground at Plumstead in 1900.  I guess it was the Boer War, at least at first, that caused the building of the new grandstand to be put off.  However, the return of peace was not accompanied by the return of prosperity in Woolwich; and in 1906 the directors of Woolwich Arsenal decided they couldn’t afford to do any of the work they had asked Leitch to prepare.  Leitch then sent in what must have been a final bill, for £2600.  Some of this was paid off in the next three years, but in February 1910 Leitch still hadn’t received all that he was due, and the limited company that ran the football club was in liquidation.  A statement of the company’s debts, issued by its liquidator Charles Brannan in April 1910, declared that Leitch was still owed £1347.


During April and May 1910 George Leavey - who as the club’s chairman was owed even more - tried very hard to form a new company to pay the old one’s debts and set the club on a more secure financial footing.  It seems, though, that Leitch was not very optimistic about Leavey’s chances of success: he sent in a claim for all the full sum the club owed him.  The Kentish Independent said that Leitch’s determination to get all that he was due “left a nasty taste in the mouth” but Leitch had been owed some of the money for nearly a decade, and in recent years the club had not had the resources even to pay the interest on the amount outstanding.  In April 1910 Leavey visited Leitch in person at his office in Stratford, east London, to explain just how bad things were, and Leitch agreed to drop his claim by half.  When Leavey was not able to form a new limited company and had to ask his acquaintances at Fulham FC to step in to save Woolwich Arsenal FC from ceasing to exist, Leitch decided that that was tantamount to breaking the agreement, which he had probably made reluctantly anyway, and as a personal favour to Leavey, not to anyone else.  So one of the first unpleasant surprises William Hall and Henry Norris received when they began to work out where the club stood financially, was that Leitch was again insisting that he be paid in full.  If Leitch was paid in full, no other creditors would get anything at all, including Leavey himself, so once again Leitch was approached to compromise.  As Norris was the most experienced negotiator of the three men, and was the most well-acquainted with Leitch (Hall won’t have known him at all), I should imagine he did the honours.


Leitch showed himself to be flexible - or a realist.  Either that, or paying off Leitch was one of the points at which Norris and Hall dug deep into their pockets to keep Woolwich Arsenal afloat.  At the statutory first meeting of Woolwich Arsenal Football and Athletic Company, on 25 July 1910, its directors (Leavey, Hall and Norris) were able to say that all the debts of the old limited company had been paid off; which must have included Leitch.  They didn’t say whether he had been paid in full; he probably wasn’t.  Some kind of deal for rather less than full payment was the most likely outcome, and it may have included an offer of shares in the new company.  By 26 January 1911 Archibald Leitch owned 43 shares in Woolwich Arsenal Football and Athletic Company.  He won’t have received any dividend at all on them until the early 1920s, but Leitch still owned the shares in 1930.


In the years before World War 1, Archibald Leitch was very busy building in England: Anfield, Ewood Park, Goodison Park, Old Trafford, The Den and Roker Park and several lesser grounds all had grandstands built by his company between 1906 and 1913.  He was so busy building English football grounds that to save him some of the travelling, he and his family moved from Glasgow to the Liverpool suburbs in 1909.  Inglis notes that Leitch formed a close relationship with Everton FC’s William Charles Cuff, whom Norris counted as a friend in football during the 1920s; Cuff was Leitch’s solicitor for his family affairs.  Inglis also charts the development (from the grandstand at Old Trafford, built in 1910) of a professional relationship between Leitch as designer and the iron-building specialists Humphreys Limited of Knightsbridge.


Grandstand at Highbury 1913


I was very interested to read Inglis’ evidence that Archibald Leitch already knew in 1911/12 of the site at Gillespie Road north London owned by St John’s College.  Inglis talks of Leitch bringing back to his office Ordnance Survey maps of good locations for football grounds; that of Gillespie Road was one and around 1911/12 Leitch was hoping to get a football stadium built there to replace Crystal Palace as the home of the FA Cup Final.  That didn’t happen, of course.  The FA elected to play the cup final at Stamford Bridge for several years; and then took over the ex-Empire Exhibition site at Wembley in 1923.   Anyway, in 1912 Archibald Leitch knew of the site that became Highbury football ground; and hadn’t been able to persuade the FA to invest in it.  In Henry Norris’ 1927 account of Arsenal’s move to north  London, he made great play of being driven all over London in search of a suitable site to move the club to from Plumstead; but he makes absolutely no mention of Leitch being involved.  The 1927 document...well, I’m not sure you can rely on it for some details because Norris really was pumping up his own involvement in Arsenal and the result of his single-minded concentration on his own actions was the down-playing of other people’s.  I think it’s perfectly possible that Leitch let Norris know about St John’s College’s sports ground; and that Norris didn’t mention it in 1927.


Leitch must have been given the contract to design the new football ground’s grandstand and terracing well before William Hall and Henry Norris had secured the lease of the land; because when the citizens of Highbury finally found out what was going on, in March 1913, Leitch’s plans were already lodged with the London Borough of Islington and the London County Council for planning and drainage permission.  The hire of Humphreys Limited to erect the grandstand was also agreed at an early stage.  As Humphreys was not a company that Henry Norris had ever had any dealings with, I presume they were contracted on Leitch’s recommendation.


Inglis’ book reproduces an extract from a 1963 Arsenal FC match-day programme in which Leitch’s employee Alfred Kearney describes how he was sent to the Gillespie Road site in 1913 to begin work preparing the sportsground for professional football, work which had to be ready by the first weekend of September.  Kearney describes the chaos of that summer, and how Leitch lay low as the first weekend of the football season approached and the grandstand still wasn’t ready; so that Norris couldn’t find him to give vent to his annoyance.  Inglis also shows a photograph of Leitch’s grandstand at Highbury in March 1914, still not properly finished.  I guess Leitch got paid anyway and that his fees were part of the enormous debt Arsenal got caught with when World War 1 was declared.  Inglis says that, after 1913, Leitch was not called upon to do any more work for Arsenal.  Until 1925 the club was not in a financial position to consider building any more grandstands.  There’s no evidence that, even after they had bought the freehold of the site, Henry Norris and William Hall considered developing its facilities any further.  That was left for Hill-Wood’s regime to do, which had no track record with Leitch and chose to employ architects who had never designed any sports facilities.


Archibald Leitch and his wife attended the reception given by the Norrises in March 1913 at Fulham Town Hall.  Although Leitch was never employed by Norris after that year, he continued to be regarded by Norris as more than just a sub-contractor whose work was finished.  His moving to London (living firstly in Barnes, then at Cockfosters) helped keep the friendship alive. The Leitches went to the Peace reception the Norrises gave in October 1919, and in July 1923 they were guests at the wedding of Henry and Edith’s daughter Joy.  Archibald Leitch didn’t go to Norris’ funeral in August 1934, but he and his family did send a wreath.






Copyright Sally Davis February 2009