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
I’ve said elsewhere in
this biography of Henry Norris that I believe he was the buyer when the
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.
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
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
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
question was constructed from. Wooden
structures fell under Section 84 and powers over them were exercised by
local boroughs; iron structures were under Sections 82 and 83 and
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
hearings (Leitch was amongst the witnesses) held in November and
1904. While the case was making its very
slow way towards these hearings, neither authority could issue the
knock the grandstand down; so it stood, apparently, for an entire
than it should have done. By December
1904 Fulham FC’s directors were so fed up with the endless delays that
applied to turn the temporary grandstand into a permanent structure;
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
grandstand standing during season 1904/05; but it was hardly their
the magistrate acknowledged, and they were only fined ten shillings. The demolition of the 1903 grandstand was
finally confirmed by an LCC inspector on
Craven Cottage Grandstand 1905
I think I can say that
Leitch had been employed by Fulham FC in 1903 on the understanding that
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
Please see Inglis’
book for best details on Leitch’s 1905 grandstand and street frontage
Cottage, Fulham. My photograph is to
take what Inglis says about the
Leitch’s usual brief
was to design a structure that would be safe and easy of access;
as good sight-lines as could be managed; as weather-proof as could be
and as cheap as possible. It can’t have
been very often that he was asked to go to the extra expense of
building a wall to hide his grandstand away.
It may have been because unlike most football grounds, the site
Craven Cottage was on the edge of a new housing estate, much of which
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
glance for a row of houses. Houses which
had already been built further south on
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 -
hard to form a new company to pay the old one’s debts and set the club
more secure financial footing. It seems,
though, that Leitch was not very optimistic about Leavey’s chances of
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
mouth” but Leitch had been owed some of the money for nearly a decade,
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
Leitch showed himself
to be flexible - or a realist. Either
that, or paying off Leitch was one of the points at which Norris and
deep into their pockets to keep Woolwich Arsenal afloat.
At the statutory first meeting of Woolwich
Arsenal Football and Athletic Company, on
In the years before
World War 1, Archibald Leitch was very busy building in
Grandstand at Highbury 1913
I was very interested
to read Inglis’ evidence that Archibald Leitch already knew in 1911/12
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.
reproduces an extract from a 1963 Arsenal FC match-day programme in
Leitch’s employee Alfred Kearney describes how he was sent to the
Archibald Leitch and
his wife attended the reception given by the Norrises in March 1913 at
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 February 2009