Henry Norris at the Metropolitan Water Board 1907-12
Last updated: July 2008
Arsenal fans be warned: there’s not much about football in this file! Even the most fanatical supporter does have a ‘rest of their life’.
The Metropolitan Water
Board (MWB) was set up by an act of Parliament in 1902 to manage
The MWB had the right to send representatives to the governing board of institutions whose activities impinged on their own - such as the Lee Valley Drainage Commission and (from 1908) the Thames Conservancy. Norris was not elected by the MWB to serve on any of these other bodies.
In 1907 the MWB’s head offices was in Savoy Court on the Strand; however it didn’t have an office big enough for board meetings so these were held at the offices of the Metropolitan Asylums Board on The Embankment. The MWB was organised rather like the LCC: there were meetings of all the board members, every fourth Friday at unless there was a crisis in which case 12 members could sign an agreement that an extra meeting was necessary. The daily work of the MWB was carried out by various standing committees which met at other times. Members of these were elected at the June meeting and served for twelve months. The names of MWB’s standing committees are an indication of their responsibilities:
Appeals and assessment which dealt with appeals by water users against the rates that they had been ordered to pay; and assessment of the amount of rates payable on new and refurbished properties. The rate at which all users had to pay for their water (how many pennies in the pound) was set by the vote of the whole MWB membership. This standing committee also defended MWB’s interests as a rate-payer where it had installations on property owned by other institutions.
Finance Pretty obvious what this did: try to assess an amount of rates that would keep the MWB in funds without infuriating too many of its users; then try to spread the amount raised around all the waterworks and office staff that MWB was responsible for.
Works and Stores did the daily work of the MWB: hiring and buying equipment; structural work and maintenance of the MWB’s water supply system including pipes, reservoirs and buildings.
Law and Parliament Like all similar bodies, the MWB was entitled
to put bills before Parliament when they were deemed necessary for it to do its
job. This standing committee prepared
the wording of these bills, liaised with other interested parties and did their
best to steer the MWB’s bills through the parliamentary process. The standing committee also kept an eye on
other bills going through parliament in case they would affect the way the MWB
did its job if they became law. This
kind of bill was usually one put forward by other bodies working in
General purposes did everything not covered by the other standing committees: hiring and firing, paying the bills, deciding MWB policy etc.
Water examination committee oversaw the monitoring of the MWB’s water supply and the maintenance of the quality of water laid down by law.
The job of the Friday meetings of all the MWB representatives was to hear the reports of the standing committees and make decisions based on the information in them. Most standing committee recommendations were okayed without much debate. It was unusual for any issue to need a debate and a vote.
My impression of the
MWB from reading its minutes of proceedings was that it had been set up to do a
job crucial to London’s residents without enough revenue-raising capacity to do
that job properly in an era in which suburban London continued to expand at a
frantic rate - a rate to which the Allen and Norris partnership
contributed. The MWB had been given the
right to raise money through charging rates for the use of its water; and by
selling shares in its building projects - like the reservoirs at
June 1907 was the
start of one of the MWB’s three-year periods in office, so all its constituent
bodies needed to select new representatives or re-select the incumbent
ones. Councillor E G Easton had already
served on the MWB as one of the London Borough of Fulham’s two representatives
for at least three years; he was willing to serve again so his re-election was
a formality. The post of the borough’s
second representative was vacant and the councillors chose Henry Norris for
Norris attended his
first meeting on
As the meeting of
I’m not going to set out in this file details of what happened at every MWB meeting. I shall just give an overview of the work of the standing committees that Norris served on and some indication of when he missed meetings, though in the MWB’s minutes of proceedings there is no coverage of the standing committee’s daily business, just the reports they produced for the main meetings, so I don’t know how many of those meetings Norris went to.
Over the winter of
1907/08 MWB was in dispute with the Ecclesiastical Commissioners over rights of
way across the EC’s land at Fortis Green; the two sides reached agreement without
needing to go to court over it. The
MWB’s Appeals and Assessment committee heard submissions by a series of
deputations from its ratepayers, including the London Chamber of Commerce,
about the way the water rates were assessed on properties where there were
domestic premises and business premises in the same building (virtually all the
shops in the MWB area, in fact, and a huge number of other institutions). MWB also got bogged down in masses of
litigation resulting from the 1905 re-valuation (upwards, of course!) of all
At the meeting of
During the autumn of
1908 the Appeals and Assessment committee continued to deal with the objections
it had been hearing during the spring, about how the MWB calculated the water
rates for multi-use buildings. Institutions
such as the Bank of England and the Royal Albert Hall were arguing that they
were a special case; in October 1908 the Appeals and Assessment committee
decided that they couldn’t be treated as special. So in November 1908 a lot of the institutions
affected, or the bodies that ran them, started to retaliate: the Corporation of
Another quandary the
Appeals and Assessment committee was facing up to during the winter of 1908-09
was what its response should be when government departments wanted to claim a
rebate on their water rates. At the Friday
meeting of the full MWB membership on
When votes were necessary they were often on whether to continue debate of a difficult issue at that meeting or to put it off until the next one or for further investigation. It is characteristic of Henry Norris that he always voted in favour of deciding issues there and then rather than postponing them.
Norris missed the
In the autumn of 1909
the MWB was in dispute with various
There was also ongoing
discussion amongst the representatives about whether to continue to pay the
MWB’s chairman a salary: he’d been earning £500 a year. From the minutes of proceedings it’s not
clear to me, but I’ve just realised while typing up these notes that an attempt
to deprive the chairman of his salary is often a way of forcing a debate on his
competence. At the meeting of Friday
The biggest issue for
the MWB in late 1909, however, was the building of offices where all MWB’s
staff could be in the same building and the MWB would have its own meeting
room. By December 1909 the General
Purposes standing committee had got as far as looking at suitable sites
including the one in
At the beginning of
1910 the MWB began to prepare a new bill to put through Parliament which would
give MWB powers to buy new land on which to build reservoirs. The Appeals and Assessment standing committee
would have been the one drafting the wording of this. It would also have been doing the legal work
in MWB’s ongoing dispute with the
At the end of May
1910, Norris’ three-year term as a representative at the MWB was up. However, he agreed to serve for a further
three years and so was present on
The autumn of 1910
seems to have been a relatively quiet time at MWB, after two years of big
activity especially on the legal front.
The biggest issue was the coming five-year reassessment of
By the winter of
1910-11 the MWB had established a low-key but continuing policy of
In the spring of 1911
the MWB’s new parliamentary bill, the Metropolitan Water Board (New Works) Bill
was not getting an easy ride. There had
been a large number of objections to it.
And a joint committee of the houses of commons and lords had recommended
that as part of the bill the MWB should give up its right to extract 130mill
gallons per day from the
By this time you can read in the minutes of proceedings clear indications that MWB was getting short of money. During June 1911 the Appeals and Assessment standing committee was counting the cost of a Court of Appeal decision the previous year about the rateable value of licensed premises. MWB had lost this decision and was £16000 worse off as a result.
On Friday 16 June 1911 the MWB held the meeting at which membership of the standing committees was sorted out. Norris continued to serve on the Appeals and Assessment standing committee but not on any others: like the past couple of years.
During the summer of 1911, the Appeals and Assessment standing committee was preparing another court case over MWB’s income: at Lambeth County Court in October 1911 lawyers for the MWB argued that the MWB should be allowed to keep money paid to it in water rates that later turned out to have been charged in error. The judge thought otherwise and MWB lost the case; so badly that on the advice of its lawyers it didn’t appeal. However, that was not the end of MWB’s embarrassment on this issue. The councillors of the London Borough of Hammersmith - most of them probably acquaintances of Henry Norris - organised a meeting to protest about the way MWB handled over-payments of water rates. When the protest meeting took place, on 15 December 1911, 81 delegates attended it on behalf of a wide range of MWB’s institutional water users. They prepared a letter condemning MWB’s practice of usually decided to keep over-payments rather than refund them; and sent the letter to every London borough that had sent someone to the meeting.
At its meeting on Friday 26 January 1912 the MWB discussed what to do about the protests. Its Appeals and Assessment standing committee reported that their policy on over-payments was widely misunderstood; amongst those who misunderstood it were the delegates at the protest meeting. The Appeals and Assessment standing committee’s policy on over-payments was to treat each case on its merits, and considering each case one by one took up a lot of time at their meetings. After the protest meeting they had sent a circular to all the boroughs involved, explaining this. They had now received a reply from the London Borough of Hammersmith demanding a formal enquiry into the MWB’s current policy. The Appeals and Assessment standing committee (remember, Norris serves on it) was now recommending that the full MWB reject Hammersmith’s demand on the grounds that it would serve no useful purpose - which I take to be code for ‘it would expose the MWB to admitting in public that the MWB took money that didn’t belong to it’. The meeting also heard that the General Purposes standing committee was recommending that MWB didn’t proceed with the project to build itself an office headquarters until the economic times looked more certain.
[ROGER SLMWB2 FOLLOWS IMMEDIATELY AFTER THIS]
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