Henry Norris at the Metropolitan Water Board 1912-17

Last updated: July 2008



The MWB could be very two-faced at times!While it was continuing to refuse to refund water users their over-paid rates, it was considering bringing a case against the board of guardians at Walton to force them to lower their rates demand.At the Friday meeting on 17 May 1912 the MWB considered a recommendation from its Appeals and Assessment standing committee to take Waltonís board of guardians to court over it.


The meeting on Friday 14 June 1912 was the one on which members of the standing committees were decided for the next twelve months.Henry Norris continued to serve on the Appeals and Assessment standing committee but not on any others.


By the autumn of 1912, the economic outlook in Britain was more positive and the MWB was again looking for a site for its new headquarters building.On Friday 15 November 1912 Norris voted for a proposition that would have put the project off again for several months.But he was in the minority here - 19:23 - and the project went ahead.There was better news on MWBís own income too: it had fought up to the House of Lords a case about exactly when properties that had been empty became eligible to pay water rates when someone took up a lease or bought them, and had won its case for its preferred early date against its opponent, who argued for a later one.

The late winter of 1913 was filled with bustle at MWB as it prepared for a royal visit: on Saturday 15 March 1913 George V and Queen Mary officially opened the MWBís new reservoir at Chingford in Essex.All the chairmen of MWBís standing committees, and all the vice-chairmen, and all their wives, were present on that day; but Henry Norris wasnít a chairman or vice of any of them so he probably didnít attend.

In June 1913 the MWB began its next three-year period; though because of World War 1 the three years eventually went on a lot longer.Henry Norris and E G Easton were both re-elected by the London Borough of Fulham to be its two representatives.Barnard and Elliott were re-elected MWB chairman and vice-chairman - theyíd both served the last three-year period in those positions.There was another bill before Parliament, at its committee stage.And the Appeals and Assessment standing committee were having to decide how best to rectify a loss of income that had resulted from Parliamentary meddling in the Metropolitan Water Board (Charges) Act 1907 which had meant that, though use of water by hospitals was increasing rapidly, the MWB was suffering a loss of income from its hospital users.


When the standing committees were sorted for the coming twelve months Henry Norris, as had become customary, was elected to serve on the Appeals and Assessment committee but no others.


The search for a site for the MWBís purpose built headquarters had come down to two buildings.At the Friday meeting on 25 July 1913, the last before its summer break, the MWB had to decide between them.Both Norris and E G Easton voted for one in Grayís Inn Gardens but they were on the losing side.By 28 votes to 16, the site in Rosebery Avenue got the nod.The building is still there, but has been turned into fancy flats.The cost of the new building had risen during the time it had been at the planning stage: now the MWB was setting aside £115,000 for the project.


By the first meeting of the autumn, on Friday 17 October 1913, the latest MWB bill had become law, allowing compulsory purchase of property and a programme of building work at the reservoirs at Rock Hill and Sunbury.Meanwhile, the MWBís financial crisis had become acute: its expenditure exceeded its income and had again brought it into conflict with the LCC.On Friday 14 November 1913 the MWB spent time trying to decide whether it would act on a plan put forward by the London Borough of Camberwell whereby the MWB would put yet another bill through Parliament allowing it to raise money on the land it owned the freehold of: that is to say, to take out some mortgages.Further bad news arrived during the winter.The House of Lords ruled against the MWB in a case about the water rates chargeable on a catering business being run from a pub (was it a pub? Or a food preparation factory?).The Appeals and Assessment standing committee then had to take legal advice on the implications of the decision for their income.


Chingford reservoir might have had a royal baptism but MWBís Appeals and Assessment standing committee was now in dispute with Edmonton Board of Guardians over how much rates it should pay.You get the impression of the MWB fighting tooth and nail in every case, to increase its revenue while lowering its outgoings, even if this meant paying for lawyers up to the House of Lords.


Henry Norris continued to serve on the Appeals and Assessment standing committee in the twelve months from June 1913 to June 1914.The declaration of war in August 1914 caused panic at the MWB.In was in a similar position to that of Arsenal FC a year later with regard to money: it had obligations it feared that, with war declared, it would not be able to fulfil.A meeting on Tuesday 4 August 1914, which Norris wasnít able to attend, decided that MWB would not spend any more money that couldnít be put off, until a more convenient time.Those at the meeting also voted to give formal permission for MWBís employees in the Reserves to take leave of absence to answer the military call-up (Allen and Norris did the same; but a lot of employers including football clubs refused their employees this permission).


In his later writings Henry Norris made much of the fact that, when World War 1 was declared, he immediately turned most of his attention to working for the war effort.He certainly left the running of the Allen and Norris partnership to William Gilbert Allen: this was agreed between them.So I donít know how many meetings of the Appeals and Assessment standing committee he attended after August 1914.It still had its work to do.It would depend on how important Norris saw the MWB as opposed to the other commitments he rapidly took on; and the ones thrust on him by the War Office as the mayor of a London borough.Itís noticeable that during the autumn of 1914 he couldnít get to as many of the MWBís Friday meetings as he had done in past years.


Despite the war the MWB did still go on its summer break: after all, the war was meant to be over by Christmas.By its first autumn meeting on Friday 16 October 1914, however, the effects of the war were beginning to cause change at the MWB: those representatives who were in the Reserve (including Karslake) did not attend.They were given permission to extend their absence beyond six months, the point at which in normal circumstances they would be suspended for non-attendance.For the first few months of the war, however, the MWB did the same as most other institutions - it attempted to carry on as normal despite the fighting.Work on the new headquarters building continued.A motion to stop work on it was debated at the meeting on Friday 27 November 1914 but was defeated; Henry Norris didnít attend this important debate.With the decision taken, the firm T W Heath and Son was chosen from a shortlist to start on the building work.MWB had another bill on its way through Parliament, which the Appeals and Assessment standing committee had drafted.It was being opposed by several London boroughs on public health grounds, objections the standing committee was trying to address.The MWB itself was opposing several bills in Parliament being put through to extend tramways and electricity supply grids in London.


However, there were signs that in the first few months of the war MWB was trying to stabilise its finances.By the time Norris attended the last meeting of the year, on Friday 11 December 1914, it had taken out mortgages and loans to the value of about £300,000 to cover its costs on the new offices and capital projects it was committed to in Kent and at Bourne Hill reservoir.During the winter of 1914-15 the Appeals and Assessment standing committee also did an investigation of the rates it would pay on its new headquarters building.By February 1915 this had resulted in a reduction in the siteís rateable value: just the sort of thing Henry Norris would have liked!The standing committee was also recommending that the MWB renege on a cleaning contract they had with the London Borough of Finsbury.


The MWBís meeting on Friday 14 May 1915 was the last ordinary meeting Henry Norris attended.He wasnít present either on 25 June 1915 when the MWB did the choosing of its standing committees.In his absence he went back onto the Appeals and Assessment standing committee but was also put onto the Works and Stores standing committee.The meeting also considered the inevitable consequence of building work: spiralling costs.And staff-member Miss Nolan, having been made redundant on her marriage as the law required, had to be taken back on, on a temporary contract, because of the staff shortages caused as men went off to the war.


The war was stretching the MWBís resources.London was surrounded now by military camps, hugely increasing the demand for water.Hertfordshire and Essex Waterworks Company no longer had water supplies sufficient to cope, and in July 1915 the MWB agreed to their request to open a connection pipe to run into their area from Chigwell.Despite the loans taken out during the winter by the summer of 1915 MWBís finances were in such a critical state that the LCC had organised a one-day conference to try to find some solutions; this had taken place on 17 May 1915 and was attended by a lot of MWB representatives, though Norris was not among them.The meeting resolved to take no action for the present, as a result of which the MWB decided to negotiate for help directly with the Treasury.As far as I can discover, Norris wasnít involved in the negotiations; he wasnít a member of the MWBís Finance standing committee.


In the summer of 1915, too, the problems with the new headquarters building reached a crisis.MWB received a letter from the architect complaining about the indolent way the builders were tackling their task.An emergency meeting was held on 27 August 1915, at which those members who were able to attend it agreed to sack the builders and appoint a new firm.Norris wasnít able to get to this meeting.In September MWB was in emergency session again as the first action of the new builders had been to demand £4132 in addition to the agreed price of £110,004.Itís a pity Norris couldnít attend this meeting either - Iím sure he knew more than most MWB representatives about how to deal with builders!Those who did attend it agreed to pay the extra money.


By the autumn of 1915 some members of MWB hadnít attended a meeting for nearly a year.Norris himself hadnít been able to attend a meeting since that held on 14 May 1915.The six months grace on being continually absent were up, therefore, and at the meeting on Friday 15 October 1915 the MWBís representatives were read a letter from him, explaining how busy he was and asking for the MWB to give permission for his absences to continue.The MWB granted him the permission, as they did in all such cases at this time; there was no suggestion from Norris or the MWB that Fulham should select someone else as their representative.Fulhamís other representative, E G Easton, was still able to attend MWB meetings regularly at this stage, although he died in August 1916.


Though he will have continued to receive the minutes of the meetings, Henry Norris did not attend any Friday meetings of the MWB at all during 1916.I presume he didnít go to any of the Appeals and Assessment standing committee meetings either.June 1916 should have seen the start of a new three-year period with selection or re-selection of all representatives; but this process was suspended and the MWB continued to do what it could with a dwindling staff and fewer and fewer active representatives from those elected in 1913.At least, as the war went on and on, the MWB was required to do less: in November 1916 the Ministry of Munitions ordered MWB to stop work on the new headquarters building; and various pieces of property owned by the MWB were commandeered by the War Office.


In the autumn of 1916 Henry Norris took on a new responsibility: he became one of Fulhamís two London County Council councillors.His attendance record at the LCC shows that he considered it a more important commitment than the MWB.So he didnít attend any of MWBís Friday meetings in 1917 either.Only necessary maintenance work and work necessary to supply the troop camps was being carried out by MWB now.Some problems didnít go away, however: during 1917 the Appeals and Assessment standing committee was asked to find solutions to the MWBís chronic shortage of funds.It reported back that without additional powers - which only Parliament could give - the MWB couldnít discharge its current obligations.I donít think Norris was present at any of the standing committeeís meetings held while they reached this grim conclusion.Now working for the War Office, he was too busy and often out of London.However, when HM Office of Works decided to commandeer the MWBís office at Savoy Court and the MWB organised a defence of its right to stay there, Norris attended a very hastily-called meeting at Savoy Court on 9 November 1917.He may have done more than this: the man who came to look over the premises on the Office of Worksí behalf was Norrisí old footballing friend and MP for Fulham, William Hayes Fisher.Perhaps Norris spoke to him on behalf of the MWB.Norris may also have called or at least been present at the meeting of London mayors held on 15 November 1917 which passed a resolution supporting MWBís cause.If Norris was active in this energetic rearguard action he will have been disappointed at the outcome: the MWB lost the fight.Its employees were turfed out of Savoy Court, having to take up their abode at South Place, Finsbury Pavement on the other side of the City of London.


At the end of 1917 the MWBís financial situation had got so desperate its Finance standing committee couldnít decide on what to do next.The deficit for year ending 31 March 1917 was over £240,000 and MWB had no way of paying it off.The question was thrown open to the meetings of the full MWB to decide how on earth they were going to manage in the future.



Although he hadnít attended more than one meeting in three years it was not until the summer of 1918 that Henry Norris formally resigned his post as one of Fulhamís representatives on the MWB.And then it seems to have come as part of his retirement from the War Office, and his intention to stand for Parliament in the next General Election, rather than out of any wider considerations.At the MWBís meeting of Friday 7 June 1918, Henry Norrisí resignation was the first item on the agenda; his letter was dated 11 May 1918.Its wording was rather curious; it said, ďI feel that it is not right to retain my membership any longerĒ as if MWB was some kind of gentlemenís club.Perhaps Norris had rather lost sight of the MWB as an institution trying to do a vital job of work for one of the worldís biggest cities on an inadequate budget.


Norrisí friend councillor George Albert FlŤche was chosen by the London Borough of Fulham to take Norrisí place at the MWB.He attended his first meeting on Friday 7 July 1918.





Copyright Sally Davis July 2008