The lifespan of Leeds City Association Football Club was a mere
15 years and the entire time was spent labouring under the yoke
of dire financial problems. If not for the leadership and benevolence
of their inaugural chairman, Norris Hepworth, the club might never
have got off the ground as a serious concern and almost certainly
would have gone out of business on several occasions.
Over his decade-long association with Leeds City, Hepworth poured
a small fortune into the club's coffers; when he died in February
1914, the Yorkshire Evening Post reported, "For several years
past Mr Hepworth has financed the club out of his own pocket,
and at his death he was the sole debenture holder. The Leeds City
Club's indebtedness to Mr Hepworth may be set down at a sum not
far short of £18,000."
Hepworth could afford to be generous; the family business, clothing
firm J Hepworth & Son, brought him great wealth. Norris' father
Joseph was a self-made man, building up the firm from scratch
and Norris was every bit as hard working. He took the company
on to new heights as Managing Director, a role he filled with
aplomb for 23 years.
Norris Rhodes Hepworth was born in 1857 in Lindley, Huddersfield,
birthplace of his father. Joseph Hepworth married Sarah Rhodes
in 1855 and Norris was the first born of the family's three sons
and four daughters.
Joseph prided himself on a puritanical work ethic, leaving school
at ten to work locally at George Walker's mill. Conditions were
appalling and he later described them as being unfit for a dog.
He once told the Press, "My grandfathers on both sides were well
to do men, but my father was a working man, and I commenced to
earn money when I was ten as a half timer in a woollen mill at
Lindley. I soon tired of this, but my father, for the reason of
course that my earnings were of consideration, would not hear
of my leaving."
Joseph continued to toil long hours in the mill until he reached
the age of 16. He laboured from six in the morning until half
past twelve one week and from half past one to eight o'clock the
next week alternatively, receiving at the end of each seven days
the princely sum of 1s 6d.
When he was 16, Joseph left the woollen mill to take up textile
setting, practicing the trade for several years at various mills
around Huddersfield. Exhibiting the great natural acumen which
he always showed, Hepworth quickly came to appreciate the full
value of education, and bemoaned the fact that he had never fully
exploited the opportunities available to him in that respect.
He once said, "From that moment, I devoted myself heart and soul
to making myself proficient as a business man. For twelve months
or more I had a very hard struggle and many is the time when,
as a traveller, that I have been packing my samples till nearly
midnight and have been up before five the
next morning to catch my train."
In 1864 Joseph Hepworth brought his young family to the city
of Leeds. With one of his brothers-in-law, James Rhodes, he set
up business in Briggate and about a year later launched out on
his own account in the wholesale clothing business. The next four
years were probably the hardest of his career. Despite making
some headway he continued to suffer bitterly disappointing reverses.
"About this time," he said, "my son Norris joined me, and, tired
and disheartened by the constant losses through insolvent tradespeople,
we determined to open shops of our own and embark on the retail
business. That brought down upon us a pretty general boycott,
and matters became ten thousand times worse. During one of our
most troublesome times a friend remarked that the Fates were evidently
against me, and I had better give in. My reply was, I never will,
and I never did."
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J Hepworth & Son gradually attained the status of the UK's largest
clothing company. It went public in 1948 and in 1982 acquired
Leicester-based retail store chain Kendall & Sons. In 1986, after
introducing the Next range of stores, the name of the Hepworth
organisation was formally changed to Next plc.
As the oldest son, it was only natural that Norris should enter
the family business and he quickly became his father's right hand
man. Getting the business off the ground was no easy matter and
they had to face years of scraping a scant living. However, the
two men persevered and their fortunes changed significantly when
they pioneered the development of a chain of retail shops to market
the garments made in their huge workshops in Wellington Street.
The firm grew rapidly and by 1881 employed 500 people making quality
three piece suits.
That same year the firm's factory in Claypit Lane was rebuilt
after being burned down, at a cost of £30,000. A year later the
firm was converted into a limited company with a capital of £380,000.
During the 1880's they decided to sell directly to the public
and in 1891, shortly after a move to Headingley, they opened a
new factory in Claypit Lane; by this time there were 107 shops,
employing more than 2,000 workers. The firm's success was based
on "piling them high and selling them cheap".
The Yorkshire Evening Post: "(Norris) became associated with
the firm which his father had founded, when a youth in his teens,
and in 1885, soon after the establishment of the clothing factory
in Wellington Street, he was taken into partnership. Twenty-three
years ago (1891) the firm was converted into a limited liability
company, and ever since that time, Mr Norris Hepworth had
been the Managing Director.
"It was as a salesman that Mr Hepworth first made his mark. The
business at that time was comparatively small, and the orders
he took when travelling - said to be among the best the firm ever
received - helped materially towards the prosperity which the
concern afterwards enjoyed. He was also to a large extent responsible
for the establishment of the firm's many retail shops in various
parts of the country.
"Although in later years Mr Hepworth had not taken a very active
part in political life, he was at one time an ardent Liberal,
and for three years sat in the City Council as a representative
of the North West Ward. He was defeated on putting up again, and
never sought re-election. He was also chairman of the directors
of the Yorkshire Liberal Newspaper and Publishing Company (Ltd),
which took over the Leeds Daily News, and he was largely instrumental
in changing the politics of that newspaper."
Hepworth remained a central figure in the local Liberal party,
and in February 1905 presided over the selection committee which
nominated Robert Armitage, Lord Mayor of Leeds, as their new representative.
Hepworth always took an active interest in local sport and he
was a prime mover at Holbeck Rugby Club. After that club's demise
in 1904, it allowed a new football club to assume control of the
Elland Road ground.
When Leeds City Association Football
Club was incorporated, Hepworth was elected the first chairman
at a meeting of the 15 directors at the Griffin Hotel in the city
on Monday, 10 April 1905, as the club prepared its bid for Football
League membership. Hepworth commented that he was pleased to have
a ground "in the centre of the working classes."
Hepworth championed City's application at the League's general
meeting on 29 May 1905 when the decision was taken on which clubs
should be admitted to the League. He promised football a good
reception in Leeds if the club were elected, and his words had
the intended effect for City came top of the poll, finishing above
Burslem Port Vale and Chelsea, who were also admitted into the
Norris' father served as Lord Mayor of Leeds in 1906 and one
of his official duties was opening Leeds City's new grandstand
when it was completed in November of that year. Norris presided
over the ceremony, joking that he "had known
the Lord Mayor a long time, and from early days had good reason
to remember him very well."
Joseph Hepworth passed away in October 1911, aged 77, leaving
Norris to run the family firm single handed. In real terms it
made little difference, for in effect he had taken up the reins
fully some time previously, with Joseph playing a less active
After showing much promise in its early years, the Leeds City
Club fell on difficult times, constantly undermined by a lack
of financial resources. It had set off optimistically, if somewhat
naively, in April 1905 with capital of £10,000 raised from its
shareholders, but that sum was soon found to be woefully inadequate.
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The annual meeting of City's shareholders was held at the Salem
Hall on Hunslet Road in Leeds on 25 July 1910 against a backdrop
of financial crisis. With Hepworth unable to participate in the
meeting due to illness, deputy chairman Joe Henry presided, reporting
that the club had made a loss for the year of £1,900, driven mainly
by the reduction in gate receipts, down by £2,300.
Henry promised that a scheme would be brought forward imminently
which would place the club on a much sounder financial footing.
He was not prepared to divulge the details in Hepworth's absence,
but emphasised his optimism regarding future prospects. The directors
had taken steps to bring the club's outgoings down to manageable
proportions and now promised to trim the wage bill by a further
£1,000, maintaining strict financial control.
On 1 September, the shareholders held a follow up meeting.
Hepworth took the chair, saying the first business of the day
was the election of directors; before proceeding with this, however,
he felt it important to brief the shareholders regarding the club's
financial position. They owed the bank around £7,000, a sum which
was increased by interest payable of between £200 and £300. Eleven
of the directors were responsible for that amount to the bank,
but when some of them refused to sign the guarantee, the bank
declined to allow them any further credit. In order to save the
club and to carry on the game of Association Football in Leeds,
Messrs Henry, Whittaker, Dowe and Hepworth agreed a further guarantee
There was a need for more cash during the summer to pay the players'
wages, and the necessary resources were found by manager
Frank Scott-Walford during Hepworth's absence. The club thus
owed £3,500 to Scott-Walford, bringing total debts up to almost
£11,000. There was an urgent and desperate need to raise the sum
of £12,000, which would provide vital working capital in addition
to clearing the mounting debts.
The directors had come to the inevitable conclusion that the
only feasible way of proceeding
would be to raise debenture loans of £12,000. The directors had
agreed to raise a substantial portion of this money, but they
wanted shareholders to raise amongst themselves and their friends
the sum of £4,000.
If the scheme were to fail it would be disastrous, and Hepworth
said that he thought as sportsmen they would admit that it was
unfair that the directors should bear the whole brunt. He added
that there were between 300 and 400 shareholders in the club and
if each of them would do their best, it would go a long way towards
raising the £4,000.
Joe Henry explained that the dilemma in which the directors found
themselves began with the heavy costs of developing the Elland
Road ground and stands. It proved difficult to borrow money from
the bank and the directors transferred to a new bank and signed
a guarantee for £7,000. After the losses of the previous season
they were faced with further pressure from the bank and there
was no other scheme to save them other than the one being proposed.
Henry believed that the proposals would allow them to get over
their difficulties and set them on the way to prosperity.
In reply to a question from the activist shareholder, Alf Masser,
Hepworth told the meeting that the Elland Road ground belonged
to him, but he was prepared to give the club the option to purchase
it at any time at the price he paid for it.
Hepworth moved "That the scheme for raising £12,000 by means
of debentures and debenture stock, carrying interest at 5 per
cent, be approved by this meeting, and that the meeting further
pledges itself to use its best endeavours to raise the sum of
£4,000 towards such issue."
The resolution was carried and Messrs Riley, Bodlander, Metcalfe,
Bromley, Masser and Harrison were appointed as the shareholders'
representatives on the committee. Hepworth announced that all
the directors were prepared to retire except Mr Preston, with
the object of reducing the overall number, but it was decided
that they should remain in office until the next meeting was convened.
A fortnight later, there were further discussions at a third
meeting at the Grand Central Hotel. The Mercury:
"Mr Alf Masser presided over a large attendance of shareholders,
and was supported by all the members of the special committee.
"Mr Masser explained the position in some detail, and the shareholders
had been called together to consider a reasonable business proposition
for setting the club on its feet by providing it with some more
money, and to secure to the shareholders some assets to cover
any debentures which might be issued to them.
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"Briefly, the scheme agreed upon by the committee was that the
shareholders should find £4,000 and certain of the directors would
guarantee £8,000 to cover the liabilities of the club and provide
a margin of working capital, the whole £12,000 to be covered by
debentures; while Mr Norris Hepworth would find £5,000 for the
purchase of the ground, grand stands, etc, the freehold of which
he would hand over to the shareholders, he himself merely retaining
a mortgage on the property for the amount he paid for it.
"The whole point they had to consider, remarked Mr Masser, was
whether the club was to be continued or not. If it was to be continued,
the scheme drawn up was the best that could be devised. If it
was carried through he thought the shareholders would in time
see something for their money, while if the club was not continued
the shareholders would certainly lose everything, because, if
Mr Norris Hepworth exercised the option to which he had succeeded,
the whole of the grounds and everything on them would become his
"In addition to the financial terms arranged, Mr Masser also
pointed out that the directors had agreed to pass a special resolution
at their next annual meeting, reducing their number to five, and
of these five only one was to represent the gentlemen who were
finding the £8,000, while the other four were to be appointed
by the shareholders, thus giving the shareholders full control
of the club. It was probable that Mr Norris Hepworth would be
the representative of those who were finding the £8,000, and he
was certain that Mr Hepworth was a gentleman and a sportsman whom
they did not want to lose. (Applause) With regard to the other
four they did not want to lose Mr Henry, but the shareholders
must be united in choosing their representatives or some of the
old directors would be returned, and if they were the club would
go back to a worse position than it was in even now.
"In his opinion, all that was needed was that the £4,000 should
be raised, and that some enthusiasm should be put into the club
to ensure it a prosperous future.
"There was only one way out, and that was to get their hands
down and give the club a chance. Mr Norris Hepworth, he thought,
was showing the true sportsman's spirit, even though he had lost
thousands where they had only lost £10. (Hear, hear.)
"Mr Tom Coombs said it would be a fatal
mistake to wind up the club, because it would be almost
impossible for a new club to get into the Second League. He thought
the suggested scheme was an extremely good one, and he moved a
resolution expressing appreciation of the efforts of the committee,
approving the scheme they had drawn up, and pledging the meeting
to use every endeavour to find the £4,000 to enable the scheme
to be carried out. Mr King seconded and after some further discussion
the resolution was adopted with only one dissentient.
"Mr Masser stated that if the £4,000 was raised there would be
from £1,000 to £1,500 available to get new players, if need be,
and to work the club. But he appealed for a unanimous vote, and
in response the one dissentient withdrew his opposition, and the
resolution was adopted unanimously."
The adopted scheme was as follows: "Mr Hepworth agrees to exercise
the option which he holds by purchasing the ground and having
it conveyed to the club instead of to himself, takes a mortgage
on the same for £5,000 (the amount which will actually be required
to purchase the ground). The bank overdraft of £8,000 will be
paid off by the directors and debentures bearing 5 per cent per
annum will be issued to cover this amount. The shareholders have,
at a meeting duly convened, pledged themselves to use their best
endeavours to raise a sum of £4,000 (to be secured by debentures
also bearing 5 per cent per annum, ranking equally with those
taken by the directors)."
The scheme was not a success and the club continued to suffer
crippling financial problems. By September 1911 there was speculation
that the only possible solution would be to liquidate the company,
with existing shareholders forfeiting their holdings, and form
a completely new organisation. It was a radical solution and Alf
Masser sought instead to wipe out the debts by raising £16,000
in new funding.
Masser pointed out that when the company was formed in 1905,
nearly the whole of the capital, £4,500, was expended upon developing
Elland Road. It was now proposed that the ground, with all its
equipment, should become the absolute possession of the company,
serving as security for those subscribers who were prepared to
come forward and take up debentures.
As per the Evening Post, Masser estimated that "to acquire the
ground at the present moment, and to relieve the club from all
debt, bank overdraft and everything, would involve the raising
of £20,000. Mr Norris Hepworth, the chairman of the club, is the
largest creditor, and he has made an offer that if the sum of
£16,000 can be raised by subscription for debentures - of which
he himself will take up £3,000 worth, leaving £13,000 to be subscribed
by the public - he will undertake to discharge all the liabilities
of the club up to the end of August last.
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"The only question that arises now is whether the £13,000 can
be found. Mr Masser is hopeful that it can. From the sportsmen
of the city he had an encouraging response to the appeal which
he made some time ago, and, if the tradesmen of Leeds, who benefit
an indirect way from the presence of a big football club in their
midst, were to do their duty to the club, he thinks the money
could be raised. Anyway, if it is not raised, the only possible
alternative will be the winding up of the company, for it is impossible
to continue the club with that incubus in the shape of an £8,000
bank overdraft, which swallows a matter of between £600 and £700
a year in interest."
The money was not forthcoming and on 27 March 1912, Leeds City's
solicitors, Messrs Hepworth and Chadwick, announced that the club
was going into receivership. "We beg to inform you that this morning
Mr Norris Rhodes Hepworth has appointed Mr Tom Coombs, of 14 King
Street, Leeds, accountant, as receiver on behalf of the debenture
holders of the Leeds City Association Football Club Company Limited.
The appointment was served this morning on the club by Mr R Agar
Chadwick, solicitor, on behalf of Mr Hepworth and Mr Coombs. Under
the appointment all the assets of the club will now belong to
Mr Coombs, on behalf of the debenture holders, to whom all moneys
must be paid and without whose authority no money belonging to
the club can be paid."
Coombs ran the club for the next three years until a consortium
of Leeds businessmen headed by Joseph Connor took over in August
The Evening Post in March 1912: "At the commencement of the present
football season it was stated that the indebtedness of the club
to Mr Norris Hepworth, the chairman, was £10,733, and that the
club's total indebtedness to all sources at that date was £13,297.
At a special general meeting of the shareholders, held just after
the season commenced, the directors submitted a scheme which aimed
at the liquidation of the whole of the club's indebtedness by
an appeal for fresh capital. New proposals were advanced by the
shareholders, however, and a small committee of shareholders was
appointed to confer with the directors on the matter, but apparently
no substantial result has been forthcoming from the movement.
Mr Hepworth is still the principal creditor of the club, and holds
the bulk of the debentures. It is understood that a scheme of
reconstruction is in contemplation, and that the ultimate result
will be to give the club a fresh and more prosperous lease of
On 12 April 1912 the Leeds Mercury reported: "A public meeting,
called by Mr A E Masser, for the purpose of considering a scheme
of reconstruction of the Leeds City Football Club, was held last
night, at the Grand Central Hotel, Leeds, and was very largely
attended. Mr A E Masser presided.
"The chairman said the size of that meeting satisfied him that
there was a genuine demand for first class Association Football
in Leeds and that they were not going to allow themselves to go
under without a very great effort. (Hear, hear.)
"It was only within the last few days that he had been able to
get from Mr Norris Hepworth an assurance as to how much he would
take to transfer the whole of his present interest in the Leeds
City Club. Mr Hepworth had sunk in the club from £14,000 to £15,000.
That amount would include the sum of money which would be necessary
to clear the club at the present moment from all debt. Mr Hepworth
had offered to him to transfer his interest if he (the speaker)
found a gentleman with £7,000. He had hoped to be able to tell
them that night that he had found such a gentleman. He had been
in touch with two or three gentlemen, and the most he could tell
them was that they were all nibbling, but he had not yet had a
genuine bite, though he did not despair. He had taken upon himself
to find such a gentleman with £7,000 who would come forward and
purchase Mr Hepworth's interest in the club.
"He could offer to any such purchaser a team of players who had
been valued at from £3,500 to £4,000. The stands and ground equipment
had been valued at £4,000, so that he was able to offer in bona
fide cash value £8,000 for the £7,000 he was asking. In addition,
he wanted £3,000 from the old shareholders and the public, and
with that sum of money he was certain the future welfare and success
of the club was assured.
"The chairman further stated that the ground was not at present
vested in Mr Hepworth, but he had the option of purchasing it,
and would transfer to the club that option. The ground would cost
£4,500, of which it was proposed to leave £3,500 on mortgage until
they were in a better position than at present.
"Discussion took place, and various suggestions were made by
members of the meeting, an individual who said he came from Stoke
remarking that the issue of £1 shares had proved very beneficial
to the Stoke club.
"The chairman said it was proposed to re-float the company with
a capital of £10,000, and to issue at first
£3,000, on the principle mentioned by their friend from Stoke,
5s to be paid on allocation and the rest when required.
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"Mr T Coombs proposed that 'This meeting heartily endorses the
scheme of reconstruction put forward by Mr Masser, and pledges
itself by all means in its power to assist in raising the necessary
funds to place the club in a sound financial condition.' This
was seconded by Mr Jennings, and carried unanimously."
Despite all the schemes, negotiations and aspirations, Leeds
City never managed to extract themselves from their financial
strictures and continued to totter uncertainly from crisis to
crisis, the whole time growing more and more dependent on the
seemingly infinite generosity of Norris Hepworth. It could not
go on for ever.
Early on the morning of 20 February 1914, Hepworth was found
dead at his home in Torridon, Headingley. His health had been
poor for some time but it was only within the preceding two or
three days that he had become confined to bed. The cause of death
was "internal haemorrhage, and so sudden was the seizure that
he passed away before the doctor could arrive". His death came
as a great shock.
Hepworth, who had twice been married, left a widow, five sons
and three daughters.
He was buried four days later at Lawnswood Cemetery in North
Leeds; there were hundreds of mourners in attendance and some
eighty wreaths on display. In addition to members of the Hepworth
family, there were representatives of J Hepworth & Son, the Leeds
Wholesale Clothiers Association, the Yorkshire Liberal Newspaper
and Publishing Company Limited, the North West Ward Liberal Association,
the Central Liberal Club, the old Leeds Clarendon Club, the Yorkshire
County Cricket Committee, the Leeds Cricket and Football Club,
the Hepworth Cup Competition and Leeds Cricket League. Representing
Leeds City were Tom Coombs and his wife, manager
Herbert Chapman, directors J W Bromley and J C Whiteman and
players Billy McLeod, Fred Croot, Jimmy Speirs and George Law.
The outpouring of grief was sincere and a fitting testimony to
a great patron of sport in the city of Leeds. The Yorkshire Evening
Post: "In later times it was Association Football that claimed
his interest, but whether it was football or cricket, or any other
branch of sport, he was always ready and willing to give most
"As most Leeds City followers will remember, it was on representation
being made to Mr Norris Hepworth that he joined the directorate
of the Leeds City Football Club, and it was really his consent
to do this that enabled the directors of the club at that time
to proceed with the scheme they had in hand.
"Exactly how Mr Hepworth's
death will affect the position of the Leeds City Club can only
be conjectured, but it may be supposed for the time being that
the executors will not interfere with the running of the club
which is in the hands of Mr Tom Coombs as Receiver.
"He became chairman of directors and retained that position right
up to the time of his death. He always took a keen interest in
the doings of the team, and it had to be something very important
that interfered with his attendance at the matches, either at
Elland Road or on distant grounds.
"All his life he had taken an enthusiastic interest in cricket,
and for many years that game had in him one of its most generous
patrons. In his early days, he played regularly and for some years
acted as captain of the Leeds Club. The Hepworth Cup, which is
played for annually by some of the leading clubs in the city,
is a standing testimony to the keen interest he took in the game
locally; and there are many other smaller trophies which he provided
to encourage interest in the game. He was one of the representatives
of the Leeds district on the County Club Committee."
However, it was Hepworth's generous financing of Leeds City AFC
that was his most lasting memorial. Even in the few days before
his death he was happy to sanction the expenditure of £1,000 by
manager Herbert Chapman on the signing of Huddersfield Town's
classy full-back and captain, Fred
The sad passing of a great man threw the entire future of the
club into great doubt with Tom Coombs now solely responsible for
keeping it afloat.
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