Market Place, The White Swan Hotel

The Solicitor & The Industrialist

In the summer of 1919, Leicester Fosse were on the brink and the Club’s transformation into Leicester City Football Club might not have happened.
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Two men made an immense contribution to make sure it did. One was solicitor Herbert Simpson. The other was a wealthy industrialist named William Archibald Jennings.

These hugely significant figures in the history of the Club have largely been forgotten.

In a recent edition of LCFCQ, however, Club Historian John Hutchinson provided some insight into the lives and significance of these two men. 

The inhabitants of Leicester were looking forward to a brighter future following the carnage of the First World War, as peace celebrations continued and soldiers slowly returned from the Western Front. 

One problem area, though, was Leicester Fosse Football Club.

Founded in 1884 and a Football League side since 1894, the Fossils had spent all but one of their 24 seasons as a Football League side in the Second Division of the two-division league.

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Leicester City 1919/20
Leicester City 1919/20

Leicester City 1919/20; Back: Barrett, Jobey, Bown, Harrold, S Currie, Paterson (in cap & tie), Thomson; Front: Norton, T Smith, Whitfield, Macauley, Walker.

The Club’s one high-spot had been promotion to the top division in 1908, but following relegation a year later, the years leading up the First World War were ones of inexorable decline. 

When the Football League was suspended in April 1915 for the duration of the war, Leicester Fosse finished the season bottom-but-one of the two-division league, with only Glossop below them.

Both sides had to seek re-election. Glossop failed and have never played in the Football League since. Leicester Fosse were re-elected.

However, their relentless decline continued during the next four years, playing in the poorly attended wartime regional leagues.

By 1919, the Club was in an unsustainable financial state and would have been in no position to take their place in the Football League, which was due to resume in August 1919.

The Club was saved from oblivion by the actions of two key figures.

The Solicitor: Herbert Simpson

Herbert Simpson was a prominent Leicester citizen. He had been practicing as a solicitor since 1895 when he set up his own firm.

In 1912, meanwhile, he became a Conservative councillor; a post he held for the rest of his life, serving on the Water, Gas, Estates & Parks Committees.

In later years, he was a key figure in the establishment of the Leicester aerodrome at Stoughton.

Before the First World War, though, he had been a volunteer in the Territorial Army and was recommissioned as a captain in September 1914.

During the war, he helped raise two battalions of the Leicestershire Regiment as well as commanding the Territorial Force depot in Leicester. He also served on court martial.

In later years, he was to become Lord Mayor of Leicester in 1924 (when he unveiled Leicester’s Lutyens-designed War Memorial on Victoria Park) and Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Leicestershire in 1925. 

It was at Simpson’s office that the future of Leicester Fosse and its transformation into Leicester City Football Club occurred during the summer of 1919.

His firm was known as Herbert Simpson & Bennett, which was based in the Rowton Buildings on Bowling Green Street, behind the Town Hall.

Rowton was the maiden name of his wife, Sarah. The couple had married in 1894 and lived in a grand house near Victoria Park called ‘Glenholme’ on the corner of Regent Road and Salisbury Road. Both the office building and the house still exist.

On 16 May, 1919, an Extraordinary General Meeting of Leicester Fosse shareholders was convened at the Rowton Buildings.

They discussed the Club’s debt to the United Counties Bank of over £3,150 (approximately £343,000 in today’s values). There was no chance of meeting this debt. 

In the events of the summer which followed, Simpson’s guidance and advice played a vital role. 

At this meeting, the Leicester Fosse Chairman, W.H Squires, proposed that the old club be wound up and taken over by a new company.

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King George V and Queen Mary
King George V and Queen Mary

King George V and Queen Mary, pictured during another visit to London Hospital, were in Leicester to mark its new city status.

This was passed unanimously and a liquidator, John Fowler Beale, was appointed. 

At the end of the month, it was announced at a creditors’ meeting that there would still be a deficiency of over £940 (£102,000 today) after Fosse’s assets had been realised.

Plans for a takeover of Leicester Fosse by a new company, which had already been agreed to by the Football League, were set in motion.  

On 5 July, 1919, permission was received to change the name of the reconstructed club to Leicester City Football Club.

This was to reflect the town’s new city status, granted by George V following his visit to Leicester nearly three weeks earlier.

On that clear summer day, King George V and Queen Mary were transported in a horse-drawn carriage to various venues in the highly decorated town, which was festooned with flags and streamers. 

A letter from the Home Secretary informed Lord Mayor Alderman Lovell: "His Majesty has been graciously pleased to approve the restoration to your Ancient Town of its former status as a city." 

In a letter to the Club in 2006, Herbert Simpson’s grandson, Andrew, pointed out that Leicester Tigers Rugby Union Club was already registered as Leicester Football Club.

The first reference to the Club’s new name appeared in the Leicester Daily Mercury on 7 July, 1919. 

The directors of the new company, who included some ex-Fosse directors, arranged to purchase Fosse’s assets for £4,500 from the liquidator.

This was to be paid in cash from a proposed share issue intended to raise £10,000.

They stated that the aims of the new company were to strengthen the team, to improve the Filbert Street ground, to renegotiate its lease from the corporation and: “To promote football, cricket, lacrosse, lawn tennis, hockey, bowls, bicycle and tricycle riding, running, jumping, physical training and the development of the human frame and other athletic sports, games, pastimes and exercises.” 

And so it was on 7 August, 1919 that this new company was registered and set up its office at 17 Market Place.

This was one of several offices in an area known as The Corridor, which was situated behind the White Swan Hotel. The site was near to Green Dragon Square, recently constructed behind the Corn Exchange.

It is clear that a key figure in the whole process of setting up the new Leicester City Football Club was Herbert Simpson.

The Industrialist: William Jennings

Despite the efforts of Herbert Simpson, the Football Club would not have survived without the injection of new capital from local industrialists.

Another large personality in this respect was William Archibald Jennings. It is regrettable that his absolutely central role in establishing Leicester City Football Club a century ago is now almost completely forgotten.

Jennings made his money in the boot and shoe industry, which was massive in Leicester in the early 20th century, employing over 25,000 workers.

Based in the Belgrave area of Leicester, Jennings was only 18 when he established his original factory in Andrews Street in 1890.

As his business expanded, he moved to a factory in Birstall Street (near Dysart Way) in 1894 and then to Moores Road, off Belgrave Road, before the First World War. 

At the outbreak of war in 1914, Jennings’ factory was one of the first in Leicester to make footwear for the British Army, and later for other Allied armies, developing brands such as ‘Jennin’, ‘Hero’ and ‘Blockade’.

In 1917, he moved to a large factory in Harrison Road in the Belgrave area. By 1919, he had doubled the size of his factory by expanding to the rear of the building and had built a large workforce. 

By the end of the war, Jennings was an extremely wealthy man. Investigation of trade journals indicate that he went on to specialise in children’s shoes, developing the brands of the ‘Little Gents’, ‘Youths’ and ‘Misses’ Footwear’. When the USA reduced its import duty to 10 per cent, meanwhile, he made big inroads into the American market.  

His homes in Leicester reflected his growing wealth and status. As a boy, the son of a factory worker, he had lived in modest terraced houses on streets off the Belgrave Road.

Once he was established in business, he graduated to a very large house at 27 Loughborough Road, before moving to an even bigger home on Stoneygate Avenue called Ivanhoe.

In 1919, at the time he was helping to recreate Leicester City Football Club, he purchased another magnificent house in Stoneygate called The Shrubbery.

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Factory interior
Factory interior

Jennings' large workforce at the factory in Leicester can be seen in this archive photograph.

Built in 1846, it stood in 10 acres of grounds in an area off the London Road opposite the junction with Clarendon Park Road. The drive leading up to the house was lined by horse chestnut trees.

The gardens were designed by Sir Joseph Paxton, the renowned Victorian architect and gardener, best known for designing the Crystal Palace for the Great Exhibition of 1851.

Jennings’ crucial role in establishing Leicester City Football Club was recognised when he became the Club’s first chairman in August 1919.  

On 21 February, 1921, before a third round FA Cup tie at Stamford Bridge against First Division high-flyers Chelsea, King George V was presented to the teams on the pitch before kick-off.

A photograph of Jennings introducing the King to George Douglas is on display in the reception area at King Power Stadium. 

Earlier this season, William Jennings' granddaughter Ann Sharp, together with her daughter Christine Grosse, donated a framed photograph to the Club of the same occasion signed by Jennings himself.

They also provided photographs showing the grounds of the Shrubbery, of the house itself and of the sumptuously-decorated and furnished rooms inside.

Jennings was at the height of his wealth, power and influence, but he died the following year at the age of 49. Six Leicester City players carried his coffin to his grave at Welford Road cemetery.

From his grave, the Filbert Street site and King Power Stadium can be clearly seen in the distance.

Jennings’ granddaughter, Pat Curran, says her first visit to the grave was a matchday and she could hear the roar of the crowd in the distance. It was a poignant moment. 

In 2005, Jennings was chosen as one of the 100 most notable citizens of Leicester to be buried at the cemetery. Granite memorial plaques have been erected in a specially designated area in their memory. 

As for The Shrubbery, it was sold to the Norwich Union Insurance Company and demolished it in the 1930s. One of Leicester’s first blocks of custom built flats, Stoneygate Court, was built on the site.

The Legacy

The roles played by Herbert Simpson and William Jennings in the survival and recreation of Leicester City Football Club, although largely forgotten with the passage of years, were crucial.

Other people also played important roles, including ex-Fosse directors, who joined the new board; William Squires, Louis Burridge, Henry Collins, Carter Crossland, Harry Linney and Montague John Rice.

Rice, who became chairman after the death of Jennings, is the man behind the locally famous Rice Bowl trophy.

It was then donated to the Leicestershire Schools FA and has been competed for by local primary schools annually ever since.

In addition, there were some other new investors. These included Arthur Needham, William Tompkins and Dick Pudan, an ex-player. Research is currently underway uncovering the stories of these men. 

Leicester City Crest

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