Tracking Down An Original West Ham Shareholder

2 May, 2024
written by Nigel Kahn



Tracking Down An Original West Ham Shareholder

Modern-day West Ham: We know who controls all the club’s shares: Dave Sullivan controls 38%, Kretinsky has 27%, and Vanessa Gold, despite trying to sell some of hers, still has 25%. Tripp Smith is said to have 8%, leaving the minimal 2% to be owned by former chairman Terry Brown and the Harris family. 

It was not like that when West Ham was formed, though. In 1900, when the Thames Ironworks football team was going to be disbanded, the Ironworks owner, Arnold Hills, along with the committee forming the new football club we know today as West Ham United, decided that the new club would be a Limited company. Four thousand shares would be issued, and each share would cost 10 shillings, 50p in modern decimalised currency.

Hills wanted the shares to be sold to the public, and any shareholder buying ten or more shares would be offered a place on the board. In a wise presumptive move, Hills said that for every share sold to the public, he himself would buy one to fund the new club. 

I’m not sure there has ever been a list of the number of shares that the public bought, but many locals invested a small amount and purchased shares and were issued a share certificate to denote the number of shares they bought.

I recently came across a share certificate that is the oldest I have seen of its type. This certificate dates from December 1904, just four months after West Ham moved into the Boleyn Ground. The purchaser’s name is Edward William Child, and he lived in Lucas Avenue, Upton Park. A stone’s throw away from Upton Park station and a short walk to The Boleyn to watch the hammers in action.

Edward purchased just two shares, numbered 2354 and 2355 on the certificate, for £1. The Manager, Syd King, authorised the certificate, perhaps showing the extent of control he had not just over the team but all affairs of the club.

Two club directors acted as witnesses. The new chairman at the time was Joseph Grisdale, a Liverpudlian coppersmith with links to the Ironworks, and George Fundell, a local estate agent. Both had been involved in organising the founding of West Ham in 1900.

Who was Edward Child, though? I have been researching the man and discovered he was a Schoolteacher who worked for West Ham Borough Council. 1904 he lived in Lucas Avenue with his wife Clara and son Cyril. Lucas Avenue is just behind Upton Park station, a short walk to The Boleyn Ground, where West Ham had only started playing their home games in 1904. 

Edward was born in Southampton in 1871 but arrived with his parents in West Ham before his 10th birthday. His dad was a shipping clerk so he probably moved to the area as the docks started to expand & grow. Ed was one of 8 children. 1904, he is now married with just one child, a son named Cyril.

His son Cyril would eventually inherit the shares after his father passed away in 1951. The share numbers are interesting and indicate the uptake of shares by the general public.

As I said earlier, 4000 shares were issued at the time of the club’s formation in 1900, and Arnold Hills would buy one for every share sold to the public. Four years later, Edward Childs’s share numbers are 2354 and 55, which indicates the public had only bought just over 1100 shares in the four years they had been available. 

I have yet to find out how long Cyril held onto the shares; he passed away in 1981 while living in Brighton. 

All of the original shareholder families would have lost their shares when the club was sold to the Icelandic consortium in 2006 for the first time since its formation in 1900.  

Hopefully, in the future, I can find more of the original shareholders and provide some context for the club’s founding owners.


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