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Hermit Road was the first stadium for the Thames Ironworks and was located in Canning Town. The Ironworks had taken over the tenancy of the ground in the summer of 1895 from Old Castle Swifts F.C., who were the first professional football club in Essex. The Hermit Road ground had been described as a 'cinder' heap' and 'barren waste', and was surrounded by a moat and had canvas sheeting for fencing.
Thames Ironworks played their first ever fixture of the 1895-96 season against Royal Ordnance reserves on 7th September 1895, the game ending 1-1. In Thames' first competitive game, they took on Chatham in a preliminary qualifying round of the FA Cup. The match had to be played at Chatham's ground in Kent as they had rated the Irons' Hermit Road Ground as unsuitable. The Ironworks lost the match 0-5.
1895 - 1896 : Hermit Road Ground
1896 - 1897 : Browning Road
1897 - 1904 : Memorial Grounds
1904 - 2016 : Boleyn Ground
2016 - Present : London Stadium
The Memorial Grounds was opened on 19th June, 1897, to coincide with the sixtieth anniversary of Queen Victoria's coronation. Aside from a football pitch, the stadium contained a cycle track, a cinder running track, tennis courts and one of the largest outdoor swimming pools in England. It was said at the time that the grounds were "good enough to stage an English Cup Final."
In their first ever fixture in the London League on 19th September 1896, Thames Ironworks beat the Vampires 3-0 with goals from Hatton 2 and Gresham. Thames Ironworks next game at Hermit Road would also be their last. It came on 8 October, when they beat 1st Scots Guards 2-0. Later that month they were handed an eviction notice from Hermit Road by their landlords. The club had violated their tenancy agreement by charging admission fees and building a perimeter fence and pavilion. Thames Ironworks had to play their next four fixtures at the grounds of their opponents, until a new home could be found. The first of these games was against eventual champions 3rd Grenadier Guards F.C. on 22nd October 1896, which The Irons lost 1-4. At the turn of 1897, Thames' chairman Arnold Hills had managed to lease a temporary piece of land for the team, located in Browning Road, East Ham.
On the16th March 1896 an experimental 'floodlit friendly' which drew an attendance of 2,000 in Thames' first encounter with Woolwich Arsenal, an epic encounter that they lost 3-5. These early attempts at floodlighting were set up using Thames Iron Works engineers and equipment, and caused an amount of notoriety. They were also used for "The Irons" next game, in their first ever meeting with West Bromwich Albion, which they lost 2-4 with 1,000 paying spectators in attendance.
Thames' first game at their new home came on 6th March 1897 in a 3-2 win over Ilford. However, the new situation was not ideal, as explained by future Ironworks player and West Ham United manager Syd King in the1906 book entitled "Book of Football".
"For some reason, not altogether explained, the local public at this place did not take kindly to them and the records show that Browning Road was a wilderness both in the manner of luck and support."
With the club's presence never likely to be permanent, chairman Arnold Hills earmarked a large piece of land in Canning Town and would eventually spend £20,000 on the construction of the Memorial Grounds. On 8th April 1897 Thames Ironworks' last game of the season was also to be their last at Browning Road. The game against Barking Woodville ended 1-1.
In November 1897 Arnold Hills secured an agreement with London, Tilbury and Southend Railway (LT&SR) to build a station at Manor Road. The LT&SR board approved this in February 1898 and Mowlem's was given the contract to build a four platform station, allowing for the proposed quadrupling of the line. The station was completed in May 1900 but did not open until 1st February 1901 as West Ham. On 11th September 1897, in their first game at their new ground, Thames Ironworks beat Brentford 1-0.
Following growing disputes over the running and financing of the club in June 1900 Thames Ironworks F.C. was disbanded, then almost immediately relaunched on 5th July 1900 as West Ham United F.C with former player Syd King installed officially as club director, but acting as 'manager', and Charlie Paynter as assistant trainer. Club secretary was L. M . Bowen. Despite the shift in team name the club (and its fans) are to this day referred to as "The Irons" and "The Hammers" due to the original connection
The reborn club was initially funded by Arnold Hills and they continued to play their games at the Memorial Grounds in Plaistow. Around 1903 Hills was facing financial problems and was unwilling to re-negotiate a rental agreement to use the Memorial Grounds that was acceptable to West Ham United. The club was forced to find another sponsor. A local brewery agreed to advance them a loan to help them purchase a new ground. Syd King was given the task to find West Ham a new home. It was suggested that he should take a look at Boleyn Castle field, just off Green Street, East Ham.
The land was owned by the Catholic Ecclesiastical Authorities and used by the Boleyn Castle Roman Catholic Reformatory School. A deal was arranged with the Catholic Ecclesiastical Authorities but the Home Office made it clear that they did not approve of the land being used by West Ham United. Syd King went to see Sir Ernest Gray, an influential Member of Parliament. As King later explained, "through his good offices, subject to certain conditions, we were finally allowed to take possession of Boleyn Castle".
The actual football ground had been built on a plot of land adjacent to and in the grounds of Green Street House. The field in which the pitch was to be laid was originally used to grow potatoes and cabbages. The pitch was often referred to by the locals as 'the potato field' or 'the cabbage patch', the new ground was originally named "The Castle", for the 1904-05 season.
West Ham United first leased the Boleyn Ground in the Municipal Borough of East Ham from the Roman Catholic ecclesiastical authorities in 1904. With only a small stand and a covered terrace backing onto Priory Road, the dressing rooms were squeezed in the North West corner, between the West Stand and the North Bank.
West Ham's first game in their new home was against fierce rivals Millwall (themselves an Ironworks team, albeit for a rival company) drawing a crowd of 10,000 and with West Ham running out 3–0 winners and as the Daily Mirror wrote the morning after:
"Favoured by the weather turning fine after heavy rains of the morning, West Ham United began their season most auspiciously yesterday evening; when they beat Millwall by 3 goals to 0 on their new enclosure at Upton Park."
The castle was traditionally believed to be connected with Henry Vlll's second Queen, Anne Boleyn. However, this was not founded on fact, as the castle was a building known as Green Street House built in 1544, eight years after the execution of the King’s second wife.
A couple of turrets were added to the property two years later ‘to enhance the beauty of the grounds’, and one remained on the Green Street frontage and can often be seen in the background to team group photographs after the Second World War until it fell into disrepair and was demolished in 1955.
Today the ground is far more commonly known as Upton Park, after the Upton Park, London area in which it is located (a local pub in Plaistow to this day is called "The Castle" sited on a plot of land near Green Street House.
Green Street House 1904
The Boleyn Castle Tower : circa 1912
Extracts courtesy of John Helliar and Wikipedia. Illustrations: Evening Standard “The West Ham United Story” Published 1960
Sir Trevor Brooking Stand
Bobby Moore Stand
Sir Trevor Brooking Stand
Bobby Moore Stand
Dr Martens Stand
Dr Martens Stand
Only time will tell if the West Ham United joint co-chairman David Sullivan and David Gold made the right decision to move to the former 2012 Olympic Stadium.
The move to the former Olympic Stadium (London Stadium) became a reality at the start of the 2016-17 season. A permanent reminder to the Boleyn Ground and the place we have called home for the last one hundred and twelve years is recorded below.