The club was founded in 1895 as a company team and recreational outlet for local workers of the Thames Ironworks. The Thames Ironworks was a famous shipbuilding yard and the club had as a sponsor the head of the company, Mr Arnold Hills. They played their matches at Hermit Road in such rudimentary conditions that this virtually grassless piece of land was referred to as a cinder heap. Cinder heap it may have been, but Hills arranged for a floodlit game there in 1894 between Woolwich Arsenal and WBA, and later in 1896 a floodlit game between Thames Ironworks and Old St Stephens – even erecting canvas screens to keep away curious onlookers. In 1896 Thames Ironworks moved briefly on to Browning Road, just off East Ham High Street. It is worth mentioning that the last encounter at this ground was the 4-1 victory over the superbly named Crouch End Vampires in 1897.
Mr Hills financed, at a cost of £2,000, the move to an enormous arena at the Memorial Recreation Ground which was equipped with a grandstand, complete with cycle and running tracks. The claimed capacity was 120,000, and even an FA Cup semi-final was scheduled for there in 1901 – although not needed!! By the end of the nineteenth century events took place which were vital to the progress of the club. They were elected to the Southern League and in a bold attempt found it necessary to sign professional players to keep up with the standard of the game. Very much to the dislike of Mr Hills though. He was horrified by this development and disowned the club he had formed. Rancour and acrimony abounded, and despite a small reprieve the Irons (as they were then known) had to leave the Memorial Ground and they became a Limited Liability Company under the name of West Ham United, membership of the Football League coming in 1919.
When West Ham United eventually left the Memorial Ground at Canning Town in May 1904, their new home in Upton Park was originally a cabbage patch where a Catholic School and reformatory stood, just within the confines of East Ham. The Boleyn Ground takes its name from the house which stood in Green Street, next to the ground, until the 1950’s. It became known as the Boleyn Castle after Anne Boleyn, but this was not founded on fact, as the “castle” was indeed a building known as Green Street House, its only similarity to a castle being two distinctive turrets. Although many people refer to Upton Park as the name of the Hammers’ ground, that is in fact the district the Boleyn Ground resides in.
This explains the depiction of a castle in the club crest, crossed by two hammers, symbols of the shipbuilding yard, hence also the nickname. Although the club officially ceased long ago to have anything to do with the old industry, the nicknames Hammers and Irons acquired as Thames Ironworks have stuck ever since and are still in popular use. To dispel a further misapprehension: the Hammers nickname is purely coincidentally linked with West Ham.
The old Thames Ironworks team colours were all-Harrovian blue in honour of Arnold Hill’s old school, Harrow. When West Ham United severed it’s former association with the Thames Ironworks FC they dropped the all-blue strip in favour of claret and blue. Although there is no clearly documented link, these colours were popular at the time because of the success of Aston Villa.
We of course have to be careful not to confuse the team with another team, Thames, who graced the Football League for just two seasons in the early Thirties and who sported blue and red quartered shirts. Over the years the Hammers have, in the main, kept to the tradition of claret shirts with blue sleeves, although in recent years kit sponsorship has had an effect, as elsewhere, in trying to pull the club from tradition: claret with a V shaped yoke, claret with a blue band and claret with a blue stripe down the sleeves have all been tried and tested, and in the main thankfully rejected. The enduring image of the Hammers, however, is of Bobby Moore in neat claret shirt with short blue sleeves, crisp white shorts and pristine white socks. A classic image that no number of sponsorship deals can erase.