West Ham United’s move to the Boleyn Ground laid the foundation for its success as a professional club but ironically the move was forced on it by it’s original founder Arnold Hills, who found the concept of professional sport morally repugnant.
Between 1900 and 1904, a series of small episodes occurred that showed the growing estrangement between Arnold Hills and West Ham United. Among them were the rejection of some of his nominees as prospective directors and disputes over the rent for the Memorial Ground and the services provided with it. At the end of the 1903 season, Hills informed West Ham rather sharply that he trusted that they would be able to make new playing arrangements for the coming year. He also wanted them to vacate the office space they had been using in buildings owned by the Ironworks. Hills stated that his refusal to rent the Memorial Ground to the club after 30th April was because it was needed ‘for the Amateur Thames Ironworks Team’. Although Arnold Hills may have done West Ham a great favour by forcing the club to move, the way in which he handled it left bitter feelings between the directors and the Hills family. In late April 1904 the directors heard a rumour that the Clapton Orient football team (a leading amateur club in East London at the time) might use the Memorial Ground. Clapton Orient went on to become a professional team and were later renamed Leyton Orient when they moved to Leyton.The West Ham board of directors voted to ‘publish a copy of Mr Hills’ letter to us in full in the press’ if any team besides Thames Ironworks used the Memorial Ground."
The directors had looked at the Boleyn Ground even before they knew they would have to vacate the Memorial Ground, but they were not prepared for Arnold Hills’s sudden action or the new rent. As soon as the lease was signed, the board passed formal resolutions to start a ‘million penny’ collection scheme to aid the new ground and to ‘communicate with advertisement contractors with regards to hoardings on our new ground and also ask the brewers for their personal assistance’. The result of Hills’s ultimatum was thus a firm slap at two of his cherished causes: amateur sport and temperance. The final move to the Boleyn Ground was made on 1st May 1904. The rental provisions included the amalgamation of West Ham United with the Boleyn Castle Football Club, ‘taking their best players into our reserve team’. The first match was played on 1st September 1904 against Millwall Athletic. A crowd 10,000 spectators attended to watch West Ham win 3-0 with goals courtesy of a brace from Billy Bridgeman and the other from Jack Flynn.
During the first season at the Boleyn Ground in 1904, West Ham turned the previous season’s £800 loss at the Memorial Ground into a £400 profit at the Boleyn. There was a small decrease in wages, but this was more than outweighed by the 100 per cent increase in rent for the ground (from £331 to £662). The important difference was in the gate money, which rose from £2,900 to £4,300. This was accomplished even though the club did not improve its record on the field." Before the 1904 season, the West ham chairman’s report had been a combination of gloom (the past season’s problems) and optimism, ‘with a new ground and new surroundings and with an almost new team, the success that we have long hoped for will at last be ours’’ The directors had done much more than hope. They had raised more than £3,000 in loans and had obtained a new site. The only creditors named in the club’s balance sheets were Arnold Hills (£107) and the Thames Ironworks Club (£85). Both these debts were settled in 1905. New loans came from the chairman, the three retiring directors who stood for re-election and the new directors. The loss of the Memorial Ground had given the directors a chance to plan for a new future. From 1905 the tone of West Ham United was set. It would be a team competing at the highest level, one that depended on quality football to attract supporters. It established itself in the heart of an area where playing football was the usual recreation. The inclusion, for the first time, of local politicians as vice-presidents, was another sign of the attempt to consolidate community ties; the club was guided firmly by members of the local business and professional class who were willing to invest money and time. The directors could no longer be seen as extensions of Hills or the Ironworks: they were civic personalities in their own right.
Source: West Ham United The Making of a Football Club (1987) by Professor Charles Korr. The book is now out of print but second hand copies appear on Ebay & Amazon.