Category Archives: History

Richmond Junior Chess Club 1975-2006: Part 5

I left you last time as the calendar ticked over to replace the 1 with a 2. January 1 2000. A new century.

The year 2000 was one with an international focus for Richmond Junior Chess Club. In January, we hosted a team of five young players from South Korea. They came over with our friend Jinwoo Song, a regular competitor in our rapidplay tournaments, who was now coaching in his home country. We ran a four-way team tournament, with six players in each team. Jinwoo played on top board for the Korean Krushers against the Richmond Raiders, the Richmond Rebels and the Richmond Renegades. They also played a match against Sheen Mount Primary School.

In July we had a visit from a Czech team from Frydek-Mistek, whose players have had a long association (continuing to this day) with English juniors. We ran a rapidplay tournament including some of the South of England’s strongest juniors, followed by a match between our team and theirs.

Here are two games: click on any move for a pop-up window.

But it was clear that the times were changing. Junior chess – and childhood itself – was becoming very different from when I was growing up.

In brief, and I’ll write a lot more about this at another time and (perhaps) in another place, it was changing from a hobby for older children into a learning tool for younger children.  The primary school chess clubs about which I was sceptical provided very little retention. Up to 2000 we were able to feed through the stronger players into our morning group, but at that point some sort of football league for children of primary school age started up in the borough, so we were no longer able to do that to any great extent.

Another thing that had changed was my relationship with the parents on our committee. When I was running the club unpaid I was seen as a friend, and, because I was doing it for free, was respected so much that I received an award from the BCF (as it then was) and it was even proposed that I should be nominated for an award in the Queen’s honours list. Every Christmas I’d receive enough wine and chocolates to last me until Easter. Even now I still exchange cards with a number of the parents from that time every December. But now I was being paid I was just a dispensable employee of the committee, so the gifts stopped. While I had enough money to buy as much wine and chocolates as I wanted throughout the year, for me that wasn’t the point.

I eventually reached the conclusion that I wanted to leave Richmond Junior Club at some point, and, because 30 years seemed like a good length of time to run the club, decided that the 2004-05 season would be my last. This would give the committee time to identify a replacement for me.

As chance would have it, in January 2002 a young man approached me after one of our Richmond Rapidplays offering to help. He appeared friendly and enthusiastic, and, although he wasn’t a very strong player, he was good enough to work with less experienced players. So the committee agreed to invite him along and give him a trial.

Everything went well: he was very popular with most of the children, and most of the parents also liked him. In addition, he seemed to be very much in tune with what we were trying to do. He also had contacts with a lot of strong players, which was very helpful.

After a while the committee appointed him as my deputy, with the intention that he would take over when I retired. CRB checks (as they then were), which had been introduced in 2002, were carried out successfully.

Meanwhile, my views on junior chess, in particular the best ways to teach beginners and promote chess in schools, were changing.

In 2000 I started developing a website, chessKIDS Academy, promoting online chess services for children. I sold the original domain some years ago and am no longer developing or maintaining the site but you can still find it here.

In 2001 a new school, Hampton Court House opened (it’s still there under the same name, but under different ownership and management), taking children of both primary and secondary school age. Its Director of Studies, Guy Holloway, was a keen chess player and wanted to make chess part of the school. I was invited to become involved and we used the school as a venue for a few tournaments. The school was more than happy to accept children who had struggled to fit in mainstream schools, as well as a bunch of eccentric teachers. It was, in many ways, an ideal environment for me, and I soon became a valued member of the school community. Getting to know all the children, not just those who played chess, as well as the parents and the members of staff, not all of whom were interested in chess, taught me to wear a teacher hat rather than a chess hat when thinking about how to promote and organise chess in schools.

By now I was reading extensively about various aspects of childhood: child development, educational theory, parenting, the history of childhood, as well as looking at the history of children’s chess, which again enabled to contextualise my views.

In 2003 I published two articles in CHESS. The first outlined my issues with primary school chess clubs and promoted chessKIDS Academy. The second published the results of an experiment carried out to investigate how children made decisions over the chessboard. I promised more articles, but never wrote them.

In 2004 I started investigating the Steps Method, used extensively in The Netherlands and also in other West European countries, which offered a very different philosophy to that of our after-school chess clubs. Looking also at courses based on methods used in the former Soviet Union, it was clear to me that this must have been an influence. Although I had some reservations about how it would fit in to our system, most of it made a lot of sense to me. I could see exactly why the primary school chess clubs in our area didn’t produce any significant retention.

Everything I was reading confirmed my opinion that promoting mass participation in chess in primary schools, while superficially attractive, was, in the long term, counter-productive.

But my views proved unpopular with parents and teachers, who didn’t want me to stop their children having fun playing low level chess, and with my chess teaching colleagues, who didn’t want me to stop them earning a living.

Over the previous few years there had been a decline in standards (we were doing just as well in competitions against other areas, so this was nationwide) and also in behaviour. While most of our children were genuinely enthusiastic about chess and wanted to be there, we were also attracting children who were less interested, and, consequently, in some cases less well behaved who were being signed up because their parents saw possible extrinsic benefits which might help them academically.

Two of our members from this period are now International Masters. Here’s a game from Yang-Fan Zhou.

Callum Kilpatrick sometimes plays for Richmond in the London League.

In February 2005 the world of Richmond Junior Club was turned upside down when a boy made an allegation of sexual assault against our young deputy director, who vehemently denied that any impropriety had taken place. The boy’s father, quite correctly reported the allegation to the police and social services. As it happened, a few years earlier one of the parents on our committee had been discovered with child pornography on his computer, and social services jumped to the conclusion that RJCC was the front for a paedophile ring. As a (then) middle-aged bachelor who spent a lot of time with young children I felt I was under suspicion myself.

The Crown Prosecution Service decided there was a case to answer, but were forced to drop it because the boy wasn’t prepared to testify in court. Our parental committee (I played no part in their decisions in this case) decided to keep him on but watch him closely, hoping this would give him the opportunity to seek help. Of course there was now no way he could take over my role as club director, so, in the short term, I had to remain in place, although my heart was no longer in it. The allegation against my deputy and potential successor was only one reason.

At the end of April 2006 we were contacted by the organiser of a foreign tournament in which our deputy director was taking part, informing us that he’d been arrested. Telling us the reason would have been a breach of confidentiality, but of course we had our suspicions. We eventually discovered that the reason for his arrest made it impossible for him to continue working with children. When he returned to England he was removed from his post at RJCC, although he continued playing in tournaments, even holding an office within the British Chess Federation until the start of the following year.

Meanwhile, by September 2006, other arrangements had been made, and Richmond Junior Chess Club was now, after 31 years, being run by someone else. What happened then is not my story to tell.

At the end of this five-part, 30+ year saga, I have some final thoughts.

If you know me you’ll know that I’m an extreme introvert, quiet, self-effacing, non-confrontational. I’m not an amazingly strong chess player. I’m not good at addressing an audience or controlling a class of children. Exactly the opposite of the qualities expected of a leader, you might think, but, nevertheless, I ran the strongest junior chess club in the country – and one of the strongest in the world – for many years, with methods, philosophy and governance very different from those used in any other children’s chess club of my knowledge. Yes, I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time, and to meet the right people, most importantly Mike Fox, but I suspect you need something more than just luck.

I’ve always known that without chess I wouldn’t have had a happy and worthwhile life, and that the least I could do in return was to devote my as much of my life as I could to helping children play chess. But, as I didn’t come from a chess background, today’s primary school chess clubs wouldn’t have helped me much, and nor would today’s professionally run clubs have been suitable.

The introduction to chess I had in the 1960s was ideal for me, but now junior chess, at least in my part of the world, was no longer for teachers like me (classroom management skills, which I don’t have, are required), nor, more importantly, for children like me.

I eventually realised that the problem was societal rather than specifically chess related, and that my friends and former colleagues in the junior chess world were meeting demands from parents and schools. But I didn’t think it was doing either chess or children any favours.

There are signs that things might be changing: I’ll have a lot more to say about this another time, and probably in another place. If you’d like to speak to me about the way we used to run our club, feel free to get in touch.

 

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Minor Pieces 66: Reginald Charles Noel-Johnson (2)

We left Reginald Charles Noel-Johnson last time, having just married Jane Ann Richards and joined the RAF on war service.

Before I move on, my thanks to Brian Denman, who has sent me a whole pile of Noel-Johnson’s games. I’ll add a few earlier scores here: as always, click on any move for a pop-up window.

Even in 1924, as an inexperienced 20-year-old, he was capable of playing strong positional chess, being particularly severe here against his opponent’s Dutch Defence, and not being distracted by the magnificent view from the roof of Australia House. William Henry Watts was, apart from being a civil servant, a prominent chess journalist and author.

In this county match game from 1936 he won quickly against his Essex opponent’s rather unsophisticated opening.

In another county match game he took a notable scalp when one of England’s finest amateurs, perhaps in time trouble, lost the plot.

Finally, for the moment, another game against Yeeles, which might, as Brian suggests, have been played in a club match, but also fits in with the 1937 county championship final. He was lucky here, as Yeeles stood better before giving up the exchange for no obvious reason: perhaps again a time trouble blunder.

Returning to his life story, Reginald and Jane had two children, Patricia, born in Chester in 1942, and Christopher (who sadly died in 2010), born in Surrey in 1946. During this period his work for the RAF took him to India, and it was only in 1947 that he was able to resume his chess career.

He wasted no time in picking up where he left off.

Tonbridge Free Press 30 May 1947

His final game was a textbook example of strong positional play, his pressure on his opponent’s backward c-pawn eventually leading to material gain. Click on any move of any game in this article for a pop-up window.

Although he’d been living in central London since at least 1929, he maintained his loyalty to Kent, playing in county matches as well as the county championships.

This game from a match between West/Mid Kent and Metropolitan Kent had a curious conclusion. White thought he had no defence to Black’s threats, but in fact he had a slight advantage.

In 1949 he won the Kent Championship for the eighth time. In this game from the first round  he again demonstrated strong positional play, winning material, but returning it for two far advanced connected passed pawns in the centre.

In this county match game he missed a tactical opportunity, but his more active pieces still made life difficult for his Sussex opponent.

Noel-Johnson also remained loyal to Lewisham. In this National Club Championship game his international opponent blundered, allowing a smart finish.

Facing another international opponent in a London League match, he gave a textbook example of how to play against the Dutch Stonewall, taking advantage of Black’s weak dark squares and undeveloped queen’s bishop to set up a decisive pin.

This game bears testimony to Reginald’s considerable endgame skills.

1951 marked the centenary of the Great Exhibition in London, which included the world’s first international chess tournament, and it was only right that the 1951 Festival of Britain should also include some chess. Reginald Noel-Johnson, by now a respected organiser and populariser of chess as well as a very strong player, was involved, and television cameras were present.

Marylebone Mercury 11 May 1951

In case you’re unfamiliar with some of the personalities involved: David Farrar CEM Joad Eamonn Andrews Sir Ronald Storrs

(Sir Ronald founded the first chess club in Palestine in 1918, hoping to unite Arabs, Jews and Christians stationed in Jerusalem, and to help promote peace and understanding. It didn’t work out: it closed within a year due to tensions between Arabs and Jews.)

In 1951 Noel-Johnson organised a London Transport team who travelled to Hastings Chess Club.

Hastings & St. Leonards Observer 11 August 1951

The home team won 21½-8½, but König and Noel-Johnson, on the top two boards, against Winser and Waterman.

(Chess was a very big thing amongst London Busmen at the time, a story I should perhaps investigate further.)

In October 1952 the National Chess Centre re-opened, just across the road in Oxford Street from the previous centre which had been burnt down during the war. Noel-Johnson was very much involved in its re-establishment. He was also honoured by being appointed President of the Southern Counties Chess Union in 1952-53.

Here’s another game, this one from the 1952 county championship, resulting in a minor piece ending.

This game was played on top board in a county match at the National Chess Centre. It looks like White miscalculated or misjudged the position round about move 20.

The 1953 National Chess Centre Championship gave Reginald another chance to demonstrate his positional mastery.

In 1954 the British Chess Federation published its second (and first full) grading list. Reginald Noel-Johnson was there on 3a (209-216, or about 2300 Elo), along with Alfred Lenton, and several of his other erstwhile opponents. At the age of 50, he seemed to be playing as well as ever.

But at that point he became a lot less active. By the 1955 grading list he’d slipped to 4a (193-200, approaching 2200 Elo).

One reason might have been that he was now becoming active in the musical world as a composer. I’d imagine that his work at Ricordi’s (he’d moved from Chappell’s) involved, on occasion, being commissioned to write incidental music.

Back in 1933 he’d been writing songs in the style of his father, his setting of Weep you no more, sad fountains, an anonymous Elizabethan verse set by everyone from John Dowland to Roger Quilter, being admired for its combination of freshness and charm. “The harmonic scheme in the accompaniment is never dull and the melody has a quiet flow and a beautiful ending, suitable for soprano or tenor”, according to the West Middlesex Gazette (27 May 1933).

Unfortunately, I can’t find a recording of this or any of his other music, but I recently heard Ivor Gurney’s setting in a recital. I rather suspect Noel-Johnson’s setting was closer to that of Quilter.

Judge for yourself here.

In 1952 Noel-Johnson had composed the music for Enid Blyton’s Noddy Song Book, and these were used for a children’s play produced over the Christmas holidays in December 1954. No, I wasn’t in the audience.

It was repeated the following year, when the cast list included ‘Ronald’ Corbett as Mr Whiskers and Jinky, while older children could watch the Famous Five in the evening.

In 1953 an ice pantomime, Sinbad the Sailor (pantomimes on ice were very big in those days) included a ballet based on Morphy’s Opera House Game, with music by Noel-Johnson.

There was a new job for him in 1958, when he was appointed general manager of Ascherberg, Hopwood and Crew.

You might have expected that Reginald’s chess career had come to an end, but in 1974 he unexpectedly turned up playing for King’s Lynn, in Norfolk. He was rapidly appointed match captain, and was involved in a ‘chess happening’ forming part of the King’s Lynn Festival.

Lynn News & Advertiser 30 July 1974

In 1975 he reappeared on the grading list at 190, seemingly having retained his strength into his 70s, despite a 20 year long absence from the board.

He didn’t appear in the next two grading lists, but returned in 1978, now living in Worthing, on the south coast. That year he was down to 181, but by 1982 he was up to 194, and, after a decline the following year, back to 192 in 1984. This would be about 2150 – pretty impressive for someone in his late seventies.

In this game he renewed acquaintance with an old Kent rival, now promoted to the rank of Canon within the Church of England, who left it far too late to develop his queen’s knight.

Here, he faced a Cannon rather than a Canon. John Cannon was a strong Sussex player who, I believe, claimed to hold a record for the number of county matches he played.

Noel-Johnson also started playing in tournaments again, favouring those in Devon, often playing in Paignton and occasionally in Torquay. In 1981, despite a last round defeat, he shared first place in the top section at Paignton.

Birmingham Mail 14 September 1981

In one of the key games from this event he scored the full point against one of the other joint winners, who went wrong on his sealed move.

In 1981 he changed his allegiance from Worthing to Rustington: I wonder if this was under the influence of his old friend Eric Smith. Perhaps it was he who had enticed him to the delights of Sussex in the first place.

In this club championship game from 1981 he switched from his usual 1… e5 to the Sicilian, scoring a quick victory. He clearly knew his opponent well.

Brian Denman tells me that in 1982 Noel-Johnson reached the Sussex final, and, if he had won, he would have been the oldest champion. However, he lost both games against Feliks Kwiatkowski. Here are a few more victories from Brian’s files.

The last game I have is a loss, from 1987.

In the final years of his career his grade, inevitably, fell into decline, last appearing in the grading list on 159 in 1991, at the age of 87.
Reginald never lost his interest in chess, though, as my friend Guy Holloway recollects.
Noel-Johnson’s daughter, Patricia, was the very first school secretary at The Harrodian School. In those days I ran the chess club and, one day (around 1995), 90-year old Reginald came in to play a simultaneous against a large group of ten-year old boys and girls. He was in sparking good form and gave the youngsters their first taste of ‘playing against a champion’.
After the simul, on returning to Worthing, he sent Guy a postcard, written partly in French, reproduced here with Guy’s permissioin.

Reginald Charles Noel-Johnson died on 27 December 2000 at the great age of 96, his death being registered in Windsor and Maidenhead.

Two of his brothers also had interesting stories to tell. Dennis, who, you may recall, changed his surname to Cullum, achieved fame as an athletics coach, specialising in hammer throwing. You can read more about him here.

Reginald’s youngest brother, George Douglas, had been a member of the Territorial Army (Artists’ Rifles) in 1937, but in 1939, with war imminent, joined the RAF, flying Hurricanes in Greece and eventually rising to the rank of Squadron Leader. He retired from the services in 1956.

War often brings people from very different backgrounds together, and so it was with George Douglas Noel Noel-Johnson, who, in Heliopolis in 1945, married a secretary in the WAAF named Catherine Lucy Gunn (she was now spelling her name Katharine Lucille).

Warwick & Warwickshire Advertiser 06 July 1945

They would have three children, Clive, Mark and Sally, and, while her husband died relatively young in 1972, she would live on until 2018, reaching the age of 98. I must show my appreciation here to Clive and Sally for generously sharing so much family information through their online trees.

Her parents had met while working in a mental health hospital, and Catherine, the youngest of four children, lost her father to pneumonia when she was only 2. Her mother, Edith Mary White, was the daughter of a groom, and the granddaughter of an agricultural labourer from near Warwick. Her grandfather, Thomas White, had a cousin, Sarah, who married Robert Padbury. Robert had many granddaughters, one of whom, Florence, was, in 1921, working as a housekeeper to a farmer whose wife was in Hatton Lunatic Asylum. She was no doubt unaware that her third cousin Edith had been working there ten years earlier. Florence had an affair with her employer: their daughter was my mother. This makes Reginald Charles Noel-Johnson, if my tree is correct, the brother-in-law of my 4th cousin once removed. And, you might recall from the first article, he played on two occasions against my father’s kinsman Alfred Lenton.

Noel-Johnson and Lenton, despite their very different backgrounds, had a lot in common. They were both mainly positional players, Noel-Johnson playing in classical style, as opposed to Lenton’s hypermodern approach. Lenton was slightly stronger in the 1930s, playing for England on several occasions, but Noel-Johnson retained much more of his strength into old age. Both took a break in middle age, returning to chess in their retirement, and both remaining active in the chess world into their tenth decade.

We should certainly thank Reginald Charles Noel-Johnson for his services to chess, both as a player and an administrator, over more than 70 years. I believe it’s important for the whole chess community to keep the memory of players such as him alive.

 

Sources & Acknowledgements:

ancestry.co.uk (family trees of Clive Noel-Johnson and Sally (Noel-Johnson) Giddings)
findmypast.co.uk/British Newspaper Library
Wikipedia
BritBase (John Saunders – thanks also for his RCNJ games collection)
ChessBase/Stockfish 16
Brian Denman (thanks for his RCNJ games collection)
Guy Holloway
YouTube

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Minor Pieces 65: Reginald Charles Noel-Johnson (1)

Here’s another game played by Alfred Lenton (see here and here), from the 1936 British Championship in Bournemouth against Reginald Charles Noel-Johnson, the subject of this Minor Piece. Noel-Johnson seemed ill at ease against Lenton’s favourite Réti Opening. (Click on any move in any game in this article for a pop-up window.)

Link

You’ll see from the tournament chart (click on the link for further information) that Alfred’s opponent Reginald Charles Noel-Johnson finished on 50% – a very respectable performance. Unfortunately, the only complete games of his that appear to survive from this tournament are losses.

In this game against the up-and-coming Frank Parr, a blunder on move 31 allowed a fatal double threat.

In this game another oversight gave allowed the eventual tournament winner a fine finish.

However, we do have the conclusion of this game, in which Reginald demonstrated excellent endgame technique to exploit his pawn advantage.

Reginald Charles Noel-Johnson (pictured on the left) had an interesting story to tell. Let’s find out more.

We’ll start with his father, (William) Noel Johnson (no hyphen: that came later), a cellist, conductor and composer. Here’s how he was described in Brown & Stratton’s British Musical Biography (1897). Again, from two years later: Here we have a successful composer of music mostly for home consumption: songs, short pieces for cello and piano and so on. Music which, perhaps sadly, has now gone out of fashion: I haven’t been able to find any recordings of these songs, but a later work, comprising three short piano pieces, has been recorded for YouTube by Phillip Sear, a specialist in this type of repertoire.

Pleasant enough, I suppose, but they rather remind me of the pieces I was expected to practise when I was learning the piano many years ago. Hardly imaginative or profound but they served their purpose at the time.

Between the songs and the piano pieces, in 1902, Noel married Rosina (Rosie) Johnson, twenty years his junior and not related in spite of the shared surname, with four children being born in London: Reginald (1904), Kathleen (1906), Eric (1907) and (William) Brian (1908). The family then moved to Whitstable, Kent, where two further sons were born, Dennis (1913) and (George) Douglas (1915).

Many years later, in 1975, Kathleen would look back fondly on their time there. But the family’s idyllic seaside life was shattered in January 1916 when William Noel Johnson, now living near Southend, died suddenly of pneumonia, leaving Rosie a widow with six young children.

In the words of his last song, “Rosemary, that’s for remembrance”.

The Stage 29 June 1916

It can’t have been easy for Rosina, and it appears that the family also had financial problems.

The Whitstable Times and Herne Bay Herald. 26 February 1916

The 1921 census found them, now having changed their surname to Noel-Johnson, perhaps to honour their late father, split up.

Rosie and Reggie, perhaps he’d just left the Masonic School, were living in a boarding house in South Kensington. Rosie had found work as a secretary, while her eldest son, following in his father’s footsteps, had an apprenticeship at Chappell’s, the music publishers, who had published some of Noel’s compositions.

Eric was at a boarding school on Clapham Common, just a few doors away from what is now Ray Keene’s residence. Kathleen, Brian and Douglas were ‘inmates’ at the Actors’ Orphanage in Langley,  Buckinghamshire. Dennis had been adopted by a childless couple, Henry and Ethel Cullum (were they family friends?) and had taken on their surname.

It appears that, very soon afterwards, Reginald moved to somewhere in South or South East London, taking up chess at the same time. The first reference I can find is in February 1922, just a few days before his 18th birthday, playing on Board 13 in a county match between Kent and Essex. He must have gained rapid recognition as a pretty useful player. He seems to have been the only competitive chess player in his family so perhaps he learnt at school.

The following year he played on top board for a Men of Kent team in a friendly match against a Ladies’ Team, drawing his game against Miss Edith Charlotte Price. The Men of Kent were west of the River Medway, while the Kentish men were on the east.

The Kent & Sussex Courier 02 March 1923

In 1924 Noel-Johnson took part in his first public tournament, travelling to Weston-super-Mare for the West of England Championships where he was placed in the Second Class Section A tournament. This proved a great success, his score of 8½/9 demonstrated that he was already much more than a second class player. He also finished in second place in a Quick Play Tournament: clearly a young, ambitious and improving player.

The county selectors eventually noticed this and promoted him to one of the top boards in the county team.

He didn’t have far to go for his next tournament, the Kent County Championship held in Bromley in April 1925. The format of the top section was interesting: four sections each including six amateurs and two visiting European masters.

Birmingham Daily Post 13 April 1925

In the first round Reginald attracted considerable attention for the hard fight he put up against his Latvian opponent (retrospectively rated 2386 in 1925 by Rod Edwards.

He had a strong attack for the pawn early on and, much later, came close to drawing the ending.

He finished on 3/7, an excellent score for someone with so little experience at that level.

The four section winners entered the final pool, with the remaining competitors playing three more rounds using the Swiss System to determine six further prize-winners. You’ll see that he won all three of these games.

The Sheffield Daily Telegraph 20 April 1925

Later in the year, he had a county match game published in the British Chess Magazine. His opponent’s name is remembered today through the Wernick Cup, awarded since 1922 to the winner of the fourth division of the Surrey individual championship. Jack Redon, who will be the subject of a future Minor Piece, won it in 1923, as did a certain RD Keene in 1962.

It would be some years, though, before he played another public tournament, but he remained very active in club and county chess, winning the county championship for the first time in 1927, and again in 1931 and 1932.

Here’s a position for adjudication from the decisive game of a 1931 county match: Noel-Johnson was white against John Harold Morrison of Middlesex.

The players and spectators thought Black was winning but Yates gave White a win on adjudication.

White has two ways to win.

1. Rxc8 b3 (1… Rxc8 2. Bxc8 b3 3. Ba6 bxa2 (3… b2 4. Bd3) 4. Bc4+) 2. Rxb8 bxa2 3. Be6+! Kxe6 4. Re8+

or, perhaps more simply,

1. c6 b3 2. c7 Rb6 3. Rxc8 bxa2 4. Rf8+!

Although his main club was Lewisham, Reginald also played for Clapham Common, where his brother Eric had attended school.

Here he is, facing Richmond & Kew in an Alexander Cup (Surrey KO) match.

Richmond Herald 11 March 1933

By the summer of 1933 he had time to take in another public tournament, travelling down to Hastings for the British Championships. He played in the Premier Reserves, in effect the third division, and, as you’ll see, finished a point clear of the field, drawing his first encounter with Alfred Lenton along the way.

Link

In 1935 he won his fourth county title, defeating Walter Yeeles in the final. Here are the two games: he was close to winning in the first, but made no mistake in the second.

1936 saw his only British Championship appearance, which you read about at the start of this article.

This was also the year when his club, Lewisham, won the London League for the first time (they’d repeat their success the following year). Noel-Johnson arranged a presentation to the match captain, in the presence of two world champions.

Sevenoaks Chronicle, Westerham Courier & Kentish Advertiser 02 October 1936

In 1937, as well as taking the Kent title again (just as two years earlier, winning the second game against Yeeles after a draw) he took part in a small semi-international tournament to celebrate the centenary of Worcester Chess Club, finishing on 50%. At this point Rod Edwards on EdoChess gives him a retrospective rating of 2165.

The Kington Times and the North Herefordshire Advertiser 18 September 1937

In 1938 Reginald took part in a simul against Alekhine at the Charing Cross Hotel. He’s pictured here at the left, alongside Elaine Saunders, C Chapman, HH Cole, H Israel and Walter Yeeles.

British Chess Magazine March 1938/Chess Notes 3817

In the final of the 1938 Kent Championship, Noel-Johnson had the opportunity for a classic double bishop sacrifice, calculating accurately right to the end to give his opponent no chance.

Francis Tims Collins would later join the RAF Volunteer Reserve, and was tragically killed on the evening of the 27th of November 1943, when the RAF Lancaster in which he was a navigator was shot down over Heuchelheim, Germany.

In November 1938 a weekend tournament was held in Bournemouth, with the players divided into groups of four. This would be called a quad tournament in the USA: I’ve often wondered why this format (extensively used at Richmond Junior Club for many years) has never taken off over here. The top two sections each featured four county champions, Noel-Johnson winning his section with 2½/3 against the champions of Devon, Hampshire and Essex.

As county champion again, he played on top board in this county match against Surrey, who fielded the confusingly named but unrelated Laurie Alexander and Frederick Forrest Lawrie Alexander on the top two boards.

The Croydon Advertiser and Surrey County Reporter 27 January 1939

Here’s his game, a pretty clear-cut win.

Noel-Johnson encountered young Elaine Saunders again in a living chess display in Croydon later in 1939.

Croydon Times and Surrey County Mail 10 June 1939

Later that month, a match between Metropolitan Kent and West/Mid Kent resulted in an exciting finish. At the close of play the score was 25-24 in favour of the Mets, with just the top board, between Noel-Johnson and the long-lived Philip Coy, for adjudication.

The result was a win for Reginald, making the score 26-24.

But then the Second World War intervened and Noel-Johnson’s chess career was mostly on hold, although he did take part in a tournament at the National Chess Centre in 1940. Here, players were grouped by the first letter of their surname, and he won the Rare Letters section ahead of Harold Israel.

In the fourth quarter of 1940 Reginald Charles Noel-Johnson married American born Jane Ann Richards in Kensington. And on 22 November that year he was appointed Pilot Officer in the Administrative and Special Duties branch of the RAF for the duration of hostilities.

His life had changed. He was no longer a bachelor working in music publishing and playing chess in his spare time, but a married man serving in the armed forces. You’ll find out what happened next in part 2 of Reginald’s story.

Sources & Acknowledgements:

ancestry.co.uk (family trees of Clive Noel-Johnson and Sally (Noel-Johnson) Giddings)
findmypast.co.uk/British Newspaper Library
Forces War Records
YouTube/Phillip Sear
Wikipedia
BritBase (John Saunders – thanks also for his RCNJ games collection)
chessgames.com
British Chess Magazine
EdoChess (Rod Edwards)
ChessBase/Stockfish 16

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Minor Pieces 64: Alfred Lenton (2)

Last time we left Alfred Lenton in 1939, at the outbreak of World War 2. Although Alfred didn’t serve in the war, there were fewer opportunities for him to play chess.

The county championship continued to take place, with Lenton retaining his title in 1940, and there was also a wartime county chess league, along with county matches against their Nottinghamshire neighbours.

In 1941 he was unexpectedly defeated by Philip Collier, who went to to claim his second county title, just as his father had done before him. In 1942 Elsie and Alfred welcomed their only son, Philip, into the world. (There were a lot of chess playing Phil(l)ips in Leicester at the time: Collier, Wallis, Rimmington and others.) He didn’t take part in the county championship that year, only resuming his chess career in 1945. In 1946 he was appointed President of the Leicestershire Chess Club, serving the required two year term.

He had intended to play in the 1946 British Championships in Nottingham, but had to pull out at fairly short notice: whether due to work or family commitments is unclear. But he was still playing successfully in the county championship, claiming his fifth and sixth titles in 1947 and 1948.

In June 1947 a Czechoslovakian team visited England to play two matches, against an England team in London, followed by an encounter with a Midlands team in Birmingham. Alfred resumed his international career here where he was matched against Jaromir Florian (not the Hungarian Tibor as incorrectly given in MegaBase and other sources). Thanks to Christopher Kreuzer and others on the English Chess Forum for researching and confirming this.

Two interesting games ensued, with our hero scoring a win and a draw. Click on any move in any game in this article for a pop-up window.

By August that year he felt ready to commit himself to the British Championships, held that year in Harrogate.

He was selected to play in what was called the Premier Tournament, the section immediately below the championship itself, also a strong competition with some international interest. Lenton, not for the first time, started slowly, but recovered to finish on 5/11.

Tournament report  and further details here.

Here are two of his wins.

You’ll see that, by this time, although still throwing in the occasional hypermodern opening from pre-war days, he was usually playing in much more classical fashion.

Every year around this time he’d give a simultaneous display against fellow members of the NALGO (Local Government Officers) Chess Club. Here he is pictured in 1949, alongside the big news of a pigeon being arrested in Coalville. Strange things often happen in Leicestershire.

Leicester Evening Mail 04 May 1949

In 1951 Leicestershire Chess Club reached the final of the National Club Championship, going down 4-2 against the London club Lud-Eagle. Alfred drew his game on board 4, pictured here.

The Illustrated Leicester Chronicle 06 October 1951

In 1954 Lenton won the county championship again, playing enough chess to make the BCF Grading List in Category 3a (209-216) which you can see here, although he dropped out the following year.

Round about this time he decided on a change of career, giving up his job in local government to establish an antiquarian bookshop in the city centre, which, at various times sold all sorts of other things: model railways, stamps, gramophone records for example. This enterprise afforded him less time for chess, especially county matches as Saturday was his busiest day.

In 1960, as you may recall, the Leicestershire Chess Club celebrated its centenary. As part of the celebrations a tournament was organised in January the following year.

They invited one of the world’s strongest players, Svetozar Gligoric, and one of the country’s strongest players, Leonard Barden, both of whom had just competed at Hastings, to take on the four most recent county champions.

As well as Alfred Lenton, champion in 1954, they were Polish player Wladyslaw Tabakiernik (1915-1997, known as Tabby, champion in 1952 and 1953), Philip Norman Wallis (1906-1973, champion in 1955, 1956, 1958 and 1959), and Peter Darrell Sanderson (1934-2013, champion in 1957 and 1960).

The Birmingham Post & Birmingham Gazette 11 January 1961

Here’s the final table.

Tournament report here.

It soon became clear that Alfred was very rusty. Young star Sanderson beat him with a fine combination in the first round.

In Round 2, Wallis, playing black, had a winning attack by move 14. In Round 3, against Barden, he was again lost by move 14, losing two pawns to an obvious tactic.

Against the great Gligoric he started well enough, but a tactical oversight led, after a series of exchanges, to a position where his opponent could play a temporary knight sacrifice to end up two pawns ahead. Disheartened, he resigned rather than waiting to be shown.

In his final game he gained a clear advantage against Tabakiernik, but decided to play safe by offering a draw.

He was in better form in this county match game played a couple of months later against one of England’s most promising young players.

Leicester 1961 was to be his last major tournament, but Alfred continued playing locally with success. He was interviewed by the local paper following his triumph in the 1969 county championship.

Leicester Mercury 14 June 1969

Sadly we have very few games available from the last 40(!) years of his chess career. Here’s a game he lost against an opponent he’d beaten on top board of a county match two years earlier.

In the 1970s, buoyed by a strong local organisation, Leicester was at the forefront of the English Chess Explosion, with several teenage stars coming to the fore. Here, a young Mark Hebden, a pupil, as Lenton had been many years earlier, at Alderman Newton’s School, was being compared to Alfred.

Leicester Mercury 13 September 1975

There, you’ll see another future GM, Glenn Flear, a pupil at Beauchamp Oadby School, which had originally been Kibworth Grammar School in the village from which the Lentons came. Elsewhere, Flear’s ‘smooth positional style’ was compared to that of Lenton. Other contemporaries were future IM Geoff Lawton, Shaun Finlayson and Alan Richardson.

The 1980s seems to have been a quiet decade for Alfred Lenton as a chess player, but life in his shop was, on occasion, rather more eventful.

Leicester Daily Mercury 11 March 1986

In 1988 he made the front page of the papers for foiling a train robbery.

Leicester Mercury 06 December 1988

Later in life he became active again, playing for his local club, Thurnby: we have a draw from a match between Thurnby 2 and Market Harborough.

Jonathan Calder blogged about this game here: many thanks to him for looking out the scoresheet for me. There’s another story concerning an informal game played in his shop here.

Shabir Okhai has sent me a game he played against Lenton in 1999, when he was 14 years old. You’ll see Alfred, just as he had done, more than 60 years earlier, chose a hypermodern opening, and, after missing some winning chances, exceeded the time limit in a position which offered chances to both sides.

Alfred Lenton (always Alf to his friends) died on 5 November 2004 at the age of 93. You’ll see from the ECF ratings site that he was active almost to the end. I guess not many players who had previously been about 2300 strength eventually plummeted to about 1600, but then not many of them continued playing into their tenth decade. The game above suggests that he had problems with time management at the end of his long career.

I met Alfred a couple of times myself, at Sandys Dickinson’s second hand bookshop in London, while looking for material for The Complete Chess Addict, but don’t have any particularly strong memories of him. I wasn’t certain then that the P Lenton I’d played in Leicester was his son, and had no idea of our family connection.

The shop is still there, or at least is was last time Google Maps passed by. I presume Philip still runs it.

Here it is, dwarfed by a hairdressers and a branch of Subway on either side. You can see a photograph (is that Philip behind the counter?) here.

There you have the long life of Alfred Lenton, a life devoted to chess, as an international player, as a journalist, and as a lover of chess books. Perhaps an unconventional life, but, I’d say, a life worth lived.

While I still have your attention, I’d like to introduce, very briefly, another long lived Leicester player.

The Leicester Mail 20 March 1929

Here’s one of Alfred’s earliest games, and there, on the board above him, is our man, Arthur Clement Bannister.

Arthur, born on 18 February 1891, was twenty years older than Alfred, but the two men would have known each other well for half a century.

If Alfred was a Minor Piece in chess, Arthur was a mere pawn, but pawns, according to Philidor, are the soul of chess. You’ll meet men like Arthur in almost any chess club. An average, or perhaps below average club player who turns out regularly, plays on a low board in county matches and takes in the occasional tournament (Bannister played in the Short 3rd Class section at Margate in 1938 and the 2nd Class Section A in the 1952 British Championships).

Daily Telegraph 18 February 1982

You’ll see from his death notice, that, even at the age of 90, he was ‘a prominent member of the Leicester Chess Club’. I’d put it to you that it’s the likes of Arthur Clement Bannister who are the real soul of chess.

Arthur, who never married, had a hearing impairment, which might, perhaps, be two reasons why chess meant so much to him. In a 1950 match against Coventry he was paired against a blind player, but the captains agreed that they should swap opponents with the adjacent board.

Arthur’s father, James, was born in the town of Earl Shilton, ten miles to the west of Leicester. I wrote more about his family – and their connection to my family – here.

So, back there on adjacent boards in 1929, and friends for half a century or more,  were my mother’s kinsman Arthur and my father’s kinsman Alfred, both of whom lived into their nineties. I can see something of myself in both of them. Not so much a golden chain: perhaps a golden helix.

One final thought, though. I’d put it to you that one reason why so many strong young players came from Leicester in the 1970s was the strength of their club and county chess scene. There was a thriving local league, featuring formidable players like Alfred Lenton as well as enthusiasts like Arthur Clement Bannister. There were organisers of many years’ experience, and journalists such as Don Gould and Dick Chapman who tirelessly promoted the game in local newspapers over several decades. You might meet more of them in future Minor Pieces, but for now it’s time to take the train back to St Pancras and return to London.

 

Sources and Acknowledgements:

ancestry.co.uk
findmypast.co.uk/British Newspaper Library
BritBase (John Saunders)
John Saunders also for providing me with his Lenton file
ChessBase/Stockfish 16
English Chess Forum/Christopher Kreuzer and others
chessgames.com
chess.com
EdoChess (Rod Edwards)
Google Maps
Chess in Leicester 1860-1960 (Don Gould)
Jonathan Calder
Shabir Okhai

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Minor Pieces 63: Alfred Lenton (1)

Last time you met, amongst other chess playing Leicester Ladies, Elsie Margaret Reid, a British Ladies’ Championship contender, and witnessed her marriage to Alfred Lenton.

It’s now time to meet her husband.

Perhaps you’ve see Michael Wood’s 2010 documentary series Story of England. If you have, you’ll be aware that it tells its story from the perspective of Kibworth, seen as being a typical village in the middle of the country. In fact it’s two villages in one, owned by different families in the Middle Ages. Kibworth Harcourt is north of the railway line, and, the more significant part, Kibworth Beauchamp (just as Belvoir is pronounced Beaver, Beauchamp is pronounced Beecham), where the shops are, is south of the railway line. There used to be a school there too: a Grammar School founded in about 1359, but in 1964 it migrated to the Leicester suburb of Oadby. You’ll meet one of the new school’s most distinguished former pupils next time.

The Lenton family had been prominent in the village for centuries, perhaps arriving there from the area of Nottingham bearing that name. There’s a brief mention in one of the Story of England episodes, but they don’t seem to have educated their children at the Grammar School.

Join us now on 28 December 1744, when, between the Christmas celebrations and the dawn of the new year, the community welcomed the arrival of Robert Lenton, who was baptised that day. We know his father’s name was Richard, but it’s not entirely clear whether this was Richard the son of Robert, born in 1710, or Richard the son of Richard, born in 1719. I suspect they were cousins, but there’s no way of telling for certain from the extant parish registers. There are reasons to believe – and hope – that it was the older Richard who was Robert’s father.

Robert was a butcher by trade: a significant member of the local community. His youngest son, William, was born in 1787. He married a girl from Bedworth, Warwickshire, in 1811. Maybe he had moved there to seek work, or perhaps she was in service in Leicestershire. They soon returned, settling in Smeeton Westerby, a small village just south of Kibworth Beauchamp.

The first census as we know them today was taken in 1841, and we can pick William up there in both the 1841 and 1851 censuses, where his occupation is given as FWK – Framework Knitter. This was a very common occupation in the East Midlands at the time: William and his family would have been working at home using mechanical knitting machines. By 1851 his oldest son, also named William, had moved into Leicester, but was still working as a framework knitter. In 1853 he married a widow, adopting her children and presenting her with two more sons, William and Thomas.

His younger son, Thomas, very typically for his place and time, spent his working life in the footwear industry, involved in various aspects of making shoes. So here we see a very common pattern of men and their families moving out of villages and into cities where there was plenty of factory work available. His oldest son, another Thomas, also sought factory work, but rather than on the manufacturing side, he worked as a warehouseman for the clothing company Hart & Levy. Sir Israel Hart, one of the company’s founders, was Mayor of Leicester 1884-6 and 1893-94 and President of Leicestershire Chess Club. between 1894 and 1896.

In 1910 this Thomas married Ethel Wood, born in 1888. Ethel was perhaps slightly higher up the social scale: her father, John, was a School Attendance Officer, although his background was also very much working class. Here he is, on the right. John and his wife Sarah had five daughters (Ethel was the fourth), the oldest of whom married into a branch of the Gimson family, followed by a son.

In the 1911 census Thomas and Ethel, not yet able to afford their own house, were living with Thomas’s widowed father and two brothers. He was described as working in the tailoring industry.

On 1 November that year, their first son, Alfred, was born, followed in 1914 by another son, whom they named Philip.

In this family photograph, taken in about 1917, you can see the proud parents with their two boys.

Tom, Alfred, Philip and Ethel Lenton (c.1917)

By 1921 the family were living at 27 Halkin Street, north of the city centre (the door of this very typical two up two down Victorian terraced house is open to welcome us in). I would have passed the end of the road regularly in my first year at what was then the Leicester Regional College of Technology, when I was living in digs in Thurmaston. Ethel’s mother had died a few months earlier, and her father was now living with them.

By now Ethel was expecting a third child, and another son, named Clifford was born later that year.

Alfred, a bright, bookish and perhaps rather quiet boy, won a place at Alderman Newton’s Grammar School, where he was a contemporary of the historian Sir John Plumb and a few years below novelist CP Snow, a member of Leicestershire Chess Club during the 1923-24 season.

This was a time when chess was becoming popular amongst teenage boys, and it was when he was 15 that young Alfred learnt the moves.  The earliest appearance I can find is in December 1928, at the age of 17, losing his game on bottom board for the Victoria Road Institute (I’d encounter his son playing chess for Leicester Victoria more than four decades later.)

At the Victoria Road Institute, Alfred received some instruction from their top player, building contractor Herbert William Lea, soon making rapid progress. By early 1930 he’d come to the attention of the county selectors, and was one of the promising young players they tried out in a match against Birmingham.

The Leicester Mail 10 February 1930

By 1931 Lenton was playing on top board for Victoria Road, taking a high board in the county team and participating in the county championship. Here was a talented and ambitious young man who was clearly going places.

If you’re an ambitious chess player, one of the places you’ll go to is Hastings, and, at the end of that year, he travelled down to the south coast where he was placed in the Major B section.

Leicester Mercury 30 December 1931

Here’s what happened.

Full tournament report (and larger format crosstable) here.

This was a whole new experience for him, and it’s not surprising that he found the going tough. In this game his hesitant opening play soon got him into trouble when he was paired against a creative tactician who unleashed a cascade of sacrifices. (Click on any move of any game in this article for a pop-up window.)

Alfred learnt from this experience that he needed to take the game more seriously: in an interview many years later he explained that, at this point, he was studying chess for three hours a day.

The following year he returned again – and seems to have brought a friend along with him – as you might remember from last time.

Leicester Daily Mercury 05 January 1933

He did indeed maintain his lead to the end of the tournament, as you can see here. Perhaps the opposition was slightly weaker than the previous year, perhaps his hours of study were paying off, or perhaps it was Elsie’s presence that was responsible for his success.

Full tournament report (and larger format crosstable) here.

(As far as I can tell, C(ecil?) H(unter?) Reid, Peter Reid, whom he played the previous year, and Elsie Margaret Reid were totally unrelated.)

In 1933 the British Championship was held separately from the remainder of the congress, which took place in Folkestone at the same time as the Chess Olympiad.

Alfred was one of a number of promising young players in the Premier Reserves, the second section down: you’ll meet some of them in future Minor Pieces. His 50% score was a good result in such a strong field.

Full tournament report (and larger format crosstable) here.

This game demonstrates that he’d been working on his openings since his first tournament appearance, and concludes with a neat tactic.

The following month the Leicester Evening Mail had some important news.

Leicester Evening Mail 15 July 1933

Alfred had got himself a column in a local paper. Each week there would be the latest chess news, a game, which could be of local, national, international or historical interest, along with a puzzle for solving. He was a young man who enjoyed both reading and writing.

Here’s a powerful win against the stronger of the Passant brothers, slightly marred by his 17th move, giving his opponent a tactical opportunity which went begging.

By now established as his county’s second strongest player behind Victor Hextall Lovell, he returned to Hastings after Christmas, where he scored an excellent third place with only one defeat, well ahead of his Leicester Victoria clubmate Watts and former Leicestershire player Storr-Best.

Full tournament report (and larger format crosstable) here.

In this game he missed a win against his Dutch opponent.

The 1934 British Championships took place in Chester, when Alfred was places in the Major Open Reserves, in effect the third division, while his future wife Elsie (were they engaged at this point?) played in the British Ladies’ Championship.

Lenton was essentially a positional player, but here he unleased a very different weapon when Black against 1. d4 – the dangerous and, at the time, fashionable Fajarowicz variation of the Budapest Defence.  It proved rather successful against his clergyman opponent (you can read about him here) in this game, where his opponent miscalculated a tactical sequence, overlooking a queen sacrifice.

His opponent in this game, another talented young Midlands player, will need no introduction.

Full tournament report (and larger format crosstable) here.

You’ll see that he was extremely successful in this event, sharing first place. Full tournament report (and larger format crosstable) here.

He was rather less successful at Hastings that winter, as you’ll see below.

Full tournament report (and larger format crosstable) here.

On the home front, though, he was more successful.

Leicester Mercury 22 April 1935

Don Gould, in Chess in Leicestershire 1860-1960, sums him up at this stage of his career:

The new champion had left Alderman Newton’s School only six years previously. He was a fine all-round player, with a particularly good grasp of positional play. Unlike Lovell, he had been entering for national tournaments, and profiting by the better practice obtained thereat. Later on he twice won the Midland Counties Individual Championship, and finished in a tie for second place in the British Championship. At that time, he favoured the Reti Opening and the Buda-Pest Defence. Lenton for some years ran a chess column in the local press. 

This result (he’d repeat his success the following year) established him as the strongest player in Leicestershire, and, in the 1935 British Championships, held in Great Yarmouth, he was selected for the championship itself.

In this game Lenton displayed his endgame skill after his opponent missed an opportunity on move 17.

Endgame skill, along with hypermodern openings, were the key to his successes at this time of his life. His opponent here was unable to cope with the opening.

Admittedly it wasn’t the strongest renewal of the British, but this was still an outstanding performance, which would have been even better but for a moment of tactical carelessness in the last round.

At this level you can’t afford to give your opponent an opportunity like that.

Full tournament report (and larger format crosstable) here.

Now top board for his county, and with a new job as a local government officer (he’d transferred his chess allegiance from VIctoria to NALGO) he returned to Hastings over the Christmas holidays. There were so many entries for the Premier Reserves that the organisers decided to run two sections of equal strength, with Alfred in the B section.

He used his favourite variation of the Caro-Kann in this game, grabbing a hot pawn early on (sometimes you can get away with Qxb2) and surviving to dominate the enemy rook in the ending.

You’ll see from the tournament table this was another great success for the Leicester man. It’s perhaps significant that, while all three of his losses were published, the only win I’ve been able to find was the game above.

Full tournament report (and larger format crosstable) here.

1936 was the year of the famous Nottingham tournament, which took place in August. The British Championship itself took place separately, in Bournemouth in June.

Again, many of the top players were missing, and Sir George Thomas, who would probably have been considered the most likely winner, was out of form. Would Alfred improve on his shared third place the previous year?

Here, he was outplayed in the opening, but his Birmingham opponent miscalculated the tactics, leaving him two pawns ahead in the ending.

He only needed 11 moves to defeat his Ipswich opponent in this game. White’s catastrophic error would be a good candidate for a Spot the Blunder question in the next Chess Heroes: Tactics book.

As you’ll see above, he equalled his previous year’s score, which, this time round, was good enough for a share of second place. There were a lot of talented players in their mid 20s around at the time, and Lenton seemed at this point to be as good as any of them.

Full tournament report (and larger format crosstable) here.

Meanwhile, Alfred had reached the final of the Forrest Cup, the Midland Counties Individual Championship, where he faced future MP Julius Silverman. A rather fortuitous win brought him the title.

Nottingham in August was only a short journey. The Major Open was split into two equal sections, both in themselves fairly strong international tournaments.

This time his performance was slightly disappointing. The three games I’ve been able to find include two losses and this game, where he did well to survive and share the point.

Full tournament report (and larger format crosstable) here.

After the tournament, Alekhine visited Leicester to give a simultaneous display, winning 33 games, drawing 5 and losing 2, one of which was to Lenton.

Alfred’s marriage to Elsie Margaret Reid was registered in the fourth quarter of 1936. They both decided to give Hastings a miss that year.

His favourite Réti Opening wasn’t always successful against stronger opposition, but it could be devastating against lesser lights, as shown in this game from a county match.

In May that year, Alfred made his international début in the inaugural Anglo-Dutch match, scoring a win and a draw (he was losing in the final position) against Klaas Bergsma. He also won the Forrest Cup for the second time.

Then it was on to Blackpool for the British Championship. Would he improve on his performances in the two previous years?

It was soon clear that the answer would be no. Something was clearly wrong in the first week, when he lost his first five games. Was he unwell? Who knows? But he fought back well to score 4½ points from his last six games, including wins against two venerable opponents.

Winning this game against a man  who must have been one of his heroes, 9 times British Champion and Leicester’s finest ever player, now in the twilight of his career. A powerful pin on the e-file proved decisive.

Against the tournament runner-up he demonstrated his knowledge of Réti’s hypermodern ideas: note the queen on a1. His position wasn’t objectively good, but it seemed to leave Sir George confused.

Full tournament report (and larger format crosstable) here.

Two games from this period demonstrate again how lethal his queen’s bishop could be in his favourite double fianchetto set-up. You might want to see them as a diptych: both being decided by a Bxg7 sacrifice.

In 1937 Leicestershire reached the final of the English Counties Championship.

We have two photos and a report.

Leicestershire team 1937 (MCCU Champions & BCF Finalists) Back: Spencer, Watts, Solloway, Bumpus, P Collier, Thompson, Rowley, Chapman, Lawrence, Copson Middle: Rimmington, Lovell, Lenton, Ellison, James Front: Busby, Gould

 

Leicester Mercury 13 December 1937
Source: Leicester Mercury 13 December 1937

Now into 1938, Alfred won the Forrest Cup for the third time, his final game producing another sacrificial finish.

He again scored 1½/2 in the 1938 Anglo-Dutch match, this time paired against Chris Vlagsma. His opponent was doing well here before ill-advisedly opening the f-file.

Then it was down to Brighton for the 1938 British Championship, which proved to be another disappointment.

The low point was a loss in only 9 moves against Tylor.

In the very next round, though, switching from his usual Réti, he won in 13 moves when Frank Parr got his queen trapped. This time capturing his opponent’s b-pawn with his queen wasn’t a good idea.

It’s not clear what had happened to his chess here. I suspect that, with the twin demands of his job and married life, he was no longer putting in the three hours study every day.

Here, from Battersea Chess Club’s obituary of Parr, is a photograph, with Lenton on the right considering his move.

The 1938 British Championships at Brighton. L to R: Golombek; Frank Parr (tieless) ; C. H. O’D. Alexander; Sir George Thomas (partly hidden), Milner-Barry; E. G. Sergeant & A. Lenton.

And here, as you see, he finished in a share of 10th-11th place, quite a comedown from his results of 2 and 3 years earlier.

Full tournament report (and larger format crosstable) here.

In spite of this result, he was selected for the 1939 Anglo-Dutch match, where he was up against Carel Fontein, drawing one game and losing the other.

How strong was he during this period? EdoChess gives his rating peaking at 2250 in 1936, so, although he finished high up in the British on two occasions, he was only, by today’s standards, a strong club player. A player with considerable ability, both tactical and positional, but also with some weaknesses.

Storm clouds were gathering over Europe, war was declared on 1 September 1939, Lenton’s chess column was wound down, perhaps anticipating a paper shortage. A register was taken on 29 September listing all residents, for the purpose of producing identity cards and ration books.

Alfred and Elsie were recorded two miles east of the city centre, at 65 Copdale Road, Leicester (on the left here), living next door to his parents and brothers at number 63 (with the blue van up the drive: looks like it might have been rebuilt). The family had moved up in the world since 1921.

While Elsie is knitting socks with her circular machine, Alfred is a Gas Department Securities Clerk, working for the local government office.

At this point it’s almost time to break off our story, just noting that our hero had won his third county championship, receiving the trophy in October. “A worthy champion, who will be British Champion one day”, said the county President Robert Pruden on presenting the trophy. You’ll find out how accurate that prediction was in our next Minor Piece, when we look at what happened next in Alfred’s life.

But first, let’s return to Kibworth Beauchamp, where our story began. We met Robert Lenton, born in 1744, who might have been the son of Richard born in 1710.  He had a brother named Mark (a very popular name in this family) who moved to the nearby village of Thorpe Langton. We travel down the generations, another Mark, Henry, and his daughter Ann, baptised on 27 July 1794. On 2 December 1816 Ann married Thomas James, from the small village of Slawston, a few miles further east. We travel down the generations again, another Thomas, who moved back to Thorpe Langton, John, Tom Harry, and to the youngest of his 18 children, Howard, who was my father.

Which makes Alfred possibly my 6th cousin twice removed, or if Robert’s father was the other Richard, my 7th cousin twice removed (I think).

Another golden chain. Even though I didn’t inherit his talent, I’m delighted to be a kinsman of someone who finished =2nd and =3rd in two British Championships.

 

Sources and Acknowledgements:

ancestry.co.uk
findmypast.co.uk/British Newspaper Library
BritBase (John Saunders)
John Saunders also for providing me with his Lenton file
ChessBase/Stockfish 16
chessgames.com
EdoChess (Rod Edwards)
Google Maps
Wikipedia
Chess in Leicester 1860-1960 (Don Gould)
Battersea Chess Club website
shropshirechess.org

 

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Minor Pieces 62: Elsie Margaret Reid

We’ve met, briefly, one or two lady chess players in Leicester, and, while we’re still in the home of the 2023 British Championships, it’s time to look at the subject in more detail.

Our story starts in 1912, when, at the Leicestershire Chess Club’s annual social evening, an informal tournament took place between four ladies.

The winner was Mrs Shardlow, ahead of Mrs Collier followed by the Misses N Wilkinson and M Chappin.

Mrs Collier was Eliza Mary (née Webb), the wife of Edward Heath Collier, one of the county’s leading players, and the mother of Philip Edward Collier. The Collier family played a vital role in Leicestershire chess over almost a century: you may well meet them again in a future Minor Piece.

Mrs Shardlow was born Emily Preston in Lancashire in 1877: her husband, works manager Howard William Shardlow, also a chess player, had been born in Lincolnshire in 1878. They didn’t stay very long in Leicestershire before moving on.

Here’s a delightful photograph of Emily, standing on the right, with her sister Edith on the left, and their mother Ellen seated in front of them.

Edith and Emily Preston, with their mother Ellen seated.

We also have a correspondence game played by her husband, which, for some reason, was published in a local newspaper in New Zealand. Howard’s 13th move fatally opened up the position, allowing his opponent, an accountant from South Manchester, a fairly easy tactic to score a swift victory. (Click on any move of any game in this article for a pop-up window.)

Then we have the Misses Wilkinson and Chappin. Muriel Cicely Chappin was the daughter of Frederick Chappin, whom you met here. Born in 1896, she was only 16 at the time, and must have come along with her father for some casual games. I’m guessing Miss Wilkinson was Nelly Wilkinson, also born in 1896, the daughter of a pork pie and sausage manufacturer (nearby Melton Mowbray has always been famous for its pork pies): the two girls lived a short walk away from each other, and, I’d imagine, were schoolfriends.

The Illustrated Leicester Chronicle 24 November 1928

Here’s Muriel, pictured at her wedding 16 years later: her bridegroom, Frederick Archibald Sowter, was a textile salesman.

It was decided to hold a more formal ladies’ tournament during the 1912-13 season. There were three entries, each playing two games against the other competitors.

In a close finish, Emily Shardlow scored 2½/4, Lucy Storr-Best 2/4, and Agnes Champ 1½/4. Lucy was the wife of (Robert) Lloyd Storr-Best, from another celebrated chess family. Again, they didn’t stay long in Leicestershire, later turning up in London, and then in Sussex. You may perhaps find out more about them in a future Minor Piece.

The social evening in 1913 included a pick-up match in which Emily, Eliza and Agnes all took part, the first two winning their games. Muriel and her friend Nelly were paired together, making an amicable draw. You’ll note that Mr Collier selected his wife for his team, but not his son.

The Leicester Chronicle and Leicestershire Mercury 04 October 1913

The Ladies’ Championship took place again in the 1913-14 season. I haven’t found out how many took part, but, as you might have read here, if you were paying attention, Miss Champ, living up to her name, moved from last place to first.

Agnes Champ: interesting name. If you reverse it you get CHAMP AGNES, which is perhaps what she drank to celebrate her success in the tournament. (A century or so later, another Agnes Champ made sporting news. A French racehorse of that name – male rather than female – had an unusually long but rather unsuccessful career, running no less than 93 times, but only winning on three occasions, all at Deauville, in 2012, 2014 and 2015.)

The chess playing Agnes Champ also had a rather long (25 years or so) but not very successful chess career, spanning the same three counties as the Storr-Bests.

Agnes was born in Chelmsford, Essex in 1859, the daughter of a wine merchant (you might wonder whether that was why he called his daughter ChampAgnes) , so she was well into her fifties when she started her chess career. Her brother John was a doctor who moved to Tasmania, and her sister Jessie married a doctor and settled in Leicester. The 1911 census found Agnes staying in a boarding house in Bournemouth, a lady of private means, but shortly afterwards she moved to Leicester, living with Jessie and her husband. In 1912 she joined the Leicestershire Chess Club. She was still living with her sister in the 1921 census, but described as a ‘visitor’.

It looks like she remained in Leicester throughout the 1920s, but by 1932 she was living in a boarding house in the Notting Hill area of London. It was there that she resumed her chess career, joining the Imperial Chess Club, and here playing in a friendly match against the confusingly similarly named Empire Social Chess Club.

Source: Kensington News and West London Times 07 April 1933

You’ll notice a few things here. Firstly, that there were eight ladies out of twenty on each side, an impressive 40%. One of Agnes’s teammates was Alice Elizabeth Hooke (see here and here). She just missed by one board her old Leicester opponent Lucy Storr-Best (at least I presume it was her). Her opponent, Claire Amez Droz, was very interesting: a violinist and future London Ladies’ Chess Champion, who would later be involved with West London Chess Club. Mrs James was almost certainly not related to me.

The Falkirk Herald and Scottish Midlands Journal 14 February 1934

There’s much to be written about these two clubs and their members, and there was clearly a considerable crossover in membership. Here, in 1934, she was taking part in the Empire’s Women’s (interesting choice of word: Ladies was usually used at the time) Championship, alongside several of the country’s top female players.

By the time of the 1939 Electoral Roll, Agnes was living in a different boarding house in the same part of London: among those next door was Leonard Messel, who may or may not have given his name to a magnolia.

Very soon afterwards, it seems she retired, like all good chess players at the time, to Hastings, where, at the age of 80, she made her debut in open competition, taking part in the Third Class section of the 1939-40 Hastings Congress, scoring a very respectable 5 points out of 9 games.

But this would be her swansong: her death was recorded, again in Hastings, in the first quarter of 1940.

It would appear that the Leicestershire Ladies Champion didn’t survive the First World War, and it was some time before we’d encounter another female player.

Leicester Mercury 02 December 1931

Here is Miss KE Hirst, selected to play for the league leaders in the first division of the league.

Kate Eleanor Hirst was born in 1896, the youngest child of a Baptist Minister. Kate and her immediately older sister Ethel stayed at home their whole lives, Ethel caring for her widowed mother, and Kate doing secretarial work for her brother Thomas, who ran a hosiery business.

She was a club member for more than three decades, but played rarely in club matches. In 1936 she shared second place in the third division (of four) of the county championship. She also enjoyed a few chess holidays in Margate. In 1936 she scored 2/5 in the Second Class Short Tourney A, where one of her opponents, scoring 1/5, was former Leicester chess lady Lucy Storr-Best. In 1938 she’d been promoted to the Short First Class C section, where she shared second prize on 3/5. One of her fellow competitors in both these events was Marjorie Strachey, sister of Lytton.

In the 1940s she was recorded as playing correspondence chess for her county, and competing in the second division (of three) in the county championship. Kate, it seems, was a player of average club standard, but one who preferred the more social atmosphere of internal competitions to matches against other clubs.

She was still recorded as a member in Don Gould’s Chess in Leicester 1860-1960, but, sadly, her membership didn’t last very much longer.

Leicester Evening Mail 10 August 1962

The 1932-33 Hastings Tournament provided some local interest with the emergence of another Leicester Lady Player: Miss Elsie Reid.

Leicester Daily Mercury 05 January 1933

Elsie finished in 4th place, as you see: a highly commendable result for such an inexperienced player.

Elsie Margaret Reid was born in Leicester on 20 May 1909, so she was 23 years old at this point. Her father had been born Frederick Neale in East Leake, near Loughborough, in the fourth quarter of 1876, but when his mother married a widower and framework knitter named Isaac Reid, he took on his stepfather’s surname.

By 1901, Frederick had joined the Royal Marines, and, on returning to civilian life, he married Clara Elizabeth Guillain in Leicester in 1908. The 1911 census found them living about 1½ miles east of the city centre, with Frederick working as an engineer’s driller. Another daughter, named Clara Elizabeth after her mother, was born in 1912. On the outbreak of war, Frederick rejoined the Royal Marines, serving in the Light Infantry division. Tragically, he lost his life on 21 May 1915, perhaps in the Gallipoli campaign. He was buried at sea, but his heroism is commemorated on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial.

Clara, then, was left a widow with two young daughters, and, as it happened, her family were around to help out.

Her background was rather more exotic than that of her husband. Her paternal grandfather had been born in France, but, at some point in the mid 19th century, moved to London where he seems to have been working for the French government, perhaps in some sort of diplomatic role. His son, Adolphe, became a chef and confectioner, and, in the mid 1890s, moved with his family to Leicester. One wonders if he had any business connections with Victor Hextall Lovall.

After her husband’s death, Clara had to find a job to make ends meet. The 1921 census records her as a despatch clerk working for Gimson’s shoe machinery company. You might recall the Gimson family from Sydney’s association with chess at Desford Approved School. His father was also, briefly, a member of Leicestershire Chess Club. The two girls were at school, while Clara’s mother was there to carry out home duties, and one of her brothers, another Adolphe, who worked as a shoe clicker, was also living there.

How, one wonders, did Elsie learn chess? Perhaps the Guillain family were players. From 1935 onwards, one of the solvers in Alfred Lenton’s chess column was M Guillain. The only M Guillain around at the time was Elsie’s cousin Margaret, born in Leicester in 1920. Was Margaret a teenage chess problem devotee? I’d like to think she was.

Returning to Elsie’s chess career, she was also playing for Leicester Victoria, alongside Alfred Lenton, in the top division of the league. In this match she lost to reformed juvenile delinquent Phillip Rimmington.

Leicester Evening Mail 20 December 1933

The following year she was back at Hastings, having  been promoted from the Third Class to the First Class.

It looks from the results as if she was rather overmatched here, and would have been much better off in one of the Second Class sections.

That summer, she was selected to play in the British Ladies’ Championship in Chester. The appearance of a young woman from a working class background must have come as something of a shock to the other players, mostly ladies of a certain age and class. (Not so much of a shock, though, as that provided by Miss Fatima, who had won the title the previous year, also taking part in 1931.

You’ll see she performed very well, with a score of +1. Alfred was clearly impressed.

Leicester Evening Mail 22 August 1934

Here’s the game extract, in which Elsie shows exemplary endgame technique, trading off queens to win the pawn ending. Always good to see!

Back at Hastings for the third time that December, she was again placed in one of the First Class sections, meeting several of the same opponents as the previous year, and again rather out off her depth.

The 1935 British Championships took place in Great Yarmouth. Elsie was rather less successful this time round, only scoring 3½ points.

Thanks to Brian Denman for contributing her loss to the tournament winner, whom you’ll meet in a future Minor Piece.

In 1936, Elsie Reid was otherwise engaged, in more ways than one. Her marriage to Alfred Lenton was registered in Leicester in the 4th quarter of 1936.

Now a married woman, she returned to action in Blackpool the following year, this time recording a 50% score.

That was to be her last tournament appearance, although she continued to play club and county chess up to 1939.

The 1939 Register records Alfred and Elsie living next door to Alfred’s parents and brothers at 65 Copdale Road Leicester. Her occupation is given as Hosiery Terrot Machinist. A Terrot Machine, since you asked, is a circular knitting machine made by a company of that name in Germany. They’re still making them now, although they had some financial problems earlier this year.

Although she had long since given up competitive play, she maintained her interest in the game for the rest of her life.

In the mid 1970s, Leicester was a hotbed of junior chess. The local papers were full of the exploits of teenage stars such as Mark Hebden, Glenn Flear and Geoffrey Lawton, not to mention a certain Keith Arkell from nearby Warwickshire. I wonder what happened to them. Elsie Lenton was still following the game, and was mentioned here in 1975.

Leicester Daily Mercury 23 December 1975

Edwin Breckon Chapman (Dick to his friends) (1906-2001) had been involved in local chess journalism since the 1930s, and was clearly still keeping in touch with Elsie.

Unfortunately, the snippet and game above are the only examples I’ve been able to find of Elsie’s play. Her husband published quite a lot of local games in his column, but none of hers.

Alfred and Elsie’s only child, a son named Philip, was born in 1942. His parents naturally taught him chess, and, as it happens, I played him twice during my time running a Leicester Polytechnic team in the Leicestershire League, when he was representing his parents’ old club. I had no idea at that time he was Alfred’s son.

Anyone familiar with my play won’t be surprised by the results. The first one was undoubtedly drawn in the final position.

In this game, though, I appear to have been winning in the final position. I don’t recall whether we agreed a draw or whether the game was adjudicated.

Elsie Margaret Lenton died in the third quarter of 1991, at the age of 82. Alfred outlived her by 13 years. There will be a lot more to write about him in future Minor Pieces. Don’t you dare miss them!

Sources and Acknowledgements:

ancestry.co.uk
findmypast.co.uk/British Newspaper Archive
Wikipedia
BritBase (John Saunders)
chessgames.com
Brian Denman
Streatham & Brixton Chess Club Blog (Martin Smith)

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Minor Pieces 61: Victor Hextall Lovell

As the British Championships are taking place in Leicester as I write this, it seems appropriate to stay in my father’s home city a while longer and meet one of its finest ever players. Unless you’re in the habit of perusing old newspapers and magazines from a hundred years or so ago, you probably haven’t heard of him. Yet, for about 20 years he was almost invincible in local competitions and more than held his own on top board in county matches when facing some of the country’s strongest players.

Because he chose not to take part in events such as the British Championships or Hastings he never became a household name. Had he done so, he would certainly have performed well at Major Open level, and perhaps gained the experience to reach championship standard.

His name was Victor Hextall Lovell, and his birth was registered in the first quarter of 1889. He was probably born on 31 January that year, although there are some inconsistencies in public records. His father, Walter, ran a wholesale confectionery business and was also involved in civic affairs, becoming a local councillor representing the Conservative Party, an Alderman, and, in 1918, Mayor of Leicester.

Victor was educated at Wyggeston Grammar School for Boys, following in the footsteps of Henry Ernest Atkins. A few decades later, Richard and David Attenborough would also be educated there. It seems that, on leaving school, he joined his father’s business and, at the same time, started playing chess in the county league.

The earliest game I have for him is an odds game against Atkins, who was no doubt something of a mentor to young Victor. The master was successful on this occasion, despite giving his pupil the odds of a rook. To play through this or any other game in this article, click on any move for a pop-up window.

It soon became clear that here was a young man of great promise and, by 1910, he was already playing on Board 7 for the county team, winning, in this game, against piano dealer Frederick William Forrest, who miscalculated badly on move 17. (Did he have any connection with the Forrest Cup, since about 1934 the Midland Counties Individual Championship?)

In 1914 Victor Lovell won the county championship for the first time. How appropriate that Victor should be victorious while Miss Champ became Ladies’ Champion. He was also appointed to the role of Hon Secretary, a post he would hold for a quarter of a century.

But then war broke out, although club and county chess continued into the Spring of 1915, when Victor retained his title. Lovell did his bit for the war, serving as a corporal in the 298th Siege Battery of the Royal Garrison Artillery, but was still able to attend the county’s 1916 AGM where he was re-elected as the Hon. Secretary. He saw active service in Ypres in 1917, but he was also ‘attached for a while to the staff of some great man with whom he played innumerable Allgaier Gambits (Gould).

It was not until January 1920 that county matches resumed, with Lovell, now clearly Leicestershire’s leading player, on top board. In 1921 he picked up where he left off, winning the first post-WW1 edition of the county championship. The following year he was unexpectedly beaten by Edward Heath Collier, but resumed his winning ways in 1923. Unfortunately there don’t seem to be any scores of his games available for this period, when he was approaching his peak. Local newspapers had got out of the habit of publishing games, and he didn’t compete in external events.

Apart from taking part regularly in club and county matches, Lovell also visited other clubs in the county, and later also schools, to give simultaneous displays.

There was, for many years, some confusion in Leicestershire chess because the main club in the city, calling itself Leicestershire, was responsible for running the county teams and championship as well as competing in the local league. In 1923 they decided not to enter the league, but to concentrate on running internal competitions. VIctor Lovell decided to join the Vaughan College team. Vaughan College, which would later become part of Leicester University, was a Working Men’s College, providing further education for men from what would then have been considered working class backgrounds. The idea of self-improvement for those involved in manual labour was a big thing at the time in many industrial towns and cities, especially so in Leicester. This was my father’s background, but that’s a story for another time and place.

Victor’s chess life continued in very much the same way throughout the 1920s. Here, you can see a caricature from 1927.

Leicester Daily Mercury 10 December 1937

In 1930 he won a game in only 14 moves against Warwickshire’s Arthur John Mackenzie, who had been one of the country’s strongest players in his day, but was now rather past his best.

Later the same month he was playing in, rather than giving a simul, against his old mentor Henry Atkins. This time he came out on top.

Victor Lovell, apart from being the county’s leading player, was always eager to support youngsters. Aside from vising schools to give simultaneous displays, he also coached the young YMCA player George Percy White before he played in the 1933 British Boys Championship.

Leicester Daily Mercury 20 April 1933

George, who had been born on 13 February 1916, did indeed give a good account of himself, finishing in 4th place out of 12 in the Championship section, Alfred Down retaining his title. Most of the other competitors were Grammar School boys, but George was from a working class background: his father was a warehouseman at British United Shoe Machinery, one of Leicester’s largest employers. British United themselves fielded strong teams in the Leicestershire League, but he preferred to play for the YMCA. He was also, I believe, the great-grandnephew of my 3rd cousin 3x removed’s husband. The last chess record I can find for him is selection for a county match in 1938. In 1939 he was working as a dye turner and fitter in shoe machinery, like his father, I suppose, for British United. He married in 1941 and had two children, dying in Leicester in 1985.

There was now a new star on the Leicester chess horizon by the name of Alfred Lenton. Not only was he a fast improving player, he was also a young man with a passion for both reading and writing. In 1933 he started a weekly column in the Leicester Evening Mail in which he often published games from local as well as national and international events. You’ll be able to read a lot more about young Alf in future Minor Pieces.

From here until the column terminated due to WW2 we have a number of Victor Lovell’s games available.

He was ruthless against weaker opponents who failed to calculate accurately, as here against the aforementioned Donald Gould.

In a club match against Hinckley he scored another crushing victory against an opponent who didn’t know the opening well enough (11. d4 was correct). Henry Richmond Fisher was a Medical Officer of Health: one of his brothers was Geoffrey Francis Fisher, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1945 to 1961.

At about this time, Lovell, clearly a man ahead of his time, was playing the currently popular London System in some of his games.

In this game he gained revenge for a defeat against the same opponent, also with the London System, the previous year.

The 1934 Leicestershire Championship proved to be a close-run affair, coming down to their individual encounter in the last round. This time it was the older man who prevailed.

Gould takes up the story.

Lightning chess was becoming more popular, and here we have a game from a speed tournament later in 1934. Arthur Ernest Passant had an older brother, Norman Edward Passant, who also played. He really should have reversed his forenames to become EN Passant. The family later moved to Worthing, where, in 1939, Norman was a bank clerk and Arthur a commercial artist.

But by 1935, Victor Lovell’s health started to fail: he had a weak heart. His results became more erratic and his run of twelve consecutive victories in the county championship came to an end at the hands of Lenton.

On a good day, though, he was still able to play powerful chess, in this game using Bird’s Opening (he was also partial to Bird’s Defence to the Ruy Lopez). ‘Rimmington, short and tough, looked like, and was, a rugger forward according to Gould. He was also a cricketer.

Rimmington’s father was a well-known leather dealer who had  had numerous brushes with the law concerning motoring offences. His sons were also no angels. Take a look at this.

Sheffield Evening Telegraph 19 August 1919

Yes, it seems that Phillip, the younger of the two naughty  boys, had spent perhaps eight years in Desford Industrial School, as it was then, a decade or so before the boys we met last time. Unlike them, he became a strong player, a regular in the county side up to 1939, and still playing occasionally after WW2. He was also a respected administrator at the Leicester YMCA Chess Club. I wonder if he learnt his chess at Desford. (His brother William was in trouble again in 1934, fined for stealing a Dance Trumpet valued at £19.)

Lenton won the county championship in both 1935 and 1936, but Lovell was still active in many areas of chess. In this photograph he’s taking on a group of boys at the YMCA, where chess seems to have been very popular.

Leicester Evening Mail 03 January 1936

Alfred Lenton didn’t defend his title in 1937, leaving the way clear for Lovell to take his 15th and final title.

Lovell features in two group photographs from this period. This is the 1937 county team, with Victor Lovell second from the left in the middle row. Infant jewel thief Phillip Rimmington is on his left and Alfred Lenton on his right.

This was taken at a 1936 lightning tournament: Lovell is seated on the far right.

In an article on local chess history in the Leicester Mercury, Donald (styled as Donn) Gould had some amusing anecdotes to relate, one of which referring to a game you saw earlier in this article.

Leicester Daily Mercury 10 December 1937

By the time we reach the late 1930s we come across players I knew three decades or more later, as witnessed in this county championship semi-final against Surrey.

Leicester Evening Mail 12 October 1938

Surrey fielded Harry Golombek, a Major Piece who deserves a full biography, on top board. Then there are the two Alexanders, unrelated both to each other and to CHO’D Alexander, both of whom may become subjects of future Minor Pieces. Felce was from a famous family of chess players and administrators. Cordingley became a publisher of chess books. Wernick’s name lives on in a trophy competed for in Surrey. Tregaskis has already featured here.  Coles became a respected author and historian – and also  beat me in the Surrey Trophy. From a personal perspective, the most significant name is that of Jack Redon, losing here to the unfortunately initialled Vincent Dwelly Pavord. Again, you’ll find out more in a future Minor Piece. I’m not, as far as I know, related to either James, but I do have a distant family connection with one of the other participants. Watch this space.

In 1939 Leicestershire scored a big win against Worcestershire in the final of the Midland Counties Championship. The games on boards 1, 2 and 16 were published: Board 2 (perhaps I’ll publish it in a future Minor Piece) was adjudicated a draw, but Stockfish tells me Lenton, a pawn up in a bishops of opposite colour ending, was unfairly done out of half a point.

There are again some interesting names on both sides.

Staffordshire Advertiser 11 March 1939

You’ll notice that Henry Atkins was back playing for his home county on top board. Leicestershire’s Board 7, Alfred Oakley Thompson, was a brother of the eccentric John Crittenden Thompson, author of this rare booklet (there should be a copy somewhere in the Chess Palace). You’ll also spot two Minor Pieces, Horsey and Bishop, in their team: they’d later be joined, on a higher board, by AA Castle.

Victor Lovell’s opponent has already featured in an earlier Minor Piece.  Worcestershire also fielded the blind player Reginald Walter Bonham on Board 2, and his friend and teaching colleague at Worcester College for the Blind, Robert Douglas Wormald, on Board 4. Of particular interest to me was their Board 20, Keith Southan (not Southam), who later moved to Twickenham, teaching Classics at Tiffin School in Kingston. I knew him well at Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club between the mid 1960s (when he kindly gave me lifts to away matches) and the mid 1970s.

Here’s a game from 1939 between Gould and Lovell, from a match between former pupils of Leicester’s two most prominent Grammar Schools at the time. Gould, like Lenton, was a former pupil of Alderman Newton’s Grammar School, while Lovell, like Atkins, was a former pupil of Wyggeston Boys’ Grammar School. Lenton and Atkins split the point on top board, Charles Hornsby, whom I beat in the Leicestershire League thirty years later, lost on board 7 or the Old Wyggestonians, who, nevertheless, beat the Old Newtonians 4½-3½.

The 1939 Register finds Victor at 42 Dovedale Road Leicester, along with a housekeeper. If he’d travelled a mile and a half or so to the west he’d have encountered my father and his family in Sheridan Street. I’d like to think they passed each other somewhere along the way.

I’ll leave it to Donald Gould to relate Victor Lovell’s rather sad endgame.

The Leicester Evening Mail published this obituary.

Leicester Evening Mail 23 April 1940

And there you have the all too short life of Victor Hextall Lovell, a legendary figure in Leicester chess. At his best, round about 1930, he must have been round about 2250 strength by current standards and they still make a good impression today. He was solid and consistent, with a sharp tactical eye: perhaps it’s to be regretted that he chose not to test himself outside his county. Lenton was of the opinion that he had the talent to become one of the country’s strongest players. Instead, never marrying, he chose to devote his life, outside his family confectionery business, to supporting and promoting chess in his native county.

One final thing. In 1960, his scrapbooks and scoresheets were, along with a lot of other documents of historic interest, in the possession of the Leicestershire Chess Club. I wonder what happened to them. Perhaps they’re now in the ECF Library at De Montfort University. I’ll try to find out, but, if you have any information, do get in touch.

Sources:

Chess in Leicester 1860-1960 Centenary History of the Leicestershire Chess Club (Donald Gould): thanks to Ivor Smith, whose copy I now have, and to Ray Cannon for telling Ivor I would be interested and delivering it to me.

ancestry.co.uk
findmypast.co.uk/British Newspaper Archive
chessgames.com

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Minor Pieces 60: Eric Harold Patrick (2)

Last time I looked at chess in Desford Approved School in the 1930s, introducing you to the two men behind the project: school superintendent Cecil Lane and local politician Sydney Gimson.

Unlike most at the time, they took a ‘nurture’ rather than a ‘nature’ view of behaviour, believing that the boys in their care had had a difficult start in life, and, if they were treated well, the vast majority of them would go on to lead good lives. Indeed, Gimson claimed on several occasions that almost all their former students kept out of trouble on leaving Desford.

They would have understood the words of Phil Ochs in his song There But For Fortune three decades later:

I’ll show you a young man with so many reasons whyThere but for fortune go you or I

Chess played an important part in life at Desford, and was greatly valued within the school. It’s fashionable these days to promote chess in schools for its perceived extrinsic benefits, both cognitive and social, and there is also much great work being done promoting chess in prisons throughout the world. Lane and Gimson, you might think, were 90 years or so ahead of their time.

You can see how it might work, can’t you? At one level chess, along with similar games, is an exercise in decision making. If you want to make good decisions, in chess or in life, you have to control your impulses, consider your options, think about the effect of your choice on other people, and work out what might happen next.

If you make good decisions when you’re playing chess you’ll win your games. If not, you’ll lose your games. If you make poor decisions in life you might end up in Approved School or in prison.

The régime in Desford was, as you saw in my previous article, very enlightened for its time, and, in some respects, enlightened even by today’s standards. The chess reports usually only gave the initials of the players, but in some cases we can find their first names from elsewhere, especially for those boys who reached the finals of the school’s annual boxing championship.

If they have distinctive names it’s possible, through sources such as censuses, electoral rolls, birth,  marriage and death records and newspaper archives, to find out more about their circumstances and their lives after Desford.

Take, for example, Victor Bernard Duffin, who played in the senior section of the 1933-34 Leicestershire Boys’ Championships.

Victor was the younger of two brothers from a seemingly respectable family from Biggleswade, born in 1917. Their father was a market gardener and seed merchant who hit financial problems and was declared bankrupt in 1920. On leaving Desford, Victor got a job as an assistant school caretaker in Leicester, but he was one of those who didn’t keep out of trouble.

Leicester Evening Mail 15 May 1935

In 1939 he married in Portsmouth, suggesting a possible Naval connection, with a daughter and a son being born there in 1942 and 1948. There’s also a record of an Army Cadet named Victor Bernard Duffin becoming a 2nd Lieutenant in the Artillery in 1945. Would he have been too old to have been a cadet?

After the war he became the landlord of a pub near Peterborough, remarrying in 1957. Although he was respected within his trade, becoming secretary of the Licensed Victuallers Association (I’d guess the local branch) he had further brushes with the law. He was fined for a parking offence in 1961, and, rather unluckily, for driving a car without insurance in 1956. (His team were returning from a dominoes match and he took over the wheel when his teammate felt unwell. Unused to the controls, he was stopped for driving unsteadily. He wasn’t insured for driving his friend’s vehicle: he was fined for driving without the correct insurance, and she was fined for allowing her car to be driven by an uninsured driver.) On another occasion in 1956 he was on the other side, when a customer in his pub paid for his drinks with a Bank of Funland fiver bought from a joke shop.

Victor died in 1983 at the age of 66. His brother Clifford also married twice, on both occasions to women named Doris. His second marriage took place in Market Harborough: Doris Mabel Plant was my 4th cousin once removed!

Another player we can identify from the same tournament is James Ralph Ramft. The Ramft family were originally from Germany but had been living in south east London for some time. There’s no obvious birth record for James, but this article seems to provide a clue.

Kentish Independent 08 April 1921

It seems that he was born in 1919, so he was probably one of the two other illegitimate children mentioned here.

We pick him up in Desford at the end of 1928, taking part in the boxing tournament, so he’d been there some time. It’s possible he was taken in because his parents were unable to care for him rather than because of any criminal offence.

He made the papers through one of his chess games: two pieces down against the eventual winner, Keith Dear, he gave up his rook for a pretty stalemate.

It appears he returned to London, marrying a German girl in Woolwich in 1952 and moving to North London, marrying a second time in 1959, and, sadly,  dying a few months later at the age of only 41.

What, then, of our titular hero, Eric Harold Patrick? Last time we witnessed him winning the junior section of the Leicestershire Boys Championship in three consecutive years, and then moving on to represent the YMCA in the county league. You’d imagine a bright young man with a successful future ahead.

Unfortunately, this seems not to have been the case. There’s no sign of him in the 1939 Register, and we don’t pick him up again until 1948 when he marries Gladys Green in Northumberland. A son, named Terence after one of his uncles, is born in 1953 (he died, apparently single, in 2006). Nothing further is available until a death record in 1984. Here’s his probate entry.

St Mary’s Hospital Stannington was a mental hospital. You can find a two-part documentary on YouTube here and here.

How long had he been there? Was he there when he married Gladys in 1948? I can’t find any indication that he served in WW2 so he could well have been there most of his life. Were incipient mental health problems responsible for whatever had caused his admission to Desford? What a sad story.

He wasn’t the only Eric playing chess at Desford. There was also Eric Schadendorf.

Leicester Daily Mercury 03 January 1935

A small boy with a long name: I wonder what they would have made of Thirumurugan Thiruchelvam.

Eric, born in 1920, came from what was clearly a troubled family from South London, not very far from the Ramfts. His father, Hugo, was German, but may have been born in Belgium, and may also have had Polish connections. His mother, Pauline, was Polish. Hugo and Pauline went on to have another son, Leo, in 1928, but he died in 1929. Hugo himself died the following year at the age of only 29. Later the same year Pauline remarried: a daughter was born in 1936.

Given these circumstances it’s hardly surprising that young Eric got into trouble. Did his time at Desford help him mend his ways? Did his chess ability (he finished 3rd in the 1934-35 tournament) encourage him to think before he acted? Apparently not.

After his liberation, etc. he married Helena Wilfort, presumably a cousin, in 1940, but was soon in trouble again.

Lewisham Borough News 16 September 1941

Stanley Wilfort was Eric’s uncle – his mother’s brother. The ASC was the Army Service Corps where he was working as a driver. His marriage, not unexpectedly, didn’t last.

At some point he decided to change his name from Schadendorf to Adams, the name of his stepfather, but this didn’t keep him out of trouble.

Lewisham Borough News 04 July 1950

It seems like he finally managed to resolve his problems, settling down with another woman in North London where they brought up a son and a daughter. He died in Islington in 1984 at the age of 63. I can only hope he found some happiness later in life.

After Eric Patrick, the strongest Desford chess player seems to have been Richard Kelsey.

Leicester Evening Mail 06 July 1937

I’m pretty sure he was Richard Albert Kelsey, another Londoner, born in 1923 in Shoreditch, the fifth of seven children, if you believe the official records, of James William and Margaret Kelsey. His father served in the Royal Navy from 1909 to 1921 so wasn’t around much. The 1922 Electoral Roll includes no less than 11 electors in their house in Hoxton. By 1926 there were 12 electors there, including Margaret, but not James. One of them was Richard Albert Langley: it seems a reasonable bet that he was young Richard’s real father, not least because Margaret had already had another Albert. So this was a fairly large and dysfunctional family existing in very cramped conditions.

As far as I can tell, he returned to London on leaving Desford. We have a marriage in Hackney in 1944, another possible marriage in nearby Stepney in 1955 (no children from either marriage), and a death record in 1967 at the age of only 44.

Alan Wann, born in 1921, was a local boy from a working-class Leicester family who represented Desford in both the junior tournament and the league in the 1935-36 season. His later life wasn’t blameless. In 1947 he and his father were fined for stealing mushrooms from a field. In 1948 he was cited in the divorce courts when he was having an affair with a married woman. She was granted a decree nisi, later marrying Alan and having a large family. In 1958 he was fined for failing to pay his National Insurance contribution. He died in 1994: a relatively long life by the standards of the other Desford chess players.

Norman Reginald Bass (1925-1997) was only 11 when he first played in the county junior championships. He competed the following year as well, and was still in Desford at the time of the 1939 Register and taking part in the boxing in January 1940 before returning to York. Like so many of the Desford chess players he married twice, fathering six daughters.

D Bursey, who played in the 1936-37 championship, must have been Dennis Roy Bursey, born 1922 in Enfield, North London. His background was very different to that of most of the other Desford boys. His father had earlier served in the Navy, on at least one of the same ships as James William Kelsey, but by the time Dennis was born he seems to have been some sort of travelling salesman with family connections to both Canada and Australia. Returning to London after his time in the Approved School, it looks like he married three times, in 1944, 1974 and finally in 1985, shortly before his death the following year. It’s disturbing to notice how many of these boys married more than once, in times when divorce was a lot less common than it is today.

There can be few who had a less propitious start in life than Hubert Michael Cookland, as he later came to be known, but that didn’t stop him playing chess successfully at Desford.

The circumstances of his birth sound like an episode of Long Lost Family.

Liverpool Echo 04 November 1924

Given that sort of background it was perhaps unsurprising that he got into trouble, and also impressive that, in 1938, he was a good enough chess player to share third place in the younger section of the Leicestershire Junior Chess Championships, won, you might recall, by Miss Betty Ferrar. He was also a boxer, competing in the featherweight class at his school boxing championships the following year.

On release from Desford, Hubert took a job on a poultry farm, but, by the end of 1941, was again in trouble with the law. With the help of an accomplice, another former Desford boy, he took to stealing his employer’s hens and selling them to a chap he met in the pub. He was sentenced to six months imprisonment, and it was recommended that he should join the Navy on his release.

From Tracy Wilkins’ family tree on ancestry.co.uk

This is what he did, enlisting in the Merchant Navy, serving on the Arctic convoys in 1944. On leaving the Merchant Navy he returned to York, where he’d been brought up, taking a job as a driver, marrying in 1946, and bringing up two sons and a daughter.  He later started working in the building trade, eventually becoming a building contracts manager. Hubert was in trouble again in 1957, for driving the wrong way down a one-way street, causing an accident in which a cyclist sustained serious injuries.

In spite of a difficult upbringing, Hubert Cookland seems to have made good in the end. Some of his story has been told by his granddaughter on an online family tree. He died in 1997 at the age of 75. I’d like to think he maintained his interest in chess, perhaps teaching his children and grandchildren.

Another Desford competitor in the 1938 tournament was Bernard Hugh Tedman, also born in 1924. Bernard, who came from South London, was another boy with a difficult family background. His father Bert, who had spent time in the workhouse as a boy, seems to have had at least six relationships as well as many different jobs. In 1919, after war service in the Royal Garrison Artillery, he was sent down for bigamy, the judge being Llewellyn Atherley-Jones, who was also a pretty strong chess player. Bernard may or may not have been the youngest of his many children.

There’s not very much more to be said: like Eric Patrick, Bernard developed mental health problems, dying at the age of 50 (his death record incorrectly gives his year of birth as 1927) in Warlingham Park Hospital, which, coincidentally or not, was where his father had been working at the time of the 1921 census. The above link demonstrates that draughts was popular there: maybe Bernard played. It took several years for his next of kin to be contacted for probate purposes.

One of Desford’s Leicestershire League players was C Mandley, more likely to by Cyril Ernest (born 1923) than his slightly older brother Charles Albert (born 1922). They were the second and third children of a large family from Northampton.

Cyril seemed to get into minor trouble at various times of his life. By 1939, he would have left Desford, but was now in another Approved School in Norfolk. After the war he settled down, fathering two daughters (I can’t find a marriage record, though). In 1947 he was fined for speeding, and in 1951 he was found guilty of stealing some scrap metal.

Reading some of these stories, you wonder whether Sydney Gimson’s frequent claim of a 90% success rate stood up. You might also have increased sympathy with his view that boys should have continued to stay at Desford until 16 rather than 15: that extra year, he thought, was all-important and he may well have been right. Although some of the Desford chess players eventually made good, we see a frequent pattern of re-offending, marital problems and mental health issues, and several premature deaths. While I’m all in favour of treating young people with kindness, perhaps today we might take a more nuanced approach.

If I travelled down the road to Feltham Young Offenders’ Centre, for example (it was Feltham Borstal when my father was an instructor there back in 1950, so we’re talking about more serious offenders) I’m sure I’d find young men from difficult family backgrounds, just as Cecil Lane and Sydney Gimson did at Desford. But I’d also find young men who might be diagnosed with learning difficulties or with conditions such as ADHD. I’d find young men who had problems with drink and drugs. Everyone is different and needs a different type of support. I’ve been thinking for years I should contact them to ask if they had any interest in chess.

But I have two more Desford stories to tell.

This report of the 1936 boxing tournament gives you some idea of how popular this annual event was in Leicester life at the time.

Leicester Evening Mail 06 January 1936

Look in particular at the cruiserweight result. Charles Elliman and Frederick Holbrooke. Charlie and Fred to their friends. Big boys for their age as well.

They were both chess players as well as boxers. While Charles was, at least on this occasion, the better boxer, Frederick was probably the better chess player. At the same time of year both boys were playing in the junior section of the Leicestershire Boys Championship. Frederick reached the final play-off before losing to Eric Patrick, while Charles was eliminated at an earlier stage.

 

They were teammates as well as rivals over the chessboard: they were both successful, as was Richard Kelsey, in this match. (Misspellings were very common in this context – misreading handwriting I guess.)

Leicester Daily Mercury 19 February 1936

Both boys also excelled at other sports. In the schools athletics championship that summer term, Frederick was second in the long jump while Charles was second in the 440 yards. In the schools swimming competition the previous September, Charles and Frederick had finished 2nd and 3rd behind Alan Wann in the Junior Speed Race, helping Desford to win the Ansell Trophy (any relation to Sydney Ansell Gimson?) for the third year in succession.

To find out who Frederick Henderson Robert Holbrooke was, let me take you to St Michael’s Church, Pimlico, in the year 1921. His name sounds rather posh, doesn’t it? And St Michael’s Church, in Belgravia, near Victoria Station, is one of London’s most exclusive areas.

Here’s a marriage certificate.

We can identify Nellie Gertrude Skipper, who came from Norfolk. However, I can find no birth record or previous marriage for Frederick George Holbrooke, nor any farmer named Robert Holbrooke.

42 Chester Terrace is presumably 42 Chester Square, immediately opposite the church, which, in 1921, was a boarding house, although there was only one boarder there in that year’s census.

It seems highly likely to me that Frederick George Holbrooke was not his real name. Perhaps, given his son’s name, he was really Henderson. Who knows? Nellie, already the mother of an illegitimate son, returned to Norfolk where Frederick junior was born a few months – or perhaps even weeks – later. Frederick senior disappeared from view until the first quarter of 1963, when his death was recorded in North East Surrey: he was buried in Merton.

Over the next two decades Nellie had several other relationships and several other children, so here, again, was a boy from a highly dysfunctional family. Again, it’s of interest that someone from that background could become a good chess player.

He would probably have left Desford in Summer 1936, and two years later he enlisted in the Royal Artillery, serving as a gunner. The following year, my father would also enlist in the Royal Artillery, seeing service in North Africa, Italy and Germany. Frederick, unlike my father, was unlucky. Killed in action in Tunisia on 3 March 1943, the reports said. He is remembered on the Medjez-el-Bab Memorial in Tunisia, and also on the War Memorial in the Norfolk village of Marsham.

Finally, we have Frederick’s friend, Charles Elleman. Charles was from Birmingham, the 6th of 15 children. The 1921 census records their mother at home with 5 children (Charles would arrive later that year) while their father was in Warwick serving with the  Warwickshire Yeomanry Defence Force. In 1933, one of his older brothers was sent to prison after a series of thefts, his father also receiving a custodial sentence for receiving stolen goods. It would have been about this time that Charles was admitted to Desford Approved School.

Although he wasn’t one of their strongest chess players, he took part in competitions and, in the 1936 prizegiving, won the Victor Ludorum trophy for his sporting successes. He also won the prize for the most public spirited boy in the school. Here he is, on the left, being chaired by his fellow pupils.

Leicester Daily Mercury 07 July 1936

At this point Charles, like Frederick, would have left Desford to seek employment. The 1939 Register found him working as a waiter at the Grosvenor Hotel in Heysham, Morecambe. But, like the public spirited young man he was, he chose to serve his country when war was declared. It wasn’t the Army or the Navy for him, but the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve.

He returned to Birmingham in 1942 to marry Lillian Florence Hands, in a break from his job as a wireless operator in 138 Squadron Bomber Command. On 27 November 1944 his Stirling IV was shot down off the coast of Denmark, returning from dropping supplies to the Danish Resistance. Pilot Officer Charles Elleman died as he had lived his life in Desford Approved School, a true hero. A son, Thomas C Elleman, was born in the 4th quarter of 1944: whether before or after his father’s death I don’t know: he married Betty J Astle in Bristol in 1967. There’s an Australian biochemist with a lot of patents to his name called Thomas Charles Elleman: his wife is Betty Jean, so I think this is our man. His father would have been very proud of him, and he must also be very proud of his father.

Charles’s life is commemorated on Panel 211 of the Runnymede Memorial.

https://www.specialforcesroh.com/index.php?threads/elleman-charles.13803/

Two friends, then, opponents in the boxing ring and on the sports field, both opponents and teammates over the chessboard. Two friends who both lost their lives serving their country and the free world.

In the words of AE Housman:

They carry back bright to the coiner the mintage of man,
The lads that will die in their glory and never be old.

These lines of Lord Dunsany also come to mind (British Chess Magazine April 1943).

One art they say is of no use;
The mellow evenings spent at chess,
The thrill, the triumph, and the truce
To every care, are valueless.

And yet, if all whose hopes were set
On harming man played chess instead,
We should have cities standing yet
Which now are dust upon the dead.

Let’s drink a toast, then, to Desford war heroes Frederick Holbrooke and Charles Elleman. To poor Eric Patrick and Bernard Tedman, who ended their lives in mental hospitals. To Victor Duffin and Hubert Cookland, who, after difficult starts, found success and happiness, leaving behind fond memories for their children and grandchildren. To all the other Desford chess players as well. And let’s not forget the two men who made it possible, Cecil Lane and Sydney Gimson.

For those of us involved in junior chess administration, are there lessons we can learn here about the true purpose of chess at secondary school age? Apart from their strongest player, Eric Patrick, who continued for another year, none of them seemed to play any more competitive chess (although Victor was a competitive dominoes player). But perhaps that’s not really the point. Perhaps it brought some happiness to young people who had had a troubled start in life, and you shouldn’t expect any more than that.

If you were hoping to see some chess moves in this article, I can only apologise. I’ll introduce you to some Leicester chess players with longer careers in future Minor Pieces.

Acknowledgements and sources:

ancestry.co.uk
findmypast.co.uk/British Newspaper Archive
Wikipedia
YouTube
Bethlem Museum of the Mind website
Special Forces Roll of Honour website

Other sources linked to or mentioned above

 

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Minor Pieces 59: Eric Harold Patrick (1)

For a few years in the mid 1930s a remarkable story was playing out in Leicestershire chess. The boys from Desford Approved School, who had been sent there from all over the country having fallen foul of the law, were taking part in the Under 16 section of the county chess championship, dominating the event, winning game after game against their law-abiding contemporaries, and even beating adult teams in the county league.

I wanted to find out more about the lives of some of the Desford boys (the titular Eric was their star player), and about the men who chose to promote chess as an activity for these boys from troubled backgrounds. This article looks mainly at the latter: a future article will consider the former.

First, a bit of history. The Leicester Industrial School for Boys, Desford opened in January 1881. Boys were sent there for all sorts of reasons: some had been in trouble, some were destitute and wandering the streets, some were living in brothels, some were sent there by their parents because they were out of control at home. While there they would be subject to strict discipline as well as learning a trade to help them find employment on their release.

One such boy, beyond his father’s control, was Tom Harry James, who was there from January 1904, when he was 12 years old, until October 1907. His father was expected to pay his expenses, but seemed reluctant to do so.

Leicester Chronicle 22 October 1904

The young miscreant would live a long and colourful life, dying in Yakima, Washington in 1980, but that’s a story for another time and place. How do I know this? Tom Harry James was one of my father’s half brothers. Tom Harry senior and his first wife had twelve children, and after she died he remarried, producing another six children. My father, Howard James, the youngest of them, was born in 1919.

It was now January 1917, and time for a new chairman to be appointed to Desford Industrial School. The man elected was Sydney Ansell Gimson (it’s pronounced Jimson), a local councillor representing the Liberal Party and a member of a prominent Leicester family.

In 1842, Josiah Gimson and his brother Benjamin started an engineering firm in Leicester. Josiah was a man of progressive views: a supporter of Robert Owen‘s socialist ideas and a secularist, founding the Leicester Secular Society, which is still active today. Sydney, born in 1860, was the oldest son of Josiah’s second marriage, and, although he was also sympathetic towards his mother’s unitarian views, played an important role in the Secular Society. At first, he was anti-union, however, being more interested in the concept of the individual, but seems to have changed his opinion later in life. He worked for some time in the family business,  but, not needing the money, retired early in order to devote the remainder of his life to public service.

Here’s Sydney, photographed in 1904.

From The Who’s Who of Radical Leicester (Ned Newitt)

You can read more about both Josiah and Sydney in Ned Newitt’s Who’s Who of Radical Leicester here, and about the family business here (Wiki) and here (Story of Leicester).

Some of his brothers were also of interest. His older half-brother, Josiah Mentor Gimson, also worked for his father. One of JM Gimson’s sons, Christopher, played first class cricket for Cambridge University in 1908, and again for Leicestershire in 1921 when on extended leave from the Indian Civil Service. His 1975 obituary in Wisden described him as ‘an attacking batsman and a fine outfield’. Another of his sons, David, was the first chairman of the Leicestershire Contract Bridge Association on its formation in 1946. A competition for a trophy bearing his name was competed for at least up to 2019.

The most important member of the family, though, was Sydney’s younger brother Ernest William Gimson. Ernest met William Morris at the Secular Society, and soon joined forces with him, working as a furniture designer and architect, being very much involved in the Arts and Crafts movement. If you’re interested in this sort of thing, you’ll find a lot more of interest via your favourite search engine. If you’ve got £50 to spare you could also buy this book.

The Leicester Secular Society has a feature on the Gimson family here. You might want to follow some of their other links and look around other pages of their website.

Meanwhile, back at Desford Industrial School it was now 1921. There was a vacancy for a new Superintendent. Sydney wanted someone who shared his progressive views on education: the right man for the job was 31 year old Cecil John Wagstaff Lane, the son of a farmer and innkeeper from Melton Mowbray, who was already working there as the Chief Assistant. The 1921 census found him settled in with his wife Dora and daughter Joan, along with other staff members and more than 200 boys from all over the country. As well as boys from Leicester, many of them were from other parts of the Midlands, London and Yorkshire, especially Hull. By now they would have been sent there by magistrates who would decide to which institution the young offenders up before them should be sent.

Sydney was very much in the ‘nurture’ camp, believing that most of the young offenders were victims of family circumstances, and, if they were treated well, would grow up to lead useful lives and become law-abiding members of society. He found an ally in Cecil Lane, and, despite the 30 year gap in their ages, the two men became firm friends. Cecil introduced a less punitive regime, running Desford along the lines of an English Public School. There were four houses: Red, White, Blue and Green, each with a house master who acted as a surrogate father to the boys. Much emphasis was placed on sport, with regular visits from top class players and competitions against other schools in the area. The most popular sport there was boxing: the school’s annual boxing competition, held over the New Year period, became a big local event, attended enthusiastically by the great and good of Leicester society.

Looking at the newspaper sports columns in the inter-war years it’s notable how popular boxing was, and also how often the professionals fought.

If boxing was the Desford boys’ favourite sport, the other sport which played a very big part in their lives was, perhaps unexpectedly, chess. Cecil Lane and Sydney Gimson don’t appear to have been competitive players themselves, but it’s clear they both enjoyed the game and had the foresight to realise how much it could benefit the boys in their care.

You might think they missed a trick by failing to invent chessboxing, but that’s something we’ll leave aside for now.

By 1925 word was going round that chess was becoming popular within the school.

Leicester Daily Mercury 16 December 1925
Leicester Daily Mercury 18 December 1925

Gimson and Lane might not have been club players (and here’s Sydney losing to one of his pupils), but they knew someone who was. Councillor Frederick Chappin, a member of the Conservative Party, was a political opponent of Sydney Gimson, but a friend who not only shared his interest but had been a competitive player in the county league going right back to the 1880s, on at least one occasion playing on board 2 behind none other than the great Henry Ernest Atkins.

By 1927 the boys needed more demanding opposition and county champion Victor Hextall Lovell, Leicester’s strongest player at the time (you’ll meet him in a future Minor Piece) was invited to give a simultaneous display. Lovell’s father was a former Mayor of Leicester and, like Frederick Chappin, a Conservative Councillor.

Leicester Daily Mercury 10 February 1927

Lovell returned during the 1929-30 Christmas holidays, and was emphatic that the standard of play had improved since his previous visit.

Desford School celebrated its jubilee in 1931, and this article outlines some of the changes Lane had made since his appointment as Superintendent.

Leicester Evening Mail 24 February 1931

The 1933 Children and Young Persons Act renamed Industrial Schools as Approved Schools, so Desford was now Desford Approved School. However, the school always preferred to be referred to locally simply as Desford School or Desford Boys’ School to avoid stigmatising the pupils. At this point children could remain there until the age of 16.

As you saw last time, Leicester was a pioneer in junior chess, amongst many other things. In January the first county boys’ championship took place in two sections, which appeared to be Under 18 and Under 16. The Desford boys were keen to take part, six entering in the senior and six in the junior section. Other schools represented were Wyggeston, for many years Leicester’s leading academic secondary school, Alderman Newton, also classified as a ‘Public School’ at the time, City Boys and Moat Road.

Unfortunately it’s not possible to identify all the Desford chess players as only initials and surname were given in the local press. In some cases the boys also took part in the annual boxing tournament, where the press gave their full names. Although the Leicestershire Records Office holds admission records, they are not able to release them due to data protection legislation, and, as we’ve seen, the boys might have come from anywhere in the country. Having an unusual surname was of course helpful.

As you’ll see, the Desford boys were pretty successful in their first competitive outing.

Leicester Daily Mercury 08 January 1934

On a sad note, the winner of the senior section, Keith Dear, died four years later at the age of just 20.

There, winning the junior section and representing Desford (Approved) School, was Eric Harold Patrick, whose life we can reconstruct, although we don’t know why he was there.

He had been born on 23 August 1921 in Cannock, Staffordshire, the oldest of five children of Harold and Lily Patrick, who had married that January when they were both only 19. Shortly after his birth the family moved to Leicester, Lily’s home town. At the time of his success, then, he was only 12 years old, competing against boys who were a year or two older than him, and attending the city’s most prestigious secondary schools.

When Sydney Gimson came to present his annual report to the education committee a few months later, young Eric’s chess success was the item which elicited the most interest.

Leicester Evening Mail 24 April 1934

Gimson also revealed that he had played two games against Eric, both players winning one game.

There was another administrative change. From now on, boys had to leave Desford at 15 rather than 16. Sydney wasn’t impressed, as he told the school prizegiving. For some reason this was reported in the Women’s column of the local paper.

Leicester Evening Mail 03 July 1934

You’ll see that the school only awarded four prizes – and the fewer prizes you award, the more they’ll be valued. The most public spirited boy, the boy who was best at sports, the captain of the winning house – and the best chess player. A demonstration, I think, of the respect in which chess was held at Desford at the time.

By the end of the year it was time for the 1935 edition of the county junior championship. As boys now left Desford at 15 they were only represented in the junior section.

The local newspapers’ sports correspondents were invited along to have a look.

Leicester Daily Mercury 01 January 1935
Leicester Daily Mercury 02 January 1935
Leicester Chronicle 05 January 1935

There was also a photographer present.

Leicester Daily Mercury 01 January 1935

One paper even sent along their cartoonist: Eric Patrick was one of his subjects.

Leicester Daily Mercury 02 January 1935

The results of the junior section were remarkable. All five of the preliminary sections were won by Desford boys, Eric Patrick retaining his title with a 100% score. Don’t forget that these were young offenders from difficult family backgrounds winning game after game against boys from top academic schools.

Needless to say, Eric again won the school chess prize as well. At the prizegiving, Cecil Lane blamed poor housing and large families on the boys’ problems.

Leicester Daily Mercury 02 July 1935

Later that year, the school entered a team into the third division of the Leicestershire Chess League, where they were playing against adult club teams as well as other school teams.

By December they were in second place, having won two and drawn one of their first three matches.

Leicester Daily Mercury 05 December 1935

As the New Year approached, the county boys’ championships came round again. As in the previous year, seven Desford boys took part in the junior section, with Eric Patrick aiming for his third successive title. This time they didn’t have it all their own way, with only two of their players, including Eric, making the final four. He even lost a game in the final pool before regaining the Silver Rook.

Again, we have a photograph.

Leicester Daily Mercury 31 December 1935

Leicester Daily Mercury 22 April 1936

The school team continued to do well in the league. In these two matches they beat the early league leaders (Alfred Urban Busby was a more than useful player, beating Alekhine in a 1936 simul and, in 1989, a year before his death, losing a postal game to Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club’s Michael Franklin), with the aid of two defaults, but lost to the second team from the Cripples Guild.

Here are the final league tables, with King Richard’s Road defaulting two matches. If their two opponents were awarded 6-0 victories, that would leave Desford Boys sharing second place.

Leicester Evening Mail 20 May 1936

Eric Patrick was now 15, and would have left Desford School that summer to make his way in the world. He continued playing chess, now representing YMCA in the league, and taking part in the senior section of the junior championships at the end of the year.

There was also a change in the Leicestershire League: they decided to run a separate schools division rather than allowing them to play against the adult clubs. For whatever reason, I don’t know, and, again for whatever reason, Desford didn’t enter the league for the 1936-37 season.

In the 1936-37 boys’ championships, Eric Patrick reached the final pool of the senior section but didn’t quite manage to win the title. The best Desford player in the junior section was Richard Kelsey, who finished in second place.

But the school would soon be hit by tragedy.

Cecil Lane’s wife Dora had died in April 1936. He needed some domestic help and his friend Sydney knew just the right person. Sydney had two sons, Basil and Humphrey. Basil was married to Alice Muriel Goodman: whose relation Nora would be ideal for the job.

Nora soon became rather more than a housekeeper, and, in September 1937, she and Cecil became man and wife.

Leicester Daily Mercury 09 September 1937

As Mr RT Goodman had died more than a year before Nora was born, I suspect that the older lady in the photograph may have been her grandmother, not her mother, and that Nora was actually the illegitimate daughter of Alice’s sister Winifred. Was she aware?

And was Cecil aware that his brother Roderick died in hospital on the same day?

Anyway, the newly wed couple headed off to Scotland for their honeymoon. While there, Cecil was taken ill At first he seemed to be recovering, but then he took a turn for the worse, and, only 11 days after their marriage, Nora was left a widow.

Leicester Daily Mercury 21 September 1937

Desford were still well represented in the younger section of the 1937-38 edition of the county junior championship (now no longer ‘Boys’ following the entry of Betty and Joan Ferrar, whom you met last time), with Hubert Cookland reaching the final pool and Norman Bass just missing out after a play-off.

There was more sad news on 4 November 1938, with the death of Sydney Ansell Gimson at the age of 78. The Leicester Mercury described him as a ‘Noted Leicester Rationalist and Public Man’.

Leicester Daily Mercury 05 November 1938

You can also read an online biography here.

That, sadly, seems to have been the end of competitive chess at Desford Approved School. They appear not to have been represented in the 1938-39 county junior championships. Cecil and Sydney’s successors, I presume, didn’t share their interest in chess. Then, of course, war intervened. Some of the boys and young men who had been engaged in friendly combat over the chessboard, or, at least in the case of the Desford pupils, in the boxing ring, would soon be drawn into a very different fight: the fight against Fascism.

Join me again soon to find out what happened to Eric Harold Patrick and his chess playing friends after they left Desford.

But first, perhaps you’ll join me in drinking a toast to Cecil John Wagstaff Lane and Sydney Ansell Gimson, two men who, for their time, or even for our time, held enlightened and progressive views on education, and believed, as I do, that chess can have enormous social benefits for children of secondary school age.

I’d like to end on a personal note. Of all the people I’ve written about in these Minor Pieces, I think Sydney is the one I’d most like to have met. He seems to have been a man who shared my own opinions, interests and values in almost every respect. My political and religious views are, considering the 90 year gap in our ages, very similar to his. I also share his interests in the environment and in education, particularly in how schools should go about helping disadvantaged children, and in how chess can be used for that purpose. Sydney Ansell Gimson, you are one of my heroes.

 

Sources and Acknowledgements:

ancestry.co.uk
findmypast.co.uk/British Newspaper Library
Wikipedia
Who’s Who of Radical Leicester (Ned Newitt)
William Morris Society website
Leicester Secular Society website
Story of Leicester website
University of Leicester website

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Minor Pieces 58: Leonard Inskip and Michael Stanley Woodward Ferrar

Last time I looked at the popularity of chess amongst the residents of the Star and Garter Home for Disabled Ex-Servicemen in Richmond in the 1930s.

Richmond wasn’t the only place in which those with physical handicaps were encouraged to play chess. It’s time to return to the city of Leicester, which, you may recall, was my father’s home city, and also where I studied between 1968 and 1972. In fact my parents’ families were both from the Midlands, crisscrossing the counties of Warwickshire, Leicestershire and Northamptonshire, and occasionally bumping into each other in places like Coventry and Leicester.

The Leicester Guild of Cripples was founded in 1898, providing services for the physically handicapped of the city. Between 1925 and 1991 they ran a holiday home in the nearby village of Cropston. Of course, along with other terms for disabilities which became playground insults, we can no longer use the word ‘cripple’ in that context today. They later became the Leicester Guild of the Physically Handicapped and in 2000 changed their name to MOSAIC 1898 where they now cater for those with a wider range of disabilities.

You can visit their website here and watch a 1934 home movie about the Guild here.

We’ll now turn the clock back to 1930 and meet a remarkable man named Leonard Inskip. Leonard, born in 1885 was one of a large family. His father, William John Inskip, was an influential trade unionist working, like very many in Leicester, in the bootmaking trade. He became a local councillor, alderman and magistrate, but was also antisemitic, campaigning against Jewish shoemakers. He merits a Wikipedia page here, and you can also read about him on Ned Newitt’s essential The Who’s Who of Radical Leicester website here.

Leonard, despite his physical handicap, was an enterprising chap. In 1930 he founded a magazine called The Cripples’ Journal, and sent copies of the first issue to newspapers up and down the country.

Leicester Daily Mercury 23 June 1930

Biddulph Street, to the east of the city centre, has been split into four sections with different names so it’s not possible to identify the exact house where Leonard lived, but it would probably have been somewhere around here. A completely different world from the suburban mansions where you’d find the civil servants, bankers and insurance executives who played chess in leafy Richmond and Twickenham.

Leonard had a particular interest in sports, and just like the residents of the Star and Garter, believed that those who weren’t able to access physical sports should be encouraged to take part in mental sports.

He therefore wrote to the local paper suggesting a social club where he and his fellow guild members could play friendly games of draughts, chess and billiards against members of other social clubs in the city.

Leicester Daily Mercury 18 July 1930

The authorities, as you see, weren’t sympathetic. Most of the cripples were women and children and the men, if they wanted, could go and join another club. However, Leonard received letters of support, and it wasn’t long before the Cripples Guild played their first chess match.

Leicester Evening Mail 27 November 1930

I haven’t been able to identify F Weston: there were quite a few gentlemen named Frank Weston or Frederick Weston living in Leicester at the time, none of whom had an obvious physical handicap. He had previously played for the Victoria Road club and was a fairly strong club and county player. It could be that he came along to help and support them, and perhaps provide some instruction.

His opponent here, Arthur Clement Bannister (1891-1982) was, in 1921, an engineer. His father James, who had been born in Earl Shilton, was the manager of a hosiery company. His sister Laura would later marry High Court Judge Sir Donald Hurst. James’s father and grandfather were both named Stephen. His grandfather was apparently born in Earl Shilton in about 1788 but I haven’t been able to find a parish baptism record. However, I know a lot about other Earl Shilton Bannisters, notably my great grandmother (mother’s mother’s mother) Louisa Bannister, who was born there in 1854. I can (speculatively) trace Louisa back to John Bannister, the son of David, born in Earl Shilton in 1714, which, if we’re both correct, makes me the 7th cousin of antique chess set dealer Luke Honey. It’s also a reasonable guess that Arthur Clement came from the same family, so we may share a common ancestor somewhere along the line.

I haven’t been able to find a record of another match until two years later.

Leicester Evening Mail 09 November 1932

Some of the surnames there will be familiar to anyone researching Leicester genealogy. Names like Freestone, Gilbert, Pratt and Dakin come up over and over again.

Here we have a team of seven players scoring a convincing victory over British United, manufactures of shoe machinery and for many years one of Leicester’s biggest employers.

On board six was the Secretary of the Cripples Guild, Michael Stanley Woodward Ferrar, usually known  simply as Stanley Ferrar.

Stanley was born in 1905 in Stamford, Lincolnshire, the youngest of three sons of Walter Ferrar and Annie Woodward. He also had a half-brother, Annie’s son George William Todd Woodward, who would change his surname to Ferrar.

At some point in the 1910s the family moved to Leicester, where Walter died in 1919. The 1921 census finds Annie and her three younger sons at 65 Beaumont Road Leicester. Reginald Walter is a motor driver and John Basil a baker, while Stanley, because of his disability, isn’t at school and has no occupation. George William (using his second name) is back in Lincolnshire, living in his brother-in-law’s pub, along with his wife Maud and their infant son, another Reginald. Like John Basil he’s employed as a baker.

In the autumn of 1933 they played several more friendly matches, and in 1934 applied to join the Leicestershire League, entering a team in the third (lowest) division.

They were pretty successful as well, as you’ll see from the final tables.

Leicester Evening Mail 10 April 1935

The following season saw them promoted to Division 2, while, with so much demand for places in competitive matches, they entered a second team in Division 3. Both teams performed respectably, as you’ll see from the final (there were a few unplayed matches) tables.

Leicester Evening Mail 20 May 1936

On 5 September Stanley Ferrar was selected as one of 40 players to take on the great Alexander Alekhine in a simultaneous display.

Leicester Evening Mail 07 September 1936

You’ll see that he drew his game, and, according to this report, was close to winning.

Leicester Daily Mercury 07 September 1936

(There was some confusion about whether Mr Passant was the fairly well-known AE Passant or his lesser known brother NE Passant, who really should have switched the order of his first names.)

You’ll meet a few of Alekhine’s other opponents in later Minor Pieces.

The next season, though, they were struggling to raise full teams, so they needed some more manpower. Or rather girl power.

Leicester Daily Mercury 24 March 1937

You’ll see that two Misses Ferrar have been recruited to their second team in Division 3.

These are Stanley’s nieces, Norma and Betty, who may well have been the second and third females to take part in the Leicestershire Chess League. You’ll meet their predecessor in a future Minor Piece.

Now there’s some confusion here as he had two nieces named Betty, both living in Leicester.  His half-brother, George William’s children were, apart from Reginald whom you met in 1921, Norma (1922), Joan (1924), Betty (1926) and Monica (1928). His brother Reginald Walter’s children were Betty (1924), Neville (1926), Brian (1928), Rita (1931) and Brenda (1933). John Basil had no less than 11 children, but none of them fit it. (Leonard Inskip, married to the delightfully named Alice Lovely, also had a daughter called Betty who would later obtain a BA in Geography at Liverpool University. My mother would have told you how popular the name was in the 1920s.)

So Miss N Ferrar must have been Norma, and I suspect Miss B Ferrar was Reginald Walter’s daughter born in 1924 rather than Norma’s sister born in 1926. Both girls, then, would have been in their teens at the time of these matches. To the best of my knowledge, unlike Uncle Stanley, they were not themselves physically handicapped.

Norma didn’t play very long, but her sister Joan replaced her in the team.

Leicester Daily Mercury 27 October 1937

Leicestershire, a pioneering county in so many ways, had been running a boys’ championship for several years. In January 1938 Betty and Joan applied to take part in the Junior (U16 or thereabouts) section. Their entries were accepted, forcing the organisers to rename their competition as Juniors rather than Boys.

This report suggests that the event was rather chaotic and the standard of play not very high.

Leicester Daily Mercury 05 January 1938

Betty not only won her section, but shared first place in the competition.

Leicester Evening Mail 12 January 1938

Here she is with her co-winner and the trophy.

Leicester Daily Mercury 12 January 1938

The Cripples Guild continued playing in the county league into the 1938-39 season, with Betty and Joan now in the first team, but then war put an end to their chess adventure. A wartime league was established,  but they didn’t take part. That, then, is the end of the story. Stanley Ferrar married in 1945, had two children, Graham and Sheila, but died in 1951.  Leonard Inskip died in 1955.

Leonard’s name lived on for many years in the Inskip League of Friendship for the Disabled: there were several branches of this charity, mostly, it seems, in Lancashire, some of which survived into the 21st century.

Leonard Inskip and Stanley Ferrar may not have been the world’s greatest players, but they represent to me what chess clubs are really about, providing friendship and community, especially for those who are, in one way or another, handicapped or disadvantaged. I’m sure their friends in the Cripples Guild gained a lot from their league matches and appreciated their efforts. Leonard was clearly a remarkable man, while Stanley, the stronger player of the two, by teaching and encouraging his nieces, became a pioneer and supporter of chess for girls.

Again, we see chess being used to provide competition for those who, through physical handicap or incapacitation, were unable to access physical sport. This wasn’t the only example of chess being used for social purposes. in the inter-war period. I recently came across a photograph of boys from a school for the deaf and dumb in Derby being taught chess. Most remarkable of all was the story of chess at Worcester College for the Blind, which I’ll perhaps explore some other time.

But, still in Leicester in the 1930s, there was another story being played out, promoting competitive chess for another disadvantaged sector of society. You’ll find out more in the next Minor Piece. Don’t miss it.

 

Sources and Acknowledgements:

ancestry.com
findmypast.com/British Newspaper Archives
Wikipedia
Google Maps
The Who’s Who of Radical Leicester (Ned Newitt)
Inskip One-Name Study
Mosaic 1898 website
Media Archive for Central England (MACE)

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