Category Archives: Journalism

Minor Pieces 73: Alexander Spink Beaumont

The Surrey County Chess Association runs a bewildering number of competitions of various types, one reason being that they’ve chosen to commemorate some of their long-serving administrators through trophies in their memory.

The main league itself currently has five divisions. The first division is the Surrey Trophy, which dates all the way back to the 1883-84 season, while the second division, the Beaumont Cup, was instigated twelve years later, in the 1895-96 season.

I’m sure you’d like to know, as I did, more about Mr Beaumont. Well, he wasn’t Mr Beaumont at all, but Captain Alexander Spink Beaumont, Alex to his friends. It’s a long story.

He was born in Manchester on 24 June 1843 into a family with military connections. Beaumont was in fact his paternal grandmother’s surname but his father used his mother’s surname.  Spink was the surname of his Aunt Charlotte’s husband.

He served in the 23rd Foot Regiment of the Royal Welch Fusiliers, reaching the rank of Captain in 1871, when the census found him at Fort Hubberstone in Pembrokeshire. Perhaps it was there that he met Caroline Savage (née Griffies-Williams), a widow more than 20 years older than him, who came from a family of wealthy Welsh landowners, one of whose properties was in Tenby, not all that far from Milford Haven. She was born in 1822 but often claimed to be much younger.

The following year Alex and Caroline married in London, both giving an address in Inverness Terrace, north of Hyde Park, which was by now the Beaumont family residence. He then resigned his commission and, round about 1878, they settled at 2 Crescent Road, South Norwood, in South London. This is now Warminster Road, running by the railway line north of Norwood Junction Station. There are a few grand houses at what is now the high numbered end of the road, and I’d guess one of those was their residence.

As a gentleman of independent means, he had plenty of time to pursue his two passions in life: chess and music. He was a composer as well as a player in both fields, but was also a gifted organiser and promoter.  Beaumont wasted little time joining Croydon Chess Club, the first ‘modern’ chess club in Surrey. In 1880 he had a problem published in the local paper. You’ll find the solutions to all the problems at the end of this article.

Problem 1: #3 Croydon Guardian 28 August 1880

The 1881 census found Alex and Caroline living in South Norwood along with his unmarried brother Richard, a Major in the Royal Engineers, four domestic servants, one male and three female, and a nurse.

Later the same year he had some important news.

Croydon Guardian and Surrey County Gazette 19 November 1881

Beaumont was nothing if not ambitious for the new club.

Norwood News 17 December 1881

Zukertort and Blackburne were, according to EdoChess, the second and third strongest players in the world behind the inactive Steinitz at the time. Attracting them to visit a new club in a London suburb was quite a coup. Regular simultaneous displays, both blindfold and sighted, by professional players would become a regular feature of the South Norwood Chess Club.

it wasn’t long before Blackburne visited, and Zukertort was there as well, acting as teller.

Croydon Guardian and Surrey County Gazette 11 February 1882

You’ll also note the name of Leonard Percy Rees, the most influential English chess organiser of his day, involved with the establishment of everything we now know and love, from the Surrey County Chess Association through to FIDE. I really ought to write about him at some point.

During this period he was very active on the composing front. One of his problems even took first prize in a local competition.

Problem 2: #2 1st Prize Croydon Guardian 1882

He was now being published nationally as well as locally.

Problem 3: #3 The Chess Monthly June 1882

This three-mover shouldn’t be too challenging for you.

Problem 4: #3 The Field 19 August 1882

Meanwhile, South Norwood were playing friendly matches against their local rivals from Croydon. There was also talk of an international tournament in London the following year, and Beaumont was the first to make a financial contribution.

By the autumn of 1883 chess in Surrey was moving rapidly towards the thriving county association we see today, thanks to the likes of Joseph Steele, Leonard Rees and Alexander Beaumont, who was elected a vice-president.

Morning Post 17 September 1883

By now the President of the Surrey County Chess Association, the ‘genial and hospitable’ Captain Beaumont’s chess get-togethers were becoming grander by the year, in 1885 attracting about ‘150 gentlemen’.

Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News 12 December 1885

At the same time, along with involvement in the British Chess Club, he was also organising musical events. Here, his two interests were reported in adjacent articles.

Norwood News 09 October 1886

The name of Walter Willson Cobbett, one of his regular musical collaborators, may not be familiar to you, but it certainly is to me.

Although he was not composing so many problems, he was becoming more involved in composing music, and, from 1890 onwards his compositions were being published by Charles Woolhouse in Regent Street.

The Graphic 22 March 1890

Look who else Woolhouse was publishing: our old friend (and my cousin’s father-in-law) W Noel Johnson, whom you might have met here. One online source suggests that Woolhouse was a pseudonym for Beaumont, but that doesn’t appear to be the case: there really was a music publisher of that name.

Percy Victor Sharman, the dedicatee of this work, was a young violinist living in Norwood.

The family doesn’t appear in the 1891 census: it looks like their side of the road might have been missed by mistake.

That year there was good news for South Norwood when they won the Surrey Trophy for the first time. They would go on to win it again in the following three seasons.

Norwood News 12 December 1891

Some of the guests are notable. Captain Lindesay Beaumont was Alex’s younger brother (his older brother Richard had died in 1884). Rudolf Loman was a Dutch chess master and organist. Edward Markwick was a lawyer whom you’ll meet again later in this article.

In December 1893 Beaumont’s portrait appeared in The Chess Monthly.

In January 1894 (or perhaps late December) South Norwood Chess Club ran another of their popular simuls, this time with Richard Teichmann as the guest. He played 18 games, losing one game and drawing two, one of them against Captain Beaumont. This was described in the local press as “a good example of (Beaumont)’s bold and energetic play. (As always, click on any move for a pop-up window.)

His counter-gambit worked well and he missed a simple opportunity to win a piece in the opening.

In 1895 he presented a trophy – yes, the Beaumont Cup – to be competed for by some of the smaller Surrey clubs further out from Central London. My great predecessors at Richmond won it in its second year. Beaumont’s old club, South Norwood, were among the five clubs taking part in the 2023-24 edition.

Captain and Mrs Beaumont were by no means always at home. They spent a lot of time on the continent, partly for health reasons, partly because they enjoyed travelling and partly because they owned property abroad, including an Italian villa.

At various times they visited, as well as Italy, France, Hungary and perhaps Malta. In 1896 the Captain turned up in Nuremberg to watch the international chess tournament there (his friends Blackburne and Teichmann were taking part, but no match for Lasker), and found himself taking part in a concert.

Westminster Gazette 10 August 1896

Adolph Brodsky was one of the leading violinists of his day, giving the first performance of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto. There’s something about his chess career here, but my article about him is no longer available. I don’t think he’d have consented for any pianist who wasn’t extremely proficient to accompany him.

On 30 October 1897 he was back in Surrey, losing to his old friend Leonard Rees in a match between South Norwood and Redhill.

This time he chose a different variation of the Scandinavian Defence, but without success.

In January 1898 Beaumont was abroad again, this time in Florence. He was proud of the conclusion of this game, where his third move forced mate in 4.

He couldn’t have imagined that, a century and a quarter later, we’d have machines in our pockets telling us immediately that 1. Rf7 would have been mate in 5.

In March 1898 the Streatham News started a chess column, and Captain Beaumont provided the first problem.

Problem 5: #2 Streatham News 26 March 1898

A few weeks later he submitted a problem composed by his late brother Lieutenant-Colonel Richard Henry Beaumont Beaumont (yes, there were two Beaumonts). I haven’t been able to find any other problems composed by Richard, or any more information about his chess career. However, I have managed to find his sword, which was auctioned in 2012, here.

Problem 6: #3 Streatham News 7 May 1898

By that autumn there was talk of running another major international tournament in London the following year. Beaumont, of course, was quickly in with a donation and was appointed to the organising committee led by his friend Sir George Newnes. This was the tournament where Francis Lee might have played on the board later acquired by Leonard Grasty.

On 26 November there was a visit from the Ladies’ Chess Club. The ever genial Captain was on hand to host the event.



Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News 03 December 1898

I’d imaging the top two boards were honorary encounters. Lady Thomas was the mother of Sir George. Prussian born coffee merchant Frank Gustavus Naumann, drawing with his wife in interests of marital harmony, would later become the first President of the British Chess Federation, and later still lose his life on the Lusitania.

Here’s the top board encounter: the protagonists had been friends for many years. Black stood little chance after losing material in the opening.

There was more on the music elsewhere.

Streatham News 03 December 1898

Coincidentally, as I write this I’ve just returned from a piano recital at which the Verdi-Liszt Rigoletto paraphrase was also played.

William Yeates Hurlstone is of considerable interest. A composer of exceptional talent, Beaumont supported him financially after the early death of his father, but he sadly died at the age of only 30. Much of his music has been recorded: there’s a YouTube playlist here.

Violinist William J Read would, in 1912, give the first performance of the violin concerto of another tragically short-lived South London composer, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor.

On 5th January 1901 Captain Beaumont organised an even bigger chess event at Crystal Palace. This merited a major feature in the following month’s British Chess Magazine (online here).




The 1901 census found him at home with his wife and four servants: a valet, a parlourmaid, a cook and a housemaid. But now his health was starting to fail and his wife was approaching her 80s. He was often unable to attend chess events, either because he was unwell or because he was travelling somewhere with a more agreeable climate. This seems, as we also saw with Francis Joseph Lee, to have been standard medical advice in those days.

A couple of years later a clergyman, Albert William Gibbs, who had been born in 1870, gave up his curacy to move in with them as a companion and carer.

Captain Beaumont had one last gift for British Chess. In 1904 the British Chess Federation was formed, with Frank Naumann as the first President and Leonard Rees as the first Secretary. Naumann presented the trophy for the British Championship itself, while Beaumont donated that for the British Ladies Championship. “A very elegant silver rose bowl on Elizabethan scroll-work, enriched with chess emblems”, made by Messrs Fattorini and Sons of Bradford, the first winner was Miss Kate Belinda Finn, with a commanding score of 10½/11.

Caroline Beaumont died in 1907, and in 1908 the Captain was advised by his doctor to move, as the London clay on which his house was built wasn’t good for his health. He soon found a new residence built on gravel three miles to the east, in Beckenham.

This rather splendid photograph shows his chauffeur Walter Goldsack at the steering wheel with Albert Gibbs in the passenger seat. The identity of the other passenger is unknown. It was posted on a family tree by Mark Beaumont, great great grandson of Alexander’s brother Lindesay. I’m advised by Dr Upham, an expert on the subject, that the car is undoubtedly American, so I guess it would have been quite expensive.

In the 1911 census, Alexander and Albert (described as a ‘visitor’) were living there, along with a cook-housekeeper, a parlourmaid and a housemaid. We’re additionally informed that the house had 14 rooms, including the kitchen but excluding the bathroom.

The following winter he travelled south in search of better weather.

Norwood News 02 March 1912

But that was to be his last journey. He died on 4 September 1913, at the age of 70.

The obituaries were effusive.

Beckenham Journal 06 September 1913

“A man of splendid disposition, a generous friend, and a great lover of animals and children.”

Norwood News 06 September 1913

One of the obituaries published this game as a sample of his play, without, unfortunately, giving any indication of when, where or against whom it was played.

Here’s his probate record.

This is round about £8.3 million today. Probate was granted to his nephew (and closest relation), his companion, to whom he bequeathed £400 plus an annuity of the same amount, and his solicitor.

Captain Alexander Spink Beaumont appears to have been, in every respect, an admirable fellow, much loved and respected by everyone who knew him, either through chess or through music.

It seems only right that his name should still be remembered by Surrey chess players today, more than a century after his death.

And yet, there was another side to him as well.

Let me take you back 40 years, to 11 September 1873. Alexander Spink Beaumont, recently retired from the army and recently married, is living in Norton House, one of his wife’s family properties, in the seaside resort of Tenby, Pembrokeshire. He invites a 14 year old local lad named George Lyons, the son of a boatman working in the coastguard service, to his house, and, if you believe George’s account, invites him upstairs. He asks the boy if he can keep a secret, attempts to perform an act so disgusting that it cannot be mentioned in the press, gives him three shillings and sixpence, and then takes him down to the garden. George, quite correctly and courageously, goes home and tells his mother. His parents summon the authorities and, the following evening, his father returns the money to Captain Beaumont in the presence of a witness. On 3 October the allegation goes before the magistrates. Beaumont’s domestic staff are called as witnesses and deny that anything untoward could possibly have happened. Nevertheless, the magistrates decide there is a case to answer (‘making an assault upon George Lyons, with intent to commit an abominable crime’) and send the captain to trial.

The following February Beaumont appeared before the Pembrokeshire Spring Assizes. The judge considered the evidence improbable and contradictory and instructed the jury to dismiss the case, which they duly did.

Well, I wasn’t there so I don’t know for certain, but young George’s account seems fairly convincing to me. I guess the judge felt that a gentleman couldn’t possibly have committed such an act. Then, as now, if you’re rich or famous you can get away with almost anything. Perhaps it served as a warning to him as there’s no evidence that he ever did anything of that nature again.

Let’s now move forward a few years, to 1881, the year in which an ambitious young publisher named George Newnes started a general interest weekly magazine called Tit-Bits. The magazine proved highly successful,  Newnes, a chess enthusiast, made a lot of money and went on to sponsor, amongst much else, the Anglo-American Cable Matches.

A few years later, a young journalist named Alfred Harmsworth submitted some articles to Newnes for publication, soon deciding that he could make more money by starting his own magazine. In 1888 he started a weekly called Answers, providing answers to a wide range of questions submitted by readers or just made up. A friend of his father, Edward Markwick (yes, you’ve met him earlier in this article), joined the venture, and he persuaded his friend – yes, Alexander Spink Beaumont, to provide financial support. Adrian Addison’s gossipy history of the Daily Mail, Mail Men, suggests that some thought Beaumont may have had ‘an unrequited homosexual motive in getting behind the pretty young journalist’.

At first, the Beaumonts and Harmsworth were the best of friends, but in 1891 a bitter argument between them ensued and eventually they sold their shares in his company. There’s much in Reginald Pound’s biography Northcliffe, which can be read online (although the OCR is poor) here. Caroline, who seems to have been the dominant partner, is described as ‘charmingly uncommon’. Meanwhile, in 1896 Alfred Harmsworth and his brother Harold launched the Daily Mail, becoming, as a result, rich and famous.

Years later, in 1905, the year of the establishment of Associated Newspapers, the case flared up again.

Cheltenham Chronicle 14 October 1905

It looks as if the Beaumonts, jealous of the success of the Daily Mail, were trying to get half a million pounds (about 76 million today) back from the shares they sold 14 years earlier. Harmsworth put in a counter suit accusing the papers who published this report of libel, and the whole affair was quietly dropped. Very strange.

What, then, should we make of Captain Alexander Spink Beaumont? it seems to me highly likely that he was gay at a time when same-sex relationships were illegal. Should we feel sorry for him, or, looking at the allegations of George Lyons, revile him? Or perhaps we should just remember his services to the game of chess, as a player and problemist, but most of all as an administrator, promotor and populariser of his – and our – favourite game.

One final thing, there’s a thread on a military badges forum here from a collector who has miniature portrait lockets, acquired separately, of Alexander and his older brother Richard. A rather wonderful thing to have.

He’s not the only Alexander to have given his name to a Surrey chess trophy, but that’s something for another time. I have other stories to tell first. Join me again soon for another Minor Piece.

Sources and Acknowedgements:

ancestry.co.uk
findmypast.co.uk/British Newspaper Library
Wikipedia
Yet Another Chess Problem Database
MESON problem database (Brian Stephenson)
Internet Archive (archive.org)
chessgames.com
Movers and Takers, and various blog posts by Martin Smith
EdoChess (Rod Edwards)
Surrey County Chess Association website
Other online sources linked to in the text

 

Problem solutions (click on any move to play them through):

Problem 1:

Problem 2:

Problem 3:

Problem 4:

Problem 5:

Problem 6:

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Minor Pieces 70: Francis Joseph Lee (2)

Last time we left London chess professional Francis Joseph Lee as the calendar turned from 1899 into 1900.

He was finally selected for the Anglo-American Cable Match that year, being assigned to Board 2 where he took the white pieces against one of his London 1899 opponents, Jackson Whipps Showalter. Standing worse much of the way he managed to escape into a somewhat fortunate draw.

This was the critical position, with Black to play his 45th move.

Stockfish tells me Black is winning easily if he goes after the h-pawn, but, in the heat of battle, it’s very tempting to target the dangerous looking a-pawn instead. The game concluded 45… Ra1? 46. Nc4 Rxa4? (Kf6 still offered some winning chances) 47. Nxe5 Kd6 48. Nf3, and the combatants agreed to share the point.

In April Lee took part in an invitation tournament run by the City of London club, where his result was about what he would have expected, although he only managed to beat the three tail-enders.

In this game his knights on the rim were far from dim. (As always, click on any move for a pop-up window.)

A match against Passmore that summer was won by 5 points to 3. In December he finished second to Teichmann in a 5-player tournament at Simpson’s Divan.

In this game he was successful with the London System.

In 1901 Francis Joseph Lee was on tour again, returning to Ireland where he spent a weekend with Irish Nationalist MP and chess addict John Howard Parnell, whose love of chess is mentioned on several occasions in James Joyce’s Ulysses.

Here’s a game from a Dublin simultaneous display.

Lee was also interviewed by the Dublin Evening Herald (16 March 1901).

In April he returned to London where he was placed on Board 3 in the Anglo-American cable match, drawing his game with John Finan Barry. That summer there was another match against Richard Teichmann, which he lost by 5½ to 2½.

Lee continued touring in England into 1902, when he played on Board 4 in the Anglo-American Cable Match. Playing white against Albert Beauregard Hodges, he seemed ill at ease in an IQP position, losing the exchange and, eventually, the game.

Then, in April, there was an announcement.

Eastern Daily Press 02 April 1902

But he had time for an Easter party before he left, having fun with some distinguished friends.

The Hereford Times 05 April 1902

Except that he never reached Australia, instead stopping off in South Africa, where his brother George was living. By June it was reported that he was giving simultaneous displays and playing exhibition games in Cape Town.

This game was played against two of South Africa’s strongest players, Abraham Michael and Max Blieden, playing in consultation.

He then visited Pretoria and Johannesburg, where, in December, he was appointed Chess Editor of the Rand Daily Mail. He seemed well and truly established in a new country of residence.

Falkirk Herald 04 March 1903

Fairly substantial sponsorship for the time and place, I would have thought. Needless to say, he won first prize with a score of 8/9, followed by Blieden on 7½ and Michael on 6½.

In this game his opponent missed a chance to activate his queen on move 31 before ill-advisedly trading queens into a lost bishop ending.

Nice work if you can get it. Organise a tournament, find a sponsor and then, because you’re the strongest player around, win it (the first prize was £55) yourself.

But then:

Northern Whig 11 June 1903

(There are quite a few instances of his being referred to as JF Lee rather than FJ Lee.)

Back in England again, he spent the autumn touring clubs in the south west of the country. In January 1904 he was at the other end of England, in Carlisle, before travelling down to Brighton for a 9-player tournament in February.

Here, he shared second place with 5½/8 with the young German player Paul Saladin Leonhardt, resident in London at the time, a point behind Reginald Pryce Michell.

Here’s his win against Leonhardt.

In March Lee was appointed umpire of the Oxford v Cambridge match, and was called upon to adjudicate an unfinished game when time was called.  Summer was a busy time, with two tournaments to play in.

The City of London club organised an event starting at the end of July featuring many of the top players then resident in England. With the Germans Teichmann and Leonhardt, along with Dutchmen van Vliet and Loman it had quite an international feel to it.

Lee’s score of 9/16 was round about a par result for him.

The great veteran Blackburne opened 1. a3, and Lee was able to build up one of his trademark slow kingside attacks.

He was fortunate to win an exciting game against endgame (and carpet) expert Tattersall.

At this time he liked to transpose from the Exchange Caro-Kann into the Scandinavian by capturing with his queen on d5. It didn’t always work out, but here, against one of the weaker players in the event, it proved effective.

Just a week later, the first British Chess Championships took place in Hastings. Lee was selected for the top section, so had to make another trip down to the Sussex coast.

His result was again what he would have expected. On retrospective ratings he finished below those rated above him, and above those rated below him, but he did have wins against Atkins and Michell to his credit.

In the first round Mackenzie carelessly blundered into a queen sacrifice.

Lee annotated this game for the British Chess Magazine. He commented after Black’s 24th move that Black should have played Qf7, but White’s advantage was probably sufficient to win. Stockfish, as you’ll see, is of a different opinion.

This is the key position from Lee’s game against Atkins. Atkins miscalculated by playing 22… Bxe1? (Qxb7 is only slightly better for White) 23. Bxc8 Rd8 24. Bc5 Qc7 25. Bxe6 and Black resigned as he’s going to end up a piece down.

His win against Michell is well worth looking at.

Later that year, Lee undertook another tour of South West England, but 1905 started quietly. He was selected to take part in the Anglo-American cable match, but this was called off at short notice due to broken cables.

That summer, rather than playing in the British Championship, he took part in his first continental tournament, playing in the Masters B section of a massive event in Barmen, Germany.

His 50% score was again about par for the course, but, typically, he performed as well against the top half as he did against the bottom half. The two most familiar names to you, I guess, would be Spielmann, finishing level with Lee, and Nimzowitsch, who had a poor result. Both were young men who would do much better in future.

His win against Spielmann, using his favourite Caro-Kann Defence (I’m sure Horatio Caro himself would have been delighted) was an excellent game.

His game against the Italian representative was also very typical of his style.

In this game against a German master, though, he was on the wrong side of a spectacular miniature. Sadly, Post would later become the Nazis’ leading chess organiser.

Here, against a Dutch opponent, he escaped from a lost position by sacrificing a rook for a perpetual check.

In the last round he won another good game against the second place finisher.

You’ll see from these games that Lee was capable of producing interesting games from openings which might be considered slow, but not necessarily dull.

By November he was touring in Scotland, announcing that he was planning an extensive tour of the Colonies in the new year.

This time he ended up visiting Trinidad and Venezuela.

Morning Post 21 May 1906

The visit to Trinidad may well have been instigated by the chess-playing Bishop of Trinidad and Tobago, John Francis Welsh. They met eleven times during Lee’s visit, mostly in simuls, with each player winning five games. Here’s one of the Bishop’s wins, in which he opted for the Lesser Bishop’s Gambit (my source names it the Limited Bishop’s Gambit, known in London, apparently as the Circumcised Bishop’s Gambit).

My source suggests Lee resigned in a lost position as 26… Ne3 would have been winning. Stockfish continues 26… Ne3! 27. Ne6! Nxf1 28. Rxf1 Qd7 29. Nxf8 Qxg4+ 30. Qg2 Qxg2+ 31. Kxg2 Rxf8 when Black is a pawn up in the ending but White should probably be able to hold the draw.

Lee had entered the 1906 Ostend megatournament, but was forced to withdraw for health reasons. Some reports suggested he was, for a second time, planning to visit Australia, but was now unable to do so. However, he had recovered in time to take part in the 3rd British Championships, which took place in Shrewsbury that August.

A score of 7/11 was enough for a share of third place: an excellent result considering his recent health problems.

Against Mercer his pet Stonewall/London formation again led to a winning kingside attack.

Here’s another example: it’s striking that even a strong player like Palmer didn’t really understand what was happening and eventually perished down the h-file.

At the prizegiving, both Lee and Blackburne were presented with purses of gold for their services to chess.

In the autumn of 1906 and early 1907 he toured the north of England, Scotland and Ireland, including spending a week with the Edinburgh Ladies Chess Club. By February 1907 he was back in London, taking board 6 against Albert Whiting Fox in the Anglo-American Cable Match, back after a three year absence.

This was a long and well-played draw, but Lee missed an opportunity on his final move.

Fox (Black) had just played 65… Ke5-d5? instead of the correct fxg2. Now Lee missed the chance to play 66. gxf3! which should secure the full point because the pawn ending after 66… Bxf3 is winning.

By May he was well enough to cross the channel to Ostend, where another mammoth tournament was being held. The format was slightly more comprehensible than the previous year. A grandmaster section where six players (Tarrasch, Schlechter, Janowsky, Marshall, Burn and Chigorin) played each other four times, a 30-player all play all master section, three amateur sections and, like the previous year, a Ladies tournament. Lee was placed in the master section, which was reduced to a mere 29 players when Paul Johner withdrew after 7 rounds. Another player, Jacob, withdrew towards the end.

Here’s what happened.

 

Lee’s performance in such a strong field was only slightly disappointing, and he was in poor health again during what must have been a tiring event.

The players castled on opposite sides in this game, and Lee’s attack proved more successful.

This is probably Lee’s best known game, which will be familiar to readers of Nimzowitsch’s My System.

Lee’s opponent in this game was a German master who spent a lot of time in England before the First World War.

Here’s another game you might have seen before. Fred Reinfeld anthologised it in A Treasury of British Chess Masterpieces.

No sooner had he returned from Ostend than he was off on his travels again.

Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 16 July 1907

After spending time in Canada he returned, again visiting the north of England, Scotland and Ireland. His tour continued into the new year, but in May 2008 he returned to tournament play in a small tournament in Sevenoaks, Kent, where he was also called upon to give a simultaneous display.

The top section was split into two sections. Lee played in the A section, which was won by the future Sir George Thomas on 5½/6, two points clear of Lee, Shories and Muller, who shared second place.

He won this game with a stock queen sacrifice, but also missed some earlier tactical opportunities.

Then it was on to the British Championships, held that year in Tunbridge Wells, Kent. Lee’s score of 6/11 was enough for a share of third place in what was, with the exception of Atkins, a closely fought contest.

A mistake in this position against Ward cost him a half point which would have left him, rather than his opponent, in the silver medal position.

In this exciting position 34… c2 might have led to a perpetual check for White, but Lee erred with 34… Qe7?, and had to resign after the beautiful 35. Bf7!.

With his slow style of play, Lee wasn’t noted for winning miniatures in serious play, but here his opponent (whom I really ought to write about sometime) blundered on move 19, resigning two moves later.

His game against Shoosmith reached an unusual ending when Black, in a blocked position, sacrificed two minor pieces for four connected passed pawns. Both players missed chances, but it was Shoosmith who made the final error.

This was a quiet period in Lee’s life – perhaps he had further health problems – but he did visit Bradford in January 1909. Nothing more was heard of him until August when he was back in Yorkshire for the British Championships, held that year in Scarborough.

A score of 5/11 in a strong field was again a more than respectable performance, especially as he was clearly ailing in the second week.

Let’s look at his last three games.

In Round 9 he won a good game against Mackenzie, helped by a blunder on move 38.

In Round 10 he played his favourite Caro-Kann too passively, and Blake, gaining revenge for his defeat the previous year, used his space advantage to engineer a brilliant finish.

In the last round, the fast improving Yates took apart another of his favourite openings, the Stonewall Attack, concluding with an unstoppable Arabian Mate.

Then, just three weeks later:

The Sportsman 14 September 1909
Globe 14 September 1909

“… not one of the world’s really great chess players”. Not very generous for a death notice, I would have thought.

He regularly annotated games for the British Chess Magazine, who had rather more to say.

They might also have been more generous about the premature death of a valued contributor.

Again: “… never regarded in the foremost rank of chess masters…”: harsh but true, I suppose.

The obituary spoke about his gastric trouble, and he had also had lung problems in the past, but his death certificate reveals that neither was his cause of death.

Cerebral Meningitis (is there any other type): to the best of my knowledge indigestion isn’t a symptom.

The Wiener Schachzeitung provided a long and rather more sympathetic obituary.


Not very accurate, though. The 1881 Simpson’s Divan event seems to have been the 1890 event misdated, although there were 19, not 14 players and it was a handicap tournament. It was the short-lived Henry Lee (no relation as far as I know) who played in the London 1883 Vizayanagaram Tournament, not our man Francis Joseph Lee.

The layout could perhaps also have been improved. Swiderski died at the same time (by his own hand) and his obituary was immediately below that of Lee.

Let’s return for a moment to the BCM obituary: “Having, unfortunately, adopted chess as a profession, he sacrificed his imagination for a cramped, slow style of play instead of giving full scope to his chess ability.”

This suggests two reasons why he wasn’t universally popular. He was a professional at a time when professional sportsmen (they always were men in those days) were scorned, and he preferred playing closed rather than open positions.

I consider this rather unfair. Although he played gambits in simuls and informal games, he was very much a player in the modern style, influenced in part by Steinitz. With White he favoured mostly d-pawn openings: the Stonewall and London Systems, often combined, as well as Queen’s Gambits and types of Colle System. With Black he defended against 1. e4 with, at various times, with the French, Caro-Kann and Scandinavian Defences. Understanding of closed positions, although they had been played by the likes of Philidor, La Bourdonnais and Staunton, was still rudimentary compared with today’s grandmasters, but it was the experiments of players like Lee which played an important role in the development of chess ideas.

You’ll also see that, although his games, and those of other similarly inclined players of his day, could descend into meaningless woodshifting, there were also positive ideas, in particular in building up slow kingside attacks. His games were often not short of excitement, but that was more likely to come at move 50 than move 15. I’d put it to you that his obituarist (Isaac McIntyre Brown?) failed to appreciate his games fully.

Of course he had his faults: he was prone to tactical oversights and, against the top players of his day, didn’t always understand what was happening positionally, but he was still in the world’s top 100 players for about 20 years. His fragile health must also have had an impact on his results, and his interview above suggests that he was temperamentally more suited to teaching than playing.

It’s interesting to compare his life with that of a journeyman chess professional today. He was probably never very well off, but he had various sources of revenue: teaching and lecturing, simultaneous displays, exhibition games, writing and journalism, and also sponsorship. An article by Mieses in the August 1941 BCM about former Prime Minister Andrew Bonar Law tells us that he was kindly disposed towards Lee and did a good deal quietly for his professional support. One would imagine that Lee was similarly supported by the likes of JH Parnell and the Bishop of Trinidad and Tobago. In his tours of chess clubs he was seen as being a friendly and courteous opponent.

The Cheltenham Chronicle (13 September 1919), writing just a decade after his death, referred to him as ‘another chess professional, now little remembered’. He’s certainly very little remembered or written about today.

I’d suggest that Francis Joseph Lee is very much worthy of your attention. Here was a man who clearly loved chess, and, despite ill health, devoted more than twenty years to promoting his favourite game throughout the British Isles, and in many other parts of the world as well. While he wasn’t one of the greatest players of his day he also produced some fine chess, along the way experimenting with new openings, some of which are now, a century and a quarter on, now back in fashion.

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning more about his life and looking at some of his games. Do join me in drinking a toast to Francis Joseph Lee, and also join me again soon for some more Minor Pieces.

Sources and references:

ancestry.co.uk
findmypast.co.uk/British Newspaper Archive
Wikipedia
chessgames.com: FJ Lee here
ChessBase/MegaBase 2024
Stockfish 16
EdoChess (Rod Edwards): FJ Lee here
British Chess Magazine (thanks to John Upham)
Wiener Schachzeitung

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Minor Pieces 69: Francis Joseph Lee (1)

If you read anything about chess from the late 1880s through to 1909 you’ll often come across the name of FJ (Francis Joseph) Lee, a regular competitor in both national and international events during that period. He played pretty consistently at about 2350 strength, finishing below the genuine masters, but above the amateurs. Yet he had wins against the likes of Steinitz, Pillsbury, Chigorin, Blackburne, Mason and Atkins to his credit.

Here he is, pictured, I think, in 1893.

A decent player, to be sure, but I’ve seen very little written about him. As he might have used my friend Alastair Armstrong’s chess set when taking part in the 1899 London International Congress, I wanted to discover more about his life and games.

Francis Joseph Lee’s birth was registered in the first quarter of 1858 in Hackney. He was baptised at St Matthias Church, Stoke Newington, on 28 April that year. His father, Francis Goodale Lee’s profession was given as architect: as far as I can tell he was a minor church architect. He was also, although he didn’t play publicly, an enthusiastic chess player. His mother, more exotically, was Rosina Pereira Arnand, the daughter of a wine merchant, about whom I can find out very little. Pereira is a Portuguese name, and Arnand sounds French (perhaps it’s a version of Armand, which really is a French name). Many years later, Francis would tell how he was romantically affected by her tales, and also inherited her musical tastes. He had an older sister, Agnes, and two younger brothers, George and Arthur.

There’s no obvious trace of the family in the 1861 census, but in 1871 Francis and his brother George were recorded at Belmont House, Ramsgate, a boarding school for young gentlemen.

At this point we should perhaps mention a couple of other things. In 1874 a 16 year old named Francis Joseph Lee signed up for four years in the Merchant Navy. In an interview many years later he mentioned going to sea and visiting China, so I’d guess this was him. In 1885 a Francis Joseph Lee married Kat(i)e Elizabeth Jenner in Hackney, divorcing a few years later, but we can tell from the church records that this wasn’t our man – both his age and his father’s name were wrong.

By 1881 Lee was boarding in Hackney and working as a stockbroker’s clerk. He may have been playing chess at Purssell’s room by then, but the first time his name appeared in the press was in 1885 at Simpson’s Divan, losing a game against William Henry Krause Pollock, who gave odds of pawn and move. It must be round about this time that he decided the life of a stockbroker’s clerk was not for him, opting instead for the life of a chess professional. He wasn’t a strong enough player to make much money from tournament play.

He was a relatively late starter at this level, then, and, judging from this 1886 game he favoured the gambit style popular at the time.

As usual, click on any move on any game in this article for a pop-up window.

The following year he beat Pollock 6-1 in an odds match, establishing himself, almost from nowhere, as one of the country’s leading players, and earning an invitation to take part in the 3rd British Chess Association Congress Master Tournament in London in November.

A respectable performance, but it should be pointed out that Zukertort, coming to the end of his life, was in poor health, as, no doubt, was Mason.

Lee won a nice ending against chess journalist Antony Guest.

Here’s a position from his game against Zukertort.

In this position he missed the rather attractive 23… Rd3!, which would have won Zukertort’s queen (if the queen moves to safety there’s Qxh2+!): perhaps his tendency to make tactical errors led him to follow the increasingly popular trend for closed positions, already in evidence in this tournament.

The following year, the British Chess Association Congress took place outside London for the first time, being held in Bradford. It was a pretty strong event as well, as you’ll see.

Lee’s result was slightly disappointing, but he did have the satisfaction of beating Burn and Blackburne.

Blackburne seemed ill at ease against Lee’s French Defence, and Black was able to liquidate into a winning ending.

Burn was also outplayed from a closed position.

In January 1889 Lee played a short match against Gunsberg, drawing two and losing three of the five games.

The 1889 British Chess Association Congress returned to London in 1889, with Bird and Gunsberg sharing first place on 7½/10, two points ahead of the field. Lee finished in the middle on 5/10. Very few games from this event seem to have survived.

We do have this one, though, where White moved his king to the wrong square on move 34.

1890 was a busy year for Lee. He scored his greatest success to date in the spring handicap tournament at Simpson’s Divan, with a score of 16½/18, well ahead of the likes of Bird, Tinsley and Mason.

This game against a Russian master demonstrates how effective he could be with the French Defence.

He spent much of the summer involved in a match against Blackburne, which he lost 5½-8½.

Here’s one of his wins.

Following on from that match he travelled to Manchester, where the 6th British Chess Association Congress took place. This attracted a strong field of 20 players, including Tarrasch, arguably the world’s best player at the time.

Lee’s result was again respectable, finishing about as expected, but taking points off some of the stronger players, while faring less well against some of the weaker players.

I haven’t been able to find the scores of any of his wins from this event, although he certainly should have won with the black pieces against von Scheve.

In this position, instead of playing 38. Bxb7 (equal according to Stockfish), von Scheve tried Rxb7?,  presumably thinking he was either promoting or mating, but he must have missed something. Undaunted, he played on a piece down in the ending, eventually reaching this position, with Lee to play.

Now 62… Rh2+ is mate in 7, but Lee fell for a stalemate trap by playing 62… Rg2? 63. Ra5+ Kf4 64. Rf5+! with a draw. A familiar enough idea now, but it would have been much less familiar back in 1890.

Lee was unhappy with Gunsberg’s annotations of his loss against Mason from this tournament, and attempted to sue him for libel, but the judge (Roland Vaughan Williams, whose nephew, the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, is one of my musical heroes) refused to allow a prosecution

Northern Whig 06 November 1890

Here’s the paragraph from 20 September:

Evening News (London) 20 September 1890

Both Mason and Lee were unhappy with this, Mason writing to the editor of the newspaper.

Evening News (London) 27 September 1890

You can judge for yourself: here’s the critical position after a lot of rather tedious manoeuvring, with Lee (Black) to play his 71st move.

Stockfish suggests 71… Rc1 72. Kd4 Rd1+ 73. Kc3 Kb7, pointing out that 73… Bxc4, for instance, is also a draw. Lee preferred 71… Bxc4? 72. Rxc4 Rf1? (another poor move: Re1+ might have offered some drawing chances) 73. Rc6+, when Mason obtained two passed pawns, soon winning the game.

What do you think? Was Lee tired after a long game and a long tournament? Was the position too hard for him? Was he not trying too hard as there was nothing at stake for him, as Gunsberg thought, or did he deliberately throw the game, as he thought Gunsberg implied?

At the same time, Lee was branching out as a writer, taking over the regular chess column in the Hereford Times in September 1890.

In between tournaments he was travelling throughout the British Isles giving simultaneous displays, often being billed as The Young Master.

Belfast News-Letter 18 December 1890

Here he is in Belfast in December 1890, feted for his courteous manner as well as his rapid and brilliant play. He had also, in September that year, taken over the chess column in the Hereford Times, which he continued until 1893.

1891 was a quiet year, with no British Chess Association congress for him to take part in. There was a summer tournament at Simpson’s Divan, where he performed disappointingly, finishing in 9th place out of 10. The London based Dutch players Loman and van Vliet took the first two prizes. In August he arranged a match against up and coming German star Emanuel Lasker, drawing the first game, but, with the second game adjourned (Lasker was winning) was obliged to concede the match due to ill health. This may well have been the reason for his poor performance in the earlier tournament.

In the 1891 census he was lodging at 30 Manchester Street (now Argyle Street), St Pancras, giving his occupation as Chess Player and Editor (the word Author was added in) and his place of birth, curiously, as Ingatestone, Essex.

The 1892 edition of the British Chess Association Congress took place in London in March, with Lasker taking part, and, as expected, finishing comfortably ahead of the field. Lee’s 50% score was about what he would have expected.

Here’s his loss against Lasker, who sacrificed some pawns to get to his opponent’s king.

His win against Bird was a lively affair which won the brilliancy prize.

Next stop was Belfast, for a quadrangular tournament in which he was rather off form, finishing well behind his three rivals. According to a contemporary report he was unwell throughout the event. (One of the games, a featureless draw between Bird and Lee, is missing from MegaBase, but is readily available elsewhere.)

He remained in Ireland for several months after this event, visiting clubs and giving simultaneous displays.

This game, undated in my source, against Mary Rudge, the leading lady chess player of the time,  may well have been played in one of these simuls.

In June he had some important news to announce.

Morning Post 19 June 1893

He crossed the Atlantic with his friends Gossip and Jasnogrodsky, but the intended tournament fell through. However, an impromptu tournament was organised as a partial replacement, attracting a lot of press coverage.

According to the Brooklyn Daily Standard Union:

The English player is about 40 years of age, of a German blocky build, which indicates the possession of physical strength to stand the strain of severe chess playing.

(He was actually 35, and I don’t think you’d get away nowadays with ‘German blocky build’, whatever that might mean.)

Reproducing the portrait (probably the one above) from the New York Sun, it added:

… makes him appear stouter than he really is; otherwise the likeness is good.

The Baltimore News provided brief and amusing descriptions of the participants, reprinted here in an English newspaper.

Nottinghamshire Guardian 04 November 1893

I think all chess columns should be headed by a picture of chess playing kittens. Don’t you?

Here, Lee performed well, sharing third place with two of the top American players, Showalter and Delmar, just behind Albin (of countergambit fame), but they were no match for Lasker, who posted a 100% score.

His Irish opponent in this game essayed the Pirc Defence long before it became popular and acquired a name.

Lee is standing fourth from the left in this group photograph from the tournament.

Lee remained in the Americas for two years after this event. In February and March he played a series of exhibition games against some of Cuba’s leading players in Havana.

Later in the year he returned to North America, touring extensively, giving simuls and playing exhibition games.

At the beginning of 1895 The Chess Player’s Mentor was finally published, offering, according to the advertisements, ‘an easy introduction for beginners’, along with ‘analyses of the most popular openings for more advanced players &c’.

Dundee Advertiser 17 January 1895

The review in the Dundee Advertiser is notable for providing an early example of promoting chess for children for its claimed extrinsic benefits.

It was later republished together with three other books solely written by Gossip. You can read it online here via the Hathi Trust digital library.

Lee returned to England in July that year, but didn’t enter the great Hastings tournament. Perhaps he needed a break after his exertions.

Morning Post 08 July 1895

I think it was Albin, rather than Albion, against whom real estate man George C Farnsworth (1852-1896) scored 1½/2

Here’s Lee’s win. Not all that interesting: White chose a poor 5th move and never really stood a chance.

This game shows Farnsworth in a much better light.

He spent the latter part of 1895 touring chess clubs throughout the country, but most of 1896 in London, where he was appointed secretary to the committee organising a tournament at Simpson’s Divan. His administrative role didn’t stop him achieving an excellent result, sharing second place with van Vliet on 8½/11, just half a  point behind the winner, Richard Teichmann, who was based in London at the time.

Not many games from this event were published. Here, Dutch organist Rudolf Loman sacrificed a piece unsoundly.

His displays in London included a visit to the Ladies’ Chess Club.

Hampstead & Highgate Express 11 July 1896

In December, Lee played a short match against Richard Falkland Fenton, winning two games, drawing two and losing one.

1897 was another quiet year spent in London, the only serious chess activity being a match during the summer against enthusiastic veteran Henry Bird, which he won by 8 points to 5.

1898 was even quieter, with just a summer match against Teichmann, which he lost 3½ to 5½. Lee suffered from gastric problems all his life: perhaps this was one reason for his relative lack of activity during this period.

There had been some talk in 1897, and again in 1899, about why Lee wasn’t selected for the Anglo-American Cable Matches. Perhaps the selectors preferred to choose amateurs rather than professionals. Here’s an article from 1899.

Nottinghamshire Guardian 25 February 1899

Finally, a few months later, he had an opportunity to prove himself at the top level. You will know, if you read my previous Minor Piece, about the great London International Chess Tournament of 1899. Lee was originally selected for the subsidiary single-round event, but when Horatio Caro (of Caro-Kann fame) withdrew at the last minute on health grounds he was promoted to the top section.

As you’ll see he found it hard going, but he did record wins against Steinitz and Chigorin, as well as two victories against Mason.

Let’s have a look at a few of his games from this event.

Playing his favourite Stonewall formation against Mason, his pressure on the half-open g-file was crowned with a sacrificial attack.

Lee’s win against Steinitz was also a Stonewall, but here he was rather lucky.

Steinitz had had the better of the opening, but Lee had managed to reach a drawn ending. If Black just waits with his knight White can make no progress, but the ailing former champion, close to the end of his life, seriously misjudged the position, playing 49… Ke4??, after which Lee’s e-pawn wasn’t for stopping.

The following day, black against Chigorin, he faced his opponent’s favourite anti-French move 2. Qe2, gaining a space advantage and giving up the exchange for a passed pawn, and winning one of his finest games.

At his best, Lee was a formidable positional player who could also, when the occasion demanded, display tactical ability. Someone who has, you might think, been unfairly neglected in chess literature.

As the remainder of the year – and the century, seems to have been uneventful for him, this must be a good place to break off.

Join me again soon to discover what the 1900s had in store for Francis Joseph Lee.

Sources and references:

ancestry.co.uk
findmypast.co.uk/British Newspaper Archive
Wikipedia
chessgames.com: FJ Lee here
ChessBase/MegaBase 2024
Stockfish 16
EdoChess (Rod Edwards): FJ Lee here
Two articles on chess.com from Neil Blackburn (simaginfan):
Lee and Gossip. Three Brilliancies. – Chess.com
Belfast 1892. A Chess Tournament and A Grumpy Bird! – Chess.com
Zan Chess: article on New York 1893 here

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Minor Pieces 71: Edward Wallis

Last time we visited the Yorkshire seaside resort of Scarborough in the company of Francis Joseph Lee, just a few weeks before his untimely death.

Congresses like the British Championships only take place if there’s someone there to organise them, and, as it happened the prime mover of this one was someone who was mentioned in a different context just a few Minor Pieces ago.

Northern Whig 14 January 1909
The Sheffield Daily Telegraph 08 July 1909
Falkirk Herald 11 August 1909

Lowestoft Journal 04 September 1909

Didn’t Edward Wallis do well? He had a long involvement with the game of chess, and this, along with the publication of his book of miniature problems, was one of his life’s highlights. You might recall that one of George Law Francis Beetholme‘s problems was included therein.

Here he is, pictured in the September 1909 British Chess Magazine.

Edward Wallis had an interesting story to tell, one that involves, as well as chess, chocolate and conscientious objection.

Let’s go back to the middle of the 17th century, when, in the aftermath of the English Civil War, a new religious group founded by George Fox, known as the Society of Friends, or the Quakers, became popular. Jumping forward a century or so, a Quaker named Joseph Fry started a business producing drinking chocolate in Bristol. In 1831 another Quaker, John Cadbury, started producing drinking chocolate in Birmingham. In 1862, Henry Isaac Rowntree, also a member of the Society of Friends, bought out the chocolate making part of the Tuke family’s York business. These three companies, Fry, Cadbury and Rowntree, would become the three major producers of confectionery in Britain through the remainder of the 19th and much of the 20th century.

The Rowntrees had been a prominent Quaker family in Scarborough for a very long time. and, by the early 19th century, John Rowntree was running a grocery business there. His son Joseph moved to York to start a grocers shop in 1822, and it was his son Henry Isaac who started the confectionery business. Joseph’s brother William remained in Scarborough, and it was his grandson, Alderman John Watson Rowntree, who was the chairman of the committee running the 1909 British Championships in his home town.

The Wallis family were also prominent Quakers, from the village of Springfield in Essex, now a suburb of Chelmsford. After his marriage in 1849, Francis Wallis moved from Essex to Scarborough, no doubt in part because of the strong Quaker presence there, setting up as a corn dealer and miller. One of Francis’s daughters,  Priscilla Gray Wallis, married George Rowntree, a brother of the aforementioned John Watson. One of Francis’s sons, born in 1852, was Edward Wallis, author of 777 Chess Miniatures in Three (you can read it online here) and the local organiser of the 1909 British Chess Championships.

In 1877 Edward married Dublin born Annie Johnson in London, returning to Scarborough, and, at some point in the 1880s, moving to a house they named Springfield after his home village. Their children were Eleanor (1878), Edward Arnold (1880), Arthur (1881), Dorothea (1883) and Annie Mabel (1885). He ran a grocery and bakery business there for the rest of his life.

On 24 January 1880 Edward had a chess problem published in the Leeds Mercury Weekly Supplement. At 27 years of age he was a relatively late starter in chess.

Problem 1: Mate in 3: you’ll find the solution at the end of this article.

In the same year he was also seen playing correspondence chess. In this game from a Leeds Mercury tournament he had the better of the opening but rather lost the plot thereafter.

 

In this game, probably played in the same event, he defeated schoolteacher GW Farrow, born in Scarborough, but by that time living in Hull

In 1881 he entered a correspondence tournament run by the Preston Guardian. This win against GW Farrow was almost certainly (although this isn’t specificed in the source) played in the 1881 edition of the Leeds Mercury competition.

In 1882 he won an exciting, but not entirely sound, game against Scarborough Chess Club secretary and chemist Henry Chapman.

In January 1883 he played on Board 53 in a match between Lancashire and Yorkshire, losing his game against Dr Dean of Burnley. The Manchester Courier (27 January), with an element of hyperbole, claimed that this was “the greatest chess match which has ever taken place in the history of the royal game, which extends over a period of more than 3,000 years”.

Here’s a game he lost in another correspondence tournament run by the Leeds Mercury. After White’s alert response to his erroneous 22nd move he could only choose which bishop to lose. (Click on any move of any game in this article for a pop-up window.)

He also lost this game, played in a correspondence game between two players representing clubs at almost opposite ends of the country, misplaying a tricky ending. It’s not clear whether or not this was a formal match between the two clubs.

In 1891 Scarborough were treated to a visit by our good friend Francis Joseph Lee.

York Herald 17 April 1891

An excellent result for Edward: it would have been good if they’d published the game. Mr F Wallis was probably Edward’s father Francis, but we’ll come to another possibility later.

Later in the same year he was one of the protagonists in a living chess game raising money for a good cause.

Yorkshire Herald 12 December 1891

During this period, Edward Wallis was playing on top board for Scarborough, but, to be honest, there wasn’t that much opposition. Most of the county’s stronger players resided in the larger towns and cities.

In January 1893 he was selected to represent the North of England against the South in a 100 board megamatch in Birmingham, but ended up not in the match itself but on the bottom reserve board where he won his game against Wiltshire’s CJ Woodrow.

In April Scarborough welcomed another professional visitor: Samuel Tinsley. This time Wallis was less successful.

Yorkshire Herald 08 April 1893

“… in a game known as the Queen’s Fianchetto?” I think the journalist was rather confused.

Here’s a report on a 1894 match against Bridlington, the days when matches were interrupted half way through for an excellent tea and appropriate speeches.

Yorkshire Herald 10 March 1894

You’ll see that (presumably) Edward’s father won both his games on bottom board. The Mr Yewdall on Board 7 was the teenage Francis Edward Yewdall, who, almost 40 years later, would become the Secretary of Richmond & Kew Chess Club (where he was the assistant borough surveyor), and therefore, if you want to stretch a point, one of my Great Predecessors. Charles Empson Simpson, on Board 2, was Edward’s next door neighbour. You might notice some name connections: Wallis and Simpson living in adjacent  houses, and Wallis (but not Simpson) living in Springfield. Bridlington, very unusually for the time, fielded a lady on second board: Eliza Mary Thorold, sister of their top board Edmund, who had been for many years one of the country’s top amateurs but was now approaching the end of his career.

Here’s one of the top board games, in which both sides missed chances.

A few weeks later there was another North v South megamatch, over 108 boards. Edward Wallis was on Board 102, losing to Horace Fabian Cheshire, who would soon find fame as the editor of the Hastings 1895 tournament book.

By 1897 he’d ceded top board to Charles Empson Simpson, and in 1899 he played on Board 9 for the North and East Ridings of Yorkshire in a match against the West Riding, losing his game against Isaac McIntyre Brown, the editor of the British Chess Magazine. Simpson lost on fourth board to John Musgrove.

One thing that you may know about the Quakers is that they are noted for their liberal views, many of their members being committed pacifists, and that was certainly true of the extended Rowntree family in Scarborough.

Appalled by the atrocities of the Second Boer War, a South African Conciliation Committee was set up in Scarborough under the presidency of Joshua Rowntree, a cousin of Henry Isaac and a former Liberal MP for the town. In March 1900 a meeting was arranged. One of the speakers was Samuel Cronwright, British born but living in South Africa and married to author and anti-war campaigner Olive Schreiner, still remembered today for her 1883 novel The Story of an African Farm. The other speaker, John A Hobson, was a prominent anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist.

There were some in Scarborough who considered their views heretical and unpatriotic. Word got round about the meeting, and a crowd, brandishing Union Jacks, formed outside, smashing the windows and throwing stones. Not content with that, some of them proceeded to vandalise the shops and houses of other members of the Rowntree family.

Perhaps you were, like me, unaware of this story, which, of course, has many resonances today. If you’d like to read more there’s a paper on the riots here.

If you’re interested in the history of the Rowntree family I’d recommend visiting the Rowntree Society website. This page is a good place to start.

While all this was going on, it appears that Edward Wallis was engaged in a long-range postal game.

Morning Leader 11 February 1902

I’m pretty sure, although it’s not mentioned in the press, that FJ Wallis was Edward’s brother Francis John Wallis, and that he had emigrated to Australia in 1891, becoming prominent in Sydney chess circles. In that case the F Wallis mentioned twice above would definitely be Edward’s father Francis senior.

A few years later, this game was published in the British Chess Magazine with, typically for the time, rather inaccurate annotations by Bellingham. The loser, at lease in my secondary source, is incorrectly identified as AG Wallis.

By now Scarborough Chess Club seems to have become inactive, putting Edward Wallis’s chess career on hold. His name started to reappear towards the end of 1907, when he made two contributions to a testimonial for FR Gittins, the author of The Chess Bouquet, which was being organised by the always witty Philip Hamilton Williams. He also announced that he was collecting miniature (no more than 7 pieces on the board) mates in 3. In 1908 he published a self-mate in 16 based on an earlier problem by Frederick Baird, but it turned out to be unsound as there were quicker solutions.

By October 1908 his book was (self-)published, receiving positive reviews.

Cricket and Football Field 24 October 1908
The Falkirk Herald and Midland Counties Journal 28 October 1908

Then, in 1909, came the second highlight of his life: the British Chess Championships in his home town, which you read about earlier. Although he was referred to as being from Scarborough Chess Club, I haven’t found any other mentions of the club between the late 1890s and the 1920s.

In 1910 he had a problem published in The Chess Amateur. It’s a mate in 3, but not a miniature.

Problem 2: #3 (E Wallis The Chess Amateur 1910)

Now, it seems, having perhaps fulfilled his two ambitions, he cut down his chess activities, confining himself to solving problems in newspaper columns.

When the First World War broke out his family commitment to pacifism was tested again. The older of his sons, Edward Arnold (below), registered as a conscientious objector, serving in the Friends Ambulance Corps between 1915 and 1918.

https://www.menwhosaidno.org/men/men_files/w/wallis_a.html

His younger son, Arthur, on the other hand, joined the RAF in 1918, but as a lecturer rather than in a combat role.

In 1917 George Rowntree and Edward Wallis unexpectedly fell foul of the law for selling semolina above the maximum fixed price.

Hull Daily Mail 01 December 1917

In 1921, the census tells us that Edward was still running the family business at the age of 69, living with his wife and youngest daughter, who was working as a hospital nurse.

He died a year later, this newspaper obituary erroneously adding two years to his age.

Yorkshire Post 27 June 1922

Edward Wallis wasn’t, by the highest standards, a very strong player, nor was he a great problemist. But, as well as taking part in competitions, both over the board and by post, and occasionally composing problems, he was a true chess enthusiast, an author, an organiser and a collector, with one of the finest chess libraries in England (I wonder what happened to it). He was also a man who, along with his extended family and friends, lived his life through the principles expounded by the liberal Quakers: pacifism, integrity and service to the community. A life, I think, that deserves to be remembered, and a story that deserves to be told.

Next time, I’ll continue the story by introducing you to his friend who kindly contributed the Hints to Solvers to his book: Alfred Neave Brayshaw. Be sure not to miss it.

 

Sources and Acknowledgements

ancestry.co.uk
findmypast.co.uk/British Newspaper Library
Digital Chess Problems (Anders Thulin) website (Wallis book here)
Wikipedia
MESON Chess Problem Database (Brian Stephenson)
BritBase (John Saunders: thanks for the photo)
Yorkshire Chess History (Steve Mann): Edward Wallis here
Gerard Killoran for the Bays, Farrow and Chapman games.
David McAlister for reconstructing the Bays game (on the English Chess Forum)
Rowntree Society website
Guise Family website (George Rowntree here)
The Men Who Said No (Peace Pledge Union website: Edward Arnold Wallis here)

Solutions to problems:

Problem 1:

1. Qf6! is the key, threatening Nc7+, Qd6+ and Qxd4+. There are short mates in reply to either queen capture. You can see the full solution here.

Problem 2:

1. Qh2! (threat: Qe2#) 1… Kc4 (1… Ke4 2. Qe2+ Kf4 3. Be5#) (1… Bxc3 2. Qe2+ Kxd4 3. Ne6#) 2. Qa2+ Kb5 (2… Nb3 3. Qa6#) (2… Kd3 3. Qe2#) 3. Nc7#

 

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Minor Pieces 68: Leonard Francis Grasty

Let me take you back 125 years, to the great London International Chess Tournament of 1899.

Most of the world’s strongest players were there: the first two World Champions, Steinitz and Lasker, Pillsbury and Chigorin, Maroczy and Schlechter, Janowski and Blackburne.

Here’s the cross-table.

There was also a second section, won by Marshall, ahead of the likes of Marco and Mieses, along with some local amateurs.

Two brilliancy prizes were awarded: to Lasker for his win against Steinitz and to Blackburne for his win against Lasker.

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

If you’re running such a prestigious event you’ll want some shiny new chess sets. The chipped and stained old pieces at the back of your equipment cupboard won’t do for the likes of Lasker and Steinitz.

But have you ever wondered what happens to those shiny new sets once they’ve been put away and the players have gone home?

It appears that, at some point after the end of the tournament, some sort of competition was held. I have no idea what the nature of the competition was, and how many sets were on offer. What I do know (or believe) is that one of the sets was won by a certain William Grasty.

William came from a working class family: his birth was registered in the first quarter of 1878 in Lambeth. His father, a stoker in a factory, died in 1884, and, by the 1891 census, young William was living with his aunt in Southwark. I don’t at the moment know whether he acquired this board immediately after the 1899 tournament, but by 1901 he was moving up in the world, living in lodgings in Wood Green and working as a commercial clerk.

He married Arabella Edith Attwood in 1904, but, tragically, their first child, William Arthur, born in 1909, died before reaching his first birthday. By now the family had settled in Lewisham, and the 1911 census found him still working as a commercial clerk. Later that year, another son, named Leonard Francis, was born. Soon afterwards the family moved to Islington, where a daughter, Muriel Florence, was born in 1913.

By 1921 the family had left London, moving to Southsea, where William was working for Weingarten Bros Ltd, Corset Manufacturers as an accountant. As well as William, Arabella and their children, the household included two boarders: the sisters(?) Dorothy and Elizabeth Kilby, both schoolteachers. At the time, Portsmouth was known as the corset capital of the world (who knew?) and they’re still made there now. Many of my relations were employed manufacturing corsets in Market Harborough, but that’s a story for another time.

There’s no evidence that William ever played competitive chess, but his son certainly did. I guess they played at home using the board from the 1899 tournament, trying to emulate the play of Lasker and his colleagues. Between 1928 and 1931, Leonard was a student at Portsmouth Municipal College, playing on top board for their chess team. They started off with friendly matches against Portsmouth Chess Club before graduating to the second division of the local league.

Portsmouth Evening News 12 January 1931

In 1931 Leonard graduated with a BA General Degree with Honours and a First-Class Distinction in Maths awarded by London University and took a job as a Customs and Excise Officer. Like so many others before and since, on finishing his studies he stopped playing competitive chess.

We next meet him in Manchester in 1937, where he married a local girl, May Taylor Shaw, the daughter of a sheet metal worker.

By the time of the 1939 Register, Leonard and May, along, perhaps, with their chess set, had moved back south, now living in Stanmore, North London. They were blessed with three children, Barbara (1937), Robert (Bob) (1939) and Victor (Vic) (1943).

At some point the family moved down to Bognor Regis, on the West Sussex coast, not all that far from Portsmouth. It was there, in 1948, that Leonard returned to competitive chess, joining the local club. As it happens, the Bognor Regis Observer up as far as 1959 is available online. During this period they ran a regular column featuring local chess news, contributed by the pseudonymous King’s Pawn and The Rook, so we have a lot of information about his chess career over the next decade or so.

You’ll see that he soon established himself as one of their stronger players, although it must be said that Bognor were no match for the likes of Brighton and Hastings. What they did have, though, was some very effective and ambitious administrators. You might notice, for example, the name of Joseph Norman Lomax, who would do much to put his home town on the chess map.

Bognor Regis Observer 07 May 1949

Here they are, in 1949, inviting a very distinguished guest to give a simultaneous display.

In fact Harry Golombek took on 33 (or 34, depending on your choice of newspaper) opponents, losing two games and drawing six, including his game against Grasty. He stayed on overnight, the following day playing another simul against five teams of consultants, drawing two and losing one, against Grasty and his veteran partner Stephen Arthur Hardstone (1873-1952), a retired civil service engineer.

Golombek would give a number of simultaneous displays at Bognor over the next few years. Here’s a photo of one of them.

The games we have for Leonard Grasty in this period, sadly, don’t show him in a very good light. If he’d captured the bishop on move 13 in this game he’d have been fine rather than having to resign two moves later.

And here, in an equal position, he found one of the worst moves on the board, allowing a mate in one.

In 1952, the local organisers had a big idea.

Bognor Regis Observer 12 January 1952

In fact the first congress would be held the following year, run by Joseph Norman Lomax (later, after his second marriage he’d style himself Norman Fishlock-Lomax), continuing very successfully until 1969.

Later that year, Leonard Francis Grasty was the subject of a profile in the local paper.

Bognor Regis Observer 15 November 1952

Was his speed of play responsible for the careless mistakes he seems to have made? Perhaps someone should have advised him to slow down.

In 1954 Bognor Regis Chess Club put on a display of chess trophies in a local shop window for National Chess Week.

Bognor Regis Observer 19 February 1954

There you have it. Leonard had inherited the chess set which his father had won perhaps more than half a century earlier.

Here it is.

It didn’t help him in this game against one of Brighton’s young stars, where he had to resign after only nine moves, having fallen for a rather well known opening trap. The earliest example in MegaBase dates from 1908, but the variation itself dates back to Blackburne – Paulsen (Vienna 1882), where Black won after 8… Ng4.

The following year’s National Chess Week also featured the display of chess trophies, along with a Teenagers v Old Stagers match in which Leonard and his older son Robert were on opposite sides.

Bognor Regis Observer 25 February 1955

A few months later, Bob took part in the Southern Counties Junior Championship, held as part of the 3rd Bognor Regis Congress, scoring 3/7. The other competitors included Michael Lipton, who would later achieve fame as a problemist. He returned the following year, when he managed half a point more, which was half a point less than the score achieved by Stewart Reuben.

Leonard continued his chess activity in Bognor throughout the 1950s.

Here’s a photograph from a club prizegiving from 1958, where Leonard shared the club championship with local journalist Alan Lawrence Ayriss (1934-2006), who, as it happens, has a very distant family connection with me (the 2nd cousin 2x removed of the husband of my 3rd cousin 2x removed). He’s holding a Bell book: The Art of Checkmate (Renaud & Kahn), which was published in that edition in 1955. The book is still within the family: an inscription inside reads “BOGNOR REGIS CHESS CLUB  Presented to L.F. Grasty RUNNER UP LIGHTNING TOURNAMENT 1958. We can also see copies of Edward Lasker’s Chess for Fun and Chess for Blood in a 1952 edition and Reinfeld’s Improving Your Chess (1954).

This, captioned 1958, shows Bob seated second left, perhaps from the same event as the previous photo.

By December 1959 Leonard had been joined by his younger son, Victor, who was up for selection for a match against Worthing. But, at that point, the online run of the Bognor Regis Observer comes to an end, so I have, at the moment, little information about what happened next.

We do have a photograph from 1961 where he’s playing a friendly game against William Clifford Kendal (1902-1988).

The News (Portsmouth) 09 June 1961

In this game from 1966, he chose an unsuccessful plan in the early middle game, allowing his opponent to bring off a smart finish.

It’s unfortunate that the games of Leonard Grasty currently available have, so far, been rather unimpressive losses with the black pieces. Perhaps he played much better with white.

We do have a draw, from what must have been towards the end of his chess career, against a very strong opponent in Geoffrey James (no relation, but he played for my club, Richmond, for a few years in the 1970s). He was perhaps a bit lucky, though, as Geoffrey uncharacteristically missed a few winning chances.

This was a family steeped in chess: they counted Harry Golombek as a family friend. Bob and Vic’s sister Barbara recalls (although the Guardian journalist doesn’t) once going on a date with Leonard Barden. Barbara later married a man named Michael Armstrong. Their son Alastair, born in 1967, continued the family chess playing tradition into a fourth generation.

Leonard must have been very proud of his grandson’s success. He died in 1981, when Alastair was still quite young, but he still has many very fond memories of his grandfather, who encouraged his early interest in chess.

It was only right, then, that it was Alastair who would eventually inherit his great grandfather’s London 1899 chess set.

Here ‘s Alastair again, 13 years later, winning the Main A Section of the Hastings Congress (the Main A wasn’t the main event at the congress, but never mind).

Shortly afterwards, Alastair moved abroad, but, more than 30 years on, he’s now returned to England, deciding to take up chess again, and by chance living just round the corner from the Chess Palace.

He still has the 1899 chess set and board, and provided the photographs above. His son, though, shows little interest in the game.

So there you have it: the story of a chess set and board first played on, perhaps, by Emanuel Lasker, spanning four generations of the same family and 125 years.

Join me again soon when we’ll return to London in 1899.

 

Sources and Acknowledgements:

ancestry.co.uk
findmypast.co.uk/British Newspaper Library
ChessBase/Stockfish 16 for game analysis
Alastair Armstrong and the Grasty family, for the story and photographs
Brian Denman for providing some of Leonard Grasty’s games

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Minor Pieces 67: George Law Francis Beetholme

One of the fun things family historians like to do is the One Name Study. You take an unusual surname and find out everything you can about all the bearers of that name.

I have an interest (I’ll explain more later) in the very rare, and now, I believe extinct, at least in that form, name BEETHOLME. I randomly typed ‘Beetholme chess’ into Google and discovered that one of their number, George Law Francis Beetholme, was a published problemist.


#3 777 Chess miniatures in three 1908

Here’s one of his problems, a mate in 3 anthologised by the very interesting E Wallis (the subject of a future Minor Piece) in his self-published collection. I don’t know where or when it was first published: if you know, do get in touch.

Beetholme is an area of Keswick, in the Lake District, and for centuries the name was common in nearby Kendal, often in variants such as Beethom.  Our interest starts with John Law Beetholme, who was born in Liverpool, but moved to London where he worked as a solicitor. His eldest son, George, born in 1826, originally worked in his father’s legal practice, but, in a radical change of career, decided to become an artist. His paintings, very collectible today, were landscapes, often featuring mountains, rivers and waterfalls.

This pair of highland river scenes is, at the time of writing, on sale for £1750.

I don’t know whether or not he was a chess player, but, according to his obituary, he played an excellent game of billiards.

Islington Gazette 06 October 1904

His only child, a son, George Francis Law Beetholme, born in 1857, was, like his father, an artist. It was he who appears to have been the chess problemist. Here’s a mate in 2 from 1882, which was reprinted in the Adelaide Observer a few weeks later, so it must have been quite highly thought of.


#2  The Illustrated London News 11 Feb 1882

Sadly, there’s not much more to say. Perhaps he was already in poor health: five years later he died at the age of only 30. The cause of his death was given as Phthisis (tuberculosis) and Morbus Cordis (heart disease).

I’ve only been able to find one other problem, published later in 1882, though there may well be others around somewhere. There are a lot of duals involving discovered checks with the knight in some variations, which perhaps wouldn’t be acceptable today.


#2  The Illustrated London News 9 Sep 1882

George Law Francis Beetholme, then, was very much a Minor Piece in the world of chess problems: perhaps even, you might think, a pawn. A promising career cut short by ill health, I suppose.

You might be wondering about my interest in the Beetholme family. George the artist had a brother named John, born in about 1839, who also lived a bohemian life following artistic pursuits, although he used a pen rather than a paintbrush.

John L Beetholme (Lawreen)

Using the nom de plume J B Lawreen (sometimes J Beetholme Lawreen) he was, from about 1869 onwards, a writer of comic sketches and sentimental music hall songs.

London and Provincial Entr’acte 14 July 1877

In the same business, then, as Noel Johnson, except that he wrote the words while Noel composed the music. There’s no evidence that they ever collaborated.

London and Provincial Entr’acte 27 October 1877

In 1879 he married a dancer named Emily Willis, but the relationship didn’t last long and he later had an affair with Mary Elizabeth Bonsor, born in 1862, who had been orphaned at the age of only 3 when, a few weeks after her mother’s death, her father, in a fit of despair, took his own life. Two children were born: a son named John, and a daughter, whose name was registered as Alice, but who was later known as Lilian or Lily. In 1924 Lilian married a 63 year old widower, John Judd Abrahams: they had two sons. One of their grandsons, Steve Abrahams, who now lives in Tonbridge, has been researching his family history.

Steve has a strong DNA link with me which suggests we’re somewhere in the region of 4th cousins. I know from my shared links that it concerns my maternal grandmother’s family, and he knows from his shared links that it concerns his paternal grandfather’s family. There’s no obvious connection from our family trees so it’s a question of identifying a point where one of my relations and one of his relations might have been in the same room at the same time.

One possible scenario is this. John Judd Abrahams was born on 31 December 1860 in Gillingham Street, very near Victoria Station. According to both birth and baptism records his parents were David Abrahams and Ann Judd, who had married in Brighton in 1855. David was a servant, presumably working in hotels or boarding houses, and it’s quite likely Ann was in the same industry. Unfortunately the relevant page from the 1861 census, which might have been very informative, is lost, but there’s no indication that David and Ann spent any time together after their marriage, or that they had any (other) children. Steve also has no Abrahams DNA connections going any further back, so it’s plausible that John’s father was someone staying at or visiting a boarding house near Victoria Station. The relevant branch of my family was, at that time, mostly in the Northamptonshire village of Croughton, but there’s one possibility.

My great great grandfather Robert Padbury (he changed his name from Badby) had a brother named William (born in 1831) who served in the 97th Regiment of Foot. He was in Canada in 1856, and in India for the Indian Mutiny in 1857-58. On 1 June 1860 he was transferred to Madras. Might he have been in London a few months before that date awaiting instructions? Might he have travelled from India by boat, and then to London by train? He wouldn’t have arrived at Victoria Station, which only opened in October 1860. Might he have been in England on leave? Might he have been staying in a boarding house in central London and looking for a good time? I don’t know: I wasn’t there: but this theory would make Steve my 3rd cousin once removed, which would be about right. It would also make the short-lived problemist George Law Francis Beetholme the paternal 1st cousin of the wife of my 1st cousin 3x removed.

(Just to conclude William’s story, he returned from India, marrying in 1864 in Croydon, served by regular trains from Victoria,  and fathering two daughters, one of whom died in infancy. )

Join me again soon for another story of a chess family with an unusual surname.

Problem solutions: click on any move to play them through.

Sources and Acknowledgements:

ancestry.co.uk
findmypast.co.uk
Wikipedia
Steve Abrahams
Yet Another Chess Problem Database (yacpdb.org)
ChessBase

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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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