Category Archives: Minor Pieces

Minor Pieces 25: Edmund Elias Humphreys

It’s a good day for any chess club when a player strong enough to play on top board turns up at your door. When he brings his three strong chess playing sons with him as well it must be something rather special.

That’s what happened at Twickenham Chess Club in 1891 when the Humphreys family moved into the area.

Edmund Elias Humphreys had been born in Chelsea in 1831. He married Louisa Telfer in 1854 and the young couple settled in Hackney, North East London. At some point in the mid 1860s they moved south to Clapham. Edmund was a senior clerk working for the Civil Service Commissioners, so the family were quite well off.

Edmund was a keen and pretty strong chess player back then. In 1862 he was a member of St James’ Club, where his opponents included Alexander Sich, and by the early 1870s he was playing at the City of London Club, giving odds to most of his opponents in handicap tournaments. Rod Edwards suggest he was round about 2000 strength: a decent county standard player. As you’d expect, he taught his sons (and perhaps also his daughters) to play his favourite game.

Unlike, for example, Arthur Makinson Fox, the family never stayed at the same address very long, and by the time of the 1891 census they’d moved to Teddington Park, just off Waldegrave Road, where their daughter Louisa junior was living with her husband and large family, and where, a few years later, Noël Coward would be born. (Confusingly, Teddington Park and Teddington Park Road are both turnings off Waldegrave Road.) Edmund and Louisa’s household was completed by their three youngest children, a niece and two servants.

Edmund’s oldest surviving son, Edmund Walter Humphreys, had been born in 1860. By 1891 he was working as an accountant, was married with two daughters and living in New Malden, not very far from the station, from where a short train journey would take him to Teddington and Twickenham. IM Gavin Wall now lives on the same estate.

Herbert Arthur Humphreys was born in 1864, and was still at home with his parents in 1891. Rather unexpectedly, he was working as a seedsman, and would later become a market gardener.

The youngest son was born Frederick Thomas Hudson Humphreys in 1869, but seems to have been known as F H Humphreys. He was also living at home in 1891, with his occupation listed as ‘None’. In those days when work for a young man from that background was easy to come by, this suggests he may have had some sort of health problem.

The first Twickenham chess record currently available for them is a match against Acton later in 1891. Perhaps they’d all joined the club for the start of the season.

Acton Gazette 7 November 1891

Here, we see Edmund Elias winning his game on top board, playing ahead of club stars Arthur Makinson Fox, George Edward Norwood Ryan and Wallace Britten, with Herbert and Edmund junior also in the team.

In 1893 Twickenham visited the British Chess Club, where they were facing stronger opposition than expected.

London Evening Standard 24 January 1893

It sounds from the report that the British Chess Club were planning to recruit whoever was there at the time to play in the match, and, by chance, a lot of strong players turned up. Their top five boards were all of genuine master standard (and all worthy of future posts, as indeed is Mr Hewitt) so it’s not surprising this proved a bridge too far for the Twickenham chess players. It looks very much like the 1890s equivalent of a London League match against Wood Green.

The life of the BCC top board is celebrated here.

Streatham and Brixton chess chronicler Martin Smith wrote about the BCC’s fourth board here.

You will note that Edmund senior wasn’t playing, but that Herbert had been promoted to top board, with Edmund junior and Frederick lower down.

If you’ve been paying attention you’ll already have seen our next exhibit.

Surrey Comet 27 May 1893

Here, we see Herbert, who seems to have been the strongest of the three brothers, taking a half point off Joseph Blackburne in a simul.

Moving on to 1894, here’s a match between Twickenham and the City of London Club’s second team.

London Evening Standard 12 February 1894

A narrow win for the good guys, then, and a few interesting new names in the Twickenham team to whom we’ll return in future articles. (No, before you ask, GP James isn’t related to me.)

You’ll spot Edmund senior back on top board, with Frederick also playing, but Edmund junior and Herbert not in the team.

It seems the Humphreys family didn’t stay very long in Teddington as that’s the last we see of them locally.

By 1901 they’d moved across South London to Sydenham where Edmund Elias Humphreys, at the age of 69, was now the Manager of a Public Company (Corporation?) and Stock Exchange Jobber. Louisa and their unmarried daughter Florence were there, along with three granddaughters, perhaps just paying them a visit, and two servants.

Herbert had by now married, and was a market gardener out in Farnham, Surrey, and Frederick was nowhere to be found.

They were still in Sydenham in 1911: Edmund had now retired, and would die later that year.  Florence was still there, along with a granddaughter and, again, two servants. There’s a possible death record for Louisa in 1915.

One more question: what happened to Frederick? We can make a rather sad speculation. There’s a death record for a Frederick H Humphreys of the right age recorded in Epsom in the first quarter of 1917. Epsom, as you may know, is the home of a number of psychiatric hospitals, or lunatic asylums as they were called in those days. Perhaps this was our man, also providing a possible explanation for his lack of employment in 1891. Nobody seems to know.

The story of the Humphreys family and their brief membership of Twickenham Chess Club takes us up to the mid 1890s, when chess in our Borough would undergo a significant transformation. But there’s one more, very significant, name to investigate first.

You’ll find out more in future Minor Pieces. Don’t you dare miss them.

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Minor Pieces 24: Arthur Makinson Fox

There was good news for Twickenham Chess Club in January 1889. A victory against Acton gave them an impressive 100% record for the season.

We note a new name among the winners: as well as a Bull (here and here) we now have a Fox to add to the menagerie.

Morning Post 28 January 1889

Eighteen months later, and Mr A M Fox was by now winning every game in the handicap tournament off scratch. Twickenham was one of the strongest suburban chess clubs, and Mr Fox was perhaps their strongest player, which suggests that he was pretty useful.

Morning Post 23 June 1890

His full name was Arthur Makinson Fox, born in Dorchester, Dorset in 1863, the son and grandson of Congregational Ministers, although his father, Joseph Makinson Fox, converted to the Church of England in 1886. An uncle, Daniel Makinson Fox, was a railway engineer who led the construction of the São Paulo railway, and one of Arthur’s brothers, John Ernest Ravenscroft Fox, was a landscape artist.

Arthur shared an occupation with Robert Davy Ganthony: the 1881 census found him in Dudley, Worcestershire, articled to a dentist. It appears that, in those days, training to be a dentist required an apprenticeship rather than a university education.

By 1882 he found himself in Teddington, perhaps still training to be a dentist, but also the organist at Christ Church, Teddington, in whose church hall Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club met until a few years ago.

In 1887 he married Helen Maud McComas, the daughter of an Irish merchant living in Hampton Road, Teddington, not too far from the Roebuck. They settled in the same road, but closer to the town centre: a house named Brendon, 32 Hampton Road, on the corner of Coleshill Avenue (perhaps this house), just round the corner from the Cowards. Three daughters, Dorothy, Helen and Violet, soon arrived to complete the family, and they would remain there for the rest of their lives. None of their daughters married: they weren’t the only spinster sisters in Teddington.

In 1889 he wasn’t new to chess. Since at least the beginning of 1888 he’d been solving problems in the Morning Post, and occasionally tried his hand at composing as well.

This example seems to me to be pretty crude and forgettable: he doesn’t seem to have shared Cecil Alfred Lucas Bull’s talent for composition. Have a go at solving it yourself and see what you think. The solution is at the end of the article.

#3 Arthur Makinson Fox Morning Post 3 December 1888

In 1893 Joseph Henry Blackburne returned to Twickenham for another simul. Arthur Fox was the only player to win his game.

Surrey Comet 27 May 1893

In between dentistry and chess he also found time to study music at London University, being awarded a Bachelor’s degree in 1893.

Arthur seems to have been a real chess addict. He wasn’t just a member of Twickenham Chess Club, but also a number of clubs in central London. I presume he took the train up from nearby Teddington Station.

Here he is, for example, in 1901, playing for the British Chess Club against a combined team from Oxford and Cambridge Universities, and drawing his game against South African law student Frederick Kimberley Loewenthal, named, like Sydney Meymott, after his place of birth. (Kimberley, not Frederick just in case you were wondering, and apparently not related to Johan Jacob.) There are several interesting names in both teams, some of whom you might meet in future Minor Pieces, but if he’d been one board lower, he’d have met Harold Francis Davidson, a theology student at Exeter College, Oxford.

The Field 30 March 1901


At Oxford, Davidson’s behaviour was notably eccentric; he displayed considerable energy but disregarded rules, was persistently unpunctual and regularly failed his examinations. … By 1901 his academic inadequacies were such that he was required to leave Exeter College, although he was allowed to continue studying for his degree at Grindle’s Hall, a cramming establishment. He finally passed his examinations in 1903, at the age of 28, and that year was ordained by the Bishop of Oxford—after some reluctance on the part of the bishop to accept so unpromising a candidate. 

Yes, this was the future Rector of Stiffkey, the Rector Who Was Eaten (or, more accurately, mauled) By A Lion, and one of the stars of The (Even More) Complete Chess Addict, co-written by an unrelated Teddington chess player named Fox.

On April Fools Day 1901 the census enumerator called. As you’d expect, Arthur and Helen were at home along with their three young daughters, Helen’s relation Herbert McComas, a Cambridge University student born in Dublin, and three servants, all in their mid 20s: Grace Gisbourne was a cook, Helena Larkham a housemaid and Ellen Gowing a nurse. It must have been rather confusing with two Helens, Helena and Ellen in the household.

Moving forward another decade, not much had changed. Their middle daughter, Helen, had left home to work as a teacher, but Dorothy and Violet were still there, along with the same three servants as ten years earlier.

But there was another resident as well, Douglas Gerard Arthur Fox, the son of Arthur’s brother Gerard, a 17 year old music student.

Douglas was a promising organist and pianist: he was educated at Clifton College, a school with a strong music tradition, and was now studying under Sir Charles Villiers Stanford at the Royal College of Music. The following year he would be appointed Organ Scholar at Keble College, Oxford.

When war broke out he enlisted in the army, and, in 1917, suffered a serious injury requiring the amputation of his right arm. In 1918 he was appointed musical director at Bradfield College, and in 1931 returned to Clifton College, where he was Head of Music until his retirement in 1957. Among his pupils was the great and wonderful David Valentine Willcocks, one of whose brothers, Theophilus Harding Willcocks, was a mathematician and chess problemist.

For further information about Douglas Fox see here, pp 11-14. You might even want to buy a book here.

At some point, perhaps round about his 50th birthday, Arthur Makinson Fox decided to retire from his work as a dentist, giving himself more time to spend on music.

In 1912 Arthur and his wife contributed two guineas to a fund to rebuild the organ at St James’s Church, Hampton Hill. They lived in the parish of St Peter & St Paul, Teddington, but it’s possible they preferred to worship at St James’s. just a mile down the road. (Walk along Hampton Road past the Roebuck and keep going.) It’s also quite possible that Arthur was the organist there. (A more recent organist at St James’s, Mark Blackwell (2015-2018) is the brother of one of my first private pupils, Richard, who played for Cambridge in the 1986 Varsity Match.)

In 1914 St James’s appointed a new vicar, the Rev Richard Coad-Prior, who had a lot in common with Arthur Makinson Fox, sharing his passion for both music and chess. In February that year, he played for London University in a match against Cambridge. There, sitting almost opposite him, was Richard’s only son Eric, who would himself have a long career as a strong club and county player.

Oxford Chronicle and Reading Gazette 6 March 1914

Arthur’s opponent in this match, Bertram Goulding Brown, was well known as, amongst other things, a chess historian. He had played in Varsity Matches a decade or so earlier, and was now, I think, a lecturer in history. This may have been a ‘past and present’ match, or perhaps Arthur was now associated with London University again in some way.

This is the last match result I’ve been able to find for Arthur Makinson Fox. Not a lot of competitive chess took place during the war, and perhaps, now in his fifties, he decided to hang up his pawns, at least as far as competitive chess was concerned.

The 1921 census has recently become available online, and we still find him in the same place, along with Helen, Dorothy and Violet, who is now working just a couple of minutes walk away at the National Physical Laboratory. Their servants Grace and Ellen are both still there after more than 20 years.

During this period of his life he continued his interest in music. The two fields which particularly interested him were organ music (he seems to have composed some works for his instrument) and madrigals. He wrote articles for various music magazines and was the President and Librarian of the Madrigal Society. In 1914 he had subscribed to a collection of madrigals composed by Orlando Gibbons. (Beware, though: some online sources attribute two cantatas published in the mid 1870s to Arthur Makinson Fox: they must have been written by another Arthur Fox.)

We can now move forward another 18 years to 1939. Helen Maud Fox died that year, but, apart from his sad loss, there’s no change in the household circumstances from 1921. Arthur, Dorothy and Violet are still there, with Dorothy still carrying out household duties and Violet still at the NPL. And, yes, Grace and Ellen are still there as well, having worked for the family for about 40 years. Quite some loyalty, and I guess Arthur must have been a good employer as well.

Although he may not have played competitively for a quarter of a century, he still kept up his interest in chess. In 1941 he wrote an article for the British Chess Magazine reminiscing about the British Chess Club.

British Chess Magazine February 1941
British Chess Magazine February 1941

In February 1945 he had a letter published in the BCM joining in a debate about reversing the starting positions of bishops and knights.

He lived a long but relatively uneventful life devoted to his work as a dentist and his twin passions of chess and music. Arthur Makinson Fox’s death at the age of 86 was registered in Middlesex South in the second quarter of 1949.


Acknowledgements and Sources:


Various other online sources

Problem solution:

1. Nd8! followed by 2. Be3 and either 3. Qe6# or 3. Qd4#. The only other variation is 1. Nd8! Kc5 2. Be3+ Kb5 3. Qa4#

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Minor Pieces 23: Cecil Alfred Lucas Bull Part 2

Last time we left Twickenham’s finest chess problemist, Cecil Alfred Lucas Bull, as he was about to emigrate to Durban in 1892.

Unfortunately, South African online records, both births, marriages and deaths, and newspaper archives, are few and far between, but we are able to provide a fairly comprehensive record of his chess career in the southern hemisphere, both as a player and as a problemist.

This problem, submitted to a London newspaper, dates from soon after his arrival in Durban.

Problem 1. Mate in 3: 1st prize winner Hackney Mercury 1894

And here, continuing where we left off last time, is FR Gittins again.

The Chess Bouquet Frederick Richard Gittins 1897

We know from some useful information on the Durban Chess Club website that he was one of the founders of the club and was Durban champion five times, in 1901, 1903, 1904, 1906 and 1911

Lucas Bull was one of the founders of the Durban Chess Club in 1893 and the first person to win the Durban championship on five occasions, running out the winner in 1901, 1903, 1904, 1906 and 1911. He also participated in the South African championships on three occasions, finishing 9th in 1897, 7th in 1899, and 2nd on his final appearance in 1906.

Lucas Bull was born in Twickenham (part of London) in 1869, and came from a very large family, consisting of five sons (he was the third son) and four daughters. His father, Thomas Bull, was a surveyor and auctioneer, and must have had a profitable business, as the Bull family employed four servants at the time (source: 1881 census).

Bull arrived in Durban in 1892 and apparently chose South Africa, rather than the United States, as they don’t play cricket in the USA! He was already the champion of the Twickenham Chess Club, and was starting to get an international reputation as a problemist. From the date of his arrival, up until the time that he discontinued serious over the board play in 1907, he was almost certainly the strongest player in Natal.

Source: Durban Chess Club website

Further information about his appearances in the South African Championships (1897: Cape Town, 1899 Durban, 1906 Cape Town) can be found on Rod Edwards’ indispensable EdoChess site.

Two games from the 1899 tournament, played in the shadow of the 2nd Boer War, are extant. Click on any move and a pop-up board will magically appear, enabling you to play through the games.


The Bock game. which was awarded a brilliancy prize, was published, for example, in the Newcastle Courant (17 March 1900). The van Breda game comes, via South Africa chess historian Len Reitstein, from the Durban Chess Club website (link above).

His best result was his second place in 1906, giving him an estimated rating of 2130: a strong club player at the time he gave up serious over the board chess (the 1911 Durban championship must have been a very brief comeback). The winner in 1906, Bruno Edgar Siegheim (1875-1952) was born in Germany, played chess in New York (1899-1904), South Africa (1906-1912) and England (1921-1926) before returning to South Africa. His best result was finishing 2nd= with Réti at Hastings in 1923, just half a point behind the great Akiba Rubinstein, which suggests he was IM strength.

We know very little about his life outside chess. It seems like he had enough money not to work and was able to devote his time to his hobbies. I presume he continued to play cricket in Durban, although newspapers from that period aren’t available online. There’s no archival record of Cecil ever having played first-class cricket.

What we do have is a couple of passenger lists.

A 1903 passenger list for a ship sailing from London to Port Natal lists Mr C A Lucas Bull (35), Mrs Bull (32), Miss B Bull (3), Mr C Bull (28). This looks like Cecil and his family visiting England and returning with Clifford, who was going to live with them in Durban. Cecil appears to have a wife and young daughter, but we have no further information about them.

A 1909 passenger list, again from London to Natal, offers Cecil Slade (sic) Lucas Bull, Eunice Chillingworth Lucas Bull and Bessie Lucas Bull. I have no idea where the Slade came from but it looks like he was married to Eunice and Bessie was their daughter.

He was still composing prolifically: here’s one from 1912.

Problem 2. Mate in 3: 1st prize winner Saale-Zeitung 1912

Cecil Alfred Lucas Bull Durban 15 September 1913 Source, Cleveland Public Library Digital Gallery

Here’s a photograph of him from 1913.

He continued composing successfully up until 1932, mixing heavyweight prizewinners with more lightweight offerings for the Natal Mercury. He died in Durban on 19 July 1935, at the age of 66.

Problem 3 is another first prizewinning mate in 3 from the latter stages of his career: British Chess Magazine 1931.

In 1960 Cecil’s friend and occasional collaborator Donald Glenoe McIntyre published Sonatas in Chess, a collection of 136 of his best threemovers (South African Chessplayer). This is a rare book and second hand copies go for high prices. I saw a copy for sale back in the 1980s but didn’t buy it – I really should have done.

I occasionally publish his more accessible problems on the Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club website: see here and here.

At present I have no idea about what happened to Eunice and Bessie. I can find no information about anyone with the forenames Eunice Chillingworth, and the 1927 London marriage of Bessie L Bull to Robert Douglas King-Harman isn’t the same person.

There’s a prominent South African businesswoman named Wendy Lucas-Bull, who is married to Clive Lucas-Bull, and whose father-in-law is, or was, Leslie Arthur Lucas-Bull. Any connection? If you have any further information about Eunice, Bessie or any other relation do let me know.

Cecil Alfred Lucas Bull, chess champion of Twickenham and Durban, and multiple prizewinning problemist, this was your life.

Join me again soon for another delve into the Twickenham Chess Club menagerie.

Sources and acknowledgements:

Problems and solutions from Yet Another Chess Problem Database

EdoChess (Rod Edwards)

Cleveland Public Library Digital Gallery

Durban Chess Club website

Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club website

Thanks to Dr Tim Harding for The Chess Bouquet by Frederick Richard Gittins

Problem solutions:


1.♕a1! ~ 2.♕e5+ ♔d3 3.♘e1# 1…♔d5 2.♕×a8+ 2…♔d6 3.♗e7# 2…♔c5 3.♗e7# (Model mate) 1…♔f5 2.♕b1+ ♔g4 3.♕e4# 1…♔d3 2.♕b1+ ♔c3 3.♗d2# (Model mate) 1…♖×g5 2.♕d4+ ♔f5 3.♘h4# (Model mate) 1…♘g4 2.♕d4+ ♔f5 3.♕d3# (Model mate)

Model mates were much valued at the time.

From Wikipedia:

model mate is a type of pure mate checkmating position in chess in which not only is the checkmated king and all vacant squares in its field attacked only once, and squares in the king’s field occupied by friendly units are not also attacked by the mating side (unless such a unit is necessarily pinned to the king), but all units of the mating side (with the possible exception of the king and pawns) participate actively in forming the mating net.


♗c8! ~ 2.♗×d7 ~ 3.♗e6# 1…♗b1 2.♕a1 A ~ 3.♘e7# B 2…d×c6 3.♗e6# 2…♔×c6 3.♗b7# 3.♕a8# 1…♗×b3 2.♘e7+ B 2…♔e5 3.♕a1# A 2…♔d4 3.♕e4# 2…♔c4 3.♕e4# 1…d×c6 2.♕×c6+! 2…♔d4 3.♕e4# 2…♔×c6 3.♗b7# 2…♔e5 3.♕d6# 3.♗c3# 1…♘f7 2.♘×d7 ~ 3.♘×b6# 3.♘f6# 2…♔e6 3.♘d4#

Some more model mates here, as well as sacrifices and corner-to-corner queen moves, something of which Bull was very fond.


1.♕d8! ~ 2.h3+ ♔×h5 3.g4# 1…♖b4 2.♗×g6 ~ 3.h3# 1…♔×h5 2.♗d1+ ♘e2 3.♗×e2# 1…g5 2.♕d7+ 2…♔×h5 3.♕h3# 2…♔h4 3.♕h3# 2.♕c8+ 2…♔×h5 3.♕h3# 2…♔h4 3.♕h3# 1…g×h5 2.♕d4+ ♔g5 3.h4#

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Minor Pieces 22: Cecil Alfred Lucas Bull Part 1


Surrey Comet 5 March 1887

If you’ve been paying attention you’ll have seen this before. I’d like to draw your attention to Twickenham’s Board 3, Mr. C. A. L. Bull.

In the world of over the board chess he was a Minor Piece, but in the rarefied world of chess problems he was undoubtedly a Major Piece. It’s not so easy, though, to piece together his life as there appear to be no genealogists in his immediate family.

Let’s take a look.

We’ll start with his paternal grandfather, Benjamin Bull. Ben was born in Market Harborough, Leicestershire, a town we’ll have occasion to visit again, but I haven’t as yet found any family connections with other chess players whose family came from that area.

He was a hotel proprietor and we can pick him up in the 1851 census running the Castle Hotel in Richmond, which was demolished in 1888, but its successor would, in 1912, be the venue of the British Chess Championships. It’s quite possible a future series of articles will enable us to meet some of those who visited our fair Borough in 1912 to push their pawns around wooden chequered boards.

Ben and his wife Mary Ann had five sons and a daughter. One of their sons, Richard Smith Bull, achieved some fame as an actor using the stage name Richard Boleyn, but our story continues with another son, Thomas Bull.

Tom, by profession an auctioneer and surveyor, was born in 1839, and, in 1865, married  the 18 year old Julia Sellé, daughter of William Christian Sellé, doctor of music, composer, and Musician in Ordinary to Queen Victoria. Their first child was born in Ramsgate, Kent, but they soon settled, like all the best people, in Twickenham. Tom and Julia had 11 children, one of whom died in infancy, and it’s their fourth son, Cecil Alfred Lucas Bull, who interests us.

He was born (as Cecil Lucas Bull: he would sometimes be known as Lucas Bull) in the second quarter of 1869 and baptised (now Cecil Alfred Lucas) at St Mary the Virgin Church, Twickenham on 16 June that year.

St Mary the Virgin Church Twickenham. Author’s photograph.

In the 1871 census we find Tom and Julia, with four young children, Julius, Alan, Cecil and Beatrix, living in Sussex Villa, Clifden Road, Twickenham, close to the town centre. They must have been well off as they could afford to employ no less than four servants, a cook, a housemaid and two nurses to look after their rapidly expanding family.

In round about 1875 the family moved from Twickenham to Ferry Road, Teddington, just across the road from where, a few years later, St Alban’s Church would be built, and where Noël Coward’s family would both worship and entertain.

The 1881 census records Tom and Julia in Ferry Road, now with Julius, Alan, Cecil, Beatrix, Maud, Gwynneth, Clifford, Walter and Allegra, along with a nurse, a cook, a housemaid and a parlourmaid. Life must have been good for the prosperous Bull family.

This tells us that young Cecil (I think they missed a trick by not adding Ferdinand to his name, making him Bull, CALF) was only 17 when he first represented Twickenham Chess Club. Not exceptional today, but it would have been very unusual, although I haven’t found any specific reference to his youth, at the time. Playing on third board and winning both his games, he must already have been a more than useful player. He went on to win the club’s handicap tournament on two occasions, playing off scratch.

Even at that point, he’d been active elsewhere in the chess world for some time. His first problem was published in The Field in May 1885, just before his 16th birthday. It soon became clear that he was both exceptionally knowledgeable about chess problems and had a remarkable talent as a composer.

His first prize in the Liverpool Weekly Courier in 1886 caused a sensation and also a bit of controversy at the time.

Problem 1. White to play and mate in 3 moves. Solution at the end of the article.

Although he published a few mates in 2 and longer mates, and also a few selfmates, most of his problems were mates in 3. His younger brothers Clifford and Walter also had a few problems published in their teens, but seem not to have continued their interest.

As well as blockbusting prizewinners, Cecil had a knack for composing crowd-pleasing lightweight problems which would have been attractive to over-the-board players.

Problem 2, another mate in 3, was published in the British Chess Magazine in 1888.

Chess wasn’t young Cecil’s only game. From 1888 onwards we find him playing cricket for a variety of local clubs: Strawberry Hill, Teddington, East Molesey, Barnes before settling on Hampton Wick. He was a talented all-rounder, excelling with both the bat and the ball. (I’d have called him both a bowler and a batsman, but today, in the spirit of political correctness, we’re expected to use ‘batter’ instead. I’m afraid it just makes me think of Yorkshire pudding, though.) His teammates sometimes included his older brother Alan, and Edward Albert Bush, who, in 1891, married his sister Beatrix. I do hope they celebrated at the Bull & Bush.

Hampton Wick Royal Cricket Ground. Author’s photograph.

Problem 3 is another prize winner: this one shared 2nd prize in the Bristol Mercury in 1890. Again, it’s mate in 3.

By 1891 the Bulls had moved again. They were now in Walpole Gardens, just by Strawberry Hill Station, with Beatrix, Maud, Gwynneth, Clifford, Walter and their youngest son, Basil. I haven’t been able to find Allegra in 1891. There were now only two servants. Did they need less help as their children grew up?

Cecil was in Bloomsbury in 1891, living ‘on own means’ in the home of a classics teacher who also took in boarders. It seems that he was wealthy enough not to need a job, so was able to devote his time to his hobbies of chess and cricket.

Here’s how FR Gittins would describe his early life in The Chess Bouquet.

From The Chess Bouquet by Frederick Richard Gittins (1897)

And then, in 1892, everything changed. Julia died and the family started to disperse. Walter emigrated to America, where he would later be joined by Basil. Cecil, because of his passion for cricket, soon set sail for South Africa, where Clifford would later join him. It’s possible that the oldest brother, Julius, also emigrated to South Africa, but this is at present uncertain.

Meanwhile, Thomas married a widow named Margaret Crampton in Steyning, Sussex in 1895, and by 1901 they were living in Chingford, Essex. Clifford was the only one of his children still living with him. I haven’t yet been able to find the family in the 1911 census: I suppose it’s quite possible they were visiting one of Tom’s children in America or South Africa. It looks like Thomas Bull died in Chelsea in 1918 at the age of 78.

Do you want to find out what happened to Cecil in South Africa? I’m sure you do. Don’t miss our next exciting episode.

Sources and Acknowledgements:




Problems and solutions taken from Yet Another Chess Problem Database.

Thanks to Dr Tim Harding for The Chess Bouquet.

Solutions to problems:


1.♖d4! 1…♖d1 (R~1) 2.♕×e2+ ♕e3 3.♕×e3# 1…♕f1 2.♖e4+ 2…f×e4 3.♕×e4# 2…♔×d5 3.♘e3# 3.♕d3# 2.♕×f5+ ♔×f5 3.♗d7# 1…♕g2 2.♕×f5+ ♔×f5 3.♗d7# 1…♕g4 2.♖e4+ 2…f×e4 3.♕×e4# 2…♔×d5 3.♘e3# 3.♕d3# 1…♕h1 2.♕×f5+ ♔×f5 3.♗d7# 1…♕h2 2.♕×f5+ ♔×f5 3.♗d7# 2.♖e4+ 2…f×e4 3.♕×e4# 2…♔×d5 3.♘e3# 3.♕d3# 1…♕a3 (Qb3, Qc3, Qf3, Qg3) 2.♕×f5+ ♔×f5 3.♗d7# 1…♕d3 2.♖×d3 ♖a1 (R~1) 3.♕×e2# 1…♕e3 2.♘×e3 ~ 3.♕×f5# 1…♕×h4 2.♕×f5+ ♔×f5 3.♗d7# 2.♖e4+ 2…f×e4 3.♕×e4# 2…♔×d5 3.♘e3# 3.♕d3# 1…c×d4 2.♘e5 ~ 3.♗f7# 2…d×e5 3.♕c6#


1.♔f8! ~ 2.♘c7 ~ 3.♕d4# 2…♗c4 3.♕a3# 1…♔d5 2.♕d4+ ♔e6 3.♘g7# (Model mate, Mirror mate) 1…♗c4 2.♕a3+ 2…♔d5 3.♕d6# 2…♔b5 3.♘c7# (Model mate)


1.♕h3! ~ 2.♕f5+ ♔c6 3.♖c4# 1…♗×e4 2.♕c8 ~ 3.♘c3# 2…♖c6 3.♕g8# 1…♗d3 2.♕c8 ♗×e4 3.♘c3# 1…♔c6 2.♕c8+ ♔b5 3.♕c4# 1…♔×e4 2.♕g2+ 2…♔f5 3.♕d5# 2…♔d3 3.♘b2# 1…b5 2.♖d4+ ♔c6 3.♕c8# 1…b6 2.♘c3+ 2…♔c5 3.♕c8# 2…♔c6 3.♕c8#

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Minor Pieces 21: Robert Davy Ganthony

Surrey Comet 15 January 1887

You’ve seen this match result before. On board 5 we have Mr R Ganthony, a man with an unusual surname. It should be possible to find out more about him.

Unlike the other players we’ve seen, he was from Richmond, not Twickenham or Teddington, but there were three Mr R Ganthonys (Ganthonies?) of chess playing age in the household: Robert Davy Ganthony and his sons Robert junior and Richard.

A match the previous month, also against Acton, where he drew his game on board 3, gave his middle initial: Mr R D Ganthony, so that tells us it was the father who played chess for Twickenham.

If you come across an unusual surname you can do a one-name study. I’ve done a study of the surname Badby, for example. This name was relatively common in the Middle Ages but all but one branch died out, so if you have this name in your family tree at some point over the past 200 or 300 years you’re related to me!

It turns out that Robert Davy had a famous father and grandfather, as well as three famous children. Famous in their day, that is, but all (apart perhaps from his father) forgotten today.

The family were originally from Exeter (the earliest record available online dates back to 1662), but our branch moved to Bristol at the end of the 17th century.

The first important Ganthony was Joseph, born in Bristol in 1739, the son of Joseph and Susannah, a musician, whose work brought him to London in about 1766. He played the violin and double bass, and also composed popular songs, which would have been performed in the pleasure gardens of the day, and church music. When Hector Berlioz visited London in 1851 (did he also take the opportunity to visit the first international chess tournament while he was there?) he was moved to tears on hearing one of his hymn tunes. He was also a schoolmaster at St Giles’s Cripplegate School in the City of London. No death record has been found for him, but school records mentioning his name go up to 1785. You can read more about him – and even play one of his hymn tunes if you have a keyboard to hand – in the October 1 1903 issue of The Musical Times here.

Joseph married Elizabeth Davy in Bristol in 1762: they seem to have had a large family, although several of their children died in infancy. Our interest is in Richard Pinfold Ganthony, born in London in 1771.

Richard chose a different career, achieving fame and fortune as a manufacturer of clocks and watches. his pieces are very collectible today.


Here, for example, is a rosewood bracket clock, which sold for £2390 at Bonham’s in 2004. (Their information about the family, I believe, is incorrect: Richard Pinfold’s father was Joseph, not Richard, but it’s possible that Richard Pinfold’s son, another Richard, might have been apprenticed to him.)




This is a rare and beautiful clock barometer, made in about 1830. We’re told that Richard Pinfold Ganthony is listed in “Barometers Makers and Retailers 1660-1900 by Edwin Banfield: as a clock and chronometer maker at 63 Cheapside London between 1821 to 1845, he is considered as a good and important maker of his day…

This gold framed pocket chronometer manufactured in about 1815 (the frame has an 1814 hallmark) is described as a ‘very interesting timepiece’. Again, the source gets the two Richards confused, but we learn that he was apprenticed to Thomas Miles until 1794 and became a master in 1828. It fetched €4000 at a recent auction. We also learn that he moved from Lombard Street to nearby Cheapside at some point between 1815 and 1821.

Richard Pinfold Ganthony married twice, and seems to have had four children from each marriage. One of the sons of his first marriage, Richard Junior, may well have been apprenticed to him. He died in London in 1845, but a death record for Richard Junior doesn’t seem to be available.

His second marriage produced twin sons, Charles and Robert Davy. Charles disappeared after the 1841 census, but we know quite a lot about our man Robert Davy Ganthony.

In 1847 he married Caroline Henrietta Harvey in Paddington, and children were born there in 1849, 1851 and 1852. But in the 1851 census Robert is nowhere to be found. Caroline is unexpectedly in Caernarfon, on the North Wales coast, with 2-year-old Robert junior and baby Edith, described as an ‘artist’s wife (landscapes)’. Well, I guess there were a lot of good landscapes to paint there, with Snowdonia on one side and views across the Irish Sea to Anglesey on the other.

Marian was born back in London in 1852, but by the time of Emily’s arrival in 1854 (sadly she died the following year) they’d moved to Liverpool. The Liverpool Mercury of 3rd February featured an announcement from Mrs Brooks, widow of the late Mr John Brooks, that his practice would be taken over by ‘Mr Ganthony, a gentleman with great experience in every department of dental surgery, from London’. He’s no longer drawing landscapes (at least not professionally), but drawing teeth instead. Perhaps he’d studied dentistry in the 1840s, but took a break to work as an artist. A second son, named Richard after his grandfather, was born there in 1856, followed by Charles Alfred in 1859 and Kate in 1861.

By 1863, he appears to have retired from dentistry and moved to Richmond, where Ada was born that year, followed by his youngest child, Harry, in 1866. In the 1871 census Robert, Caroline and their eight surviving children are all living in Eton Lodge, in the town centre, close to the parish church. Robert Davy Ganthony has reverted to being an artist. Caroline is once again an artist’s wife, Robert and Richard (only 14) are both involved in clerical work, no occupation is listed for the two older girls, while the younger children are all at school. Their two servants, Elizabeth Smith and Rebecca Bull, had both been with the family a long time. Rebecca was working for them twenty years earlier in Wales, and they were both in the household in Liverpool ten years earlier.

By 1881 not a lot had changed. Robert senior was still an artist, and still married to Caroline. Also at home were the four youngest children, along with Robert Junior, now an actor and author, and his wife. Their faithful servant Rebecca Bull was still there as well. It was this stage of his life that saw his brief career in competitive chess: from his position in the Twickenham team he must have been a reasonably proficient player, and must have played socially most of his life.

In 1891 he was still in Richmond, now an artist and sculptor, with his wife and four of his children: Marian, a schoolteacher, Charles, a clerk, Ada, an actress and Harry, a macramé mat maker. Rebecca Bull had by now retired to a nearby almshouse and had been replaced by a young servant.

Caroline died the following year, but Robert was still going strong. In 1901 he was living with his daughter Marian, his unmarried sister Maria, and, again, a teenage servant.

Robert Davy Ganthony kept active to the end of his life. He was always a keen cyclist, although it’s not entirely clear whether it was he or his oldest son who had been fined for riding a velocipede along a public footpath back in 1869.

And then, in 1905, this happened.

Sheffield Evening Telegraph 31 May 1905


An extraordinary story: what a way to go, and what a man he must have been.

(It seems that the streets of England at that time were full of elderly gentlemen named Robert suffering tricycle accidents. In August 1899, round about the time of his 76th birthday, Robert Padbury was thrown from his tricycle in Cox Street, Coventry. Although he was still in a critical condition he was sent home from hospital a few days later. He died the following March: it’s not known whether or not the accident was responsible for his death. How do I know this? Robert was my great great grandfather, and his name was originally Badby.)

It’s worth a look at three of his children. We’ve seen that Robert junior was an actor, dramatist and society entertainer, and that his daughter Ada, whose stage name was Nellie Ganthony, was also an actress. They were both very popular performers in the days of Music Halls.

Frontispiece of Random Recollections by Robert Ganthony

Robert was nothing if not versatile. He wrote and performed comic songs, sketches and monologues (The Man with the Single Hair) in the fashion of the times, wrote textbooks on ventriloquism and performed conjuring tricks.

You can find a pdf of his book Bunkum Entertainments, which gives you a flavour of his act and, more generally, with the type of entertainment popular in his day, here and some of his monologues here.

Stock photograph:

Nellie started off in a double act with her brother before branching out on her own with her songs and ‘humorous, musical, & emotional sketches’.  She spent some time in North America in the mid 1890s, where she had a brief marriage to a wealthy barrister who was still married to someone else. On her return to England she married again, and continued her career until 1913, dying in 1952 at the age of 88.

Robert and Nellie’s brother Richard was a successful playwright, spending much of his time in the United States. His best known play was the 1899 comedy A Message from Mars, which was filmed three times in the silent movie era. His wife’s sister was the film star Marie Dressler.

So that was Robert Davy Ganthony, a man with some famous relations. A dentist, artist, cyclist, and, for a brief time, a Twickenham chessist.

Come back soon for another Minor Piece from Twickenham Chess Club.

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Minor Pieces 20: George Courtenay Vialls and Thomas George Gardiner

You’ve seen this before:

You’ll notice Twickenham fielded two military men in this match.

We need to find out more about them.

The rank of Lieutenant-General is the third highest in the British Army behind only General and Field Marshal: an officer in charge of a complete battlefield corps.

George Courtenay (Courtney in some records) Vialls is our man. He must have been pretty good at manoeuvring the toy soldiers of the chessboard as well as real soldiers in real life battles.

In this match he was on top board, ahead of the more than useful Wallace Britten, but this might, I suppose, have been due to seniority of rank rather than chess ability.

Morning Post 7 March 1887

There are a couple of other interesting names in the Twickenham team here, to whom we’ll return in subsequent articles.

However, he was good enough to score a vital win for St George’s Club against Oxford University two years earlier.

Morning Post 26 March 1885

You’ll note the two other high ranking army officers in the St George’s team, as well as two significant chess names on Oxford’s top boards (who may well be the subject of future Minor Pieces).

Vialls must have been a prominent member of St George’s Club as he was on the organising committee for the great London Tournament of 1883.

An obituary, from 1893, provides some useful information.

Surrey Comet 18 November 1893


We learn that he was an intimate friend (no, not in that sense, but read on for some more intimate friends) of George Edward Norwood Ryan, and that he was a former President of Twickenham Chess Club.

Source: Twickenham Museum website

Going back to the beginning, George Courtenay Vialls was the son of the Reverend Thomas Vialls, a wealthy and rather controversial clergyman. In 1822, prosecuted his gardener for stealing two slices of beef, which in fact his aunt had given him for lunch. He was himself up before the law two years later, accused of whipping his sister-in-law. Thomas had inherited Radnor House, by the river in Twickenham, from an uncle in 1812, and it was there, in 1824 that George was born.

He joined the army in 1843, serving in the 95th Regiment of Foot, and the 1851 census found him living in Portsmouth with his wife and infant daughter, awaiting his next assignment. That came in 1854 when his regiment embarked for Turkey and the Crimean War. At the Battle of Inkerman in November he was severely wounded and his commanding officer, Major John Champion, was killed in action. The regiment suffered further losses due to cold and disease. It was remarked that “there may be few of the 95th left but those few are as hard as nails”.

In 1856 they returned home, but were soon off again, at first to South Africa, but they were quickly rerouted to India to help suppress what was then called the Indian Mutiny, but we now prefer to call the Indian Rebellion.

Looking back from a 21st century perspective (as it happens I’ve just been reading this book), you’ll probably come to the conclusion that this was far from our country’s finest hour, but at the same time you might want to admire the courage of those on both sides of the conflict, and note that Vialls was five times mentioned in despatches.

In 1877 he seems to have been living briefly in Manchester, where he started his involvement in chess, taking part in club matches and losing a game to Blackburne in a blindfold simul.

The obituary above tells us that he moved to Teddington in 1877 (he was in Manchester in December that year so perhaps it was 1878), but the 1881 census found him and his wife staying with his wife’s sister’s family on a farm in Edenbridge, Kent. Perhaps they were just on holiday.

Source: Twickenham Museum website.

By 1891 they were in Teddington House, right in the town centre. It was roughly behind the bus stop where the office block is here, and if you spin round you’ll see the scaffolding surrounding Christchurch, in whose church hall Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club met for some time until a few years ago.

Before we move on, a coincidence for you. At about the same time the chess players of Northampton included a Thomas H Vials or Vialls, who was also the Secretary of Northamptonshire County Cricket Club, as well as a Walter E Britten, neither of whom appear to have been related to their Twickenham namesakes.

Our other military chesser from Twickenham, Colonel Thomas George Gardiner, was slightly less distinguished as both an army officer and a chess player, playing on a lower board in a few club matches in the early 1880s. As you’ll see, he came from an interesting family with some unexpected connection.

Source: Google Maps

If you know Twickenham at all you’ll recognise this scene. The River Thames is behind you. Just out of shot on the left is Sion Row, where Sydney Meymott lived for a short time. On the right, just past Ferry Road, you can see the White Swan.

On the left of the photograph is Aubrey House, and the smaller house to its right with the pineapples on the gateposts is The Anchorage, also known in the past as Sion Terrace. As it happens I used to visit this house once a week in the mid 2000s to teach one of my private chess pupils.

The houses are discussed in this book, which I also referred you to in the Meymott post. At some point both Aubrey House and The Anchorage came into the possession of the Gardiner family: Thomas George Gardiner senior and his family were there in 1861 after he’d retired from work with the East India Company. The younger Thomas George had been born in Ham, just the other side of the river, in 1830 and chose an Army career, joining the Buffs (East Kent Regiment). He married in Richmond in 1857 and in 1861 was living in Twickenham with his wife and her mother’s family, described as a Major in the Army on half pay.

Source: Twickenham Museum website

He apparently bought Savile House, out towards Twickenham Green, in 1870, but the family weren’t there in 1871. Perhaps he was serving abroad: his wife, ‘the wife of a colonel’, was still with her family, in Cross Deep Lodge,  just a short walk from Twickenham Riverside. By 1881 he had retired, and the family were indeed living in Savile House. The building is long demolished: Savile Road marks the spot.

He sold the house in 1889, and the 1891 census unexpectedly found him in Streatham. Perhaps he joined one of the local chess clubs in the area. His wife died in 1896, and by 1901 he’d moved back to his father’s old residence, Aubrey House, along with a widowed daughter. He died in 1910: here’s his obituary from the Army & Navy Gazette.

Army and Navy Gazette 31 December 1910

The 1911 census records his daughter still in Aubrey House, along with three servants.

It’s worth taking a look at his mother, Mary Frances Grant (1803-1844), who was one of the Grants of Rothiemurchus, whose family, entirely coincidentally, are now the Earls of Dysart, the Tollemache family having died out. The Tollemache family owned Ham House until its acquisition by the National Trust in 1948, and a very short walk from Aubrey House will take you to Orleans Gardens, from where you can see Ham House across the river.


Photograph copyright Richard James

One of Mary’s brothers, William, married Sarah Elizabeth Siddons, whose grandmother was the celebrated actress Sarah Siddons. Another brother, John Peter Grant, married Henrietta Isabella Philippa Chichele Plowden. One of their daughters, Jane, married Richard Strachey: their famous offspring included the biographer and Bloomsbury Group member Lytton Strachey.  One of their sons, the oddly named Bartle Grant, married Ethel Isabel McNeil. Their son was the artist and Bloomsbury Group member Duncan Grant. Duncan and his cousin Lytton had intimate friendships with very many people, including each other, and also including the economist John Maynard Keynes.   His father, John Neville Keynes played chess for Cambridge against Oxford between 1873 and 1878, the last four times on top board. Strachey and Keynes also had relationships with WW1 and WW2 codebreaker Dilly Knox, who, until his death in 1943, worked closely with Alan Turing at Bletchley Park. His other colleagues there included leading chess players such as Hugh Alexander and Stuart Milner-Barry.

So there you have it. George Courtenay Vialls and Thomas George Gardiner: two Twickenham men with distinguished military careers, both from very privileged and well-connected backgrounds. The Twickenham aristocracy, you might think, with their large riverside houses. Two men who, after decades commanding troops in real wars, spent their retirement commanding wooden soldiers on a chequered board.

We’re beginning to see a pattern within the membership of Twickenham Chess Club in the 1880s.

Who will we discover next? Join me soon for more Minor Pieces.



Google Maps

Twickenham Museum website

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Minor Pieces 19: Sydney Meymott

You saw this result in my recent article about the Coward family. There are some other names of interest in this Twickenham team.

On board 5 for Twickenham was Sydney Meymott. Many players, like Arthur and Randulph Coward, only play competitive chess for a few years before moving on to another stage in their lives. There are others for whom chess is a lifelong obsession: the Complete Chess Addicts (now that would make a great book title!), and Sydney was one of those, with a chess career lasting almost half a century.

He came from a distinguished family. His grandfather, John Gilbert Meymott was a prominent lawyer, and his father Charles Meymott a doctor whose other interests included cricket and chess.

Charles played two first class cricket matches for Surrey, but without success. Against the MCC in 1846 he was dismissed without scoring in the first innings and made 4 not out in the second innings. Against Kent the following year he failed to trouble the scorers in either innings. He also failed to take any wickets in either match.

In 1848 he submitted a ‘beautiful study’ to Bell’s Life, as you can see below.


Bell’s Life 3 September 1848

A few weeks later the solution was published, failing to provide any moves but just saying that White will win a pawn and the game.

But as you can demonstrate for yourself (or verify using tablebases) this is complete nonsense: the position is drawn with best play.

A celebrated cricketer who composed a beautiful study? I think not.

Earlier in 1848, he’d submitted a mate in 4 to the Illustrated London News, which was at least sound, if not very interesting. You can solve it yourself if you want: the solution is at the end of the article.

Problem 1:

#4 Illustrated London News 12 Feb 1848

In about 1859 Charles, his wife Sarah (née Keene, no relation, as far as I know, to Ray) and their three daughters (a son had died in infancy) emigrated to Australia, where his brother Frederick was a judge. The family must have been well regarded there. If you visit the suburb of Randwick today, not far from Coogee Beach, you’ll find a residential road there named Meymott Street, with Frederick Street running off it.

From there Charles submitted another mate in 4, slightly more sophisticated this time.

Problem 2:

#4 Illustrated London News 26 Nov 1859

The following year, Sarah gave birth to a son, who was given the name of his home city: Sydney.

Charles Meymott had started out in conventional medicine but at some point he had converted to homeopathy. You can find out a bit more here, although some of the links no longer work.

Charles died in 1867 at the age of 54, and his widow and children decided to return to England. I wonder if he’d been able to teach his young son how the pieces moved.

In 1871 Sarah and young Syd were living in Queen Street (now Queen’s Road) Twickenham: perhaps the girls only returned to England later.

By 1881 the oldest girl had married and moved to Scotland, but Sarah and her three youngest children were now at 4 Syon Row, Twickenham, right by the river.

The road is so well known that a rather expensive book has been written about it.

Photo copyright Richard James 2021

It was from there, then that, at some point in 1883 or 1884, the 23-year-old Sydney Meymott joined Twickenham Chess Club.

Here he is again, in a match played in October, now on Board 2 against Brixton. You’ll see George Ryan on top board, with Wallace Britten and the Coward brothers lower down. Young Edward Joseph Line (not Lyne), born in 1862, who had played for Isleworth against Twickenham earlier in the year, was on Board 3, although he was one of only two Twickenham players to lose.

Surrey Comet 11 October 1884

If you’re interested in this part of the world, you might want to check out my good friend Martin Smith’s new book Movers and Takers, a history of chess in Streatham and Brixton. A review will be appearing on British Chess News shortly.

Syd had decided on a career as a bank manager, and his training would have involved working at different branches gaining more experience before managing a larger branch himself. This was perhaps to be his last appearance for Twickenham, but we’ll follow the rest of his life in this article.

Just a couple of weeks later he wrote to the Morning Post:

Morning Post 27 October 1884

Disraeli Road is conveniently situated just round the corner from Putney Station, with its frequent trains to Waterloo. Impressive houses they are too: young Syd was doing well for himself.

The new chess club in Putney rapidly became very successful. Inevitably, they invited Blackburne to give a blindfold simul in February 1886: Meymott was the only player to draw.

In December the same year, Sydney issued a challenge to his old club, with Putney winning by 5 games to 3.

Here’s what happened in the return match in the new year.

Source: Surrey Comet 15 January 1887

He was soon on the move again, leaving the good chess players of Putney to their own devices. Without their leading light the club struggled on for a few years before apparently folding. This time, Syd’s work took him to Honiton, Devon, where again he started a chess club. By now he was writing regularly to the Morning Post, solving their problems and sometimes submitting problems of his own – which were not considered suitable for publication.

In this game he demonstrated his knowledge of Légal’s Mate. (In this and other games in this post, click on any move to obtain a pop-up board and play through the game.)

Source: Morning Post 17 Dec 1888

Here, he was able to show off his attacking skills in the Evans Gambit, giving rook odds to another semi-anonymous opponent.

Source: Western Morning Post 26 Feb 1891

By now it was time for Sydney to move on again, this time back to West London, to Ealing the Queen of the Suburbs, where he’d remain for the next 40 years. He’d eventually become the Manager of the Ealing Broadway branch of the London and South Western Bank.

This time he didn’t need to start up a chess club: there already was – and still is – one there, founded in 1885. As a bank manager, he was soon cajoled, as bank managers usually are, into taking on the role of Honorary Treasurer.

In this game from a local derby against Acton, Black’s handling of the French Defence wasn’t very impressive,  allowing Meymott to set up a Greek Gift sacrifice.

Source: London Evening Standard 25 Nov 1895

Meymott commented: … it may interest some of the younger readers and stimulate them to ‘book’ learning, the game being a forcible example of the utility of ever being alert to the well-known mating positions… Sixteen years later, the young Capablanca played the same sacrifice in the same position. Perhaps he’d read the Evening Standard. Learning and looking out for the well-known mating positions is still excellent advice today.

In May 1896 Sydney made the headlines in the local press for reasons unconnected with either chess or banking. He was one of those stuck for 16 hours on the Great Wheel at Earl’s Court, and was interviewed at length about his experiences by the Middlesex County Times (30 May 1896 if you want to check it out). Fortunately, a lady in his car managed to let down a reel of cotton, so that they were able to receive refreshments, in the shape of stale buns and whisky and soda, from the ground.

A match against Windsor in 1897, where he was described as a ‘bold dashing player’ saw him pitted against an illustrious opponent in Sir Walter Parratt, organist and Master of the Queen’s Musick, and a possible subject of a future Minor Piece.

Windsor and Eton Express 20 February 1897

Life at Ealing chess club continued with a diet of inter-club matches, internal tournaments and simultaneous displays, with Syd often successful in avoiding defeat against the visiting masters.

In 1899, approaching his forties, he married Annie Ellen Nash. They stayed together for the rest of his life, but had no children.

In this 1902 match against Richmond, Ealing scored an emphatic victory helped by the non-appearance of Richmond’s board 2. A future series of Minor Pieces will introduce you to some of the Richmond players from that period in the club’s history.

Middlesex & Surrey Express 09 April 1902

As he settled into comfortable middle age, life continued fairly uneventfully for Sydney and Annie. The 1911 census found them at 18 Uxbridge Road, Ealing, which seems to have been in the town centre, possibly above the bank.

Many clubs closed down during the First World War, but Ealing, with Sydney Meymott still balancing the books, kept going. Electoral rolls from the 1920s record Syd and Annie at 23 Woodville Road, Ealing, and very nice it looks too. A spacious detached house just for the two of them. In 1921, he was in trouble with the law, though, receiving a fine for not having his dog muzzled.

At some point in the 1920s, Sydney would have retired from his job as bank manager, giving him more time for chess, and time to resume submitting games for publication. In his sixties, when many players would be thinking about hanging up their pawns, Syd, always the chess addict, took up tournament chess.

Hastings 1922-23 was what might have been Meymott’s first tournament. Unfortunately he had to retire ill with 1½/6 in First Class B section.

In 1925 he visited Scarborough, playing in the Major A section. He won a few games but didn’t finish among the prizewinners.

In 1926, using his favourite French Defence, he managed to beat Fred Yates in a simul. The complications towards the end are intriguing: do take a look.

Source: Middlesex County Times 23 Jan 1926

That Easter Syd took part in one of the First Class sections of the West of England Championship at Weston-Super-Mare, finishing in midfield.

Later the same year, representing the Rest of Middlesex against Hampstead, he played this game against Ernest Montgomery Jellie. White’s 11th move looked tempting but turned out to be a losing mistake: Jellie’s knight was very shaky on d6 and his position soon wobbled.

Source: Middlesex County Times 16 Oct 1926

At this point it’s worth taking a slight detour to consider Meymott’s opponent. Ernest Montgomery Jellie and his wife Emily, who sadly died young, had three Jellie babies. Their daughter Dorothy married Sidney Stone, and one of their sons, Chris, inherited his grandfather’s love of chess.

I knew Chris very well back in the day, when he was involved with Pinner Junior Chess Club, where his son Andrew was one of their star players.  Chris was an enthusiast rather than a strong player himself,  but Andrew is both. He’s been a 2200 strength player for many years, representing Streatham in the London League as well as his local club, Watford.

You can read much more about the Jellie-Stone connection here (Martin Smith again).

After Christmas 1926, Sydney went down to Hastings where he took second prize in the Major C section with a score of 7/9. Well played, Syd!

On his return, he played this game. This seems to have been in a handicap tournament, where, instead of giving knight odds, the players agreed that Meymott would play blindfold.

Source: Acton Gazette 14 Jan 1927

At Hastings 1927-28 he scored 50% in the First Class B section. Easter 1928 saw him back at the West of England Championships, held that year in Cheltenham, where he galloped to victory in the Class IIB section, scoring 7½/9.

The British Championships in July 1928 took him further west, to Tenby, where he played in the First Class A section, sharing third prize with the aforementioned Ernest Montgomery Jellie on 6½/9, but again beating him in their individual game.

Source: Britbase (

He was back at Hastings 1929-30, where he scored a respectable 5/9 in the First Class B section.

In September 1931 he did what many chess players of that period did: he retired to Hastings, after four decades living and playing chess in Ealing. He was soon playing for his local club.

In a match against Brighton in 1932 his opponent was Kenneth Gunnell, who would much later become, briefly, a rather controversial member of both Richmond and Twickenham Chess Clubs.

That would be one of his last games. On 7 February 1933 Sydney Meymott died at the Warrior House Hotel, St Leonards on Sea.

Writing about Ernest Montgomery Jellie, Martin Smith summed him up beautifully:

But who is he, and why should we be interested? There two reasons that come to mind.

One is that he turns out to be an exemplary specimen of an ordinary decent chesser, the sort often overlooked in histories of the game. He and other enthusiasts like him, then and now, are the body-chessic upon which the chess bug spawns and beneficently multiplies. Stir E.M. Jellie together with the rest and you get the thriving chess culture that we all know: the one that germinates the few blessed enough to rise to the top.

Replace E.M. Jellie with Sydney Meymott, and the same sentiments apply. A good player, but not a great player. For almost half a century a stalwart of club, county, and, later, congress chess. A club treasurer for many years, but in his younger days also a founder and secretary of two clubs.

In these days of chess professionalism, even at primary school level, of obsession with grandmasters, prodigies and champions, we’re at risk of losing the likes of Jellie and Meymott. We should be developing chess culture in order to develop champions, not the other way round. And that celebration of chess culture is one of the reasons why I’m writing these Minor Pieces. My friends at Ealing Chess Club today should certainly raise a glass to Sydney Meymott.



1. Bxg5+ Kg6 2. Bf6+ Kh5 3. Ng3+ Kh6 4. Bg7#


1. Nxd5 gxf3 (1… Rxb5 2. e3+ Kc4 3. Nb6#) (1… Bc3+ 2. Nxc3 Bd5 3. e3+ Kc4 4. Bxd5#) (1… Bxb5 2. e3+ Kc4 3. Nxb6#) 2. e3+ Ke4 (2… Kc4 3. Ndc7+ (3. Nc3+ Bd5 4. Bxd5#) 3… Bd5 4. Bxd5#) 3. c3 Rxb5 (3… Bxd5 4. Bxd5#) 4. Nf6#


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Minor Pieces 18: Arthur Sabin and Randulph Lewis Coward

Working Mens’ Clubs in Twickenham and surrounding areas had been meeting each other for friendly competitions since the early 1870s. These would typically involve some combination of activities such as chess, draughts, whist, cribbage, dominoes and bagatelle.

Twickenham Chess Club, for its first few years, seemed to content itself with internal handicap tournaments along with the occasional simultaneous display. It wasn’t until January 1883 that they played their first match against another club. This was against Isleworth Reading Room Chess Club (there has been no chess club in Isleworth for many decades) and resulted in a victory for Twickenham 9 points to 3. Hurrah!

The following month, Twickenham visited Isleworth for a return encounter over 9 boards, with each player having two games against the same opponent. Here’s what happened.

Middlesex Independent 21 February 1883


You’ll notice George Edward Norwood Ryan and Wallace Britten on the top two boards. Some of the initials are, as was common in those days, incorrect.

Buoyed by their success, in March they entertained Kingston Chess Club. The Surrey Comet reported that the Twickenham players were most successful, beating their opponents all along the line.

It seems that the Twickenham Chess Club had rapidly established itself as one of the stronger suburban clubs, and that the top boards must have been pretty useful players. As yet I haven’t been able to find any of their games.

It wasn’t until 1884 that we have a record of another match, again versus the Isleworth Reading Room Chess Club.

Middlesex Independent 05 March 1884


There are several interesting names here, but you’ll spot two Cowards in the team. Following his successes the previous year, A Coward had been promoted to second board. The two Brittens turned out not to be related to each other, or to their musical namesake. What about the two Cowards?

First of all, the weaker Coward’s middle initial is incorrect. They were in fact brothers: Arthur Sabin Coward and Randulph Lewis Coward.

In the 1881 census the family were at 4 Amyand Park Road, Twickenham, right by the station. Arthur was 24 and Randulph 20, both were working as clerks, and they were living with their widowed mother, an annuitant (pensioner), five younger sisters and a servant.

Their late father, James Coward, a victim of tuberculosis the previous year, had been an organist and composer (spoiler alert: not the only organist and composer we’ll encounter in this series)

It’s well worth looking at all his children.

  1. James Munro Coward was, like his father, an organist and composer, but his musical career was marred by heavy drinking.
  2. Walter Coward, a singer, became a gentleman-in-ordinary at the Chapel Royal, St James’s Palace and librarian of the Chapel Royal’s music.
  3. Arthur Sabin Coward – we’ll return to him later.
  4. Gordon Leslie Coward is something of a mystery. He joined the army, reaching the rank of Sergeant, but then turned up in New Zealand in 1888, being sentenced to 9 months imprisonment for passing a forged cheque. His lawyer described him as ‘a man of good connections’ who had ‘unfortunately given way to drink’. The probation officer’s report was not favourable. After that, we don’t know. There was a death recorded in Wellington in 1894 of a Gordon Leslie Card, who may or may not have been the same person.
  5. Randulph Lewis Coward – again we’ll return to him later.
  6. Hilda Janet Coward followed her father into music, being the possesor of a ‘well-trained voice of extraordinary compass’.  Jenny Lind had been known as the Swedish Nightingale (there used to be a pub in Hampton Hill named after her): Hilda was known as the Teddington Nightingale. It seems she stopped performing very suddenly in 1892, and, apart from attending the wedding of her sister Ida three years later, disappeared from view. A few years later she moved to Italy because of a throat infection and died there in 1907.
  7. Eleanor Jane Charlotte Frances Coward married twice, the first time to Walter’s brother-in-law, had three children and lived a long life.
  8. Myrrha Coward married a civil servant and lived in Teddington.
  9. Percy Oswald Coward was a singer: like his big brother Walter a male alto more than half a century before the great Alfred Deller repopularised a voice type which had been neglected since the early 18th century. He moved to Canada, and then, deserting his pianist wife and daughter, to Australia, where he died in 1933.
  10. Ida Beatrice Coward ran a hotel in Kensington after being widowed at an early age.
  11. Harold Edgar Coward died in infancy.

A few days after this Isleworth match, the results of the season’s handicap tournament were in.

Confirmation, then, that Arthur Coward was, along with Wallace Britten and George Ryan, one of the strongest members of Twickenham Chess Club.

With Artie and his brother Randy still young men in their twenties, a great chess future might have been predicted for them. Alas, this was not the case, although they did continue playing for another year or two.

Life, in the shape of family, work and other interests, I suppose, gets in the way.

Let’s visit Teddington and find out.

If you take a stroll along Teddington High Street heading in the direction of the river, you’ll come across two churches. Immediately in front of you, a left turn into Manor Road will take you to Twickenham, while turning right into Broom Road will take you to Kingston. Straight ahead is Ferry Road (another spoiler alert: you’ll be meeting some residents in another Minor Piece), leading to the footbridges across the Thames.

On your left is the quaint 16th century church of St Mary, and on your right a massive edifice which opened its doors in 1889.

Enter Francis Leith Boyd. Boyd, born in Canada, became Vicar of Teddington in 1884 at the age of 28. He was a man of considerable ambition and grandiose ideas, and also famed for his hellfire sermons. St Mary’s wasn’t big enough for him, so he commissioned architect William Niven (grandfather of David) to design a much larger building across the road. It was dedicated to St Alban, but known informally as the Cathedral of the Thames Valley. The money ran out before it was completed: the nave is shorter than intended and the planned 200 foot tower was never built.

Teddington’s new vicar also enjoyed music, and the combination of music and theatricality must have been very appealing to the musical and theatric Coward family. At some point in the late 1880s they moved from Twickenham to Coleshill Road, Teddington, close to  Bushy House, where the National Physical Laboratory would be established in 1900, and threw themselves into musical life at the new church of St Alban’s. Artie and Randy were both very much part of this, and, I suppose, now had no time to pursue their chess careers. The family could even provide a full vocal quartet, with Hilda singing soprano, Walter, later replaced by Percy, singing alto,  Arthur singing tenor and Randulph singing bass. They performed everything from the sublime to the ridiculous: Bach’s St John Passion, Spohr’s now forgotten oratorio The Last Judgement, Gilbert and Sullivan operettas and the popular songs and parlour ballads of the day.

Posted on Facebook by David Allaway

Here they are in Twickenham Town Hall, where they would also have played chess, in 1894, with big brother James conducting. (Mr William Poupart is also interesting: he and his family were prominent market gardeners in Twickenham, but none of them, as far as I know, played chess.)

In 1967 the parishioners of Teddington moved back across the road to St Mary’s and St Alban’s soon fell into disrepair. A campaign spearheaded by local Labour Councillor Jean Brown (in the days when this part of the world had Labour Councillors) fought successfully to save the building for community use. It’s still owned by the Church of England but known as the Landmark Arts Centre. If you visit there now you’ll see a plaque commemorating Jean Rosina Brown in the foyer, and there are some information boards at the back which include press cuttings about the Coward family’s involvement with the church. Some 90 years or so ago, Jean and my mother were best friends at school, so, in her memory, I often attend concerts there.

One of the orchestras playing there regularly is the Thames Philharmonia, whose Chair (and one of their clarinettists) Mike Adams is a former member of Guildford Chess Club. It was good to talk to him during the interval of their most recent concert.

Returning to the Teddington Cowards, in the last few months of 1890 there was both happy and sad news for Arthur.

On 8 October he married Violet Agnes Veitch at St Alban’s Church. Randulph was there as a witness, and, of course, Francis Leith Boyd was on hand to perform the ceremony. At this point he was still, at the age of 34, just a clerk working for a music publisher in London.

Violet came from a prominent Scottish family and may or may not have been related to the endgame study composer and player Walter Veitch (1923-2004), who had a Scottish father and was at one time a member of Richmond (& Twickenham) Chess Club.

A couple of months later, his mother, Janet, died, and when the census enumerator called round the following year he found Randulph, a clerk in the Civil Service there together with his sisters Hilda, Myrrha and Ida. Arthur and Violet had bought their own place in Waldegrave Road, not very far away, and were living there with a domestic servant. Later the same year, their first child was born, a son named Russell Arthur Blackmore Coward. His third name was in honour of his godfather Richard Doddridge Blackmore, a successful novelist (Lorna Doone) and unsuccessful market gardener, who lived nearby. Blackmore was also a more than competent chess player and one can imagine that he and Arthur must have spent many evenings together over the board.

Young Russell showed promising musical talent, but tragedy would strike his family and he died at the age of only 6 in 1898.

The following year another son was born, and it wasn’t long before he made the local papers.

Middlesex & Surrey Express 16 February 1901

Yes, Arthur Sabin Coward was we’d now call an anti-vaxxer, with  a ‘conscientious objection to vaccination’, whatever that might mean. You might have thought that, having lost his first son, he might be only too keen to protect young Noël’s health.

And, yes, you read it correctly – or almost correctly (his middle name was Peirce, not Pierce). The Teddington Cowards were not only related to each other, but also to the great playwright, songwriter, singer and much else, the Master himself, Sir Noël Coward. Arthur was his father and Randulph his uncle.

Of course what you all really want to know is whether Noël inherited his father’s interest in chess. He’s not mentioned in The (Even More) Complete Chess Addict, but Goldenhurst, his Kent residence, had a games room with a chess table. The pieces were always set up ready for play. So perhaps he did. I’d like to think so.

Source: Google Maps

The 1901 census found the family still in Waldegrave Road, and Arthur still in the same job. If you visit now, you’ll find a blue plaque on the wall (see photo above), and if you walk down the road towards Teddington, you’ll be able to meet Sampson Low, the current Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club secretary, who lives not too many doors away in the same road. Randulph, 40, still a bachelor and a clerk in the War Office, was boarding with a family named Russell (perhaps friends of the Cowards) very near St Alban’s Church.

Arthur and his family soon moved to Teddington, first to Sutton, where their third son, Eric was born, and then to a mansion flat near Battersea Park, which is where the 1911 census found him. He’d finally been promoted – to a piano salesman, a role in which he was apparently not very successful. Noël would always be embarrassed  by his father’s lack of success and ambition, which may well have been caused in part by an over fondness for alcohol, a trait he shared with several of his siblings.

Randulph was a lot more successful. He finally married in 1905 and by 1911 he was a 1st class assistant accountant at the War Office,  living in some luxury in St George’s Square, Pimlico. In 1920, he’d be awarded the MBE for his War Office work during the First World War.

So there you have it: one of the first Twickenham Chess Club’s leading lights was Noël Coward’s father.

Who will we discover next? Join me soon for some more 1880s Twickenham chess players.

Acknowledgements and sources:


Philip Hoare’s biography is available, in part, online here.

Various online postings by local historians.

Twickenham Museum article here.

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Minor Pieces 17: Wallace and Bashley Britten

On 8 April 1882, Edward Griffith Brewer posted an advertisement in the Surrey Comet. The great Joseph Henry Blackburne was going to give a blindfold simultaneous display at Twickenham Chess Club.

The following week, they published a report:

As local papers usually did, and still do, they got it wrong, quite apart from calling a simul a tournament. George Edward Norwood Ryan wrote in to complain.

This event even reached the pages of Volume 2 of the British Chess Magazine.

A later report followed.

We now know the names of some of the strongest members of the first Twickenham Chess Club.

You will note Mr. B. Britten and Mr. W. Britten were the last to finish. Sharing a relatively unusual surname, surely they must have been related. Perhaps they were also related to Benjamin Britten.

It’s time to have a look.

Here they are, next to each other in the 1882 London Overseer Returns, in effect an electoral roll.

Bashley and Wallace. Wallace and Bashley. Even better than Wallace and Gromit. Don’t you think everyone should call their son Bashley?

The splendidly named Bashley didn’t live in Twickenham very long. He was born in 1825 in Milton, Hampshire. He seems to have moved to Twickenham in about 1880, having previously lived in Redhill.  The 1881 census found him in Twickenham with his wife Susanna, along with a cook and a housemaid, and claiming to be a Gentleman.

But he’d previously been an engineer and inventor. He was best known for Britten’s Projectile, which involved applying a coating of lead to projectiles fired from cannons, and was much used in the American Civil War. I’m not sure that his namesake Benjamin, a lifelong pacifist, would have approved. If you, on the other hand, would like to know more, you could always read his book.

This was not his only invention. Here is an improved printing telegraph, and he also took out a patent for using blast furnace slag to manufacture glass.

A few months after the Blackburne blindfold simul, Bashley went on holiday to the Scottish Highlands. On 12 August, while visiting the port of Ullapool, he died suddenly at the age of 57.


He must have been very fond of the area: if you visit there today you can find his memorial. The inscription reads: In memory of/BASHLEY BRITTEN/aged 57 years/of Twickenham, Middlesex/died at Ullapool/Augt 12th 1882.

Sadly, Bashley wasn’t able to enjoy the delights of playing chess in Twickenham very long. His namesake Wallace, however, was around rather longer.

First of all, I can find no relationship at all between Bashley and Wallace, nor to the Northampton player W E Britten, who played in the same team as William Harris and against teams including members of the Marriott family. Nor, as far as I can tell, were any of them related to Edward Benjamin Britten.

There is another connection, though, between Bashy and Wally. Bashy’s only daughter, Ada, married Algernon Frampton, who worked on the Stock Exchange, as did Wallace Britten.

We can pick him up on the 1881 census: he’s 32 years old, a clerk to a stock & share jobber, living with his wife Emily and his sister-in-law, together with a servant and a boarder. Further searching reveals that they had had two children, born in Islington in 1872 and 1874, who had both died in infancy.

Source: Google Maps

By 1891 they’d moved to Rozel, 5 Strawberry Hill Road, then and now one of the most desirable streets in Twickenham. They now had a one-year-old son, Wallace Ernest, and two of his wife’s sisters were living there along with two servants. Wally was by now a Member of the Stock Exchange, so must have been doing pretty well for himself. He was still involved with Twickenham Chess Club at the time, but the last reference I can find for him is the following year. Perhaps increasing demands of work, or the desire to spend time with Wally Junior, made it harder for him to pursue his favourite game.

He’d remain at the same address for the rest of his long life. He died on 16 March 1938, and is buried in Teddington Cemetery. According to his probate record, he left £5,328 13s 5d to his son Wallace Ernest Britten, Colonel HM Army and his nephew Julius Campbell Combe, Authorised Stockbrokers Clerk. Wally Junior would eventually become a Lieutenant Colonel in the Royal Engineers, and be awarded the OBE: his son Robert Wallace Tudor Britten would also have a distinguished military career. Again, Benjamin would not have been happy.

Wallace Britten, apart from being a pretty useful club chess player, was a man who seems to have led a successful life, but one marked also by the sadness of losing his first two children. But where did he come from? He married in early 1872, but if we consult the 1871 census we might ask “Where’s Wally?”.

I eventually managed to track him down in Islington, working as a clerk and lodging with the large family of a builder named Julius Combe, a name you might recognize. His name appears to be Walter rather than Wallace, and his age seems to be 30 rather than 23. It was one of Julius’s daughters, Emily, he married the following year. I can’t as yet find him in 1861: it’s quite likely he was away at school: school pupils were often only listed by their initials in census returns. If I look for Walter, rather than Wallace, though, he’s there in 1851.

His parents, it seems, were Edwin Josiah Britten and Selina Pedder, and there he is, aged 3, living in Bloomsbury with his parents, big brothers Edwin and Alfred, and baby sister Laura. (Edwin Junior had been baptised at St Clement Danes Church by William Webb Ellis, who allegedly invented rugby by picking up a football and running with it.) Edwin senior was a Fancy Leather Worker employing two persons. Another daughter, Rachel, would be born the following year, but in October 1852 his father was admitted to the lunatic asylum at Colney Hatch, where he died in 1855. By 1861, Selina had taken over her late husband’s business as well as bringing up her children, but Wallace/Walter wasn’t there.

How did this scion of a lower middle class family end up on the Stock Exchange, playing chess and living in a substantial house in a Thames-side suburb? The answer is that we don’t know. He certainly wasn’t lacking in either ambition or ability.


His grave looks like it needs a bit of attention, but at least he has one, unlike Florence Smith, who died three years before him and lies in an unmarked grave. Her sisters and children never visited, but her grandson pauses in remembrance every time he passes by. Next time you find yourself playing chess in Twickenham, spare a thought for the Britten boys, Wallace and Bashley, two of the leading players in the early years of the first Twickenham Chess Club.

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Minor Pieces 16: Nicholas Demetrio

Last time I wrote about Oliver Harcourt Labone. Further research has revealed more information about his mother and both his (probable) biological and step-fathers, along with further coincidences. No chess, this time, I’m afraid, but some great stories.

Let’s start with Richard Austwick Westbrook. He was a solicitor, born in 1815: his father, also Richard, would, on at least two occasions, hit financial problems. He married in 1841 and had four children, but his wife died in 1852.

At that point he employed Anne Topley, the daughter of a canal agent from Long Eaton, Nottinghamshire, as a governess for his children, bought another house and instructed her to bring up the children there while also running it as a boarding house. At some point, Richard and Anne started an affair. On 20 May 1854, an Arthur Westbrook, son of Richard Austwick and ‘Annette’ was baptised at St Mary’s Paddington, but there’s no matching birth record and no further evidence of him. On 18 May 1855 they married clandestinely at St Paul’s Hammersmith, and two sons were born: Rowland Martin in 1857 and Oliver Harcourt in 1858.

At some point things started to go wrong. Richard moved into lodgings with Janette Cathrey while Anne took an interest in one of the lodgers in her boarding house: a Greek merchant named Nicholas Demetrio who had moved there in 1857. It’s possible, I suppose, that Nicholas rather than Richard was Oliver’s biological father.

The Demetrio family, it seems, had been running dodgy businesses for years. The company was started by Nicholas’s father and seemed to involve his brother Antonio, perhaps another brother, Gregory, and possibly another brother as well. They apparently had branches in Trieste and Cairo as well as London and Liverpool. Looking at passenger lists of ships coming into England, there are various Demetrios there, including a Demetrio Antonio Demetrio, who might have been either Antonio or their father, claiming various nationalities including Italian and Austrian. It’s quite possible, as we’ll see, that they were using various pseudonyms as well, perhaps including Labone.

In August 1859, however, Demetrius Antonio di Demetrio was declared bankrupt, ‘having carried on business as a merchant, in the Greek trade, under the title of Messrs. A. di Demetrio and Sons. It’s not at all clear to me exactly how many Demetrios there were.

Meanwhile, Nicholas encouraged Richard to move up to Liverpool to start a company there which would bear his name, but would actually be run by the Demetrios. While he was away, ‘intimacy took place’ between Nicholas and Anne, and in 1860 a son, Clement Leslie, was born, with the birth record giving false surnames for both parents.

And then, at the end of March 1860 there was an extraordinary court case held just down the road from me in Kingston. If you have access to online newspaper sites I’d encourage you to look up Whitmore and others, Assignees, v. Lloyd. The reports make hilarious reading. Basically, the Demetrios’ creditors were trying, unsuccessfully as it would turn out, to get their money back. It was claimed that Antonio and his brother Nicholas were setting up bogus companies in various names such as Lebous (not all that far from Labone), Dalgo (not all that far from Clement’s birth surname Dalba) and Lambe. Likewise, the company Richard Westbrook was setting up in Liverpool was equally fraudulent. Anne Westbrook was involved in all this, as was a friend of hers named Mary Anne Bridget Martin, both of whom gave evidence in the case. I can find nobody of that name in that area in the 1861 census or anywhere else, so she might also have been a fraud. We’ll meet her again later.

Neither Antonio nor Nicholas was present at the hearing: both had apparently disappeared without trace. Of course we now know that Nicholas was, by 1861, living in Glasgow under the name Labone.

Moving swiftly forward, we reach June 1861, when the divorce courts heard the case Westbrook v Westbrook and Demetrio. Richard was suing Anne for divorce because of her adultery with Nicholas. He, it was believed, had left the country (yes, he was in Scotland) and did not appear. As always in those days the court decided it was the woman’s fault and granted Richard a decree nisi. Nicholas’s name appears in court reports as ‘Nicolas Antonio di Demetrio’ which prompts the question of whether Nicholas and Antonio were the same person.

About this time Anne must have moved up to Glasgow with Rowland, Oliver and Clement to join Nicholas, where they lived as husband and wife. Anne was now calling herself Annie Mary Labone, and giving her maiden name as Copley rather than Topley. Nicholas set up business as a Professor of Languages, teaching French, German and Italian, and in 1862 their daughter, Flora, was born. Again, things didn’t work out: in November 1863 he was declared bankrupt, and worse was to come when their baby son Gregory, named after one of his possible brothers, was born prematurely and died after only 36 hours.

We find the family in the 1871 Scottish census, by which time Nicholas had joined Glasgow Chess Club and, apart from playing on a high board, was very much involved in the club’s administration. But at some point fairly soon afterwards they split up and, separately, moved down to the Liverpool and Manchester areas. At some point he might have resumed his chess career: a player named Demetrio represented Manchester against Liverpool in 1881 and 1883.

Annie now came up with a new idea to make money: for thirty years she would send begging letters to newspapers and magazines asking for charity for her elderly and infirm friend, Miss Mary Ann Bridget Martin – the friend from the 1861 court case – and selling various quack remedies. In 1879 she was running a seminary for young ladies in Birkenhead. A professor of languages at the school, one Charles M Grabmann, was accused of assaulting an elderly cook who had refused to make pea soup, but the case, predictably, was dismissed. I can’t find anything else about Grabmann, whoever he was. Perhaps yet another fraud. In 1882 she was declared bankrupt, described as a widow and former schoolmistress.

But she wasn’t a widow at all: Nicholas was still alive and well. He was living in Barrow-in-Furness, where, also in 1882, he married a teenage girl named Ellen or Helen Bowkett. (In those days Ellen and Helen were interchangeable, which reminds me of another Minor Piece I intend to write at some point.) He’d also changed his name again, to Demet, a shortened version of his real surname. Shortly after the marriage they moved to Manchester. According to the birth records they had four sons between 1885 and 1891, followed  by a daughter in 1897. The 1891 census lists an older son, Broderick, born in about 1883 but there’s no birth or any other record for him. He claims to be aged 53 (he was certainly several years older), a Professor of Languages and born in Versailles (who knows?). He was still there and still in the same occupation in 1901, but by 1911 he wasn’t at home. Helen was there, claiming to be married rather than widowed, and telling us they’d had six children, all of whom were still alive, but there’s no sign of Nicholas and no death record has yet been found. Anne, meanwhile, had died in Liverpool in 1899.

Returning to London and the year 1861, just a few weeks after the divorce, Richard, during an argument at the kitchen table following a visit to the opera, threw a table knife at Janette Cathrey, ‘an extremely portly woman’ with ‘a protruding belly’, who may or may not have been his mistress, hitting her in the abdomen and causing a fatal injury. A first trial found him guilty of manslaughter, but a second trial cleared him. Just a year later he married again, to Emma Louise Shipman, who was more than twenty years his junior. Richard and Emma had two sons, Henry and Alexander.

In 1881, Henry was a law student: it must have been intended that he would follow in his father’s footsteps, but he would eventually choose several very different careers. By 1891 he’d moved to, guess where?, Leicester, where he and Alexander were running a pub. Alexander had married and had three young children. In 1901 Henry was still in Leicester, but now working as a printer’s clerk. He’d married a widow with two young children, but Alexander and his family are nowhere to be found. Perhaps they were abroad.

By 1911 Alexander and his family were in Brixton. He was now working as a Variety Agent, with his son helping him and his two daughters employed as dancers. They were doing well enough to afford two domestic servants. Henry was still in Leicester, and in the same business as his brother. He was described as a Music Hall Manager, and was living with his wife, his step-daughter and his widowed mother.

If you check his address, he was just half a mile, or thereabouts, away from Oliver Harcourt Labone, his presumed (assuming Richard was indeed his father) half-brother. Quite a coincidence. I presume neither of them had any idea. If either of them had walked a mile or so to the south, they could have visited the Victorian terraces of Sheridan Street, the home of Tom Harry James. He was a house painter living with the five youngest surviving children of his first wife (there were 12 in total). He’d just remarried and would go on to have another six children, the youngest of whom, Howard, was my father.

And there’s more. Henry Westbrook’s first wife died in 1913, and in 1920 he married another widow, Matilda Manger, who had been born Matilda Cort in Market Harborough. Now Cort has always been a common surname in the Leicester and Market Harborough areas, and there are many in my family tree. One particularly interesting branch, related to me by marriage, for example, goes back to Benjamin Cort who was born in nearby Great Bowden in 1644. Now Matilda was the daughter of Charles Cort, who was in turn the son of Robert. At the moment I can’t take this back any further as there were several Robert Corts born in Market Harborough at about the same time. But it’s reasonable to assume that Matilda was from the same family as the Corts who married into my family at various points. So perhaps I can claim a connection, via a couple of marriages or so, to Henry Westbrook, and therefore also to Oliver Harcourt Labone.

It’s quite a story, isn’t it? All three of them, Richard, Anne and Nicholas, seemed to be crooks, fraudsters, con artists, liars and more, and all regularly in financial trouble. You really couldn’t make it up. It’s hardly surprising that Oliver had so many problems in his life.

Nicholas, for all his faults, was clearly a highly intelligent and well educated man, fluent in several languages and also a reasonably proficient chess player. Perhaps it required the skills of a chess player to set up the elaborate fraud upon which his first business was based. Anne seemed to have a knack of falling for unsuitable men. Richard was, among other things, a violent, if unintentional, killer.

You’ll meet my grandfather’s family again another time, but for now it really is time to return to Twickenham, and perhaps some more chess.

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