Last time I looked at the short but eventful life of Arthur Compton Ellis. He seemed to have a very good chess playing friend in George Tregaskis.
It’s time to find out more. Let’s start with this charming photograph, which, for rather obscure reasons, ended up in a museum collection in British Columbia.
As you might have guessed, the name Tregaskis is of Cornish origin, but George, the young man in this photograph, moved to London, finding work as a Fire Insurance Clerk. He married Annie Isabella Balfour in 1883, fathering four children, our George (born 18 February 1884), Oswald, Annie and, very much later, Frances.
We can pick him up in the 1901 census: the family is living at 36 Alderbrook Road, just south of Clapham Common, and George Junior, aged 17, has the same occupation as his father. Although George Senior doesn’t seem to have been a competitive chess player himself, he must have taught his children to play.
George Junior’s job would probably have involved gaining experience in different insurance offices in different parts of the country. We have a one-off mention of G Tregaskis playing for West Bridgford (Nottingham) in an away match against the Belgrave club of Leicester, where he won both his games on Board 4. This is quite likely to be our man, but we can’t be certain.
By 1911 he’d moved to Stoke on Trent, where the census found him living as a lodger with a widow, Lois Toft, and her 24 year old daughter Evangeline Maud. Everyone should have a daughter named Evangeline Maud. He joined the nearby Hanley Chess Club and, by October 1912, was chairing the county AGM. The 1912 edition of Kelly’s Directory tells us he was the District Superintendent, working for the Sun Insurance Office, 10 Pall Mall.
As you’ll have seen last time, his friend Arthur Compton Ellis (you’ll find three games played between them if you follow the above link) suddenly appeared in Stoke in early 1913. George and Arthur both played in a congress in Hastings, where George, in his first tournament, performed outstandingly well. Would this be the start of a glittering chess career?
You then saw that, in July 1913, the two friends suddenly left town: Arthur moved back to London, and then, tragically, to Oundle, while George’s work took him to Bristol.
He did, however, return to Stoke later in the year, when he tied the knot with his landlady’s daughter, Evangeline. It seems that his new mother-in-law joined him in Bristol, where the three of them set up house together.
He didn’t waste much time joining the local chess club.
Observant readers will notice that the unfortunately initialled FU Beamish shared a surname with one of Arthur Compton Ellis’s opponents. You’ll find out more very soon.
The winner of this event was Scottish born Master Baker Henry Pinkerton, with George Tregaskis finishing in second place.
For a while chess in Bristol continued during the First World War, but there’s little mention of activity between 1915 and 1920.
In December 1920 Bristol & Clifton played their first match against Swindon in a decade.
George had some interesting teammates. Comins Mansfield, on top board, was one of the leading chess problemists of the last century, and also a strong over-the-board player.
Agnes Augusta Talboys, down on board 14, was an artist whose paintings often involved her two passions, chess and cats. With any luck, she’ll be the subject of a future Minor Piece.
The 1921 census recorded George, Evangeline and Lois, along with a young general domestic servant, living at 21 Clyde Road, Bristol. George was working at the Sun Insurance Office as an Insurance Clerk, Evangeline was performing Home Duties, while Lois had no occupation. There would be no children of the marriage.
The following year, George Tregaskis, nine years after his tournament debut, finally had another opportunity to take part in a major event. As the champion of the West of England, he was invited to take part in the top section what would be the first of three biennial tournaments in the Somerset resort of Weston super Mare. International stars Geza Maroczy and Boris Kostic took on some of England’s leading players, headed by Sir George Thomas and Fred Yates.
The very unexpected winner, at the age of 63, was Joseph Henry Blake, as you’ll see below.
(Apologies to Fred Dewhirst Yates: ChessBase, annoyingly, still haven’t got his name right. It also cut off the last letter of Mr Louis’ third forename while seemingly being ignorant of our hero’s full name.)
You’ll also see that it didn’t go well for Tregaskis. In the very first round he provided the talented but erratic Hubert Price with his only win. In Round 2 he opened his account with a draw against Mackenzie, in a game which went into a second session.
His third round game was also a long one.
Stockfish doesn’t think Mr Tregaskis ever had the upper hand, but you can judge for yourself. Click on any move for a pop-up window.
In the next round he faced Kostic, starting well enough, but, as so often happens when an amateur plays a master, he lost the thread in the middle game, after which his king fell victim to a snap attack, ending up uncomfortably on h4.
In Round 5 Tregaskis lost to Louis, but in the sixth round he managed to double his score with a draw against Spencer. The press reports suggest that his opponent missed a win.
Round 7 saw a heavy defeat against the eventual tournament winner, who played one of his pet opening variations.
In Round 8 George Tregaskis faced Yates, and managed to take him to a second session before capitulating. In the final round, despite having the white pieces against Maroczy, he lost quickly to a mating attack.
From the evidence of these games, it seems he was rather out of his depth against master standard opponents. Sometimes he went wrong in the opening, and, if he survived that part of the game he defended doggedly, but usually in vain.
Two years later he was back at Weston Super Mare, but this time relegated to the second section, billed as the ‘Minor Open’, where he managed 50% against strong amateur opposition. Max Euwe won the top section ahead of Sir George Thomas.
Later that year he left Bristol, moving to Kent, where he soon joined Bromley and Beckenham Chess Club as well as the Insurance Chess Club, and also represented Kent in county matches.
In this 1925 encounter on Hastings Pier he just missed playing a ‘brilliant young Russian from Hastings’.
Some interesting names on both sides, some of whom you’ll be meeting in future Minor Pieces.By 1928 the family had moved across South London to Sutton, where George, Evangeline and Lois were recorded as living in a house called The Crest in The Downsway, half way between the town centre and Royal Marsden Hospital, a tree-lined road of large detached houses: suburban living at its finest. As a result of this move he changed his county allegiance from Kent to Surrey.
In this match, played at St Bride’s Institute, a venue all London players of my generation will remember well, he helped his new county to an overwhelming victory.
In this match from 1930, Surrey were defeated by their northern rivals from Lancashire.
You can find out more about the Lanacshire boards 8 and 11 here. You’ll also spot Cecil Frank Cornwall: in those days it was the custom that county champions automatically played on top board.
George Tregaskis was also playing for Battersea at this time, although he lived some way away. Perhaps it was convenient for him to drop in on his way home from work.
Here he is, captaining the Insurance Chess Club in a one-sided match against the War Office.
George also played for Lud-Eagle in the London League.
You’ll see that the match was undecided due to that quaint old-fashioned concept of adjudication. Oh, wait a minute…!
He had an interesting opponent in this 1935 county match against Essex.
(Isaac) Reginald Vesselo would go on to found the Chess Education Society. (He appeared on my Twitter timeline the other day as an attendee at the Ximenes 1000 Crossword Dinner: the 1st prize for that crossword was won by chess sponsor, problemist and banker Sir Jeremy Morse.) The Essex board two, Richard ‘Otto’ Clarke, would go on to devise the BCF Grading System. We’re now getting towards my time: many of my contemporaries would have known and played Frank Parr. I played both Nevil Coles and Jack Redon (whom I knew very well, but that’s another story for another Minor Piece.)
In this 1936 London League match he was up against an even more interesting, and perhaps rather disturbing, opponent.
Yes, this was indeed Aleister Crowley, ‘wickedest man in the world’ and star of The (Even More) Complete Chess Addict. One wonders whether George enjoyed the post mortem.
He continued playing up until the outbreak of World War II, taking 6th place behind Harry Golombek in the 1939 Surrey Championship.
At this point George, his wife and mother-in-law, moved down to Hove. Did his job take them there, or did they consider it prudent, with war imminent, to leave London? In the 1939 Register their address is given as 87 Hove Park Road, and his job is still an Insurance Superintendent. Although there was some chess being played in Sussex during the war, he seems to have decided it was time to hang up his pawns.
Lois Toft died on 6 December 1945, leaving only £141 15s 4d, with probate granted to her daughter. George died on 12 September 1959, leaving £3122 15s 5d. His address was given as 15 The Droveway, Hove, parallel to and immediately north of Hove Park Road. Evangeline moved to Goring-by-Sea, near Worthing, dying four years later, on 18 September 1963, and leaving £11143 14s.
Although he never fulfilled the promise of his first tournament appearance, George Tregaskis was a strong club and county player (EdoChess considers him about 2000 strength) who contributed much to chess, as an administrator as well as over the board, for almost 30 years. He deserves to be remembered.
There’s one nagging question, though. I still wonder about his relationship with Arthur Compton Ellis. Were they any more than just close friends? Was his marriage to Evangeline motivated by friendship rather than passion? Would this explain why his mother-in-law always lived with them? I don’t know: perhaps I’m reading too much into it, but perhaps he was hiding a story very similar to that hidden by his Lud-Eagle teammate Henry Holwell Cole. At some point there may well be more about him in another Minor Piece.
Sources and acknowledgements:
English Chess Forum
Hastings Chess Club website
Then Ellis comes with rapid transit, And few there are who can withstand it; Some day soon he’s bound to land it.
So said the bard of Richmond Chess Club at their 1911 AGM. Arthur Compton Ellis was a man who lived his life, as well as playing his chess, with rapid transit. Although he spent little more than two years in the area, he flashed like a meteor across the Richmond and Kew chess scene.
Let’s find out more.
Our story starts on 20 September 1887, with the marriage between George Frederick Ellis, a surveyor aged 39 and Margaret Fraser, aged 31. Rather late for marriage in those days. Their only child, Arthur Compton Ellis’s birth was registered in the Pancras district of London in the first quarter of 1889.
In the 1891 census the family are living in Kentish Town. George is working as a Surveyor of Roads and Sewers, and they’re doing well enough to employ a servant. By 1901 they’ve moved a mile to the north, close to Parliament Hill Fields: George is now, just like James Richmond Cartledge would be a few years later, a Deputy Borough Engineer and Surveyor. Margaret is, perhaps unexpectedly, working as a Physician and Surgeon, while Arthur is at school. There were no domestic staff at home.
Arthur moved from school to the University of London, where he graduated with a BA in 1909, at the age of only 20. In the same year his father died: the death was registered in Camberwell, South London.
Perhaps he discovered the game of chess at university. He may also have discovered religion. In 1908 he was baptised at St Luke’s Church, Kew, with his address given as 40 West Park Road, right by Kew Gardens Station. At this point the family appeared to have connections, then, with both the Richmond/Kew area and South London.
He first turns up playing for Richmond Chess Club in December 1908, losing his game on bottom board in a London League match against Ibis. It looks like he joined the club on the completion of his studies. Although he seemed to be struggling in match play at this point, in April 1909 he finished second in a lightning tournament, which, that year, replaced the annual club dinner.
In 1910, now styling himself A Compton Ellis, he was advertising his tuition services in the Daily Telegraph. LCP was a teaching qualification.
By Summer 1910 he felt confident enough to take part in a tournament. The British Championships took place that year in Oxford, and Arthur was placed in the 3rd Class C section.With a score of 10½/11, it was clear that he was improving fast, and should have been in at least the 2nd Class division. The prizes were presented by none other than William Archibald Spooner.
A handicap tournament also took place there, in which he won first prize: a model of the earth with a clock inside, enabling him to ascertain the time of day in any part of the world. This prize was donated by its inventor, James Haddon Overton, a schoolmaster from Woodstock.
In September that year, not content with only playing at Richmond, where he had now reached top board in a match against Acton, he was one of the founders of a new club in Kew.
Richmond and Kew weren’t his only clubs, either. He was also a member of South London Chess Club, about which there’s very little information online.
In this London League game he fell victim to a brilliant queen sacrifice. Click on any move in any game in this article for a pop-up window enabling you to play through the game.
Arthur Compton Ellis was infectiously enthusiastic, ambitious and seemed to have contacts with a number of strong amateur players, mostly from the Civil Service, as is demonstrated by this event.
A win against our old friend Wilfred Hugh Miller Kirk was also evidence that Arthur was developing into a formidable player.
The 1911 census found Arthur and his mother still living at 40 West Park Road, Kew Gardens. Arthur gave his occupation as ‘Tutor’ while there was no occupation listed for Margaret.
By then it was time for another tournament. The Kent and Sussex Chess Congress, run by the Kent County Chess Association took place over Easter at this time. It’s little written about today, but it attracted some of the country’s top players. The top section in the 1911, for example, played in Tunbridge Wells, was won by Yates ahead of Gunsberg. The organising committee, coincidentally, included the Kent secretary Rufus Henry Streatfeild Stevenson, and the Sussex secretary, Harold John Francis Spink Stephenson. Arthur Compton Ellis took part in the third section down, the Second Class Open, where he was again too good for the opposition, finishing on 8½/10, half a point ahead of Battersea veteran Bernard William Fisher (1836-1914), who had been a master standard player back in the 1880s. Visitors included Frank Marshall, who gave a simul and a talk, and Joseph Blackburne, who gave simuls and played consultation games. Horace Fabian Cheshire gave a talk, with lantern slides, on chess players past and present, and also an exposition of the game of Go. It sounds like a good time was had by all.
Arthur persuaded Frank Marshall to visit Richmond and give a simul against members of local chess clubs, and that was duly arranged.
The AGM in September would report as follows:
Always eager to play in any event, he won the Dalgarno-Robinson chess trophy, competed for by members of local branches of the Association of Young Men’s Clubs, and played on top board when Richmond Chess Club visited Hastings, drawing his game against the aforementioned Mr Stephenson.
He decided to give the 1911 British Championship, held in Glasgow, a miss, though. Perhaps he wasn’t prepared to travel that far.
The Richmond Herald was now carrying less chess news, but we know from a report from the other end of Surrey that Kew Chess Club were becoming even more successful.
You’ll see that Ellis didn’t stand for re-election as captain. This seems to have been because Arthur and Margaret had moved from Kew to South London.
Over Easter 1912, though, he returned to Tunbridge Wells for the Kent and Sussex Easter Congress, this time promoted to the top (First Class Open) section. Now against stronger opposition, this time he found the going tough, only scoring 2½/8.
The winner was the future Sir George Thomas, who wasted little time of disposing of Ellis, who misplaced his queen’s knight on his 11th move.
However, he did have the satisfaction of defeating Fred Brown, one of two chess playing brothers from Dudley. (He had a brother Frank, who was also a strong player. Understandably, in the days when newspapers only gave players’ initials, they were often confused.) Fred shared second place with future BCM editor Julius du Mont in this tournament.
It seems that he was lucky here: his opponent resigned what may well have been a drawn position as he would have had chances of a perpetual check if he’d continued with 32… Kf7!. What do you think?
At the same event, Arthur and his friend from Kew, Montague White Stephens, played in a consultation simul against Blackburne. They were successful after the great veteran uncharacteristically missed a simple mate in 3 on move 19.
Montague White Stevens (1881-1947) was only a club standard player, but he edited the 1914 Year Book of Chess and produced a revised edition of EA Greig’s Pitfalls on the Chess-Board.
In April 1912 a new Chess Divan opened in the Strand, replacing Simpson’s Chess Divan, which had closed a few years earlier, and Gunsberg was appointed its manager. Arthur, who would go almost anywhere for a game of chess, was soon involved. With lightning tournaments a regular feature, a devotee of rapid transit chess would be in his element.
In May’s lightning tournament there was a full house, with the participants ‘mostly first-class amateurs’. Arthur shared first place with future British Champion Roland Henry Vaughan Scott and future writer and historian Philip Walsingham Sergeant. Lightning chess was proving increasingly popular, and I would assume this tournament was played using a buzzer. But there was an announcement that the following week there would be a five-minute tournament ‘which affords such amusing play’. If you think five-minute chess is amusing, you should try bullet. Arthur would have loved that.
In June there were only 12 players in the lightning tournament, with Arthur Compton Ellis sharing first place with Harold Godfrey Cole, who had played in the previous year’s Anglo-American cable match and would, a couple of months later, take second place in the British Championship. It’s evident from these results that he was a formidable speed player.
He was, inevitably, involved in administration as well.
A strong and interesting line-up, you’ll agree, with players such as former World Championship candidate Isidor Gunsberg and top lady player Louisa Matilda Fagan amongst many well-known participants.
This wasn’t a standard all-play-all tournament: rather you could play as many games as you wanted against as many opponents as you wanted, with the player with the best percentage score of those who played at least 20 games winning. It sounds like you could improve your chances by playing lots of games against weaker players. On 22 June the London Evening Standard reported that Ellis had beaten Mrs Fagan and drawn with Scott.
There was further news in three weeks time, when some players had made a lot of progress with their games.
In this game against Scotsman John Macalister, a shorthand writer in the Admirality Court, he was winning but went wrong on move 19 in a complex position, eventually falling victim to a queen sacrifice.
By the end of August, Loman and Scott were both on 13/16, with 18 games now required for your score to count, but after that the trail goes dead. It looks to me like the whole concept was rather too ambitious to succeed.
But meanwhile, the 1912 British Championships had taken place in Richmond, familiar territory for Arthur Compton Ellis. This time he was placed in the 1st Class Amateurs A section.
He made a strong showing with 7/11, sharing 3rd place behind Surbiton ophthalmic surgeon Thomas Wilfrid Letchworth (Wilfred Kirk won the parallel 1st Class Amateurs B section), but at this point he seemed to be a stronger lightning player.
This game shared the prize for the best game played in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd class sections, judged by Thomas Francis Lawrence. The winning move seems pretty obvious to me, though. There is some doubt as to the exact identity of his opponent: three possibilities were put forward in a recent online debate, and you could perhaps add a fourth. I’ll discuss this further in a future Minor Piece.
He later provided brief annotations for the press, where it appeared immediately above a Very Famous Miniature which had been played a few days earlier. I’m sure you’ll recognise it.
This thrilling game against music professor Edward Davidson Palmer (he taught singing), in which Arthur ventured the King’s Gambit, is a good demonstration of his fondness for tactical play. His opening failed to convince and Palmer missed several wins, but he ultimately escaped with the full point.
Over the next few months there’s little news of his chess playing, but then something unexpected happens. He turns up in, of all places, Stoke on Trent, or, to be precise, nearby Hanley.
Why Stoke on Trent? What was he doing there?
There are two possibilities. On Board 2 for Hanley was schoolmaster Joshua Walter Dixon, whom he had met in Oxford back in 1910: they were in different sections of the main event, but both competed in the handicap tournament. Perhaps he had been in touch to offer him employment there, either in a school or as a private tutor.
But look also at Arthur’s opponent from Mecca: George Tregaskis. It appears that Arthur and George were very close friends. They may well have met earlier: George was originally from South London before moving to Stoke for business reasons, so could well have been a member of the South London Chess Club at the time. He also visited the Divan in 1912 when returning to London to visit his family, so, again, they might have known each other from there. Who knows?
Here they are, in the same team, playing for Hanley in a whitewash over Walsall. Their top board, Joseph William Mellor, was a particularly interesting chap.
Here’s Arthur’s win. He was in trouble most of the way until his opponent went wrong right at the end.
The Kent and Sussex tournament took place over Whitsun at Hastings in 1913. Arthur and George travelled down together, and were both placed in the First Class A tournament.
In his first round game against Inland Revenue man David Miller, Arthur switched from his usual e4 to d4, essaying the Colle-Zukertort Opening. It didn’t go well.
Arthur had beaten George in a club match, and, when they were in the same team, played on a higher board, but here it was Tregaskis who came out on top after his opponent miscalculated a tactical sequence.
Here’s how it ended up.
Unsurprisingly, the masters, Yates and Thomas, outclassed the opposition, who were mostly, with the exception of Middleton and Sugden, strong club players.
A remarkable performance, though, by George Tregaskis in his first tournament, but perhaps slightly disappointing for Arthur Compton Ellis, whose progress seemed, temporarily, to have slightly stalled. Perhaps he needed, as chess teachers always tell their young pupils, to slow down and control his impulses.
With two young and talented new players in their ranks, the future for Staffordshire chess was looking bright. Hanley, after a lapse of three years, won the North Staffordshire League, ‘due in no small measure to the fact that the usual team was greatly strengthened by the inclusion of Mr. A. Compton Ellis, whose enthusiasm for the royal game is unlimited’, according to the Staffordshire Sentinel (4 June 1913).
But then, on 9 July: ‘Local players will hear with much regret that, owing to professional and business reasons, Messrs. A. Compton Ellis and G. Tregaskis have found it necessary to sever their connection with this district.’
George’s work took him to Bristol, as you’ll find out in a future Minor Piece. Arthur returned home to South London. Had he not wanted to remain in Stoke with his friend? Had his teaching work not gone as he’d hoped? We’ll never know.
The two friends kept in touch, playing two correspondence games, one with each colour, over the summer. Although he’d now left the area, Arthur kept in touch with the local paper, followed their chess columns, and submitted these games for publication.
In his game with White, Arthur experimented on move 6, unwisely following a Blackburne game, and, by the next move had a lost position. George concluded brilliantly.
In the game with colours reversed, Tregaskis improved on an Alapin game from the previous year, but went wrong in the ensuing complications. He then resigned a drawn position, missing the saving clause. Ellis’s opponents seemed to have a habit of resigning level positions!
The 1913 British Championships took place in Cheltenham. Arthur Compton Ellis took part again, playing in the First Class B section, where he scored a half point more than the previous year.
This left him in second place behind his Lancashire contemporary Norman Boles Holmes. George Tregaskis wasn’t playing, but you’ll see his other Hanley friend, Joshua Walter Dixon, there in First Class A. Unfortunately, the BCM failed to publish crosstables of these events.
Both Dixon and Ellis scored other successes there: Joshua won two problem solving competitions, while Arthur, although he only finished 7th in the handicap tournament, won a prize in a Kriegspiel (‘a peculiar, and modern, form of chess, unknown to more than 99 per cent. of chess players’) event.
Returning to London, Arthur Compton Ellis submitted two puzzles based on his games to the Staffordshire Sentinel. (The chess editor preferred to remain anonymous: perhaps it was Joshua Walter Dixon.)
It shouldn’t take you too long to find the mate in 4 here.
Two weeks later he offered a mate in 3, which has, although he seemed not to notice, two solutions, both involving attractive (but different) queen sacrifices. Can you find them both?
On 13 September Alekhine, on a brief visit to London, agreed to play a simul at the Divan in the Strand. Arthur, of course, was there.
He lost a pawn and was slowly ground down, but did anyone spot he had a fleeting opportunity for a draw in the pawn ending?
The following Monday he left London. He had a new job as an Assistant Master at Laxton Grammar School, part of the same foundation as Oundle School, but catering for local boys.
He soon encountered problems there, coming into conflict with the Headmaster, Rev Thomas Harry Ross. In November he was asked to hand in his notice.
What a tragic end to a short but eventful life. A life that promised much but ended far too soon. A man of great power and considerable ability. An impulsive young man. I think you can see that in his chess as well: at times brilliant, at times speculative, but almost always entertaining. You can also see how well he was thought of by his chess friends. Great power and considerable ability, yes, and also enthusiasm, energy and charisma. Looking back from a 2020s perspective you can perhaps see elements of ADHD and bipolar disorder, which tends to manifest itself between the ages of 20 and 25. Could Laxton have treated him better? Undoubtedly. You can only hope that, these days, someone like Arthur Compton Ellis would be better understood.
If he and his mother had chosen to remain in Kew, perhaps the history of chess in Richmond would have been very different. Had he devoted the next half century to playing and organising chess, you might have seen him as a British Championship contender, and perhaps an organiser of major chess events in my part of the world. If he’d lived a long life he might even have met me, and perhaps my life would have been different. I’d like to think that, as the founder of Kew Chess Club, which later merged with Richmond, some part of his spirit lives on in today’s Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club. Spare a thought for the short but frenetic life of a true chess addict: Arthur Compton Ellis.
There are a few loose ends to tie up. Arthur’s nemesis, Rev Thomas Harry Ross, in the years between the two World Wars, was Rector of Church Langton with Tur Langton and Thorpe Langton, where he would have ministered to the relations of Walter Charles Bodycoat, and perhaps to my relations as well. I’ll take up the story of Arthur’s friend George Tregaskis in a later article.
There’s one other mystery to look at.
St Albans? There’s nothing online yet about chess in St Albans at that time. He seems to have been in South London with his mother between leaving Stoke and arriving at Oundle. I suppose he might have been there late 1912/early 1913, when there was a gap of a few months in his chronology. We can also go back a few years, to May 1907, when AC Ellis, first from St Albans, then from Swindon, who was solving chess problems in the Bristol Times and Mirror. Was that our man? Was he, perhaps, in those towns for teaching practice? Who knows?
There’s an implication that the family were having some sort of financial problem. There’s also a slight mystery in that the coroner’s report gives his mother’s address as 12 Kilsworth Road Dulwich, while his probate record (he left £560 17s) gave his address as 12 Pickwick Road Dulwich Village. I can’t locate Kilsworth Road (or anything similar) so it may well be a mistake for Pickwick Road, which could also be considered to be in Herne Hill. By 1921 Margaret had returned to Kew, living on her own at 333 Sandycombe Road, just the other side of the railway from where she’d been living ten years earlier. It’s not at all clear when she died: there’s no death record close to Richmond and the family hasn’t been researched. There’s a possible death record in Islington in 1930: perhaps she’d returned to the area where she spent the first part of her life.
Join me again soon for some more Minor Pieces investigating the lives of some of Arthur Compton Ellis’s chess opponents.
findmypast.co.uk/British Newspaper Library
BritBase (John Saunders)
Yorkshire Chess History (Steve Mann)
Various other sources quoted and linked to above
You might think I’m biased, but I’ve long thought that the most important people in any chess club are not the players, but the organisers. The secretary, treasurer and match captains who ensure everything runs smoothly.
All successful chess clubs have at least one: the loyal member who stays with the club for decades, through good times and bad times, while others come and go. Turning up for almost every match. Taking on any job that nobody else wants to do. One of those was the subject of this Minor Piece, James Richmond Cartledge.
The first ‘modern’ Richmond Chess Club (there were earlier organisations using the same name, but they weren’t involved in over the board competitive chess against other clubs) was founded in 1893, continuing until 1940 when, as a result of the Second World War, most clubs shut down for the duration and beyond. For most of that period, for over 40 years, James was a fixture at Richmond Chess Club, so much so that, when looking for a middle name, he chose the name of his chess club. Through the reports of the club AGMs in the Richmond Herald, now conveniently available online, we can trace his changing role in the club as well as the club’s changing fortunes. We can also listen into their discussions, sometimes on subjects which are still relevant today, a century or so later.
But first, we should meet his father, Josiah Cartledge, who was one of the club’s founder members.
Josiah was born in Camberwell, South London, in 1836, so he was now 57 years old. He married a cousin, Marian Frances Bruin, in 1858. (She doesn’t seem to be immediately related to Josiah’s fellow committee member Frederick Arthur Bruin.) A year later a son, Arthur, was born, but tragically Marian died, probably either in or as a result of childbirth.
It wasn’t until ten years later that Josiah married again. His second wife was Frances Victoria Wastie, and their marriage would be blessed by three children, William (1870), Adeline Frances (1872) and James (1874). Josiah and Frances were both chess enthusiasts, competing to solve the problem in their newspaper of choice, the Morning Post, with young Arthur sometimes joining in.
Josiah was a legal clerk, a highly responsible job, and, round about 1873, he became Clerk of the Richmond Petty Sessions, moving out from South London. The 1881 census found the family at 5 Townshend Villas, Richmond, and they were still there in 1891, when his job had expanded: he was also Clerk to the Lunatic Asylum. William was helping him out, while 17 year old James, choosing a different career path, was an architect’s pupil.
It was no surprise then, that, when Richmond Chess Club started up in Autumn 1893, Josiah was one of the first through the door, and, given his status in society, he was a natural choice for the committee.
And here he is, from an online family tree.
Young James was now taking a serious interest in chess and it wasn’t long before his father brought him along to join in.
Here they are at the Annual Supper in 1896.
Before you ask, the Mr James there was no relation to me: it would be a few more years before I joined.
(Edwin Peed James (1853-1933) was a solicitor who hit financial problems, and, after being declared bankrupt, became a commercial traveller.)
Horace Lyddon Pring (1870-1938), a solicitor’s clerk working in accounts, was a young man with boundless energy and ambition. He was not only the club secretary, but treasurer and match captain as well. He reported that the club now had 45 members, 11 of whom were new, but they’d also lost a few. “One or two of the younger members had become mated so effectually – (laughter) – that they could not get out.” They had also moved to a new venue, having “started in a baker’s shop, but that got too hot for them. (Laughter).” Mr Pring also had a sense of humour.
At the end of the supper, toasts were drunk to the accompaniment of music. Songs (the popular music-hall ditties and parlour ballads of the time) were sung and the Kew Glee Singers contributed a selection of glees. Musical entertainments of this nature would continue to be a feature of Richmond Chess Club’s social events for many years to come.
An extract from the 1898 AGM shows the club making progress in several ways.
They had to move venues when their landlord put the fees up: still a familiar story for many chess clubs today. Nevertheless, the club was now attracting strong players such as our old friends Charles Redway and Guy Fothergill, and had arranged a visit from one of London’s leading players, Thomas Francis Lawrence. His annual simuls would become a club tradition lasting many years.
There were some exciting prizes for the lucky – or skillful – winners: dessert knives, a preserve dish and a matchbox.
Josiah was more of a social player, but James had a lot more ambition. By 1900 he was starting to play in competitions such as the Surrey Trophy, albeit on bottom board.
He had also acquired a middle name (he was just James at birth), possibly to avoid confusion with his father. Did he choose Richmond in honour of his home town, or of his chess club?
Here he is, then, winning his game against Thornton Heath. which, as often happened in those days, took place in central London rather than at either club.. Richmond had won the Beaumont Cup in its second season, 1896-97, but by now were trying their hand against the big boys, successfully in this case. The Surrey Trophy and the Beaumont Cup, then, as now, were Divisions 1 and 2 of the Surrey Chess League. Some things never change.
By 1901 Josiah’s job had moved to Mortlake while James had a new job as Assistant Surveyor for the Urban District of Barnes The family had moved to Milton House near Mortlake Station, probably somewhere on Sheen Lane near the junctions with Milton Road and St Leonard’s Road today: a location which would have also been handier if you were in the business of surveying nearby Barnes. Adeline and James were still at home with their parents, along with a cook and a housemaid.
By 1904 the club was in something of a slump, having lost a number of strong players they had withdrawn from the Surrey competitions and were only playing friendly matches along with their internal competitions. Both Josiah and James were very much involved, even though James had married Gertrude Francis (sic: it was her mother’s maiden name) Griffiths at Christ Church East Sheen the previous year. Sadly, it was to be Josiah’s last year.
If you’re interested in the notorious Kate Webster case, as I’m sure you are, Wikipedia deals with it here.
James and Gertrude went on to have three children, Raymond Francis (1905), Hilary Frances (1907) and Kathleen Vivian, known by her middle name (1911), but his new responsibilities as a husband and father didn’t stop his involvement with Richmond Chess Club. Although he had been mated, Gertrude still let him out.
1904 saw some of the club’s stronger players returning, and they were tempted to re-enter the Surrey Trophy. The following year’s AGM would announce that their membership had increased from 24 to 44 within the space of two years. James Cartledge must have been improving fast, as he was now playing on a much higher board.
Six adjudications in a 12 board match seems a bit unsatisfactory, but this situation would be common for many decades to come. You might consider any competition not decided on the night rather bizarre, but adjudications still happen occasionally in the Surrey League today.
At the 1909 AGM, James Richmond Cartledge was elected to the post of Treasurer, “it being remarked that that gentleman had served the club in the capacity of match captain and secretary”.
By the 1911 census the family were living in 10 Palewell Park, East Sheen, just off the South Circular Road. Baby Vivian had arrived a few days earlier, but had not yet been given a name. It was a crowded house, with James, Gertrude and their three young children, James’s sister Adeline, working as a day governess for another family, Gertrude’s sisters Helena and Annie, along with a monthly nurse to look after the baby and a domestic servant.
After the 1911 Richmond Chess Club AGM, hilarity ensued when, during the toasts, the Hon Secretary read out some verses composed by an anonymous member, describing some of the club’s members.
A few days later, another verse appeared: it’s not clear whether or not this was written by the same poet.
It makes McGonagall sound good, doesn’t it? Who knew that EJ Thribb was active in Richmond in 1911?
For several years the committee had been discussing the idea of inviting the British Chess Federation to hold their annual championships in Richmond, and that duly came to pass in 1912. Although the event was very successful, there were very few club members taking part. I’ll perhaps look more at the tournament in a future series of Minor Pieces.
James had certainly improved a lot since his first appearances on bottom board: now, as club champion, he was often to be found on top board when Charles Redway, who only played in the more important matches, was unavailable.
One of the musical guests at the Annual Dinner in April 1914 was Leslie Sarony, who performed ‘popular songs of the light comedian type’. Leslie, only 18 at the time, would have a long and successful career as a variety artist, writer and performer of novelty songs, and actor. He continued working into his 80s, with appearances in programmes such as Z-Cars, Crossroads and Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
Then, in 1914, war broke out. At their AGM the club decided that it was ‘business as usual’, although they had to appoint a new secretary, and their German member, who was fighting for the enemy, was no longer welcome.
There was less opportunity for competitive chess: the Surrey Trophy and Beaumont Cup ran in 1914-15, only the Surrey Trophy was contested in 1915-16, and then the league went into abeyance until the 1919-20 season. Friendly matches continued, though, as in this match between Richmond and their local rivals, which saw Cartledge facing an interesting opponent in Eric Augustus Coad-Pryor.
Although he was now in his 40s, James Richmond Cartledge was still ready to serve his country, and, with his knowledge of engineering, he signed up as a reservist for the Royal Engineers.
The 1917 AGM reported that he had been called up and was in France in the thick of the fighting.
Here he is, on New Years Eve 1919, applying for his Victory Medal.
Back from the war, James returned to his duties at the club with whom he shared a name, now taking the chair at their AGMs.
The 1921 census found him back at 10 Palewell Park, and again working as an Assistant Surveyor and Civil Engineer in the Local Government Service, employed by the Urban District of Barnes. His wife and children were all at home, and they in turn employed a domestic servant.
The 1921 AGM revealed that new clubs had started at Twickenham, Teddington and Barnes. There was also a discussion about how to attract more lady members: it was agreed to offer them a 5 shilling discount on their membership.
If they’d been looking for a new venue, they could have considered the Red Cow Hotel, Sheen Road, Richmond, which, on the same page, was advertising a Large Club Room for hire. Forty years or so later, their offer would be taken up by what was then the Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club.
The following year, the Hon. Secretary, Captain Wilkinson, reported that ‘the club had two lady members. He lent one of them a book on chess and he had neither seen nor heard of her since. He did think, however that chess was a game that women should take up’.
In 1923 the Club Dinner was revived, not having taken place since 1914. The format was very much the same as before, with speeches, prizegivings and musical entertainment provided by Miss Edythe Florence (contralto), Miss Florence (pianist), Mr. M. J. O’Brien (tenor) and Mr. Len Williams (humorist).
The club’s fortunes waxed and waned over the years, and by 1926, with seemingly little interest in chess in Richmond, and successful new clubs in Barnes and Twickenham proving more attractive for residents of those boroughs, questions were asked about the future.
In 1926 Captain Wilkinson decided to stand down for a younger man.
That younger and more energetic person turned out to be new member Wilfred Hugh Miller Kirk, not exactly a young man himself, but with an outstanding record in chess administration within the Civil Service. By the 1929 AGM, things were looking up. Kirk reported that the club had had their most successful season for several years, winning 12 of their 18 matches. Most importantly, although not mentioned in the newspaper report, a decision had been made to merge with Kew Chess Club. They now became Richmond & Kew Chess Club, acquiring new members, including Ronald George Armstrong, a player of similar strength to Kirk, and a new venue enabling them to resume meeting twice a week: once in Richmond and once in Kew. Having an enthusiastic and efficient club secretary makes a big difference. James Richmond Cartledge would still have been very much involved, his experience invaluable in the decision making process.
(Ronald George Armstrong (1893-1952), the son of a Scottish father and French mother, was, unusually for the time, but like Wilfred Kirk, a divorcee. His job involved selling calculating machines. He was clearly a strong player, but didn’t take part in external tournaments.)
In 1930 there was sad news for James as his wife Gertrude died in hospital at the age of 55, but his bereavement didn’t put an end to his chess activities.
By this time Kirk and Armstrong were disputing the top two boards, with Cartledge on board 3, as in this match against their local rivals.
While the Twickenham team lacked big names, their top boards must have been reasonable players. James Young Bell continued playing well into the 1960s: in 1965, in his late 80s, he played a board below the young John Nunn in a match between Surrey and Middlesex. At this time he was a next door neighbour of Wallace Britten in Strawberry Hill Road, thus providing a link between the two Twickenham Chess Clubs.
In that season, the newly amalgamated club won the Beaumont Cup for the first time since the 1896-7 season, As Wilfred Kirk explained at the AGM, ‘union is strength’. The following season they finished equal first with Clapham Common, but lost the play-off match.
Although they were successful over the board, membership numbers were still modest. The 1933 AGM reported only 24 members. By now James Richmond Cartledge had risen to the post of President, but asked the club not to nominate him again as he was retiring from business and planning to move away from the area. He was persuaded to agree to remain President until he moved, but in fact that would be further away than he expected. It appears he moved to Ham on his retirement, close enough to continue his membership.
In 1934 they were able to report that they had won the Beaumont Cup for the third time, but lost to Battersea in the final of the Alexander Cup.
The 1934 AGM brought up the important topic of social chess, the secretary’s report suggesting that the club should offer more time for casual games rather than too many tournament and match games. This discussion is still very relevant in all chess clubs today.
The Hon Secretary at the time was Francis Edward Yewdall (1875-1958), one of the club’s stronger players, who, coincidentally or not, had the same job as Cartledge in the neighbouring borough: he was the Assistant Surveyor for the Borough of Richmond.
The last mention we have for James Richmond Cartledge at Richmond & Kew Chess Club is in October 1938, so presumably it was soon after that date that he moved away.
By the time of the 1939 Register he hadn’t gone far. He was staying in the Mountcoombe Hotel in Surbiton, which, coincidentally, had also been the residence of chess problemist Edith Baird back in 1911. He then moved to the south coast: not, like many chess players, to Hastings, but to Bournemouth, where he died in 1943.
Yes, he rendered a long and useful service to the district, but the obituary failed to mention his long and useful service to Richmond (& Kew) Chess Club over a period of almost 40 years, serving at various times as secretary, treasurer, match captain, chairman and president. Although not of master standard, he was a strong club player (I’d guess about 2100 strength) as well. The likes of him, organisers and loyal club supporters, are just as important to the world of chess as grandmasters and champions. In his day it was the habit to drink toasts at club dinners: join me today in drinking a toast to James Richmond Cartledge.
BCN wishes Happy Birthday to IM Andrew P Horton (15-i-1998)
Andrew became a FIDE Master in 2015 and an International Master in 2018 following the 89th FIDE Congress 2018, 26 Sep – 6 Oct, Batumi, Georgia.
Andrew represents the 3Cs club in the Manchester League and in the Four Nations Chess League (4NCL) (as well as Wood Green) and, in addition, Wotton Hall, Durham City (during his University years) and Northumberland CA for county matches.
Andrew made regular appearences at the Delancey UK Chess Challenge and was placed 1st in the 2014 Terafinal, Challengers section.
In 2021 Andrew was invited and played in the London Chess Classic at the Cavendish Conference Centre.
Andrew’s ECF standard play rating at January 2023 is 2452K.
Last time we left Alice Elizabeth Hooke in 1914, on the outbreak of the First World War, a member of the London Ladies’ Chess Club and a competitor in the British Ladies’ Championships. She was unmarried, living in Cobham, and working as a Civil Servant for the Post Office Savings Bank near Olympia.
It would have been understandable if she had retired from chess at that point, but in the following decade she made a comeback. And what a comeback it was.
Our first post-war reference is in the 1921 British Championships, where she played in the Second Class A tournament, scoring 4½/11. I presume she wasn’t selected for the British Ladies’ Championship that year. Not having played for some years, and now in her late 50s, perhaps the selectors had good reason.
By 1922 Alice had moved from Cobham to Barnes, much more convenient for her job in Kensington, I suppose. Again, that year’s British Championship saw her competing in the Second Class A tournament, only managing 3/11.
On 27 October 1923 the Cheltenham Chronicle published this position, which, they claimed, won a brilliancy prize in that year’s British Championship. I think they made a mistake: there’s no evidence that Alice played in the British that year, and in any case the subsidiary tournaments were run in a different way. So this game must have been played the previous year, where one of her three wins was against Arthur William Daniel, better known as one of England’s leading problemists of his day. As always, click on any move for a pop-up window.
The pension age for both men and women was reduced from 70 to 65 in 1925, so it’s possible Alice was still working at this point.
Here, from about 1924, is a Ledger Room in Blythe House. I’d imagine Alice was in a more senior role: perhaps, with her undoubted administrative skills, she was supervising the ladies in this picture.
Rather unexpectedly, she moved out of London again at about this point, this time up to Abbots Langley, north of Watford: electoral rolls for the period give her address as The Bungalow, Tanners Hill. If she was still working in London this would have been quite a long commute for her.
By 1925 she was back at the British Championships, this time selected for the British Ladies’ Championship for the first time since 1914. Her score of 4½/11 was very similar to her previous scores in the event.
In 1928 Alice Elizabeth Hooke moved back to London, settling at 14 Brandon Mansions, Queens Club Gardens, W14, a mansion flat on the borders of Fulham and West Kensington, a mile or so from Blythe House (was she still working there?) and within easy reach of Hammersmith Bridge, where a bus would take her to visit her beloved brother George, whose wife would sadly die that year.
The British Championships that year took place in Tenby, and she made the journey to Pembrokeshire, where she more than surpassed her previous performances. She’d always finished mid-table in the past, but this time she finished in 3rd place with a score of 7/11 (including a win by default), behind Edith Charlotte Price and Agnes Bradley (Lawson) Stevenson.
This game, against the tournament winner, doesn’t show her in the best light. Alice chose a dubious plan in the opening and then made a tactical oversight, losing rather horribly.
At this point her chess career really took off. She joined Barnes Village Chess Club and, probably for the first time since the demise of the Ladies’ Chess Club, started playing regularly in club matches. You might have seen this before.
Barnes Village wasn’t the only club she joined. She also, rather improbably, joined Lewisham Chess Club over in South East London, playing for them in the London League and for Metropolitan Kent in a competition against other parts of the county. They had several female members, most notably the aforementioned Agnes Bradley Stevenson, who lived in Clapham and was married to the Kent born organiser Rufus Henry Streatfeild Stevenson: perhaps it was she who encouraged her friends to join Lewisham.
You’ll have seen a photograph of Alice playing Agnes Lawson, as she then was, in the previous article.
In 1929, now very much involved in Kent chess, she took part in their Easter congress, playing in the First Class A section. She also played in the British Ladies’ Championship again, which took place in Ramsgate that year, but found herself back in the middle of the pack, with a score of 5/11.
In June 1930 Alice took part in an event which attracted a lot of press attention: a chess match on a liner.
There she was, playing in the same team as Sultan Khan and other notables from various fields, one of thirteen ladies in the 32-player team (Board 32 was Mildred Gibbs). There, you’ll see, was Kate Finn, one of the F squad from the London Ladies’ Chess Club, from whom little had been heard since World War One. Although Agnes Stevenson wasn’t playing, her husband was there on board 13. There’s a lot more to say about this match: I’ll return to it in a later Minor Piece.
You can see Alice seated second from the right in this photograph of the event.
The British Ladies’ Championship in 1930 required a trip to Scarborough, and it was there that Alice Elizabeth Hooke scored what would be one of her greatest successes. She shared first place with Agnes Stevenson with a score of 8½/11. Although she lost the play-off it seemed that, now in her late 60s, Alice was in the form of her life.
The following month the news wasn’t so good, as Alice was involved in an accident requiring hospital treatment.
I can sympathise: Hammersmith Broadway has never been the easiest place to cross the road. Fortunately, she made a full recovery.
In 1931 in Worcester, Alice was less successful at the British Ladies’ Championship, but her score of 6½/11 was very respectable and sufficed for 5th place.
She didn’t have to travel far for the 1932 British Ladies’ Championship, which took place at Whiteley’s department store in Bayswater, which also hosted the Empire Social Chess Club. Perhaps the home advantage helped as she repeated her 1930 success, sharing first place this time with Kingston’s Edith Mary Ann Michell and her old rival Agnes Bradley Stevenson. Her loss to tailender Jeanie Brockett, from Glasgow, who had also beaten her last year, cost her the title.
The first game, played at the Empire Social Chess Club, Bayswater, London, on Thursday 8 September 1932, was a win for Agnes Stevenson against Edith Michell. Subsequent games had to await the return of Alice Hooke from holiday. Two games were played during the week 19-25 September in which Stevenson and Michell both won games from Hooke and Michell won her return game with Stevenson. Scores at that stage: Michell, Stevenson 2/3, Hooke 0/2. Then according to the Times, 3 October 1932, the following Tuesday (27 September) Michell beat Hooke, but then Hooke won against Stevenson on the Thursday (29 September) making the scores Michell 3/4, Stevenson 2/4 and Hooke 1/4. The text in the Times was as follows: “The match to decide the tie for the British Ladies’ Championship has ended in a win for Mrs. R. P. Michell, who defeated Miss Hooke on Tuesday last. There was a possibility of another tie between Mrs. Michell and Mrs. Stevenson, but Miss Hooke put this out of the question by defeating Mrs. Stevenson on Thursday, and the final scores are:—Mrs. Michell 3 points, Mrs. Stevenson 2, and Miss Hooke 1.”
As she approached her 70th birthday, Alice Elizabeth Hooke seemed finally to have established herself as one of the country’s finest woman players (excluding, of course, Vera Menchik). The results from the pre-war years, where she was consistently in the lower middle reaches, must have been a distant memory. Perhaps the standard of play among the British Ladies had declined, but even so, reaching her peak at this time of her life was undoubtedly a remarkable achievement. In between playing in the tournament, she was also supervising social chess at the Imperial Club, which suggests that, even at that age, she wasn’t short of stamina. Well played, Alice!
It’s unfortunate that very few games from the British Ladies’ Championship in these years have survived: if you come across any of Alice Elizabeth Hooke’s games from these events, do get in touch.
This was to be her last great result, though. Her performances in the three subsequent years saw her back in mid-table positions (4/11 in 1933, 5½/11 in 1934 and 5/11 in 1935), and she also played without success in the First Class A section of the 1933 Folkestone Congress. Perhaps her age was finally catching up with her.
Thanks to Brian Denman for providing this game from a county match where Alice was outplayed by a very strong opponent. The top 20 boards of this match were an official county championship match, for which Mackenzie wasn’t eligible.
Here she is in 1932 playing for Lewisham in the London League with Mrs Stevenson & Miss Andrews against a strong Hampstead team including another of her regular rivals, Edith Martha Holloway. There are some interesting names on both sides, but for now I’ll just draw your attention to the Hampstead Board 7 Thomas Ivor Casswell (1902-1989). He was still playing for Hampstead in the London League 42 years later: I played him in 1974: the result was a draw. The golden thread that binds us all together.
The Imperial Chess Club, which ran between 1911 and the outbreak of World War 2, along with the shorter-lived and similarly named Empire Social Chess Club, in some respects, fulfilled the purpose the Ladies’ Chess Club had served before the First World War. The Imperial was open to ladies and gentlemen for mostly social chess, and was in part designed as a club for visitors from other parts of the British Empire, so it was understandable that Sultan Khan and his patron were members.
You will notice that there were eight ladies in each team of this twenty-board friendly match.
For more information about the Empire Social Chess Club I’d encourage you to read two fascinating articles by Martin Smith here and here.
In this 1934 match against the National Physical Laboratory in Teddington she just missed playing metallurgist Edwin George Sutherland (1894-1968).
This was almost certainly the EG Sutherland I played in a 1966 Thames Valley League match between Richmond & Twickenham C and Kingston B. He beat me after I made a horrendous blunder all too typical of my early games in a better position. To the best of my knowledge, he’s also the earliest born of all my opponents in competitive games, whose dates of birth therefore range from the 19th to the 21st centuries.
There are some interesting names in the Beaumont Cup match between Richmond & Kew and Battersea 2: you’ll meet one or two of them in future Minor Pieces.
By the mid 1930s, and now into her 70s, Alice decided it was time to downsize. A new estate of Art Deco mansion flats, called Chiswick Village, had just been built near Kew Bridge, between the A4 and the Thames, which were smaller – and much cheaper – than those in the rather palatial Queen’s Club Gardens. Looking at them now, they’re still remarkably cheap for the area: I was almost tempted to sell off my chess library and buy one myself.
The Brentford & Chiswick Local History Society tells us here that Chiswick Village is the name of the development of four separate blocks containing 280 flats, built on land that was formerly orchards between Wellesley Road and the railway line. The flats, designed by Charles Evelyn Simmons and financed by the People’s Housing Corporation, were built in 1935-6. When the plans were displayed at the Royal Academy, the development was called Chiswick Court Gardens – a more appropriate name than ‘Chiswick Village’ with its connotations of a rural idyll. The 1937 edition of the official guide to Brentford and Chiswick, described Chiswick Village as ‘undoubtedly London’s most remarkable and praiseworthy housing venture’.
In the 1936 electoral roll she was ensconced in 13 Chiswick Village, one of the first occupants of this new development, and was still there, described as a retired civil servant, in 1939.
Although she was no longer taking part in the British Ladies’ Championship, Alice was still playing regularly for Barnes Village Chess Club, and still travelling to Kent where, in 1938, she lost to 12-year-old prodigy Elaine Saunders in the first round of the County Ladies’ Championship. Elaine was actually living in Twickenham at the time: her only Kent connection seems to be that it was her father’s county of birth.
Barnes Village was the only club in the area keeping its doors open during the Second World War, and Alice was still, in old age, very much involved both as a player and a committee member.
In 1942 she was elected a vice-president at their AGM, while her niece Beatrix was also on the committee. But this would be her last AGM as she died at the end of the year at the age of 80. The BCM, beset by wartime paper shortage, only gave her a six line obituary, mistakenly placing the 1897 Ladies’ International two years later.
She really deserved better. Alice Elizabeth Hooke played an important part in women’s chess in England for more than forty years, both as a player and as a backroom administrator, from her pioneering work with the Ladies’ Chess Club through to playing club chess into her late 70s. Although she wasn’t all that much more than an average club player herself, she was still good enough to share first place in two British Ladies’ Championships in her late 60s. Reaching your peak at that age is also something to be proud of, I think. As she helped keep Barnes Village club going during the Second World War, you might think that some of her legacy is still present in today’s Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club.
Her probate record indicates that since 1939 she’d moved from Chiswick to Barnes, perhaps to be nearer her brother and niece as well as her chess club. I presume 20 Glazbury Road was, at the time, some sort of nursing home or private hospital.
She didn’t leave very much money: she may well have gifted much of it to her relatives to avoid death duties.
The name of Miss Hooke continued to be prominent in Barnes Village chess through George’s daughter Beatrix.
Here she is, in 1948, playing as high as Board 4 in a match against Richmond, who had reconvened after closing during the war. Her opponent, Captain Samuel Ould, had been a Richmond stalwart between the wars, but most of the other Richmond players were relatively new members.
And this is where I come in. I knew George Seaford at what had by that point become Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club, in the 1960s, and Ted Fairbrother into the 1970s, though neither very well. Dr JD Solomon (a strong player) and Stan Perry left Richmond but rejoined for a time in the 1970s, the latter serving a term as Hon Treasurer. There were one or two other Richmond members at the time who would still be involved 20 years later. There was also one player in the team whom I never met, but who had an influence on my early chess career. I’ll write about him another time. The golden thread again.
Here Beatrix is again, celebrating Barnes Village winning the Beaumont Cup (Surrey Division 2) for the first time. This was their first, and, as it turned out, their only trophy, as they would eventually be subsumed into Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club. Also in the photograph is young Peter Roger Vivian (1927-1987): I played him at Paignton, also in 1974. Another strand of the thread.
Two of the Barnes Village members had something else to celebrate in 1950: here are Beatrix and her widower clubmate Dr Gerald Hovenden demonstrating how chess can bring people together. At the time of their marriage Beatrix was 57 and Gerald 81.
This tells us she was living in Elm Bank Mansions, right by Barnes Bridge, and working at Cadby Hall near Olympia, just as in the 1939 Register. Perhaps she walked along the riverbank and over Hammersmith Bridge to work, a journey almost identical to that made by her music teacher at St Paul’s Girls School more than 30 years earlier.
This was Gustav Holst, who, at the time, lived in The Terrace, Barnes, just a few yards upstream from Elm Bank Mansions. Always a keen walker, Holst was in the habit of making that journey on foot. Coincidence, or something more?
In this map you can see the Post Office Savings Bank in Blythe Road, just opposite Olympia, where Alice spent her career. Cadby Hall, just round the corner, was where Beatrix worked, as a statistician according to the 1939 Register. (As a footnote, in 1926 she co-authored a scientific paper on British skulls in prehistoric times.) Just a few yards again took you to St Paul’s Girls School, marked as St Paul School here, where Gustav Holst taught music to Beatrix and her sisters, while their brother Cyril attended St Paul’s Boys School, just off the map opposite the smaller school on Hammersmith Road. I visited there a couple of times myself in the 1960s for school bridge matches: it was rebuilt in Barnes, the other side of Hammersmith Bridge, a few years later. It’s extraordinary how much of the Hooke family’s lives played out within such a small area of London.
If you continue west along Hammersmith Road, you’ll soon reach Hammersmith Broadway, where Alice was knocked down by a cyclist, and the Underground stations. Continue into King Street and you’ll pass a turning on your right taking you to the London Mind Sports Centre, also the home of Hammersmith Chess Club, and then arrive at Latymer Upper School, a place I used to know very well.
Did Gerald and Beatrix continue playing chess after their marriage? Sadly, the online Richmond Herald records only go up to 1950, so I’d have to get out of my chair to find out. Gerald lived on until 1957, while Beatrix retired to Sussex, where she died in 1974.
That concludes the story of the chess playing Hooke family: George, his sister Alice and his daughter Beatrix. George and Alice were prominent players in earlier decades, but through their work and play at Barnes Village Chess Club for a quarter of a century they had a huge influence on chess in the Borough of Richmond upon Thames. It’s the likes of them, organisers behind the scenes as well as players, who make the chess world go round. Raise a glass to them next time you visit us at the Adelaide.
In January 1924 there was some big news for chess players in the Richmond area. A new chess club, the Barnes Village Chess Club, was to be formed.
None of the names at this meeting are familiar, but they soon started playing matches against other local clubs.
Here they are a year or so later, visiting their Richmond neighbours at the charming Cosy Corner Tea Rooms, as well as entertaining Ashford, who may well have travelled by train on the Waterloo line, but not stopping at Whitton or North Sheen: those stations were only opened in 1930.
And, look! They have two pretty strong veterans on the top two boards, no doubt delighted when a new club opened on their doorstep.
Here they are again, more than forty years earlier, playing again on the top two boards for the City of London Chess Club Knight Class in a match against Oxford University.
Messrs Hooke and Taylor were playing in the Knight Class of the City of London Chess Club: they’d have received odds of a knight when playing master strength opponents in the club handicap tournament. The Morning Post (4 December 1882) reported: “The result was a surprise to both parties, and appeared to puzzle the winners just as it did the losers.”
This wasn’t the first appearance of Mr Hooke in the chess news. His first appearance was in the 11th Counties Chess Association Meeting at the Manor House Hotel, Leamington in October 1881, where he played in the second class section, winning this game. You can click on any move in any game in this article for a pop-up window.
The up-and-coming Joseph Henry Blake from Southampton shared first place in the second class section with George E Walton from Birmingham. The information as to where Hooke finished and how many points he scored seems not to be available. The first three places in the top section were filled by members of the clergy: Charles Edward Ranken, John Owen and William Wayte.
Earlier in 1882 he’d beaten Captain Mackenzie in a simul. He’d also travelled to Manchester for the 12th Counties Chess Association Meeting, where he finished fourth in Class 2 with a score of 7½/11. Here, then, was an ambitious and fast improving young player, keen to play whenever the opportunity arose.
By 1884 George Hooke and John Taylor had both graduated to Class 3 (pawn and two moves). In this match they met a team from Cambridge University.
Mr Hooke again faced an interesting opponent in John Neville Keynes, the father of economist and Bloomsbury Group member John Maynard Keynes. By contrast, Mr Taylor’s opponent, Rev William Pengelly Buncombe, spent much of his life as a missionary in Japan.
Let’s deal quickly with Mr Taylor. John H Taylor was Irish, born in County Westmeath in 1853, and, by profession a railway accountant, a not uncommon occupation at the time. He was active in the City of London Chess Club in the 1880s and 1890s but seemed to drop out of chess until the Barnes Village club opened its doors, when, in retirement, he threw himself into their activities, right up to the end of his life in 1937.
Mr Hooke was rather stronger, and rather more interesting. He’s most famous for a game he lost against the aforementioned Mr Blake, which has been much anthologised, often with the missed brilliancy on move 9 substituted for the actual conclusion, and often also with an incorrect year. Here’s its first appearance in print.
And here it is for you to play through yourself.
You’ll observe that the annotator, not having the benefit of Stockfish 15 to consult, mistakenly refers to Blake’s 11th move as a very fine move. It was a creative try which worked over the board, but Hooke could have won by playing, amongst other moves, 11… Qc8 or Qb8, making room for his king on d8. I’ve always found the 9. Qxf6 variation particularly attractive, with the knights returning to f3 and c3 to deliver mate.
Joseph Henry Blake was another prominent figure with a very long chess career, the latter part of which took place in Kingston. With any luck he’ll be the subject of some Minor Pieces in future.
George Archer Hooke was born in Chelsea on 28 February 1857, the third of twelve children of William Hooke and Harriet Sanders, six of whom tragically died before reaching the age of 20.
Here, from the family archives, is a photograph of William.
The family are elusive in the 1861 census, but in 1871 we find William working as the manager of a furniture depository living in the Parish of St George’s Hanover Square with his wife and eight children. They have no servants living in, which suggests the family was not especially wealthy.
By 1881 they’re at a different address, but still in the same parish. William seems to be in very much the same job. There are six children at home, along with a granddaughter. George, still living at home, is working as a 3rd Class Clerk in the Seamen’s Registry Office of the Board of Trade. He would remain there for the rest of his working life.
It must have been round about that time that he joined the City of London Chess Club, having learnt the game from his father at the age of about 12. He would soon join the North London Chess Club as well.
Moving into the middle of the 1880s, here’s a game from a match between the City of London and St George’s Chess Clubs, in which he faced the Hon Horace Curzon Plunkett, MP, rancher, agricultural reformer and uncle of writer and chess player Lord Dunsany. (He was ranching in Wyoming at the time: this must have been one of his visits back to London.) As the game was unfinished at the call of time it was adjudicated by Zukertort. His verdict was a draw, but Stockfish 15 disagrees, thinking Hooke had a winning position.
In August that year he played in the 15th Counties Chess Association Meeting in Hereford, playing in Class 1A where he shared first place with his former antagonist Charles Dealtry Locock.
The parallel Class 1B tournament was won by George Edward Wainwright, and the two Georges then contested a 14-game match in London, with George H winning by the odd point. This match wasn’t well reported: it’s not clear whether it was a formal play-off match to decide the winner of the Hereford tournament or purely a friendly encounter.
In this league game against an anonymous opponent Hooke brought off a neat finish, giving up a rook to force checkmate in the ending.
In an 1886 match between City of London and St George’s, he encountered one of the Fighting Reverends, Rev William Wayte, who had been one of England’s strongest players back in the 1850s. (You might notice that his Wikipedia page quotes from The Even More Complete Chess Addict, by M Fox and R James.) This time no adjudication was required: George managed to grind out a win with an extra pawn in a rook ending. Towards the end of his life, he mentioned a win against Wayte from 1885 as one of the games that gave him most pleasure: I presume he intended this one, even though the year doesn’t quite tally.
In the same year, 1886, George won a share of the brilliancy prize for this game in the City of London Chess Club Handicap Tournament against an opponent who got stuck in the mud adopting an unusual defence: we’d now call it a Hippopotamus.
In 1886 Hooke took part in the Amateur Championship of the 2nd British Chess Association Congress in London, scoring an outstanding success. Walter Montagu Gattie won with a score of 15/18, and George Archer Hooke featured in a three-way tie for second with Antony Alfred Geoffrey Guest and George Edward Wainwright. Unfortunately, few of the games from this tournament have been published.
Although most of the games took place during the summer, it was only concluded in October, by which time George was involved in another tournament. This was the British Chess Club 2nd Class Tournament in which he again finished in second place. His score of 3½/5 left him half a point behind Scottish champion Daniel Yarnton Mills. Here’s their game, which resulted in a draw.
Handicap tournaments were a big feature of every competitive chess club at the time, and for many years later. Perhaps they should be revived. They worked something like this.
The players were grouped into classes according to playing strength. If you played someone one class below you, you played Black without your f-pawn. Against someone two classes below you and you were again Black without your f-pawn, but White got to play two moves at the start of the game. Against an opponent three classes below you, you’re White but playing without your queen’s knight. and, against an opponent four classes below you you’re again White and this time without your queen’s rook.
Here’s how George Hooke defeated a player two classes below him who foolishly launched a kamikaze attack right from the opening rather than playing solid, sensible moves. (We start the game with the white pawn already on e4.)
By now, it seems that, while George Archer Hooke continued to play regularly in matches and club tournaments, he no longer had the time to travel to places like Manchester and Hereford for congresses. Perhaps his work with the Board of Trade was taking up more of his time: as a young man of considerable abilities approaching his 30th birthday he would doubtless have been promoted by now.
Perhaps there was another reason as well.
Here he is, on August 27 1889, now aged 32, marrying 34 year old Ellen Farmer at All Saints Church, Fulham, right by Putney Bridge. Congratulations to the happy couple!
And here, for now, we’ll leave George Archer Hooke, a strong amateur chess player, a high-flying civil servant and now a married man who would waste little time starting a family.
You already know that he was still playing chess in the 1920s so there’s lots more to tell.
You’ll find out what happened next in the second instalment of the story of George Archer Hooke, coming very soon to a Minor Piece near you.
Acknowledgements and sources:
EdoChess (George Archer Hooke’s page here)
Chess Notes (Edward Winter)
Chess Scotland Hooke Family History (many thanks to Graham Hooke)
You might have noticed that all the Minor Pieces to date have featured gentlemen. The main reason, I suppose, is that most of them have been about members of early chess clubs in the Richmond and Twickenham area which specifically advertised as being for gentlemen. No ladies, and certainly no plebs.
Here’s Twickenham Chess Club, for example, although a slightly later report of a Richmond Chess Club AGM mentioned that they had a couple of lady members: seemingly social rather than match players.
But there was also a very popular and successful Ladies Chess Club founded in London in 1895. We’ll meet some of their members in future articles. In 1904 the first British Championships incorporated a Ladies Championship. It’s clear that round about 1900, although the majority of competitive players were, just as today, male, chess for ladies was also thriving. It will be interesting to find out who they were and how (and why) they played the game of queens as well as kings.
But first you might have spotted one of PGL Fothergill’s Staines and Ashford teammates in a recent article.
The Staines team playing Kingston featured not just Mrs Cousins but Miss Hume as well.
She was still playing after the First World War, when Staines had possibly been renamed Ashford and District.
Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Henry Bennett (1853-1925) had been born in Cork and spent his career in the Indian Army Medical Service, also serving in Afghanistan. His gallantry didn’t extend to letting his lady opponent win the game.
So, who was Mrs Cousins and what was she doing in a man’s – sorry, gentleman’s – world?
She was born Jessie Helena Hume in St Marylebone on 28 June 1866, so she was in her 40s and 50s when playing in these matches. Her father, Charles Dobinson Hume, was a clerk working for the local government board, whose work involved with the Poor Law would take him to Ashford, Middlesex. Her mother, presumably, was Catherine Austen Mary Bailey, whose second name suggests her parents may have been Janeites. Although Jessie’s birth was registered (as Jessie Helen) with the surname Hume and mother’s maiden name Bailey, her parents weren’t married at the time, and were living separately in 1871, Charles with his parents and Catherine working as a bookkeeper, described as a servant to an accountant. They only married – in Richmond – in 1872 (with Catherine’s name given as Kate), at which time they moved to Ashford. I haven’t yet been able to locate Jessie in the 1871 census as either Hume or Bailey – she may well have been living with relations. Once Charles and Kate had tied the knot, four more daughters arrived: Mabel in 1874, twins Edith and Sophia in 1876 and finally Isabel in 1877.
I can’t find any immediate connection with the Scottish born problemist George Hume.
I presume Jessie learnt chess from her father, although he doesn’t seem to have been a competitive player. Miss Hume in 1914 would have been one of her sisters: Sophia had married by this point, but Mabel, Edith and Isabel were all unmarried and living at home with their widowed mother, so it might have been any of them. It’s both strange and annoying that, in those days, ladies’ names were given only with a title, not an initial.
Jessie had married Thomas George Cousins in Staines in 1893: they went on to have five children between 1895 and 1909: Dorothy, Sydney, Lillian, Dennis and Margaret. Thomas would have known his father-in-law through work: he was the Relieving Officer for the Guardians of the Poor of Staines Union – the workhouse. His job would have involved assessing the needs of the poor in the area and providing for them to the best of his ability.
At some point she took up correspondence chess. Thanks to Gerard Killoran for sending me this game, taken from the Weekly Irish Times (21 August 1909). Her opponent appears to have been Arthur Patrick Morgan (1864-1918), a school inspector. Jessie played the first part of the game very well, but unfortunately missed the opportunity to win the exchange on move 35. The newspaper commented: A well played game by “one of the gentler sex”. All through most interesting, but Mr Morgan had the most experience. The ending is rather unexpected. Click on any move for a pop-up window.
It’s not yet clear when Staines Chess Club was founded. I can’t find any earlier mentions than this 1913 match against Windsor, but it’s quite possible the relevant local newspapers aren’t yet available online.
Today, I’d imagine a female chess player would feel insulted and patronised to be discussed in that way, but I suspect that, in those very different times, Mrs Cousins was more likely to have been flattered and amused.
The selectors must have been impressed with her speedy victory, as, a few months later, she was promoted to top board in this match against Thames Valley.
CF Cromwell must have been a misprint for Cecil Frank Cornwall: he was a pretty strong player so it was no disgrace to lose to him.
Just as Richmond Chess Club staged matches between the residents of Richmond and Sheen, so Staines (now Staines and District) Chess Club staged matches between the residents of Staines and Ashford. In this wartime match, Jessie’s sister (the same one as above?) and husband were both successful. Did she, I wonder, teach her husband how to play?
Their Club Secretary, Montague Francis Cholmeley, from the family of the Cholmeley Baronets, don’t you know, was born in what was then Madras in 1856 and died in Staines in 1944. Not many people outside the area know that Staines was the home of linoleum for more than a century from its invention in 1860, and the Staines Linoleum Company employed Monty, a solicitor, to deal with their legal affairs. I’m not sure who the other Mr Cholmeley was. His only brother was in India. It might, I suppose, have been his son Humphrey Jasper, home on leave from the trenches, where, on 15 July the same year, he tragically lost his life in the Battle of the Somme. I assume the Mikado was a restaurant: it would have been a very short walk from where, a few years later, the Misses Ada and Louisa Padbury would be juggling running their own restaurant with bringing up their young niece. Yes, you’ve heard the story before, and you’ll hear it again as well.
I’d imagine, then, that at some point fairly soon after this match the club moved down the road to Ashford, the home town of its stronger members, changing its name in the process, taking us to 1921, when we saw Jessie Cousins playing in a match against Richmond.
Also in 1921 she played on board 183 for the North of the Thames in a 400 board megamatch against the South of the Thames: you can see the full score here. You’ll note that the two players immedately above here were Staines/Ashford colleagues. There are some great names on both sides in this match, including the subject of the next Minor Piece. I should perhaps look in more detail another time: meanwhile there’s some background information here.
Richmond, as we’ll see, faced competition in the area from new clubs in Twickenham (you’ll recall the previous Twickenham club had moved to Teddington and changed its name to Thames Valley), Barnes and Kew. I’ll tell you more about the Barnes Village chess club next time, but in the inter-war years they played regular matches against Ashford.
This, from 1929, is the last mention of Mrs Cousins I’ve been able to find.
You’ll see that both teams fielded a lady, and they just missed each other by one board: Miss Hooke (in 1929 ladies were still not allowed initials) was playing for Barnes Village along with GA Hooke. You’ll find out more about the Hooke family very soon.
The 1939 Register records Thomas, Jessie and their unmarried daughter Dorothy living at 18 Fordbridge Road, Ashford, Middlesex, which is where Jessie died on 23 August 1948 at the age of 82. I haven’t found any records of any of her children playing competitive chess.
Jessie Helena (Hume) Cousins was a lady who, for almost two decades, was successful in the, then as now, male dominated world of suburban competitive chess. She was clearly a more than competent player as well, probably around 1800 strength by today’s standards. Her story should be an inspiration for any girls and women wanting to take up competitive chess today.
You might have seen this in the previous Minor Piece. Consider for a moment the Thames Valley team. There on board 6 or thereabouts is Arthur Coward, father of Noël. A board (or possibly two) below him is Mr HJ Lanchester, another man with an interesting family. (I note, en passant, that Augustus Campbell Combe on board 10, a Stock Exchange Clerk, was Wallce Britten‘s brother-in-law.)
Henry Jones Lanchester was an architect and surveyor, born in Islington on 5 January 1834, so he was 65 at the time of this match.
He lived at various addresses in London before moving to Brighton in about 1870, where he worked on the Stanford Estate and Palmeira Mansions. But he was badly affected by the property slump of the late 1880s and moved back to London with his family, settling in Battersea, not far from Clapham Common.
The good news for Henry was that he now had more time to play chess and immediately joined Balham Chess Club, where he won 2nd prize in their 1888-89 tournament and played on a high board for them in matches against neighbouring clubs as well as being selected to represent Surrey in county matches.
By 1895 he’d moved to a house called Salvadore on Kingston Hill, and the 1901 census found him at Ripley House, Acacia Road, New Malden, on the same estate as Richmond top board IM Gavin Wall, not to mention David Heaton. Living close to the station, it would have been easy for him to catch the train to Teddington to play for Thames Valley Chess Club, unless he preferred a ride in one of those new-fangled motor cars.
But Thames Valley wasn’t his only chess club: he was also playing for Surbiton. Here he is, in 1901, taking second board in two matches and gallantly agreeing a draw against Mrs Donald Anderson of the Ladies Chess Club in a favourable position. Mrs Anderson (née Gertrude Alison Field) won the British Ladies Championship in 1909 and 1912, so this was a good result.
In 1903 he had a wasted journey to Richmond as, all too typically for the home club at the time, two of their players failed to turn up. Didn’t they have any social players there to fill in? Fortunately, our excellent match captains are far better organised today.
By the middle of the decade he had returned to Sussex, settling in Lindfield, near Haywards Heath, whose chess club he promptly joined
Here’s a 1906 match card.
I’m not sure why both teams scored a Handicap point on board 7, but there you go.
Haywards Heath’s top board, Dr Charles Planck (no relation, as far as I know, to Max), was a doctor and psychiatrist running the local lunatic asylum, a type of institution with which Lanchester, as you’ll find out later, had had previous experience. He was also one of England’s leading problemists, having co-authored, back in 1887, a book called The Chess Problem with fellow problemists Henry John Clinton Andrews, Edward Nathan Frankenstein and Benjamin Glover Laws. Another spoiler alert: read on for a very different Frankenstein.
Henry Jones Lanchester also played correspondence chess, playing for Sussex in matches against other counties. He died at his home in 1914, on his 80th birthday.
Here’s a game from one of those correspondence matches. His opponent was born Emily Beetles Nicholls in Guildford in 1872. Her father, Edward, was high up in the Inland Revenue and seemed to move around the country a lot. Click on any move for a pop-up board.
Probably not a game which showed him at his best. The Vienna Game is devastating against an unprepared opponent and his natural third move just leads to a lost position, 6. d5 would have been much better than Mrs Bush’s e5, which allowed Henry back into the game. (Thanks to Brian Denman for sending me this, which was published in the Lowestoft Journal (23 Jan 1909).)
Here, then, was a man who must have played chess all his life, but, it seems, only took up competitive chess on his retirement (or perhaps semi-retirement) from his career as an architect and surveyor.
He must also have taught his children chess. Some of them had very interesting lives.
Henry had married Octavia Ward, a mathematics and Latin tutor, in 1863. Their children were Henry Vaughan (1863), Mary (1864), Eleanor Caroline (1866), Frederick William, known as Fred (1868), Francis, known as Frank (1870: his twin brother Charles didn’t survive), Edith, known as Biddy (1871), Edward Norman (1873) and George Herbert (1874). Henry junior became, like his father, an distinguished architect. Mary and Eleanor both became artists. Edward emigrated to New Zealand, later moving to Australia and earning a living as a signwriter.
The other three brothers, Fred, Frank and George, were a lot more interesting.
Fred Lanchester was one of the most remarkable engineers and inventors of his time. In 1888 he took a job with a gas engine company in Birmingham, and, in his spare time, started working on designing motor cars. In 1895 he completed a four-wheeled vehicle powered by a petrol engine. In between his work and his vehicle, he also found time to play chess. Here he is, playing on top board for his local club, Olton (near Solihull), with his brother Frank, clearly an inferior player, on bottom board.,
In 1898, he won a game in a simul against the leading West Midlands player of his day, George Edward Horton Bellingham. You’ll notice an incorrectly initialled mention of our old friend Oliver Harcourt Labone.
According to his brother George he also beat none other than Emanuel Lasker in a simul.
However, George’s account doesn’t tally with any of the Lasker simuls given by Richard Forster in his definitive list here.
1 Mar 1897
2 Mar 1897
1 Dec 1898
Birmingham, Central C.C.
Various games were adjudicated, two left undecided.
23 Nov 1900
Birmingham, Temperance Institute
Vlastimil Fiala in the Quarter for Chess History, no. 6/2000, pp. 382f. claimed a score of 25 wins, but it was not possible to verify this score indepedently. The Cheltenham Examiner, 28 November 1900, indicated “less than a dozen” and the Birmingham Weekly Post, 1 December 1900, spoke of “a meagre attendance”.
17 Mar 1908
In December 1899 Fred, Frank and George created the Lanchester Engine Company to build and sell motor cars to the general public. George was also a brilliant engineer, while Frank was the sales manager. For several decades Lanchester was one of the most famous makes of motor car in the country.
The name Lanchester was commemorated in 1970 with the creation of Lanchester Polytechnic, now Coventry University.
Perhaps the family’s achievements, especially those of Fred, are unfairly forgotten today. They certainly deserve to be remembered as pioneers of the early motor car industry. It’s good to know that Fred was also a pretty good chess player.
Their sister Edith (Biddy) was another matter entirely.
Biddy became a socialist and suffragette, living ‘in sin’ (as they used to say) with a working-class Irishman named James ‘Shamus’ Sullivan: the couple both disapproved of the institution of marriage.
Horrified by this, in 1895 her father and brothers kidnapped her and sent her to the lunatic asylum (it’s now, famously, The Priory) on the grounds that only an insane person could possibly become a socialist. The asylum could find nothing wrong with her and released her a couple of days later. In 1897 she became Eleanor Marx’s secretary. The job didn’t last long as Eleanor committed suicide the following year. Perhaps Biddy and Eleanor also played chess: I’d imagine Biddy learnt the moves from her father and brothers, and Eleanor usually beat her father (Karl, of course) at chess.
Biddy and Shamus’s first child, a son called Waldo, was born in 1897. He became a famous puppeteer, founding the Lanchester marionettes, a puppet theatre which ran from 1935 to 1962.
Their second child, a daughter whom they named Elsa, was born in 1902. Elsa took up dancing as a child, then worked in theatre and cabaret, also obtaining small roles in films.
In 1927 she married the actor Charles Laughton and, after playing Anne of Cleves to his Henry in The Private Life of Henry VIII, the couple moved to Hollywood where Elsa found fame in 1935 for her starring role in The Bride of Frankenstein. (Be careful not to confuse her with Miriam Samuel, the bride of the aforementioned Edward Nathan Frankenstein.) Elsa continued to perform on the silver screen, mostly in cameo roles, up to 1980, including playing Katie Nanna in Mary Poppins.
Of course, there’s something you all want to know. Did Elsa, like her grandfather and uncles, play chess. Why yes, she certainly did. VIctoria Worsley’s recent (2021) biography, Always the Bride, tells of her playing chess with a friend on a car journey in 1936. Chess wasn’t her only game, either. Here she is playing draughts against Charles Laughton.
As Elsa’s grandfather played chess on the adjacent board to Noël Coward’s father, you might also want to know whether they ever appeared in the same film. Sadly not, although Coward provided some dialogue for the 1957 Agatha Christie adaptation Witness for the Prosecution, starring Tyrone Power and Marlene Dietrich along with Laughton and Lanchester. (Elsa won a Golden Globe award for the Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture.)
This was the life and chess career of Henry Jones Lanchester, a man who shared a mutual friend with Frankenstein, and whose granddaugher was the Bride of Frankenstein. Henry was also the head of a remarkable chess-playing family, pioneers in both motoring and movies.
Sources and Acknowledgements:
Lanchester Interactive Archive
Other sources mentioned in the text
I received some exciting news last week. The Richmond Herald up to 1950, with extensive local chess coverage, is now available online. This means that I’ll be able to trace the history of chess in Richmond, Barnes, Kew and Sheen up to that date, which is not all that long before I came in.
But first, and with some help from the above source, a man who was strangely coy about his rather splendid full name.
Any chess problem aficionados at any point from the late 1880s to the late 1940s, which, you might think was the golden age of chess problems, would have been familiar with the initials PGLF above compositions, with a location of, perhaps, Twickenham, Staines or Isleworth.
The name G Fothergill was often seen in connection with Richmond Chess Club, and with other clubs in the area. If you’ve been paying attention recently, you might remember him losing in a simul given by TF Lawrence.
In fact he was plain Guy Fothergill on electoral rolls for many years.
A good place to start is with his father, Percival Alfred Fothergill. Percy senior was an interesting and versatile chap. Naval officer, instructor, surveyor, engineer, inventor, astronomer, author, clergyman. You name it, he did it.
Here’s his obituary, from the Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society049:4 (1889).
You might, understandably, be concerned about the self-feathering screw. Don’t worry: it was a propeller for sailing vessels. If you’re really interested in that sort of thing there’s a blog post here.
Percival and his wife Julia’s children, all equally impressively named, were Henryetta Mary Bertha (1865), Ernestine Gertrude Frances (1867), Percival Guy Laugharne (12 July 1868), Cornelia Julia Evelyn (1869), Frederick Henry Gaston (1871) and Arthur Yorke Marsh (1872), who died at the age of only six months. Frederick’s baptism record reorders his names: Gaston Frederick Henry.
The only births which were registered appear to be Henryetta and Frederick: at the time the family were moving round the country a lot and perhaps never got round to it.
At the time of the 1871 census Percival Alfred was the Vicar of Watford, Northamptonshire, north east of Daventry. You’ll know it from the Watford Gap service station on the M1. Their five young children, baby Fred yet to be named, were there along with a nurse and two domestic servants.
Ten years later, and the family seem to have split up. Percival was now the Rector of South Fambridge, Essex, on the River Crouch north of Southend, living in ‘part of the rectory’ along with Henryetta and Percival Junior. Julia and the other three surviving children were 20 miles away in Orsett, near Grays, on the Thames Estuary. One wonders what had happened.
There’s no immediate evidence of any other serious interest in chess in the family, but it was from his father that young Percival (perhaps we should call him by his preferred name, Guy, or by his initials) first discovered the Royal Game. By 1886 the teenage Fothergill was already having his problems published.
Here’s a (rather crude) early example of a mate in 2. You’ll find the solutions to all the problems at the end of the article.
#2 (The Field 11 Sep 1886)
His problems were soon becoming more sophisticated and even winning prizes, like this mate in 3.
#3 (2nd Prize Sheffield Independent 1888)
Problem composing wasn’t the only competition he took part in. Here, he and his brother took part in a bicycle race, with Fred winning a coffee pot for finishing second.
Sadly, his father died the same year in Little Burstead, south of Billaricy, the village where he was born. By the time of the 1891 census he’d left home, was boarding in (not yet Royal) Wootton Bassett and working as a Brewer’s Pupil. Julia had retired to Milford, on the Hampshire coast, where she was living with Henryetta, Cordelia and Gaston, as Frederick now preferred to me known. Ernestine was in Acton, working as a Governess.
PGLF won 1st prize with this 1894 mate in 2.
#2 (1st Prize Hackney Mercury 1894)
Round about 1895 the family moved to St Margarets Road, on the border of Twickenham and Isleworth. I’m not sure exactly where, but the 1901 census implies it was somewhere close to the Ailsa Tavern.
As expected, PGLF featured in FR Gittins’ The Chess Bouquet in 1897.
His list of successes is not large, nor are they phenomenal, but his work has merited and received a fair reward…
We also learn that
MR FOTHERGILL is a great lover of all manly games – cricket, football, lawn tennis, etc., a sound mind in a sound body being one of his favourite maxims.
And here he is, with a splendid moustache to match his splendid name.
It’s at this time that Guy decided to expand his interest in chess, and, while still composing (as PGLF), his name (G Fothergill) started to appear in chess matches.
Here’s a 1899 match between Richmond and Thames Valley, with Mr G Fothergill playing on bottom board for the home team.
It’s clear there’s a problem with this. Fox, Britten, Ryan and Coward must have been on 3-6, not 4-7, with Lanchester and another player on 7 and 8. Regular Minor Piece readers will recognise several old friends in this match, and there are one or two others you’ll meet in later articles.
The 1901 census found Julia, Henryetta, Cordelia and Gaston, who was now known as Henry, in residence in St Margarets, none of them appearing to have jobs. Ernestine, however, was occupied as a Lady’s Companion in Hersham. I haven’t managed to locate Guy in 1901: perhaps he was abroad on holiday. At any rate, he was still telling everyone he lived in Twickenham.
From the same year, here’s another prize-winning problem.
#2 (3rd Prize Brighton Society 1901)
This miniature 3-mover demonstrates a popular theme. Even if you’ve never solved a mate in 3 before, give it a try!
#3 (Schachminiaturen 1903)
At about this time Guy Fothergill suffered two bereavements: his mother Julia died in 1905, and his sister Cornelia followed her a year later. Probate records tell us they were both living at Shortwood House, Staines: Shortwood Common is right by the Crooked Billet roundabout heading towards Ashford. Julia’s probate was granted to Henryetta and Guy, and Cornelia’s probate just to Guy. Although she was living in Staines, she died at 89 St Margarets Road, Twickenham. The numbering may be different now, and it’s a long road, but 89, currently a private healthcare clinic, is currently just round the corner from Turner’s House and a short walk from the ETNA Community Centre, where Richmond Junior Club met for many years. So it may well be that the family owned two properties at the time. It’s not at all clear to me at the moment whether or not this is the same address they were at in 1901.
As the Edwardian era wore on, there were subtle changes in the balance of power between the Richmond and Thames Valley Clubs. At the start of the decade Thames Valley had been stronger than their younger neighbours, but a few years later Richmond were displaying more ambition (and, it appears, better organisation than a few years earlier), entering the Early Division of the London League and attracting stronger players. (I presume the Early Division played matches earlier in the evening than, well, perhaps the Late Division?)
You’ll also notice that by now Guy had been promoted from bottom board, and AGM reports for the period show that he was also doing well in internal competitions,
Now approaching his 40th birthday, life for PGLF proceeded uneventfully as he continued to play chess and compose problems.
The 1911 census, though, finds the Fothergill siblings split up, living neither in Staines nor in Twickenham. Guy, ‘of private means’, was boarding at a Temperance Hotel in Maidenhead (what happened to his brewing career, then), while Henryetta and Ernestine were both staying with a restaurant owner in Reading, who may well also have had rooms for boarders. There’s no sign of their younger brother.
By 1914, PGFL’s problems are now being submitted from Staines. Was he living in Shortwood House? Possibly: at present that information isn’t available. He also had the opportunity to join a new chess club.
You’ll notice that there were two ladies in the team facing Kingston: Mrs Cousins and Miss Hume. We’ll return to them in a future Minor Piece.
He maintained his membership of Richmond Chess Club as well, taking part in internal competitions and serving on the committee.
In 1918 PGLF was enrolled as a founding member of the British Chess Problem Society.
The country was now returning to normal after the First World War, and the 1919 electoral roll tells us that Henryetta was still at Shortwood House, London Road, Staines. By 1921 she’d been joined by ‘Fred’ (neither Gaston nor Henry) and Percival (not Guy).
Neither brother was anywhere to be found in the 1921 census (at least I haven’t been able to find them yet). Their two sisters, both still unmarried in their mid 50s, were lodging in Goldhawk Road, Hammersmith, near the junction with King Street – even though the electoral roll had Henryetta in Staines. The census enumerator found the house unoccupied.
A short walk from Goldhawk Road along King Street towards Hammersmith Broadway would have taken them past Latymer Upper School, and then round the corner to what is now the London Mind Sports Centre.
If they’d only stayed in Staines another year or two they could have strolled past the Crooked Billet towards the town centre and dined at 8 London Road, the Warwick Castle, where the Misses Ada and Louisa Padbury were combining running a restaurant with bringing up their irresponsible sister Florence’s illegitimate daughter Betty. But that’s another story for another time, which also involves Edward Guthlac Sergeant and Fothergill’s Richmond teammate Cecil Frank Cornwall.
At some point, perhaps just after, WW1, the Ashford and District Chess Club was founded. Guy, along with Mrs Cousins, joined up, he soon found himself playing successfully on top board against Richmond. It may well have been on his initiative that matches between the two clubs came about. Today there’s a Staines Chess Club, but not an Ashford Chess Club.
In 1922 Henryetta must have sold Shortwood House and brought a property in Isleworth, 43 Thornbury Road.
I’m not sure that the house still exists. 41 is a large corner property, but the adjacent plot seems empty according to Google Maps.
She’s the only occupant on the electoral roll for several years, but by 1929, Guy (not Percival this time) is also there, although Henryetta is declared to be the owner. I presume he’d been living there all along, though, as he was giving Isleworth as his residence when submitting problems for publication.
He still visited his old haunts in Staines, but in 1936 was seriously injured in a cycling accident. Fortunately, he made a full recovery.
By the late 1930s, if not earlier, he’d found a very local chess club to join, just round the corner from his residence.
He was now in his seventies, but still made a clean sweep of all the trophies. The opposition may not have been the most demanding, but you can do no more than beat what they put in front of you.
Here they all are in the 1939 Register, all living in Thornbury Avenue (perhaps they’d all been there all along), all single, and aged between 65 and 71. Percival is a Brewery Traveller (retired), but I’m not sure he did much Brewery Travelling, while Frederick is an Architect (retired), but again I’m not sure he designed very many buildings. I can’t find any record of him in that sphere.
PGLF was still composing, though not quite as prolifically as before. This 3-mover from the latter part of his career demonstrates the theme of symmetry.
#3 (The Problemist March 1944)
This, then, was a fairly wealthy family, with enough money not to need much in the way of employment, and seemingly with no interest in matrimony. This gave them time to pursue their hobbies, and, in PGLF’s case, that hobby was chess. It’s spookily like James Money Kyrle Lupton‘s family, isn’t it?
Ernestine was the first to go, dying in 1945 and leaving £6711 (round about £200000 to £250000 today), probate being granted to Frederick.
Percival/Guy/PGLF died on 29 June 1948, leaving £4486 10s 4d, again probate being granted to Frederick. He was composing to the end: almost two years after his death, his problems were still being published.
Here’s his obituary from The Problemist, rather belatedly in January 1949. Unfortunately the accompanying photograph didn’t reproduce well.
Unfortunately, also, the recent commendation turned out to be cooked, so I won’t demonstrate it here.
Henryetta, address given as 32 Stamford Brook Road, just round the corner from where she was in 1921, died in 1954, leaving £5528 8s 10d, yet again probate granted to Frederick.
Frederick, or Gaston, or Henry, or whatever, lived on until 31 December 1962, living at 45 Woodlands Grove Isleworth, not far from Thornbury Road, and leaving £15307 17s.
Four of the siblings (not, for some reason, Ernestine) share a gravestone in the family’s home village of Little Burstead, Essex. Percival’s inscription reads:
Also in loving memory of P.G.L. FOTHERGILL [eldest son of the late P.A.F. and J.C.F.], composer of many chess problems who made his last move on June 29 1948 on the eve of his 80th year.
“Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee because he trusted in Thee.” Isaiah XXVI. 3
Yes, indeed, a composer of many chess problems. Mostly direct mates, latterly mostly mates in 3, but with a few selfmates (where White compels an unwilling Black to deliver checkmate). Mostly lightweights rather than heavy award-winners, but none the worse for that. He was, similarly, a good chess player – higher club standard – but not a great one. I have yet to find the scores of any of his games. Percival Guy Laugharne Fothergill was a man who, through his problems, must have brought a lot of pleasure to a lot of people. Perhaps you’ll derive some pleasure from attempting to solve the problems in this article. A minor contributor to a minor art form, I suppose, but still a life well lived and well worth remembering.
Google Maps The Problemist
MESON chess problem database
YACPDB (Yet Another Chess Problem DataBase)
Other sources referenced within the article
1. Qd8! and all four Black moves allow knight mates. There are duals in three of the four variations, which wouldn’t be acceptable today.
1. Ba3! when the star line is 1… Kxc4 2. Qb5+! Kxb5 3. Nd6#. Also 1… Kxe4 2. Qe2+, 1… Ke6 2. Qb6+, 1… d3 2. Qd5+ and 1… g2 2. Qb5+
1. Re8! A waiter, very popular at the time. The move creates no threat, but every Black move creates a weakness allowing White to mate next move. You can work them all out for yourself!
1. Bh2! Another waiter: again there’s no threat but every possible Black reply allows immediate checkmate. There are quite a lot for you to find!
1. Nc3! Kb4 2. Qc4+!, or 1… Kb6 2. Qe7!, or 1… Kd6 2. Ne4+!, or 1… Kd4 2. Ne4! This demonstrates the Star Flight theme: Black’s four possible king moves, SW, NW, NE and SE, make the shape of a star.
There’s some set play: if it was Black’s move 1… c2 would be met by 2. Qa5. There are also two tries: 1. Rg7? d5+! and 1. Rc7 f5+!
So the solution is 1. Qe3! when it’s not difficult for you to work out the variations after Black’s four possible replies.
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