Category Archives: Players

Minor Pieces 20: George Courtenay Vialls and Thomas George Gardiner

You’ve seen this before:

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

We need to find out more about them.

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

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

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

Morning Post 7 March 1887

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

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

Morning Post 26 March 1885

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

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

An obituary, from 1893, provides some useful information.

Surrey Comet 18 November 1893

 

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

Source: Twickenham Museum website

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Twickenham Museum website.

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

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

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

Source: Google Maps

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

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

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

Source: Twickenham Museum website

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

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

Army and Navy Gazette 31 December 1910

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

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

 

IMG_7718.JPG
Photograph copyright Richard James

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

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

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

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

Sources:

ancestry.co.uk

findmypast.co.uk

Wikipedia

Google Maps

Twickenham Museum website

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Remembering GM Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE (07-x-1933 30-xi-2021)

IM Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE in the garden of Brian Reilly
IM Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE in the garden of Brian Reilly

We send best wishes to GM Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE on his birthday, this day (October 7th) in 1933.

In the 1971 New Years Honours List Jonathan was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) The citation read “For services to Chess.”

In 1993 following representations by Bob Wade and Leonard Barden FIDE granted the title of Grandmaster to Jonathan. Here is a detailed discussion of that process. Note that this was not an Honorary title (as received by Jacques Mieses and Harry Golombek).

From British Chess (Pergamon Press, 1983) by Botterill, Levy, Rice and Richardson : (article by George Botterill)

“Penrose is one of the outstanding figures of British chess. Yet many who meet him may not realize this just because he is one of the quietest and most modest of men. Throughout the late 1950s and the whole of the 1960s he stood head and shoulders above any of his contemporaries.

See caption below
See caption below
Press agency caption for photograph above
Press agency caption for photograph above

His extraordinary dominance is revealed by the fact that he won the British championship no less than ten times (1958-63 and 1966-69, inclusive), a record that nobody is likely to equal in the future.

At his best his play was lucid, positionally correct, energetic and tactically acute. None the less, there is a ‘Penrose problem’: was he a ‘Good Thing’ for British chess? The trouble was that whilst this highly talented player effectively crushed any opposition at home, he showed little initiative in flying the flag abroad. There is a wide-spread and justifiable conviction that only lack of ambition in the sphere of international chess can explain why he did not secure the GM title during his active over-the-board playing career.

See caption below
See caption below
Press agency caption for above photograph
Press agency caption for above photograph

It would be unjust, however, to blame Penrose for any of this. The truth is simply that he was not a professional chessplayer, and indeed he flourished in
a period in which chess playing was not a viable profession in Britain. But even if the material awards available had been greater Penrose would almost certainly have chosen to remain an amateur. For he was cast in that special intellectual and ethical tradition of great British amateurs like H. E. Atkins, Sir George Thomas and Hugh Alexander before him.

Travel Chess 2nd January 1951: British chess champions Jonathan Penrose and Leonard Barden ponder over a portable travel game in a restaurant. (Photo by Walter Bellamy/Express/Getty Images)
Travel Chess
2nd January 1951: British chess champions Jonathan Penrose and Leonard Barden ponder over a portable travel game in a restaurant. (Photo by Walter Bellamy/Express/Getty Images)

His family background indicates early academic inclinations in a cultural atmosphere in which chess was merely a game something at which one excelled through sheer ability, but not to be ranked alongside truly serious work. It is noteworthy that Penrose, unique in this respect amongst British chess masters, has never written at any length about the game. He has had other matters to concentrate on when away from the board, being a lecturer in psychology. (His father, Professor L. S. Penrose, was a distinguished geneticist.)

IM Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE
IM Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE

Being of slight physique and the mildest and most amiable of characters, it is probably also true that Penrose lacked the toughness and ‘killer instinct’ required to reach the very top. Nervous tension finally struck him down in a dramatic way when he collapsed during play in the Siegen Olympiad of 1970. We can take that date as the end of the Penrose era.

Jonathan Penrose Chess Grandmaster Jonathan Penrose pictured during a chess match, circa 1960. (Photo by Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Jonathan Penrose
Chess Grandmaster Jonathan Penrose pictured during a chess match, circa 1960. (Photo by Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images))

Since, then though he has not by any means entirely given up, his involvement in the nerve-wracking competitions of over-the-board play has been greatly reduced. instead he has turned to correspondence chess, which is perhaps the ideal medium for his clear strategy and deep and subtle analysis. So Penrose’s career it not over. He has moved to another, less stressful province of the kingdom of chess.

IM Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE
IM Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE

For the first game, however, we shall turn the clock right back to 1950 and the see the Penrose in the role of youthful giant killer.

From The Encyclopedia of Chess (BT Batsford, 1977) by Harry Golombek :

“British international master and ten times British Champion, Penrose was born in Colchester and came from a chess-playing family.

Lionel Sharples Penrose, FRS (11 June 1898 – 12 May 1972)
Lionel Sharples Penrose, FRS (11 June 1898 – 12 May 1972)

His father and mother (Margaret)  both played chess and his father, Professor Lionel Sharples Penrose, in addition to being a geneticist of world-wide fame, was a strong chess-player and a good endgame composer. Jonathan’s older brother Oliver, was also a fine player.

Oliver Penrose FRS FRSE (born 6 June 1929) is a British theoretical physicist
Oliver Penrose FRS FRSE (born 6 June 1929) is a British theoretical physicist

Roger Penrose won the Nobel prize for physics in 2020.

Roger Penrose. Nobel Laureate
Roger Penrose. Nobel Laureate

Shirley Hodgson (née Penrose) is a high flying geneticist.

Prof. Shirley Hodgson
Prof. Shirley Hodgson

Jonathan learnt chess at the age of four, won the British Boys championship at thirteen and by the time he was fifteen was playing in the British Championship in Felixstowe in 1949.

Press agency caption for photograph above
Press agency caption for photograph above
Press agency caption for photograph above
Press agency caption for photograph above

A little reluctant to participate in international tournaments abroad, he did best in the British Championship which he won a record number of times, once more than HE Atkins. He won the title consecutively from 1958 to 1963 and again from 1966 to 1969.

Boy Chess Champion. New York Times photo shows 14 year old J. Penrose 14 year old by chess champion of Britain, in play at the British Chess Championships at Bishopsgate Institute today. He has had great success in the tournament so far, beating men far above his age and experience. 2nd September 1948. Photograph by Reginald Webster
Boy Chess Champion. New York Times photo shows 14 year old J. Penrose 14 year old by chess champion of Britain, in play at the British Chess Championships at Bishopsgate Institute today. He has had great success in the tournament so far, beating men far above his age and experience. 2nd September 1948. Photograph by Reginald Webster
Press agency caption for photograph above
Press agency caption for photograph above

He also played with great effect in nine Olympiads. Playing on a high board for practically all the time, he showed himself the equal of the best grandmasters and indeed, at the Leipzig Olympiad he distinguished himself by beating Mikhail Tal, thereby becoming the first British player to defeat a reigning World Champion since Blackburne beat Lasker in 1899.

ARB Thomas and Jonathan Penrose at the Hastings Congress of 1950/1951
ARB Thomas and Jonathan Penrose at the Hastings Congress of 1950/1951

Jonathan Penrose vs Mikhail Tal, Leipzig Olympiad, 1960, 1-0, Modern Benoni
Jonathan Penrose vs Mikhail Tal, Leipzig Olympiad, 1960, 1-0, Modern Benoni

A deep strategist who could also hold his own tactically, he suffered from the defect of insufficient physical stamina and it was this that was to bring about a decline in his play and in his results. He collapsed during a game at the Ilford Chess Congress, and a year later, at the Siegen Olympiad of 1970, he had a more serious collapse that necessitated his withdrawal from the event after the preliminary groups had been played. The doctors found nothing vitally wrong with him that his physique could not sustain.

He continued to play but his results suffered from a lack of self-confidence and at the Nice Olympiad of 1974 he had a wretched result on board 3, winning only 1 game and losing 6 out of 15.

Darga V Penrose 29th December 1955: Klaus Darga of Germany in play against Britain's Jonathan Penrose during the International Chess Congress at Hastings. (Photo by Folb/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)
Darga V Penrose
29th December 1955: Klaus Darga of Germany in play against Britain’s Jonathan Penrose during the International Chess Congress at Hastings. (Photo by Folb/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

Possibly too his profession (a lecturer in psychology) was also absorbing him more and more and too part less and less in international and national chess.

Jonathan Penrose
Jonathan Penrose

Yet, he had already done enough to show that he was the equal of the greatest British players in his command and understanding of the game and he ranks alongside Staunton, Blackburne, Atkins and CHO’D Alexander as a chess figure of world class.”

Here is his Wikipedia entry

From The Oxford Companion to Chess by Hooper & Whyld :

“The leading English player during the 1960s, International Master (1961), International Correspondence Chess Master (1980), lecturer in psychology. Early in his chess career Penrose decided to remain an amateur and as a consequence played in few international tournaments. He won the British Championship from 1958 to 1963 and from 1966 to 1969, ten times in all (a record); and he played in nine Olympiads from 1952 to 1974, notably scoring + 10=5 on first board at Lugano 1968, a result bettered only by the world champion Petrosyan.

IM Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE
IM Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE

In the early 1970s Penrose further restricted his chess because the stress of competitive play adversely affected his health.”

The second edition (1996) adds this :

“He turned to correspondence play, was the highest rated postal player in the world 1987-9, and led the British team to victory in the 9th Correspondence Olympiad.”

Here is a discussion about Jonathan on the English Chess Forum

From The Encyclopedia of Chess (Robert Hale, 1970 & 1976) by Anne Sunnucks :

“International Master (1961) and British Champion in 1958 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1966, 1967, 1968 and 1969.

Jonathan Penrose was born in Colchester on 7th October 1933, the son of Professor LS Penrose, the well-known geneticist, who was also a strong player and composer of endgame studies.

The whole Penrose family plays chess and Jonathan learned the game when he was 4. At the age of 12 he joined Hampstead Chess Club and the following year played for Essex for the first time, won his first big tournament, the British Boys’ Championship, and represented England against Ireland in a boy’s match, which was the forerunner of the Glorney Cup competition, which came into being the following year.

By the time he was 17 Penrose was recognised as one of the big hopes of British Chess. Playing in the Hastings Premier Tournament for the first time in `1950 – 1951, he beat the French Champion Nicholas Rossolimo and at Southsea in 1950 he beat two International Grandmasters, Effim Bogoljubov and Savielly Tartakower.

Penrose played for the British Chess Federation in a number of Chess Olympiads since 1952. In 1960, at Leipzig, came one of the best performances of his career, when he beat the reigning World Champion, Mikhail Tal. He became the first British player to beat a reigning World Champion since JH Blackburne beat Emmanuel Lasker in 1899, and the first player to defeat Tal since he won the World Championship earlier that year. Penrose’s score in this Olympiad was only half-a-point short of the score required to qualify for the International Grandmaster title.

IM Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE
IM Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE

His ninth victory in the British Championships in 1968 equalled the record held by HE Atkins, who has held the title more times than any other player.

Penrose is a lecturer in psychology at Enfield College of Technology and has never been in a position to devote a great deal of time to the game. He is married to a former contender in the British Girls Championship and British Ladies’s Championship, Margaret Wood, daughter of Frank Wood, Hon. Secretary of the Oxfordshire Chess Association.

Again from British Chess : “In updating this report we find striking evidence of Penrose’s prowess as a correspondence player. Playing on board 4 for Britain in the 8th Correspondence Chess Olympiad he was astonishingly severe on the opposition, letting slip just one draw in twelve games! Here is one of the eleven wins that must change the assessment of a sharp Sicilian Variation.”

 

Penrose was awarded the O.B.E. for his services to chess in 1971.”

Penrose was Southern Counties Champion for 1949-50.

In 1983 Jonathan became England’s fifth Correspondence Grandmaster (CGM) following Keith Richardson, Adrian Hollis, Peter Clarke and Simon Webb.

Sadly, there is no existent book on the life and games of Jonathan Penrose : a serious omission in chess literature.

Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE
Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE
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Minor Pieces 18: Arthur Sabin and Randulph Lewis Coward

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

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

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

Middlesex Independent 21 February 1883

 

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

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

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

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

Middlesex Independent 05 March 1884

 

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

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

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

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

It’s well worth looking at all his children.

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s visit Teddington and find out.

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

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

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

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

Posted on Facebook by David Allaway

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Middlesex & Surrey Express 16 February 1901

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

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

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

Source: Google Maps

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

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

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

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

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

Acknowledgements and sources:

Wikipedia

ancestry.co.uk

findmypast.co.uk

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

Various online postings by local historians.

Twickenham Museum article here.

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Minor Pieces 17: Wallace and Bashley Britten

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

The following week, they published a report:

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

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

A later report followed.

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

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

It’s time to have a look.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: findagrave.com

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Google Maps

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: findagrave.com

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

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Minor Pieces 14: Dr Abraham Emanuel Learner

We’re going to leave Twickenham for a bit, but don’t worry. We’ll be back there soon.

I’ve received a couple of requests for information on other players, both of whom (and they had a few things in common) seemed suitable for a Minor Pieces post.

I received an email the other day from my friend Ken Norman, who had come across some games from a Dr A Learner, who was active in Sussex chess in the 1960s, in an old copy of CHESS and, perhaps intrigued by the name, wondered if I could provide any more information. He also contacted Brian Denman, who knows almost all there is to know about Sussex chess history. Brian provided Ken with a games file which he was happy for Ken to share with me.

He seems to have been an interesting man who led an interesting life.

He was Dr Abraham Emanuel Learner, although he didn’t very often use his middle name and seems to have been known to his family and friends as Bill. He was born in London on 13 December 1904 and died in Eastbourne, Sussex on 16 February 1983. Some records spell the family name ‘Lerner’.

We can pick the family up in the 1911 census. His father, Arnold, was described as an ‘incandescent and clothing dealer’, born in Russian Poland, as was his mother, Deby, a dressmaker. Arnold and Deby married in the East London Synagogue in Mile End, right at the heart of the Jewish community, on 15 October 1904, only two months before Abraham was born. Another son, Mark, arrived in 1906. Soon afterwards they left London for Gateshead, in the north east of England, where they welcomed two daughters, Goldie and Sophie. It seems that all four siblings married outside the Jewish faith, and all of them emigrated to Australia, although Abraham, or Bill as we should perhaps call him, later returned to his home country.

Bill studied chemistry at Birmingham University, eventually earning a doctorate. During his post-graduate or perhaps post-doctoral work between 1927 and 1928 he wrote three papers on the structure of fructose and inulin along with Norman Haworth, who would win the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1937, and, in two cases also with Edmund Hirst. I tried reading the papers but failed to get beyond the first paragraphs. If you want more information I’d suggest you contact my BCN colleague Dr John Upham, who knows all about this sort of thing.

Western Daily Press 21 January 1929

We first pick him up as a chess player in 1929. Here he is, playing on bottom board in a match between Birmingham and Bristol & Clifton, who fielded the great problemist Comins Mansfield on top board.

His loss against another doctor doesn’t appear in Brian’s games collection.

At about the same time he took part in a blindfold simul against George Koltanowski, winning with an attractive rook sacrifice. Kolty resigned, ‘seeing’ that a zigzag manoeuvre by the black queen would lead to a swift checkmate.

In 1933 Bill Learner married Elsie Harris in Birmingham. They would have just one son, named Arnold after his grandfather, who would predecease him.

During the 1930s Dr Learner continued to play for Birmingham, and for Worcestershire in county matches. In 1934, playing for his county against Oxfordshire, he was paired against another future Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, Professor Robert Robinson, but lost that game. (Other chess playing, Nobel Prize winning chemists include Frederick Soddy and John Cornforth – might be worth a Minor Pieces series at some point.)

In this spectacular win Dr Learner played a dangerous gambit, offered a passive bishop sacrifice and finally gave up his queen for an Arabian Mate. But Black had a chance to turn the tables. After 17. Rae1? (the immediate Rf3 was winning) Qxc2, the second player has a winning advantage. A game well worth your time analysing, I think.

We can see from these examples that Bill Learner was a sharp tactician.

Staffordshire Advertiser 23 November 1935

By 1935 he was on top  board for Worcestershire. A county match against Warwickshire saw him up against another interesting opponent, future MP Julius Silverman. The result of this game was a draw. You’ll see a number of interesting names in both teams.

In a match against Leicestershire, his Stonewall Dutch scored a rather fortunate victory against Alfred Lenton (from whom you’ll hear a lot in future Minor Pieces) when his opponent, who shared 3rd place in the 1935 British Championship and 2nd place the following year, blundered in a winning position.

In 1937 Learner found himself on the wrong side of the law, being fined 10s for a speeding offence. I guess that’s what happens if you’re A Learner, driver. His address was given as Elmdon Avenue, Marston Green, Birmingham, very near Birmingham Airport.

Bill Learner won the Birmingham Post Cup in 1938, but when given the chance to prove himself at a higher level, in an international tournament organised by Ritson Morry the following year, he finished in last place. A dangerous attacking player, then, but perhaps not quite able (or ready) to compete against masters. By now, as you’ve probably worked out, World War 2 was about to break out, and that put his chess activities on hold.

The 1939 Register saw him at the same address, although Elmdon Avenue has become Elmdon Lane. (It appears to be Elmdon Road now.) He is a Managing Director, possibly of a paint factory. (The second line is not fully legible but we know, from his mother’s probate record, that he was a paint manufacturer. I guess the chemistry background would have come in useful.) Elsie and Arnold aren’t there: they’re up in the village of Ponteland, north west of Newcastle, staying with his sister Goldie and her family. Presumably they considered it safer there than in Birmingham. Bill had shown his love of the area by naming his house Ponteland.

He turned out for a club match in 1940, but then nothing until 1945, when chess resumed after the war, and he resumed where he left off, playing for Birmingham and Worcestershire.

Staffordshire Advertiser 29 December 1945

Here he is providing brief annotations for a win against an opponent I assume to be the problemist Herbert W Grant.

Then, at some point he emigrated to Melbourne, Australia, where he took part in the 1948-49 championship. He finished 13th out of 14 on 4½ points (Cecil Purdy was the winner) but did manage to defeat Maurice Goldstein, who blundered into a mate when he could have traded off into a winning ending.

By 1952 he was Vice-President of Melbourne Chess Club and wrote a long (but not especially interesting) article about the delights of his favourite game.

The Age (Melbourne) 9 Feb 1952

What was he doing in Melbourne when he wasn’t playing chess? In the 1949 and 1954 electoral rolls he was a manufacturer, in 1958 and 1963 a director. Was he still manufacturing paint? Perhaps he was working with his brother: Mark owned a large textile importing warehouse right in the city centre.

He continued to be active in Melbourne chess until 1963, when he decided to return to England for his retirement, settling on the south coast and soon getting involved in Sussex chess. Playing at Bognor Regis in 1964 he came up against a man who would, the following year, become Yugoslav champion and an International Master. Here’s what happened.

A pretty effective demolition of a strong opponent, I’d say.

Dr Learner had a habit of winning extremely short games. Here are two examples.

 

He continued playing chess until at least 1970 before deciding to hang up his pawns. The last game we have available is a draw against Brian Denman from a match between Hastings and Brighton. His 1970 grade was 191, down from 195 in 1969 and 201 in 1968, with his clubs given as Hastings and Eastbourne.

Source: Google Maps

His address at his death (just three months after his wife) was given as High Bank, Borough Lane, Eastbourne, and his probate record tells us his estate was worth £102,858. He’d done pretty well for himself, in business as well as in chess.

Dr Abraham Learner was a strong county player, a dangerous tactician who, on a good day, could beat master standard opponents.

His career of more than four decades can, like Caesar’s Gaul, be divided into three parts: in Birmingham from the late 1920s to the late 1940s, in Melbourne until the early 1960s and finally in Sussex.

Players like him are the backbone of club and county chess.

My thanks to Ken for his interest in Dr Learner and to Brian for providing the game scores. If there are any other British chess players you’d like me to investigate do get in touch.

Other sources consulted:

www.ancestry.co.uk

www.findmypast.co.uk

www.newspapers.com

BritBase

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Minor Pieces 6: William John Withers

Continuing my series about Arthur Towle Marriott’s Leicester opponents, we reach W Withers, almost certainly William. Apologies to those of you who’ve been eagerly awaiting this article, but I’ve been busy on other projects. You’ll find out more later.

Great song, and I hope you all have a lovely day, but this wasn’t William Harrison Withers Jr.

W Withers, sometimes WJ Withers (or were they two different people?),  first appeared in Leicester chess records in 1874, when he was elected Club Secretary, and continued his involvement, representing Leicester, and the smaller club, Granby, in matches against other Midlands towns and cities, until 1900. But who was he?

Withers is a surprisingly common name in the East Midlands. One of James Towle’s fellow Luddites bore the name William Withers, but his family were from Nottingham rather than Leicester and seem not to have been related to the chess player.

There were several gentlemen named William Withers in Leicester at the time. We can assume, because, as a young man he was the club secretary, that he came from an educated background. The only W Withers who fits the bill is William John Withers, who lived most of his life in Leicester, although his birth was registered in the St Pancras district of London in the second quarter of 1853, and who died in the Harrow/Hendon area on 23 December 1934.

William’s father, George Henry Withers, was the son of John Withers, born in the chess town of Hastings. John had a varied career. Originally a lace maker, he joined the police, rising to the rank of inspector. He then went to work on the railways, first as a station master, and then as a railroad contractor, before becoming a commission agent, and, finally, a clerk at a coal wharf. Was there any job he couldn’t turn his hand to? In between times, he found time to father eight children: seven sons and a daughter. Not for the first time in Minor Pieces, his seventh son was named Septimus.

George Henry Withers was John’s eldest son. Born in about 1830, he followed his father into the railways, a very common occupation at the time. When he married Mary Ann Caunt in 1849, he was a railway clerk, living in the Leicestershire town of Melton Mowbray, famous for its pork pies. He was described as being ‘of full age’: it’s not certain that this was true. By the 1851 census he was a station master living in Orston, Nottinghamshire.

This was presumably Elton Station, now called Elton and Orston, half way between those two villages, which had only opened to passenger traffic the previous year. In 2019/20, it was the second least used station in the country.

He didn’t stay there long. By 1853, when our man William was born, he was in the St Pancras area of London, perhaps working at one of the London railway termini: St Pancras itself, Kings Cross next door, or nearby Euston.

Just a few months later he’d moved again. Sadly, the death of his oldest child, Albert, was recorded in Grantham, and he was buried in the nearby village of Great Gonerby, whose inhabitants are known as ‘Clockpelters’, from their habit of trying to strike the face of the church clock with stones or snowballs.

We pick him up again in 1857, when, now working as a bailiff, he was appointed a Freeman of the City of Leicester. Later census records see him working as a commission agent, an accountant, a bookkeeper and a gardener. Like his father, a many of many skills and occupations.

It’s more than time to find out more about William John Withers. His first job was as a clerk in a coal office, and when he married in 1873, he was still in the same job.  His wife, Annie Clarke, was the daughter of a house painter, the same occupation that was followed by my grandfather Tom Harry James. Their first child, Horace, was born the following year, when William was also elected to the post of Secretary of Leicester Chess Club. It seems that he didn’t stay in that post long, though.

On 29 October 1880, he represented Leicester in a match against a visiting team from Nottingham Chess Club, where he faced Minor Pieces hero Arthur Towle Marriott.

The Leicester Chronicle (6 November 1880) reported what sounds like a convivial affair. Half way through, they all stopped playing to witness a presentation to Mr Sharland, the Leicester Club Secretary, who, in less than five years, had increased the club membership from 18 to 61. Various speeches were made before the gentlemen of Leicester and Nottingham resumed their games.

It seems that only one game was played on top board, while the other boards played two games each. Arthur Towle Marriott, the only Nottingham player to win both his games, seems to have been playing on too low a board.

Here’s his game with White.

The game followed well known (at the time) Evans Gambit theory for some way. Black’s 7th move is brave: 7… Nge7 and 7… d6 are most often played, but the engines like 7… Nf6 8. e5 d5. 10… b5 was also a bold choice: again 10… Nge7 would have been more circumspect. Marriott had stronger, but difficult, options on move 13, but his choice proved successful when the Leicester man blundered horribly in reply.

Three weeks later the Leicester chessers visited Nottingham for the return match, this time with a much weaker team. Mr Bingham’s restaurant provided an excellent supper, with speeches and toasts, before play started. Arthur Marriott, after his success in the earlier match, had been promoted to board 3, and again found himself facing William Withers.

The Nottingham Journal (27 November 1880) reported on an overwhelming victory for the home team. 11½-2½ was very different from the earlier 5-8 defeat.

These matches appear to have been social events rather than the competitive inter-club matches with which we’re all familiar. Although there was considerable interest in the result, the eating and drinking seemed just as important. Perhaps that’s how club matches should be.

Again, we have the game where Marriott played White against Withers.

This time, Withers chose to avoid the Evans Gambit, but playing 3… Nf6 without knowing the theory isn’t a good idea. Even then, it was known that 5… Nxd5 wasn’t best, giving White a choice of two strong options, 6. d4 and that primary school favourite, 6. Nxf7, the Fried Liver Attack.

Engines now confirm that 8… Ne7 in the Fried Liver is losing, but 8… Nb4 might just keep Black in the game. Marriott missed a couple of better moves, but Withers panicked on move 13, losing even more quickly and horribly than three weeks earlier.

By today’s standards, the chess of William John Withers makes a poor impression: a player with a patchy knowledge of opening theory along with tactical vulnerability.

Note that A F Atkins, who played for Leicester in these matches, was Arthur Frederick Atkins, originally from Coventry, and no relation to the great Henry Ernest Atkins, about whom more next time.

By now William had a new job: the 1881 census told us he was a bookseller in Loseby Lane, Leicester, only a few yards away from where a later and stronger Leicester chess player would, several decades later, also run a bookshop. You may well meet him in a future article. He was also just a short walk from what is now De Montfort University, the new home of the English Chess Federation library and also, as it happens, my alma mater.

An announcement in the Leicester Journal (5 January 1884) suggests that his bookselling business hit a problem.

It was time for him to turn over a new leaf. By 1891 he was an antiques dealer, having moved just round the corner to Silver Street, and doing well enough to employ a servant. The 1901 and 1911 censuses told the same story: in the latter year he styled himself a ‘dealer in genuine antiques’.

At some point after that, perhaps after the death of his father in 1913, he moved to London. The 1921 census, due for release next January, will reveal more.

We can pick William up again in 1932, when he made his last will and testament, granting generous bequests to his children and grandchildren. Still working as an antique dealer, his address was given as 48 George Street, Manchester Square, WC1, only a few minutes’ stroll from 44 Baker Street, where, had he been able to travel through time, he’d have been able to stock up on the latest chess books.

His antique dealing had clearly been very successful. He died in 1934, and probate records reveal that he left effects to the value of £15,240 17s  9d, which, depending on how you calculate it, amounts to anywhere between one and seven million pounds in today’s money.

So there you have it. While his chess playing didn’t impress, he played an important role in chess life in Leicester. Away from the board, in both business and family life, he seems to have done very well for himself. Well played, William John Withers!

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Remembering Dr. Julian Farrand QC (Hon) (13-viii-1935 17-vii-2020)

Prof. Julian Farrand at the King's Place Rapidplay, 2013, courtesy of John Upham Photography
Prof. Julian Farrand at the King’s Place Rapidplay, 2013, courtesy of John Upham Photography

BCN remembers Dr. Julian Farrand who passed on Friday, July 17th, 2020. He was 84 years of age.

Julian Thomas Farrand was born August 13th, 1935 in Doncaster in the West Riding of Yorkshire.

Dr. Farrand QC(Hon), formerly the Insurance Ombudsman, became the Pensions Ombudsman, and he had been a Law Commissioner and a University Professor of Law at the University of Manchester where he was Dean of the faculty.

Most recently he lived in Morpeth, London, SW1.

Dr JULIAN FARRAND  Pensions Ombudsman  COMPULSORY CREDIT: UPPA/Photoshot Photo  UKWT 011879/A-32a    31.07.1996
Dr JULIAN FARRAND Pensions Ombudsman COMPULSORY CREDIT: UPPA/Photoshot Photo UKWT 011879/A-32a 31.07.1996

His first recorded game in Megabase 2020 was white at the 1968 British Championships in Bristol against life-long friend CGM Keith Bevan Richardson. Together with Raymond Brunton Edwards, Julian and Keith were long-time trustees of the BCFs Permanent Invested Fund (PIF).

Julian played for Pimlico, Cavendish and Insurance in the London League and he maintained a standard play grading of 172A in 2020 as well as a FIDE rating of 1943 for standard play. He also played in the London Public Services League, the Central London League and the City Chess Association League. He made regular appearances in the Bronowski Trophy competition and the World Senior’s Team Tournament.

His (according to Megabase 2020) peak Elo rating was 2238 in April, 2004 aged 69. It is likely to have been higher than that if it was measured.

Julian joined Barbican following its merger with Perception Youth to become Barbican Youth in the Four Nations Chess League (4NCL).

His favourite openings with white were : The Richter-Veresov Opening in later years and the English/Barcza Opening in earlier times.

With Black he enjoyed the Czech System and the Lenningrad Dutch.

His son, Tom, is a strong player and a successful barrister with expertise in Intellectual Property Rights, Trademarks and Copyright law.

His wife (married in 1992), Baroness Hale of Richmond, served as President of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom from 2017 to 2020, and serves as a member of the House of Lords as a Lord Temporal.

Julian Farrand with Lady Hale at a Buckingham Palace reception. Photo : Press Association
Julian Farrand with Lady Hale at a Buckingham Palace reception. Photo : Press Association

Memorial messages have been posted on the English Chess Forum and many will, no doubt, follow. Included are older games from John Saunders not found in the online databases.

In 2015 Julian (together with fellow trustees Keith Richardson and Ray Edwards) received the ECF President’s Award for services to the Permanent Invested Fund.

Here is the citation from the 2015 award :

“Julian is best known as the first-ever English ombudsman (in insurance). He is the husband of law lord Baroness Hale. I (SR) first met him at about the age of 12 year old when playing for my school. He is about four years older. Both Ray and Julian are members of the Book of the Year Committee and have been reviewing books for this purpose for many years. Both are quite strong chess players, indeed playing for England in the same team in the European 60+ Team Championship in Vienna 11-20 July 2015. Keith was to have been a member of the same team, but his wife’s ill-health forced him to withdraw.”

Here is an obituary from The Times of London

Here is an obituary from Stewart Reuben

Prof. Julian T Farrand at the King's Place Rapidplay, 2013, courtesy of John Upham Photography
Prof. Julian T Farrand at the King’s Place Rapidplay, 2013, courtesy of John Upham Photography
Love All Risks by Julian Farrand
Love All Risks by Julian Farrand
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Minor Pieces 4: The Marriott Family

It’s midnight on 28 June 1816. a group of saboteurs breaks into Heathcoat and Boden’s lace mill in Loughborough, Leicestershire, determined to smash their machinery.  John Heathcoat must have had advance warning: he’s ensured there are plenty of workers on hand to repel the invaders. Fights break out, gunshots are heard, and one of the watchmen, John Asher, is hit, blood pouring from a slug in back of his head. Asher’s companions are forced to the ground at gunpoint, and the saboteurs destroy all 55 of the lace making machines, steal some lace and make their escape.

These men are Luddites, taking their name from the perhaps mythical Ned Ludd. Campaigning against poor working conditions and grinding poverty they see no option but to use violence to pursue their aims.

The leader of the insurrection, James Towle, from Basford, near Nottingham, is identified and quickly arrested. Although he himself did not fire the shot that hit John Asher, he is convicted, sentenced to death and publicly hanged in Leicester on 20 November. The following year, six more members of Towle’s gang, including his younger brother William, are also hanged, and another two transported to Australia.

The last moments of James Towle, :who was executed at Leicester, Nov. 20, 1816 REPOSITORY: Harvard Law School Library, Harvard University

Were they heroes or villains? Terrorists or martyrs? You decide. There are always people on the wrong side of history. The Industrial Revolution brought destitution to many, but there were others who saw an opportunity to join the burgeoning middle classes, perhaps by starting up their own shop or factory. This is the story of one of them.

Time moves on. The clock ticks. The calendar pages are turned over.

It’s now 19 October 1818. James and William’s cousin Catherine, also in Basford, marries Richard Green. In 1820 Catherine gives birth to a daughter, who is named Sarah.

We spin forward to 1844, when Sarah marries Thomas Marriott, from nearby Bulwell. He is most likely the Thomas Marriott baptised there on 9 March 1817, whose parents are listed as Joseph, a Framework Knitter, and his wife Mary.

One thing we know about Thomas is that he’s a keen chess player, whose sons will also learn how to play. I’m not sure how common chess was amongst the framework knitting community at the time: perhaps Thomas saw a knowledge of the Royal Game as a way into the middle classes.

Here’s a game played by one of his sons, a devotee of gambit play. ‘Septimus Placid’ was probably top Nottingham player Sigismund Hamel.

By 1851 he’s already doing well. We pick him up in the census, where, remaining in the local lace-making industry, he’s left his humble origins behind. He’s a lace maker and tea dealer, trying out another line of business on the side, it seems. Sarah is there with him, along with their three sons, Edwin, Thomas and Henry, and he’s sufficiently well off to be able to employ a servant.

In 1861 he’s a lace manufacturer, suggesting perhaps a slightly higher status than a lace maker, which is what Edwin is doing. Sadly, Thomas junior had died in 1855, but the family is now completed by Henry, John, Sarah, another Thomas, Frederick and Arthur. John, Sarah and Arthur were all given the middle name Towle in honour, as was the fashion at the time, of their grandmother Catherine. (The census record has been transcribed as Maniott: thanks to Jon D’Souza-Eva for discovering this, which had eluded other historians, and pointing it out to us.) I wonder whether Thomas knew about his wife’s nefarious relatives, and, if so, what he thought of them.

The 1871 census (name transcribed incorrectly as Marrett) tells us Thomas is now employing 4 men and 5 boys. Edwin and John have left home, but Sarah and the other children are still there. No doubt chess is often played.

Here’s another game, played by Arthur at Simpson’s Divan, which we visited in an earlier Minor Piece, against George Alcock MacDonnell, one of the top English (but Irish born) players of the day.

Thomas’s business continues to prosper: by 1881 he’s employing 34 males and 4 females. I hope he treated his workers better than John Heathcoat and John Boden did. Sarah and their two youngest sons, Frederick and Arthur, are at home with him.

Let’s stop to look at what happened to his children. We know that his six sons who survived childhood all played chess, and we have playing records for most of them.

Thomas’s youngest son, Arthur Towle Marriott, was the strongest and also the shortest lived. He’s the subject of a recent book recounting his gloomy fate and romantic chess. EdoChess awards him a peak rating of 2376, and, had he lived, he could have been a world class player.

Here’s one of his last and most brilliant games: he was living in Bournemouth at the time, hoping the sea air would improve his health.

Two of Arthur’s brothers were also pretty decent players, taking high boards for Nottingham in matches against other Midlands towns. The oldest brother, Edwin, had a peak rating of 2275 and draws to his credit against Teddington resident and future British Championship contender George Edward Wainwright and, in his final recorded game, against the young Henry Ernest Atkins. Away from the chessboard he followed in his father’s footsteps as a lace manufacturer, possibly taking over his business interests when he retired.

Thomas Walter Marriott was of similar strength to Edwin, with a peak rating of 2244: again, by the standards of his day, a formidable player. Thomas Walter was, like many chess players, an accountant, and, also like many chess players, never married. At least up to 1911 he chose to live in boarding houses, even though he had inherited property after his father’s death.

John Towle Marriott’s life took a different course. He chose to train as a minister of religion, specifically the Unitarian movement, who believed in the unity of God, rather than the Trinity accepted by most Christians.  He settled near Salford, marrying the daughter of a celebrated reporter and antiquary, but died of typhoid fever in 1890. He didn’t seem to play club chess, but returned to Nottingham in 1886 to take part in the 3rd class tournament of the Counties Chess Association, which he won with 6½/9, a performance rated by EdoChess as 1780.

John Towle Marriott

Sarah Towle Marriott may well have played her brothers at home, but chess was, back in those days, considered an almost exclusively male activity. You might think we haven’t made much progress in that respect in the past century and a half. Her first husband, who died young, was a colliery agent who had business interests in London – the 1881 census found the family in Fulham, which, as far as I know, has never had very many coal mines. Their son Harry Marriott Burton was interesting: he was an artist who travelled the world – Canada, South Africa – painting wherever he went, ending his life in Queensland at the great age of 96. His paintings are now quite collectible.

Mount Sir Donald, Selkirk Mountains of British Columbia Harry Marriott Burton (1882–1979) Nottingham City Museums & Galleries

Thomas Marriott’s other two sons are mysterious, as you’ll find out.

The 1891 census finds him, now a retired widower, living with his daughter Sarah, herself widowed, and her two surviving children.

By 1901, now aged 84, he’s living with an otherwise unknown Francis Marriott, who appears to be his full time carer. My guess, as there’s no other Francis around, and because the age is right, this is really Frederick: either the enumerator made a mistake or he’s using a false name for some reason. He’s there with his wife Lizzie, from Derbyshire, and an 11-year-old daughter, Ethel, who, unexpectedly, was born in Vancouver, British Columbia. The last we heard of Frederick was in the 1881 census (he appears to have taken part in a consultation game the same year), and I haven’t been able to find any further sighting of Frederick or Francis in England, Canada or anywhere else. It’s all a mystery.

Thomas’s other son, Henry, is also elusive. He’s living at home in 1871, working as a clerk in a coal office, but then disappears from view.

Thomas lives on until 8 September 1906, dying in the Coppice Asylum, a private institution in Nottingham. I would guess that he was suffering from some kind of dementia in the last few years of his life.

His will makes interesting reading. He seems to have been fairly wealthy, owning several properties, which are shared between Sarah (who also received his personal effects), Thomas Walter and Frederick, with specific instructions that nothing should go to either Edwin or Henry. Perhaps Edwin, having inherited the family business, was well catered for anyway. Perhaps, though, there was a falling out with both Edwin and Henry. Perhaps he chose to reward Sarah and Frederick, who had both been caring for him in his old age, and Thomas Walter, who had been involved with the legal side of the will. Perhaps he had no idea wither or not Henry was still alive. The inheritance for Frederick seems to suggest again that he and Francis were one and the same person, but who knows?

Finally, let’s return to Edwin. He had nine children, several of whom are also remarkably difficult to track down. This is very unusual for the time: one is tempted to ask questions about the family dynamics. My particular interest is with the oldest of them, Arthur James, who married Frances Keywood, the possessor of a relatively unusual surname. (There used to be a lace manufacturing company in Nottingham called Cooper & Keywood.)

The Keywoods were one of several families in Nottingham who intermarried a lot, but Frances must have been related in some way to Doris Keywood, who married Louis James there in 1915. His great grandfather Thomas James (whom you’ll meet again another time) was also my 3x great grandfather. Wheels within wheels. There are always stories. There are always connections. And this is the story of how I’m connected to Arthur Towle Marriott and his chess-playing brothers. It’s also the story of how the game of chess has always been shaped by societal shifts: as we move now from the industrial to the post-industrial (and post-pandemic) age chess will change again. By learning lessons from history we can be proactive in deciding how chess should be promoted and organised in future.

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Minor Pieces 3: Septimus Swyer

Between 31 August and 9 November 1888, five prostitutes were brutally murdered in Whitechapel, in London’s East End. Their killer was never caught, and is known to us now as Jack the Ripper. Several later murders in the same area might have been committed by the same person.

What you all want to know is this: did Jack the Ripper play chess?

Hundreds of possible suspects have been mentioned over the years: almost everyone, it seems, who was in the right place at the right time, and even some who almost certainly weren’t.

Several of these suspects have chess connections.

First on our list is the artist Walter Sickert. From The (Even More) Complete Chess Addict: ‘According to a well-argued book by Stephen Knight, Jack the Ripper … was in fact the painter Walter Sickert as part of a three-man team. One of the things we know about Sickert was that he was a keen chess-player’.

Sadly, this source is notoriously unreliable. I searched the newspaper archives for any connection between Sickert and chess. All I could find was a critic’s view of a portrait of political activist and atheist Charles Bradlaugh: ‘But the clever artist should have placed a chessboard on the table over which the intellectual face of Mr. B. is bending. He habitually plays chess, I am given to understand, with members of the high aristocracy, and recently checkmated a Bishop.’ This must surely refer to Bradlaugh, who was known to be a chess player, rather than Sickert, although history doesn’t record whether the famous atheist used a bishop to checkmate the Bishop. Perhaps Mike Fox had read a biography of Sickert which provided more information, but I can find no evidence of the artist being particularly interested in chess.

More recently, the crime novelist Patricia Cornwell took up the theory of Sickert being Jack, but I don’t think the evidence stands up.

Number two on our list is none other than Lewis Carroll. We know, of course, that he was a chess enthusiast: you can read more here. I’ve known the compiler of this information, Roger Scowen, on and off for many years: we recently exchanged emails and hope to meet up soon for a few games once it’s safe to do so. But was Carroll Jack the Ripper? To me, it seems like a totally ridiculous suggestion.

Moving swiftly on, let’s visit the Langdon Down Museum of Learning Disability in Teddington – and if you’ve never been there you really ought to. Some of the inmates there at Normansfield were identified by John Langdon Down as having a specific genetic condition which is now known as Down Syndrome. Others, like James Henry Pullen, might now be diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum. Facilities were also available for members of wealthy families with mental health conditions, one of whom, who features, with a mention of his chess prowess, in a display in the museum, was Reginald Treherne Bassett Saunderson. Saunderson certainly didn’t have an intellectual disability, but today he’d probably be diagnosed as schizophrenic. His story is told here.

In this game he was winning most of the way through against a strong opponent, but eventually came off second best.

Saunderson was certainly a pretty good chess player, and certainly killed a lady of, reputedly, ‘ill-fame’, but, born in 1873, he was much too young to have been the original Jack the Ripper.

Let’s try again. Lord Randolph Churchill, Winston’s dad, was certainly a chess player, and certainly an opponent of Steinitz. By all accounts he was a pretty unpleasant and unpopular man, but, although he sometimes appears in lists of possible suspects, there’s absolutely no evidence that he had anything at all to do with the Whitechapel Murders.

Lord Randolph Churchill

Finally, meet S Swyer. He played Steinitz in the second round of a handicap tournament at the City of London Chess Club in 1871-72: among the other participants was J Swyer, a first round loser. Tim Harding (Steinitz in London) suggests that the two Swyers were probably brothers, but doesn’t provide any further information. Swyer is an uncommon surname so it’s not too difficult to find out more.

The Swyer family came from near Shaftesbury, in Dorset. Walter Swyer and Sarah Lush (Buckland) Swyer had a daughter, Sarah, followed by seven sons. Walter and Robert, John and George, James and William, and, as was the custom in educated families at the time, their seventh son was named Septimus. Let’s get J Swyer out of the way first. John was a bank manager who spent most of his life in Dorset. James was a chemist and druggist, living in Bethnal Green in London’s East End at the time of the 1871 census, so it must have been him, rather than John, who played chess at the City of London Chess Club.

James Swyer

S Swyer, then, was Septimus. In 1871 he was a General Practitioner, living in Brick Lane, Spitalfields, not very far from his brother Jim. As well as being a GP he specialised in obstetrics and gynaecology.

Both Swyers were placed in Class IV (of V) at the City of London Club, so when Steinitz was paired against Septimus he took the white pieces in both games, but had to play without his queen’s knight.

This game suggests that Septimus was a reasonably competent player, but handicapped by a lack of opening knowledge.

It was much the same story the second time around, but here the game was truncated when Swyer, in a difficult position, hung a rook.

Dr Septimus Swyer

Swyer was a colourful character whose life was not short on controversy. In 1861 a cat, allegedly belonging to his neighbour, broke into his shop and shattered all his medicines, including a bottle of Godfrey’s Cordial, but the narcotic had no effect on the feline intruder. He sued for damages, but his neighbour claimed it was a different moggy and the case was thrown out.

His first wife died in 1874 and he remarried in 1880. It was stated his second wife’s husband was still alive (it seems he lived until 1912) and she was tried for bigamy, but acquitted.

In 1888 he was still in the same area, but in 1891, shortly after the last possible Ripper murder, he suddenly emigrated to the USA. He certainly had financial problems, but who knows?

Dr Septimus Swyer was in the right place at the right time, had the required medical knowledge, and left the country in a hurry. Only circumstantial evidence. Was he Jack the Ripper? Unlikely, I would have thought, but at least, unlike our other four chess-playing (or perhaps not in the case of Sickert) suspects, a possibility. I guess we’ll never know.

 

Sources:

There’s a lot more about Swyer as a Ripper suspect (but do bear in mind the proviso at the top of the first post) at:
Dr Septimus Swyer + proviso – Casebook: Jack the Ripper Forums

A lot more again here from a direct descendant (one of his sons emigrated to Australia) at:
Septimus Swyer (hibeach.net)

Photographs of James and Septimus Swyers taken from family trees at:
Genealogy, Family Trees and Family History Records online – Ancestry®

Photograph of Lord Randolph Churchill from Wikipedia.

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Minor Pieces 2: Alexander Sich

It’s Monday 28 August 1871. Join me at Simpson’s Divan in the Strand, where, after a satisfying lunch of roast beef, accompanied by a bottle of their finest claret, followed by a glass of brandy and a Havana cigar, we adjourn to the chess room to watch the great Wilhelm Steinitz in action.

He introduces us to his friend Mr Sich, who is, he informs us, a wine merchant. The two gentlemen are engaged in an exciting battle. At one point Herr Steinitz is a rook ahead but his king seems to be in trouble. He manages to survive and win the game, but could Mr Sich have done better?

I reach into my pocket. “Look, Herr Steinitz! I’m a time traveller from 150 years into the future. I can press a few buttons on this small machine and talk to anyone in the world. I can press a few more buttons, enter the moves of the game you just played and show you both where you went wrong.”

“You might have been impressed by Ajeeb, but my machine is a million times better. You see, Mr Sich, you might have played your rook to queen one on move 28, announcing check to Herr Steinitz’s king. You were still winning, though, but on move 32, if you’d played your queen to queen’s knight five you could then have exchanged everything off on queen seven and advanced your king’s bishop’s pawn to the end of the board. Two moves later, you could still have drawn by exchanging rooks, but instead you left your own king defenceless.”

But now it’s time to bid our farewells and leave: we have a journey to make. Our destination is Hammersmith. We’re excited by the prospect of travelling on the Underground Railway, so head for Charing Cross Station. Just eight weeks earlier, following a banquet attended by Mr Gladstone two days previously, the District Railway started running trains round part of what would become the Inner Circle. In a few years time we’ll be able to take the train directly to Hammersmith, and the line will later be extended to exotic destinations such as Richmond and Ealing. 90 years later a schoolboy playing his friends on the train between Ravenscourt Park and Richmond will develop a lifelong chess obsession, but that’s another story for another time.

For now, we must take the underground train as far as Paddington, and change onto the Hammersmith and City Railway. When we reach our destination we spot a pub called the George just round the corner: it was rebuilt in 1911 and is now part of the Belushi’s chain. We could stop for a drink there, or in several other pubs nearby, but instead we’ll take a stroll down King Street.

After half a mile or so we’ll pass what is now Hammersmith Town Hall, which we visited in our last journey, and notice, in 2021, that it’s being redeveloped. If we look across the street we’ll see Dalling Road, and the building which, we hope, will soon be the site of a new Mind Sports Centre.

Then we pass another pub. This was the Hampshire Hog, but is now just the Hampshire, serving Indian cuisine as well as beers, wines and spirits. Mine’s a pint of London Pride: what are you having?

Why have I brought you here? Because this pub, like the George and many others in the area, was owned by the Sich family. The brewery was purchased by one John Sich in 1790 and later run by his sons, John junior and Henry.  The two brothers both had numerous children, many of whom were involved in the family business.

But let’s stop there. News has just come in that Herr Steinitz and Mr A Sich played again two days after the game we witnessed. Again, Herr Steinitz survived a totally lost position to win, in an encounter which was even more exciting that their previous game, with a lot of bamboozling tactics. Probably worth a separate article, I think.

You’ll notice that Mr S missed a simple mate in 5 on move 38 before blundering away first the win and then the draw. Still impressive, though, that he could achieve winning positions in level play against the world’s strongest active player.

What else do we know about him? He was very active in the St James’s Club from 1860 onwards, where he was a second category player, receiving odds from Loewenthal and Valentine Green, but conceding odds to weaker players. We’ll meet at least one of his opponents, EE Humphreys, in a later article. He played published games on level terms against Steinitz in 1871, as we’ve seen, and against Loewenthal in 1873 and 1874, before disappearing from the chess scene. Tim Harding comments that his forename is unknown, but perhaps we can find out. Let’s continue our walk.

Back in the 1960s, when such things were allowed, the Hampshire Hog was the place where teachers from nearby Latymer Upper School would take their pupils for a drink. We’re now going to head away from King Street towards the river. Not so easy to cross the Great West Road, but we could perhaps cheat (as I’m an alumnus they might let me in) by following in the distinguished footsteps of the likes of GM Michael Stean and IM David Goodman, taking the school’s Secret Subway to the dining hall and the Prep department, and then out onto Upper Mall.

We’re now at the start of the notorious Round the River Run (or, in my case, walk) which takes you along the river, over Barnes Railway Bridge, along the towpath on the other side, across Hammersmith Bridge and back to where you started. We won’t do that now, not least because Hammersmith Bridge is currently closed for repairs, but will take a gentle walk by the river in the direction of Chiswick.

Passing the Old Ship, we’ll stop off at the Black Lion. Thanks for offering: I’ll have another pint of Pride. It would be rude not to, given how close we are to where it’s brewed. Above one of the corner tables is a portrait of local resident AP Herbert, whose wife was regularly seen at the Hammersmith Town Hall chess tournaments.

While we’re here, news comes in that Herr Steinitz and Mr A Sich have played another game.

I’m not sure what 7. Ng5 was all about: my pupils get their knuckles rapped if they play moves like that. Steinitz chose to go for the attack rather than regain the exchange on move 26, but Sich missed a draw on move 34.

It’s time to continue our walk, passing Fuller’s (London Pride) Brewery and soon reaching St Nicholas’s Church. Turning up Church Street towards the busy Hogarth Roundabout, a stark contrast to the bucolic views of the Thames, you’ll see a tower on your right with the words LAMB BREWERY. This was the name of the Sich family concern: little other than the tower remains.

But we still haven’t identified A Sich. Let’s return to John and Henry. John had a son named Alexander who was born in 1837, while, two years later, Henry’s son Arthur John was born. So we have two gentlemen named A Sich who were of the right age. As he was active from 1860 onwards, the older cousin seems more likely. A better reason is that, in the days when people were referred to by their full initials and surnames, the chess player was always ‘A. Sich’, never ‘A.J. Sich’. We also know from Steinitz  that he was a wine merchant. As it happens, 1871 was a census year, so let’s travel back 150 years again and join the enumerator.

Here, in Church Street, where we’re standing now, is Arthur John, a brewer, with his wife and children. And just round the corner, in Sunbury House, The Mall, Chiswick, is Alexander, a wine merchant, with his wife (who just happened to be Arthur’s sister Helen: nothing like keeping it in the family) and children. This seems confirmation that it was Alex, not Artie, who played chess against Steinitz. We know quite a lot more about them as well. Al was very much concerned with municipal affairs throughout his life, while Art was involved with the army volunteers. Unlike his cousin, he seemed to prefer real soldiers to wooden soldiers.

Time for a final drink, I think. While we’re at the Hogarth Roundabout we could choose the George & Devonshire, which has probably always been a Fuller’s pub, but, to continue the theme of our pub crawl, we might prefer to walk up towards Turnham Green to visit another former Sich pub, the Lamb (formerly the Barley Mow, but its name was changed to that of the original brewery).

While we’re there, there’s another game to look at. Steinitz is White again and plays the King’s Gambit. Again, Sich is doing well at one point, but misdefends, allowing a neat sacrificial finish.

We could, I suppose, visit the Watermans Arms in Brentford, which comes with a recommendation from food critic and West London Chess Club secretary Andy Hayler. Close by is the Watermans Arts Centre, which in turn is across the road from the rather wonderful Musical Museum and a short walk from the London Museum of Water and Steam, which itself is just across the railway line from the new Brentford Stadium. Will they be seeing Premiership football there next season, I wonder?

We could also travel further west to the Bell in Hounslow. Back in the 1980s or thereabouts Hounslow Chess Club met nearby, and the Bell was often the venue for our post mortems after we played them in the Thames Valley League. There are plenty of other former Sich pubs still around as well: see the link below.

Before I leave you, there’s one further reference connecting Alexander Sich to the game of chess.

In 1903 the Chiswick Library Committee, of which Alex was a member, decided to allow their committee room to be used as a games room. Chess, draughts and dominoes were provided so that the local louts could avoid trouble by playing some nice quiet games.

Unfortunately, it didn’t work out as planned. The boys resorted to games of their own: ‘coddam’, noisy larking, horse-play and pitching cinders. The good citizens of Chiswick were not at all happy, and, after a few weeks, the club was closed down. Alexander Sich said that he did not regret that they had made the experiment. It could hardly have been more different from the pre-lockdown chess group at Whitton Library. There’s a moral there somewhere,  but I’m not sure what it is. (Coddam, since you asked, is ‘an old game, usually with three players on each side, based around guessing which of the players’ hands is hiding a coin or button.’)

Meanwhile, the Sich Brewery hit problems during the First World War and was sold off in 1920. Their neighbour, Fuller’s, however, survives and thrives to this day.

This is the second of a series of articles about Steinitz’s English amateur opponents. The next instalment will be coming shortly.

Sources:

The chess games of A Sich

The Lamb Brewery | Brentford & Chiswick Local History Society (brentfordandchiswicklhs.org.uk)

Metropolitan Railway – Wikipedia

Genealogy, Family Trees and Family History Records online – Ancestry®

Dashboard | findmypast.co.uk

 

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