Movers and Takers is the 150-year story of Streatham and Brixton Chess Club, and of chess in our neighbourhood.
It begins with two separate clubs in Victorian times – one in north Brixton, the other in Streatham – amid the outburst of enthusiasm for chess in the expanding suburbs. The two clubs amalgamated half way through the story. Movers and Takers charts the cycles of ups and downs, the periods of feast and famine, the championship victories, and the dismal defeats of these clubs over a century and a half up to the present day.
You will meet the characters who made up the club during its long journey. There have been strong players who changed the club’s fortunes before they moved on. And there have been many average ones, who have yet been the lifeblood of the club, devoted to their passion, who sustained it through thick and thin. You will also meet players who, though not members, have passed through our neighbourhood while leaving their footprint on the wider chess landscape. They may grab our attention for that they did off the board as much as on it.
Streatham and Brixton Chess Club celebrated its 150th birthday last year, and one of their members, Martin Smith, has written a history of chess in that part of South London, taking the club through the Victorian era, two world wars, the English Chess Explosion and into a global pandemic.
The book was written for The Streatham Society, a local amenity group whose publications include volumes on local history, so its target market is residents and historians as much as chess players. There is, however, a selection of games at the end, roughly one for each decade of the club’s history, featuring a wide range of players, from world champions down to small children.
The current club traces its history to a club in North Brixton, originally named Endeavour, which appears to have been founded in 1871. By 1875 it was already considered one of the strongest suburban clubs, although at the time, in the very early days of chess clubs outside city centres, it was very much weaker than those in central London. It then went into hibernation for a few years before starting up again in 1879 and, within a few years, dropping Endeavour and becoming just Brixton Chess Club.
The club thrived, and was, albeit with some ups and downs recorded here, a powerful force in Surrey chess up to the First World War and on into the 1920s and beyond.
Brixton’s more genteel suburban neighbour, Streatham, acquired its chess club in 1886, but for much of its history it was not as strong as its more northerly counterpart. But by the 1930s, while Brixton’s fortunes were fading, Streatham was flourishing. Both clubs suspended activities during the Second World War, and, once competitive chess resumed, they agreed to merge, becoming the Streatham and Brixton club well known today in Surrey, London and national chess circles.
Martin Smith’s book offers an engrossing whistle-stop tour of 150 years of South London chess history. We meet a lot of famous people who have pushed pawns in this part of our capital, whether as residents, club members or visiting simul givers, from the likes of Staunton and Lasker, through to Harry Golombek in the inter-war years and Ray Keene in the 1960s, and then the likes of Julian Hodgson and Daniel King from the club’s more recent glory days. We also meet a variety of colourful characters such as occultist Aleister Crowley and Broadmoor problemist Walter Stephens, as well as a whole host of devoted administrators and organisers, the often unsung heroes who are the backbone of any successful club.
The Felce dynasty were prominent as organisers in Surrey chess for three generations. Here’s Harold, their strongest player, defending coolly against an unsound sacrifice to score a notable victory against the great Sultan Khan. Click on any more to display the game in a pop-up window.
The author does an excellent job of placing the club within its local community. We learn about the changing role of chess in society through the Victorian era and how this was reflected in the growth of clubs such as Brixton and the development of leagues in London and Surrey. There’s also a lot about the girls and women who played chess in the area: there were a surprising number, from Vera Menchik through to 1960s girl star Linda Bott (seen, below, at the age of 8) and beyond. Junior chess in general, of course, plays a big part in the latter half of the story: we learn about the popularity of chess in local schools, the pioneering books for young children written by Ray Bott and Stanley Morrison, and the sterling work done by Nigel Povah (whose grandfather was a prominent Streatham administrator) in coaching top juniors and introducing them to the club.
I wonder whether Linda’s 20th move in this game was an oversight (it’s very easy to miss backward diagonal moves) or a move displaying precocious tactical awareness. Only she would know.
Works like this are important in explaining the background behind club chess, and, if the subject appeals, this book won’t fail to please. You might see it as complementing my Minor Pieces articles, particularly those involved with Richmond and Twickenham players, and, given that Martin and I have discussed our respective ideas over several pints during the course of his research, you’ll understand where we’re both coming from. It’s very well written and copiously illustrated throughout: the expertly chosen photographs and press cuttings add enormously to the story.
I’m sure it would have been easy (perhaps even easier) for Martin to have written a book two or three times its length, and as a chess player you’d perhaps like to have seen more chess as well, but, given the limitations of writing primarily for a non-chess playing readership, he has done an outstanding job in compressing the story into a relatively short volume. Perhaps he might consider an expanded version for private publication.
I did spot a few minor mistakes: misspelt or incorrect names and incorrect dates, for example, but this won’t spoil your enjoyment of the book. Strongly recommended for anyone with any interest at all in the history of British – and London – chess over the past 150 years.
If you’d like to buy a copy, the book can be ordered by providing a postal address to SFChess@btinternet.com, who will provide a/c details for payment of £12.50 plus £2.50 P&P.
Richard James, Twickenham 14 January 2022
Published: November 2021
Publisher: Local History Publications for The Streatham Society in association with Streatham and Brixton Chess Club.
There was good news for Twickenham Chess Club in January 1889. A victory against Acton gave them an impressive 100% record for the season.
We note a new name among the winners: as well as a Bull (here and here) we now have a Fox to add to the menagerie.
Eighteen months later, and Mr A M Fox was by now winning every game in the handicap tournament off scratch. Twickenham was one of the strongest suburban chess clubs, and Mr Fox was perhaps their strongest player, which suggests that he was pretty useful.
His full name was Arthur Makinson Fox, born in Dorchester, Dorset in 1863, the son and grandson of Congregational Ministers, although his father, Joseph Makinson Fox, converted to the Church of England in 1886. An uncle, Daniel Makinson Fox, was a railway engineer who led the construction of the São Paulo railway, and one of Arthur’s brothers, John Ernest Ravenscroft Fox, was a landscape artist.
Arthur shared an occupation with Robert Davy Ganthony: the 1881 census found him in Dudley, Worcestershire, articled to a dentist. It appears that, in those days, training to be a dentist required an apprenticeship rather than a university education.
By 1882 he found himself in Teddington, perhaps still training to be a dentist, but also the organist at Christ Church, Teddington, in whose church hall Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club met until a few years ago.
In 1887 he married Helen Maud McComas, the daughter of an Irish merchant living in Hampton Road, Teddington, not too far from the Roebuck. They settled in the same road, but closer to the town centre: a house named Brendon, 32 Hampton Road, on the corner of Coleshill Avenue (perhaps this house), just round the corner from the Cowards. Three daughters, Dorothy, Helen and Violet, soon arrived to complete the family, and they would remain there for the rest of their lives. None of their daughters married: they weren’t the only spinster sisters in Teddington.
In 1889 he wasn’t new to chess. Since at least the beginning of 1888 he’d been solving problems in the Morning Post, and occasionally tried his hand at composing as well.
This example seems to me to be pretty crude and forgettable: he doesn’t seem to have shared Cecil Alfred Lucas Bull’s talent for composition. Have a go at solving it yourself and see what you think. The solution is at the end of the article.
#3 Arthur Makinson Fox Morning Post 3 December 1888
In 1893 Joseph Henry Blackburne returned to Twickenham for another simul. Arthur Fox was the only player to win his game.
In between dentistry and chess he also found time to study music at London University, being awarded a Bachelor’s degree in 1893.
Arthur seems to have been a real chess addict. He wasn’t just a member of Twickenham Chess Club, but also a number of clubs in central London. I presume he took the train up from nearby Teddington Station.
Here he is, for example, in 1901, playing for the British Chess Club against a combined team from Oxford and Cambridge Universities, and drawing his game against South African law student Frederick Kimberley Loewenthal, named, like Sydney Meymott, after his place of birth. (Kimberley, not Frederick just in case you were wondering, and apparently not related to Johan Jacob.) There are several interesting names in both teams, some of whom you might meet in future Minor Pieces, but if he’d been one board lower, he’d have met Harold Francis Davidson, a theology student at Exeter College, Oxford.
At Oxford, Davidson’s behaviour was notably eccentric; he displayed considerable energy but disregarded rules, was persistently unpunctual and regularly failed his examinations. … By 1901 his academic inadequacies were such that he was required to leave Exeter College, although he was allowed to continue studying for his degree at Grindle’s Hall, a cramming establishment. He finally passed his examinations in 1903, at the age of 28, and that year was ordained by the Bishop of Oxford—after some reluctance on the part of the bishop to accept so unpromising a candidate.
Yes, this was the future Rector of Stiffkey, the Rector Who Was Eaten (or, more accurately, mauled) By A Lion, and one of the stars of The (Even More) Complete Chess Addict, co-written by an unrelated Teddington chess player named Fox.
On April Fools Day 1901 the census enumerator called. As you’d expect, Arthur and Helen were at home along with their three young daughters, Helen’s relation Herbert McComas, a Cambridge University student born in Dublin, and three servants, all in their mid 20s: Grace Gisbourne was a cook, Helena Larkham a housemaid and Ellen Gowing a nurse. It must have been rather confusing with two Helens, Helena and Ellen in the household.
Moving forward another decade, not much had changed. Their middle daughter, Helen, had left home to work as a teacher, but Dorothy and Violet were still there, along with the same three servants as ten years earlier.
But there was another resident as well, Douglas Gerard Arthur Fox, the son of Arthur’s brother Gerard, a 17 year old music student.
Douglas was a promising organist and pianist: he was educated at Clifton College, a school with a strong music tradition, and was now studying under Sir Charles Villiers Stanford at the Royal College of Music. The following year he would be appointed Organ Scholar at Keble College, Oxford.
When war broke out he enlisted in the army, and, in 1917, suffered a serious injury requiring the amputation of his right arm. In 1918 he was appointed musical director at Bradfield College, and in 1931 returned to Clifton College, where he was Head of Music until his retirement in 1957. Among his pupils was the great and wonderful David Valentine Willcocks, one of whose brothers, Theophilus Harding Willcocks, was a mathematician and chess problemist.
For further information about Douglas Fox see here, pp 11-14. You might even want to buy a book here.
At some point, perhaps round about his 50th birthday, Arthur Makinson Fox decided to retire from his work as a dentist, giving himself more time to spend on music.
In 1912 Arthur and his wife contributed two guineas to a fund to rebuild the organ at St James’s Church, Hampton Hill. They lived in the parish of St Peter & St Paul, Teddington, but it’s possible they preferred to worship at St James’s. just a mile down the road. (Walk along Hampton Road past the Roebuck and keep going.) It’s also quite possible that Arthur was the organist there. (A more recent organist at St James’s, Mark Blackwell (2015-2018) is the brother of one of my first private pupils, Richard, who played for Cambridge in the 1986 Varsity Match.)
In 1914 St James’s appointed a new vicar, the Rev Richard Coad-Prior, who had a lot in common with Arthur Makinson Fox, sharing his passion for both music and chess. In February that year, he played for London University in a match against Cambridge. There, sitting almost opposite him, was Richard’s only son Eric, who would himself have a long career as a strong club and county player.
Arthur’s opponent in this match, Bertram Goulding Brown, was well known as, amongst other things, a chess historian. He had played in Varsity Matches a decade or so earlier, and was now, I think, a lecturer in history. This may have been a ‘past and present’ match, or perhaps Arthur was now associated with London University again in some way.
This is the last match result I’ve been able to find for Arthur Makinson Fox. Not a lot of competitive chess took place during the war, and perhaps, now in his fifties, he decided to hang up his pawns, at least as far as competitive chess was concerned.
The 1921 census has recently become available online, and we still find him in the same place, along with Helen, Dorothy and Violet, who is now working just a couple of minutes walk away at the National Physical Laboratory. Their servants Grace and Ellen are both still there after more than 20 years.
During this period of his life he continued his interest in music. The two fields which particularly interested him were organ music (he seems to have composed some works for his instrument) and madrigals. He wrote articles for various music magazines and was the President and Librarian of the Madrigal Society. In 1914 he had subscribed to a collection of madrigals composed by Orlando Gibbons. (Beware, though: some online sources attribute two cantatas published in the mid 1870s to Arthur Makinson Fox: they must have been written by another Arthur Fox.)
We can now move forward another 18 years to 1939. Helen Maud Fox died that year, but, apart from his sad loss, there’s no change in the household circumstances from 1921. Arthur, Dorothy and Violet are still there, with Dorothy still carrying out household duties and Violet still at the NPL. And, yes, Grace and Ellen are still there as well, having worked for the family for about 40 years. Quite some loyalty, and I guess Arthur must have been a good employer as well.
Although he may not have played competitively for a quarter of a century, he still kept up his interest in chess. In 1941 he wrote an article for the British Chess Magazine reminiscing about the British Chess Club.
In February 1945 he had a letter published in the BCM joining in a debate about reversing the starting positions of bishops and knights.
He lived a long but relatively uneventful life devoted to his work as a dentist and his twin passions of chess and music. Arthur Makinson Fox’s death at the age of 86 was registered in Middlesex South in the second quarter of 1949.
Acknowledgements and Sources:
Various other online sources
1. Nd8! followed by 2. Be3 and either 3. Qe6# or 3. Qd4#. The only other variation is 1. Nd8! Kc5 2. Be3+ Kb5 3. Qa4#
“There aren’t many chess players who can say they’ve both beaten Garry Kasparov in an official blitz game and crushed Peter Leko in a classical game in 26 moves. And who regularly win blitz tournaments high on marihuana. But then Manuel Bosboom is not an ordinary chess player.
The Dutch International Master never made it to the top in chess, but over the course of his swashbuckling career he has produced an astonishing amount of brilliantly creative games. When Manuel Bosboom enters the room, a smile appears on every chess players face. Not only is he an exuberantly colourful player, he also leads an unconventional existence. His enthusiasm for the game and zest for life are highly contagious.
This book offers a captivating collection of games and it also describes the adventurous life of the Wizard from Zaanstad, who grew up and still lives in a picturesque shed next to a 17th century windmill on the famous Zaanse Schans. You will be treated to many a stunning chess move, a wealth of hilarious but also touching stories and a vivid impression of the Dutch chess scene in the late 20th and early 21st century.
Merijn van Delft is an International Master from the Netherlands. He has been a chess trainer for more than two decades and created instructional material both online and offline.
Peter Boel is a FIDE Master and a sports journalist who works as an editor with New In Chess. He is the author of two collections of short stories (in Dutch).”
My last review introduced you to a Chess Crusader. Now we have a Chess Buccaneer.
The Dutch IM Manuel Bosboom has been a cult figure in his native country for several decades, renowned for his bohemian lifestyle, adventurous and creative play, erratic results and brilliance at blitz. He came to the notice of a wider public recently when some of his games were featured in David Smerdon’s wonderful book The Complete Chess Swindler. Now we have a whole volume devoted to his life and games, written by two of his friends, Peter Boel, who was responsible for the biography, and Merijn van Delft, who provided the annotations.
Bosboom himself provides a foreword.
Meanwhile, I developed an affection for players like Alexander Alekhine, Mikhail Tal and Leonid Stein. My games became wilder, often leaving the opponent wondering: was this move a blunder or a sacrifice?! I didn’t mind! From my many blitz games I learned that you just had to keep going, regardless of the situation. A diehard attitude, quick board view and deft movements earned me a reputation in blitz.
Follow your Heart and use your Mind. Play without Dogma!
You’re promised some entertaining games, then, and that’s exactly what you’ll get.
From the authors’ preface:
If Manuel Bosboom didn’t exist, he would have to be invented. His unique, fascinating personality is bound to enrapture every true chess fan.
The book features 66 amazing games, as well as a number of other striking fragments that have been gathered and annotated by Peter in the chapters ‘Swindles’ and ‘Curiouser’. And of course we couldn’t leave out a collection of 36 combinations that the reader can try his hand at solving, with three different levels of difficulty.
We mixed this explosive material into a heady cocktail that we hope will get you pleasantly tipsy, and no hangover!
Chess is an adventure with many beautiful vistas. The great appeal of Manuel Bosboom is that he shows us that you can do things differently – in chess as well as in life. This is a marvellous gift for which we will never be able to thank him enough.
Chapter 1 takes us to the 1999 Wijk aan Zee blitz tournament, and demonstrates the game in which Bosboom beat none other than Garry Kasparov.
We then take a chronological journey through our subject’s life. Bosboom, born in 1963, comes from a Jewish socialist working-class family – the name was originally Nussbaum – and his father, Adriaan, is a talented, but commercially unsuccessful, painter.
Chapters 2 and 3 take him through his childhood and career up to 1990. At this time he favoured openings such as the King’s Gambit, so you’ll see a lot of romantic chess in these games, with brilliantly creative attacking play alongside mutual blunders.
Bosboom is famous for his early attacks with his g- and h-pawns, which sometimes result in sparkling miniatures such as this game. (Click on any move and a pop-up board will magically appear.)
Chapter 4, Manuel versus Computer, must be one of the shortest chapters ever to appear in a chess book. Just a four-move game. You’ll discover the reason later in the book.
Chapter 5 takes Bosboom through the 1990s, when he was perhaps, at the peak of his strength. He was now producing positional as well as tactical masterpieces.
I particularly enjoyed this game against Sofia Polgar.
Chapter 6 again interrupts the narration, this time for a short collection of swindles. Then Chapter 7 takes Bosboom from 2001 through to 2006.
We don’t just get Manuel Bosboom’s wins: there are draws and losses as well, such as this extraordinary game, played in the Dutch League. Bosboom was, as he often is, broke at the time so couldn’t afford the bus to the tournament venue, only just managing to arrive before the default time.
Chapter 8 is the obligatory (for this publisher, it seems) Combinations chapter, and then Chapter 9 takes us up to the present day.
Finally, Chapter 10 is entitled ‘Curiouser’.
Here are some episodes from Manuel’s chess life that may be even curiouser than what you have seen so far. Since ‘correctness’ is not a very prevalent characteristic in this chapter, the comments have been done in a slightly more ‘enthusiastic’ style than elsewhere in this book!
This is from Bosboom – Dvoirys (Leeuwarden 1997).
(Dvoirys) seemed to know nothing but chess in his life and would only mumble an unintelligible reply every time you asked him something.
The game concluded: 35. Rf5! Rf7 36. Be4! Rgg7 37. Rxe5
Dvoirys sat aghast, staring at the ruins of his position. Then he started fumbling with a big chocolate bar he had put beside the board, and suddenly squeezed it to pieces. These then fell out of his hands and onto the floor, and Bosboom watched in amazement how Dvoirys knelt down and started crawling around to collect all the pieces of chocolate.
It seems almost de rigueur these days that every chess book should include Hilarious Anecdotes, and this book, as you might expect, is no exception. They’re more likely to involve alcohol or marijuana (or marihuana, as preferred by the back cover) than chocolate, though.
For someone like me, who leads a very sober and boring life, and plays very sober and boring chess, it comes as quite a shock to meet someone like Manuel Bosboom who is, in both respects, my polar opposite. He is, I suppose very much a product of the Dutch counter-culture in that respect.
It’s again fascinating, from the UK perspective, to learn about the difference between Dutch and British chess culture. Here chess is seen very much as a game played either by small children in primary schools or by old men in draughty church halls, but in the Netherlands it seems very different. It’s also interesting to learn that Bosboom makes much of his meagre income from winning cash prizes in blitz tournaments: something almost unknown here, although it’s good to see that some enterprising organisers are now running blitz events with substantial cash prizes.
This book is well structured, well written (the English is not always entirely idiomatic, but no matter) and well produced. Merijn van Delft is rapidly earning a reputation as one of the best chess writers around and his annotations here are excellent, pitched at just the right level to be accessible to all readers.
The world needs eccentrics, and the chess world benefits enormously from the presence of the likes of Manuel Bosboom. Playing through his games – his fiascos as well as his successes – will, if you follow his example, add creativity and excitement to your chess. Whether it will also improve your rating is, I suppose, another matter entirely.
I really enjoyed this book in every respect. Bosboom’s life and games are both enormously entertaining and often wildly funny. The authors have done a fine and important job in bringing his colourful personality and chess moves to our attention.
This book, then, is very highly recommended for players of all strengths. Even if you’ve never heard of Manuel Bosboom, do yourself a favour and give it a try.
Last time we left Twickenham’s finest chess problemist, Cecil Alfred Lucas Bull, as he was about to emigrate to Durban in 1892.
Unfortunately, South African online records, both births, marriages and deaths, and newspaper archives, are few and far between, but we are able to provide a fairly comprehensive record of his chess career in the southern hemisphere, both as a player and as a problemist.
This problem, submitted to a London newspaper, dates from soon after his arrival in Durban.
Problem 1. Mate in 3: 1st prize winner Hackney Mercury 1894
And here, continuing where we left off last time, is FR Gittins again.
We know from some useful information on the Durban Chess Club website that he was one of the founders of the club and was Durban champion five times, in 1901, 1903, 1904, 1906 and 1911
Lucas Bull was one of the founders of the Durban Chess Club in 1893 and the first person to win the Durban championship on five occasions, running out the winner in 1901, 1903, 1904, 1906 and 1911. He also participated in the South African championships on three occasions, finishing 9th in 1897, 7th in 1899, and 2nd on his final appearance in 1906.
Lucas Bull was born in Twickenham (part of London) in 1869, and came from a very large family, consisting of five sons (he was the third son) and four daughters. His father, Thomas Bull, was a surveyor and auctioneer, and must have had a profitable business, as the Bull family employed four servants at the time (source: 1881 census).
Bull arrived in Durban in 1892 and apparently chose South Africa, rather than the United States, as they don’t play cricket in the USA! He was already the champion of the Twickenham Chess Club, and was starting to get an international reputation as a problemist. From the date of his arrival, up until the time that he discontinued serious over the board play in 1907, he was almost certainly the strongest player in Natal.
Further information about his appearances in the South African Championships (1897: Cape Town, 1899 Durban, 1906 Cape Town) can be found on Rod Edwards’ indispensable EdoChess site.
Two games from the 1899 tournament, played in the shadow of the 2nd Boer War, are extant. Click on any move and a pop-up board will magically appear, enabling you to play through the games.
The Bock game. which was awarded a brilliancy prize, was published, for example, in the Newcastle Courant (17 March 1900). The van Breda game comes, via South Africa chess historian Len Reitstein, from the Durban Chess Club website (link above).
His best result was his second place in 1906, giving him an estimated rating of 2130: a strong club player at the time he gave up serious over the board chess (the 1911 Durban championship must have been a very brief comeback). The winner in 1906, Bruno Edgar Siegheim (1875-1952) was born in Germany, played chess in New York (1899-1904), South Africa (1906-1912) and England (1921-1926) before returning to South Africa. His best result was finishing 2nd= with Réti at Hastings in 1923, just half a point behind the great Akiba Rubinstein, which suggests he was IM strength.
We know very little about his life outside chess. It seems like he had enough money not to work and was able to devote his time to his hobbies. I presume he continued to play cricket in Durban, although newspapers from that period aren’t available online. There’s no archival record of Cecil ever having played first-class cricket.
What we do have is a couple of passenger lists.
A 1903 passenger list for a ship sailing from London to Port Natal lists Mr C A Lucas Bull (35), Mrs Bull (32), Miss B Bull (3), Mr C Bull (28). This looks like Cecil and his family visiting England and returning with Clifford, who was going to live with them in Durban. Cecil appears to have a wife and young daughter, but we have no further information about them.
A 1909 passenger list, again from London to Natal, offers Cecil Slade (sic) Lucas Bull, Eunice Chillingworth Lucas Bull and Bessie Lucas Bull. I have no idea where the Slade came from but it looks like he was married to Eunice and Bessie was their daughter.
He was still composing prolifically: here’s one from 1912.
Problem 2. Mate in 3: 1st prize winner Saale-Zeitung 1912
Here’s a photograph of him from 1913.
He continued composing successfully up until 1932, mixing heavyweight prizewinners with more lightweight offerings for the Natal Mercury. He died in Durban on 19 July 1935, at the age of 66.
Problem 3 is another first prizewinning mate in 3 from the latter stages of his career: British Chess Magazine 1931.
In 1960 Cecil’s friend and occasional collaborator Donald Glenoe McIntyre published Sonatas in Chess, a collection of 136 of his best threemovers (South African Chessplayer). This is a rare book and second hand copies go for high prices. I saw a copy for sale back in the 1980s but didn’t buy it – I really should have done.
I occasionally publish his more accessible problems on the Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club website: see here and here.
At present I have no idea about what happened to Eunice and Bessie. I can find no information about anyone with the forenames Eunice Chillingworth, and the 1927 London marriage of Bessie L Bull to Robert Douglas King-Harman isn’t the same person.
There’s a prominent South African businesswoman named Wendy Lucas-Bull, who is married to Clive Lucas-Bull, and whose father-in-law is, or was, Leslie Arthur Lucas-Bull. Any connection? If you have any further information about Eunice, Bessie or any other relation do let me know.
Cecil Alfred Lucas Bull, chess champion of Twickenham and Durban, and multiple prizewinning problemist, this was your life.
Join me again soon for another delve into the Twickenham Chess Club menagerie.
A model mate is a type of pure mate checkmating position in chess in which not only is the checkmated king and all vacant squares in its field attacked only once, and squares in the king’s field occupied by friendly units are not also attacked by the mating side (unless such a unit is necessarily pinned to the king), but all units of the mating side (with the possible exception of the king and pawns) participate actively in forming the mating net.
If you’ve been paying attention you’ll have seen this before. I’d like to draw your attention to Twickenham’s Board 3, Mr. C. A. L. Bull.
In the world of over the board chess he was a Minor Piece, but in the rarefied world of chess problems he was undoubtedly a Major Piece. It’s not so easy, though, to piece together his life as there appear to be no genealogists in his immediate family.
Let’s take a look.
We’ll start with his paternal grandfather, Benjamin Bull. Ben was born in Market Harborough, Leicestershire, a town we’ll have occasion to visit again, but I haven’t as yet found any family connections with other chess players whose family came from that area.
He was a hotel proprietor and we can pick him up in the 1851 census running the Castle Hotel in Richmond, which was demolished in 1888, but its successor would, in 1912, be the venue of the British Chess Championships. It’s quite possible a future series of articles will enable us to meet some of those who visited our fair Borough in 1912 to push their pawns around wooden chequered boards.
Ben and his wife Mary Ann had five sons and a daughter. One of their sons, Richard Smith Bull, achieved some fame as an actor using the stage name Richard Boleyn, but our story continues with another son, Thomas Bull.
Tom, by profession an auctioneer and surveyor, was born in 1839, and, in 1865, married the 18 year old Julia Sellé, daughter of William Christian Sellé, doctor of music, composer, and Musician in Ordinary to Queen Victoria. Their first child was born in Ramsgate, Kent, but they soon settled, like all the best people, in Twickenham. Tom and Julia had 11 children, one of whom died in infancy, and it’s their fourth son, Cecil Alfred Lucas Bull, who interests us.
He was born (as Cecil Lucas Bull: he would sometimes be known as Lucas Bull) in the second quarter of 1869 and baptised (now Cecil Alfred Lucas) at St Mary the Virgin Church, Twickenham on 16 June that year.
In the 1871 census we find Tom and Julia, with four young children, Julius, Alan, Cecil and Beatrix, living in Sussex Villa, Clifden Road, Twickenham, close to the town centre. They must have been well off as they could afford to employ no less than four servants, a cook, a housemaid and two nurses to look after their rapidly expanding family.
In round about 1875 the family moved from Twickenham to Ferry Road, Teddington, just across the road from where, a few years later, St Alban’s Church would be built, and where Noël Coward’s family would both worship and entertain.
The 1881 census records Tom and Julia in Ferry Road, now with Julius, Alan, Cecil, Beatrix, Maud, Gwynneth, Clifford, Walter and Allegra, along with a nurse, a cook, a housemaid and a parlourmaid. Life must have been good for the prosperous Bull family.
This tells us that young Cecil (I think they missed a trick by not adding Ferdinand to his name, making him Bull, CALF) was only 17 when he first represented Twickenham Chess Club. Not exceptional today, but it would have been very unusual, although I haven’t found any specific reference to his youth, at the time. Playing on third board and winning both his games, he must already have been a more than useful player. He went on to win the club’s handicap tournament on two occasions, playing off scratch.
Even at that point, he’d been active elsewhere in the chess world for some time. His first problem was published in The Field in May 1885, just before his 16th birthday. It soon became clear that he was both exceptionally knowledgeable about chess problems and had a remarkable talent as a composer.
His first prize in the Liverpool Weekly Courier in 1886 caused a sensation and also a bit of controversy at the time.
Problem 1. White to play and mate in 3 moves. Solution at the end of the article.
Although he published a few mates in 2 and longer mates, and also a few selfmates, most of his problems were mates in 3. His younger brothers Clifford and Walter also had a few problems published in their teens, but seem not to have continued their interest.
As well as blockbusting prizewinners, Cecil had a knack for composing crowd-pleasing lightweight problems which would have been attractive to over-the-board players.
Problem 2, another mate in 3, was published in the British Chess Magazine in 1888.
Chess wasn’t young Cecil’s only game. From 1888 onwards we find him playing cricket for a variety of local clubs: Strawberry Hill, Teddington, East Molesey, Barnes before settling on Hampton Wick. He was a talented all-rounder, excelling with both the bat and the ball. (I’d have called him both a bowler and a batsman, but today, in the spirit of political correctness, we’re expected to use ‘batter’ instead. I’m afraid it just makes me think of Yorkshire pudding, though.) His teammates sometimes included his older brother Alan, and Edward Albert Bush, who, in 1891, married his sister Beatrix. I do hope they celebrated at the Bull & Bush.
Problem 3 is another prize winner: this one shared 2nd prize in the Bristol Mercury in 1890. Again, it’s mate in 3.
By 1891 the Bulls had moved again. They were now in Walpole Gardens, just by Strawberry Hill Station, with Beatrix, Maud, Gwynneth, Clifford, Walter and their youngest son, Basil. I haven’t been able to find Allegra in 1891. There were now only two servants. Did they need less help as their children grew up?
Cecil was in Bloomsbury in 1891, living ‘on own means’ in the home of a classics teacher who also took in boarders. It seems that he was wealthy enough not to need a job, so was able to devote his time to his hobbies of chess and cricket.
Here’s how FR Gittins would describe his early life in The Chess Bouquet.
And then, in 1892, everything changed. Julia died and the family started to disperse. Walter emigrated to America, where he would later be joined by Basil. Cecil, because of his passion for cricket, soon set sail for South Africa, where Clifford would later join him. It’s possible that the oldest brother, Julius, also emigrated to South Africa, but this is at present uncertain.
Meanwhile, Thomas married a widow named Margaret Crampton in Steyning, Sussex in 1895, and by 1901 they were living in Chingford, Essex. Clifford was the only one of his children still living with him. I haven’t yet been able to find the family in the 1911 census: I suppose it’s quite possible they were visiting one of Tom’s children in America or South Africa. It looks like Thomas Bull died in Chelsea in 1918 at the age of 78.
Do you want to find out what happened to Cecil in South Africa? I’m sure you do. Don’t miss our next exciting episode.
“Funny and brutal. A big-hearted book, I enjoyed it.’ Stuart Conquest, Grandmaster
‘Carl is gifted as both a natural entertainer and storyteller. Although this memoir is primarily about chess, the tales in it are filled with a frank and refreshing honesty that will literally have your heart racing with adventure.’ Jovanka Houska, International Master
Chess Crusader is an absolutely fascinating memoir, and most emphatically not only a book for chess players.
It reveals how chess is a metaphor for life, and how skills honed at the chess board can be applied in many real-life situations. This compelling chronicle takes you from Birmingham to Moscow, and plunges you into the life of an author with a remarkable original mind, while also highlighting the hazards of stealing a half-cooked sausage from a deranged German.
It’s a lively, enthralling account of a colourful life dominated by the black and white squares of the chessboard, and their relation to the wider issues of a troubled childhood and the challenges of work, women, love and loss. It’s a tale of adversity, but also of achievement and new friendships and experiences.”
After 30 years working with the Ministry of Defence, Carl Portman took early retirement to concentrate on freelance photography, chess coaching, natural history travel, writing and lecturing. He is a keen arachnologist, owns a large collection of live tarantulas and scorpions, and has bred some of the rarest arachnids in the world. Married to his childhood friend Susan, they also have three border collie dogs. Born in Birmingham, (a proud Brummie) he now lives in Oxfordshire.
Carl Portman’s work promoting chess in prisons (if you haven’t read his previous book Chess Behind Bars you should certainly do so) makes him one of the most inspirational figures in British chess.
Now he offers us an autobiography in which his life in chess features prominently. Carl was born on a Birmingham council estate in 1964 and, when he was still very young, his father left home, never to return. When he was 12, his mother, an alcoholic, remarried. Her new husband was a psychopath who was physically, verbally and emotionally abusive to both Carl and his mother.
Carl didn’t come from a chess-playing background, and was introduced to chess by John Lenton, a teacher at his secondary school. He soon became obsessed with the game, as he tells us, eventually becoming school champion.
Chess would therefore be my mental opiate; the living embodiment of disappearing down the rabbit hole. I played it in class, on the bus, in exams, in the toilets, in the playground, the chess club and in my room at home.
It would be the one thing I could turn to when the horrors of home life [were] raging around me. What a gift this was, from nowhere. Chess would never let me down.
Carl takes us through his eventful life, from his abusive stepfather through two marriages, from his schooldays into his working life, most notably 30 years working in logistics for the Ministry of Defence, including several years in Germany. One of the highlighs of his chess career was captaining his country in the NATO team championships in 2017 and 2018. We learn about his other interests: football (he’s a passionate Aston Villa supporter), heavy metal music and nature. There are many hilarious anecdotes to entertain you. He also tells about his serious health problems and how he learnt to live with them.
One thing Carl enjoys is meeting his heroes: he relates stories of travelling to France to play in a simul against Karpov, and arranging tuition from Mickey Adams and Jovanka Houska, as well as playing chess against the astronomer Patrick Moore.
In his last chapter he sums up as follows:
In this book, I have openly shared my experiences about the wonder of finding chess in my formative years and how it has shaped and influenced my life. The people I have met and the places I have visited have been wonderfully life-enriching, and the mental nourishment that the game provides is so powerful that I cannot quantify it.
Carl’s determination to remain upbeat and optimistic, whatever life throws at him, can only be an example to us all.
If you want some chess, there’s a short games selection at the back. Carl is particularly proud of this game from the 2017 NATO championships. He had the worst of things for most of the game, but his opponent mistakenly transposed into a losing pawn ending. ‘Never give up’ is his motto both in chess and in life.
It may not be great literature but the book’s a great read which will be enjoyed by most chess players. As no knowledge of the game is necessary for most of it, it could also be an ideal last-minute Christmas present for that special non-player in your life who, you think, ought to learn more about the delights of your favourite game. Be warned, though, that it’s not really suitable for younger children, nor for your Great Aunt Edna who doesn’t like books with naughty words. Carl is never afraid to speak his mind, even if he makes enemies in the process, and if you’re, like me, a politically correct, woke liberal, you’ll find words and opinions which might make you uneasy. If they make you think as well it might not be a bad idea.
Personally, I could have done without pages 231 to 254, which describe various types of annoying chess player, a negative chapter, most of which we’ve all read many times before, in what is otherwise a positive book. Omitting that chapter would, for me, have made it an even stronger book than it is already.
Books of this nature should be supported, though, so, if you think you’ll enjoy it, do give it a try.
I also see this book as part of a trilogy comprising the other two books I’ve reviewed recently, all deeply and at times brutally personal and confessional books by English chess players who, just as I did, developed a chess obsession in their teens. David LeMoir is a master standard player born, like me, in 1950. Carl Portman is, like me, a fairly strong club player, born in 1964. Daniel Gormally is a grandmaster born in 1976. Three players very different players, with very different personalities and lives, born half a generation apart from each other, whose stories, when put together, tell you a lot about chess in England over the past half century. I, of course, have my story as well: a very different story again, but I haven’t as yet had the courage to tell it. Maybe one day.
I would also suggest that Carl has, over the years, both put more into chess and got more out of chess than many much higher rated players. Yet, with today’s obsession with prodigies and champions, young people, like Carl, and also, to an extent, like me, from non-academic, non-chess backgrounds are no longer attracted to the game. Promoting chess at secondary school level may not be an efficient way of finding grandmasters, but Carl is living proof that it can offer transformation, redemption and salvation. I’ll be writing much more about this over the next few months.
Currently living in Alnwick, Northumberland, England.
Daniel has been a chess professional for over twenty years, in which time he has played in many tournaments both in the U.K. and abroad. He has represented England in the European team championships and the Olympiad. Daniel has taken high placing in the British chess championships and on several occasions has placed in a tie for second. He is also the two times winner of the English rapid play championships.
In 2005 he scored his final Grandmaster norm in a tournament in Gibraltar, where he scored a 2693 performance. In that tournament he played against several world-class grandmasters, including Nakamura, Aronian, Sutovsky and Dreev, and only lost one game.
He is also the author of several well-received chess books, including A Year in the Chess World and Mating the Castled King, one of the few western chess books in recent years to be translated into Chinese.
As a writer he is known for his laid-back and humorous style.”
From the author’s introduction:
I’ve become increasingly convinced of this comfort zone theory to the degree where I’ve started to apply it to chess. To use the same logic, I believe a chess player is more comfortable in an opening that they have played since childhood. They’ll be less likely to make mistakes in that opening. You can also apply it to tournaments as well.
During the course of the book, I’ll talk about the tournaments that I felt comfortable in, and by the same token the opponents that I felt comfortable facing and the ones that I didn’t feel so happy to play.
Well, yes. I guess we’re all more comfortable in openings we know well than in openings we’ve never played before. I guess the Pope’s Catholic as well.
What Daniel Gormally offers his readers is twelve chapters covering different aspects of chess, with the concept of the Comfort Zone being discussed in the first chapter and, perhaps, a very loose connecting link with the rest of the book. His points are illustrated both by his own games and games from a wide range of other players.
If you’re familiar with his writings you won’t be surprised that he is at times brutally honest about his anxieties and phobias, and about the often tragi-comic life of a chess professional. You also won’t be surprised that the book is addictively readable, with nuggets of wisdom on almost every page which will benefit players of all levels.
In Chapter 1 Gormally introduces his theory, explaining that younger players are more likely than older players to be comfortable playing online because they’ve grown up with it.
He relates how he grew up solving Leonard Barden’s tactical puzzles in the Evening Standard, and, as a result is more comfortable in tactical situations.
I never had a chess coach who took me aside and taught the finer points of chess strategy. In fact, I never had any coaching full stop, and am probably the walking advert for the pointlessness of chess coaching. Or perhaps you could argue, I could have gone even further with the right sort of guidance.
White most authors are eager to demonstrate their best games, Gormally, typically, also likes to show us his worst games.
I found this position instructive.
In this position (Stevenage 2019) he was black against one of his regular opponents, Mark Hebden, and chose 19… Qb6?!. Let’s take it forward with some of the author’s notes.
In a practical sense this probably isn’t that bad – I step out of the threat of Nc6. The problem is I miss something much stronger.
When putting this game onto Stockfish 12 it suggested that 19… Bxd4! 20. exd4 Ne4 gave Black a huge advantage. I must admit I was quite surprised by this, probably because I hardly considered the capture on d4 at all during the game. I was fixated by the idea of hacking away on the kingside, so the idea of exchanging the dark-squared bishop didn’t really occur to me at all.
This is one of the greatest weapons that a chess player has available – the ability to change ships midstream, to transform the position with a strategic idea or exchange. Bobby Fischer was a master at this, for example. I think the main idea is that by taking on d4 and exchanging pieces, Black magnifies the poor position of the knight on a2. The more exchanges that take place – the more a poor piece will be exposed.
The game continued 20. Rfd1 Bg4 21. f3 Bh5?
And this is a serious mistake and betrays a lack of understanding. I leave the queenside to its own fate, and underestimate just how bad my position can become.
Now White takes over the initiative. I think I wasn’t helped by the fact that I’ve found Mark an awkward opponent recently, particularly with the black pieces. During the game he gave off this impression of being bored, like he was impatient when he was waiting for my moves. That fed into my anxiety and made me even more jumpy. I was beginning to regret those extra couple of pints I had sneaked in at the bar the night before.
White is now winning because he has a simple plan of pushing his pawns on the kingside, and it turns out the minor pieces on that side of the board are just targets for that strategy.
These notes typify Gormally’s combination of lucid verbal explanations and self-deprecating humour. If you like his style you’ll enjoy this book.
Chapter 2 is relatively brief, about how even the best players sometimes make superficial decisions.
In Chapter 3, Gormally talks about preparing for the 1999 British Championship. This seems to have been written partly as a tribute to his friend John Naylor, who died last year. He demonstrates one of John’s games from the tournament.
Chapter 4 introduces us to the concept of ‘competitive conditioning’: being mentally tough and confident like Magnus Carlsen, or the golfer Brooks Koepka. Here, we start off at the 2000 British before moving onto the 2020 Online British Championship and back to the 2017 British.
In Chapter 5, Gormally explains why computers are narrowing opening theory. This is certainly true at the top level, but is it true at club level? I suspect not – and perhaps the opposite is even the case.
He shows us this game, where his 7th move gave him something very close to a winning advantage. This was in part computer preparation, because he was expecting his opponent to play that line, but he’d already met it in an earlier game against Lawrence Trent, where, playing Black, he’d managed to scramble a draw.
Chapter 6 starts off with some banter blitz games between the Vietnamese player Le Quang Liem and Lawrence Trent before going off onto a different subject.
Hang on a minute: I’m not sure that I should bother to explain each chapter in this way. The book doesn’t really work like that. It’s more a stream of consciousness, jumping fairly randomly from one topic to another, which has been broken down into chapters because, well, that’s how books work.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though. Because it covers a wide range of topics in a fairly general way, it’s suitable for a wide range of players: regardless of your rating you may well enjoy and benefit from this book.
Here’s an interesting position from a game Keith Arkell played against Aurelio Colmenares in a 2008 Swiss (in more ways than one) tournament. Keith was black, to move, in this position and continued with the natural Rc2. How would you assess it?
It was around about this time that Simon (Williams) and myself went to view the game. Simon thought that White was better, because of the a-pawn. When we told Keith about this conversation later, he was adamant that Black was better, because in his view the White a-pawn can be easily restrained and the black kingside has unlimited potential. So, if Black does have a winning strategy, it’s as follows; when White goes a4, put the rook on a2. Eventually White can put the rook on a8 and the pawn on a7, but he can’t make any progress after that. If he moves the rook, he loses the a-pawn.
So, with White’s trump card stymied, Black’s plan is to gradually advance on the kingside, suffocating White. Keith manages to carry out this strategic plan to perfection.
In Chapter 8, Gormally looks at his games from the online Hastings tournament last January, discussing how to play against specific types of opponent such as the Tactical Genius (Gawain Jones) and the Perfectionist (David Howell), while characterising himself as the Wimpy Draw Lover (that makes two of us, then).
Chapter 9 is about patience: Gormally quotes Garry Kasparov, over dinner with IM (and RJCC alumnus) Ali Mortazavi, saying that to be a super grandmaster you need to have the ability to play twelve strengthening moves in a row. IMs and weaker GMs will perhaps play six strengthening moves and then lose patience and go for an attack that isn’t there.
On the other hand, the following chapter discusses the Madman Theory. Play like Alireza Firouzja: randomise the position and then out-calculate your opponent. A very different approach: putting the two chapters together is certainly thought provoking.
If you’re looking for a logical, well-structured book on a specific aspect of chess, this isn’t it. I found the contents fairly arbitrary, often digressive, very personal and sometimes rather contradictory. Now I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all: many readers (including this reviewer) will enjoy it for precisely these reasons, and I’m sure there’s a market for books of this nature. What you do get is a lot of chess: games played by Gormally himself, his friends, colleagues and students, and top grandmasters from Tal through to Carlsen. The annotations are, I thought, excellent, with clear and insightful explanations rather than reams of improbable computer-generated tactics. You get a lot of very useful general advice about the nature of chess and how best to improve your play. You get a lot of stories and anecdotes about life on the tournament circuit, often concerning smoking, drinking and clubbing, which you might find highly entertaining, extremely depressing, or perhaps both. If you like the sound of this book, you won’t be disappointed.
There’s something for everyone here, and this compulsively readable book is recommended for anyone rated between about 1500 and 2500.
As usual with Thinkers Publishing, production standards are generally high, but the proofing is well below the standards you might expect from books on other subjects. Yes, I’m well aware this takes time and money, and requires a wide range of knowledge and skills, but there are some of us out there who care about this sort of thing.
Richard James, Twickenham 13th December 2021
Book Details :
Softcover: 264 pages
Publisher: Thinkers Publishing; 1st edition (19 July 2021)
You’ve seen this match result before. On board 5 we have Mr R Ganthony, a man with an unusual surname. It should be possible to find out more about him.
Unlike the other players we’ve seen, he was from Richmond, not Twickenham or Teddington, but there were three Mr R Ganthonys (Ganthonies?) of chess playing age in the household: Robert Davy Ganthony and his sons Robert junior and Richard.
A match the previous month, also against Acton, where he drew his game on board 3, gave his middle initial: Mr R D Ganthony, so that tells us it was the father who played chess for Twickenham.
If you come across an unusual surname you can do a one-name study. I’ve done a study of the surname Badby, for example. This name was relatively common in the Middle Ages but all but one branch died out, so if you have this name in your family tree at some point over the past 200 or 300 years you’re related to me!
It turns out that Robert Davy had a famous father and grandfather, as well as three famous children. Famous in their day, that is, but all (apart perhaps from his father) forgotten today.
The family were originally from Exeter (the earliest record available online dates back to 1662), but our branch moved to Bristol at the end of the 17th century.
The first important Ganthony was Joseph, born in Bristol in 1739, the son of Joseph and Susannah, a musician, whose work brought him to London in about 1766. He played the violin and double bass, and also composed popular songs, which would have been performed in the pleasure gardens of the day, and church music. When Hector Berlioz visited London in 1851 (did he also take the opportunity to visit the first international chess tournament while he was there?) he was moved to tears on hearing one of his hymn tunes. He was also a schoolmaster at St Giles’s Cripplegate School in the City of London. No death record has been found for him, but school records mentioning his name go up to 1785. You can read more about him – and even play one of his hymn tunes if you have a keyboard to hand – in the October 1 1903 issue of The Musical Timeshere.
Joseph married Elizabeth Davy in Bristol in 1762: they seem to have had a large family, although several of their children died in infancy. Our interest is in Richard Pinfold Ganthony, born in London in 1771.
Richard chose a different career, achieving fame and fortune as a manufacturer of clocks and watches. his pieces are very collectible today.
Here, for example, is a rosewood bracket clock, which sold for £2390 at Bonham’s in 2004. (Their information about the family, I believe, is incorrect: Richard Pinfold’s father was Joseph, not Richard, but it’s possible that Richard Pinfold’s son, another Richard, might have been apprenticed to him.)
This is a rare and beautiful clock barometer, made in about 1830. We’re told that Richard Pinfold Ganthony is listed in “Barometers Makers and Retailers 1660-1900 by Edwin Banfield: as a clock and chronometer maker at 63 Cheapside London between 1821 to 1845, he is considered as a good and important maker of his day…
This gold framed pocket chronometer manufactured in about 1815 (the frame has an 1814 hallmark) is described as a ‘very interesting timepiece’. Again, the source gets the two Richards confused, but we learn that he was apprenticed to Thomas Miles until 1794 and became a master in 1828. It fetched €4000 at a recent auction. We also learn that he moved from Lombard Street to nearby Cheapside at some point between 1815 and 1821.
Richard Pinfold Ganthony married twice, and seems to have had four children from each marriage. One of the sons of his first marriage, Richard Junior, may well have been apprenticed to him. He died in London in 1845, but a death record for Richard Junior doesn’t seem to be available.
His second marriage produced twin sons, Charles and Robert Davy. Charles disappeared after the 1841 census, but we know quite a lot about our man Robert Davy Ganthony.
In 1847 he married Caroline Henrietta Harvey in Paddington, and children were born there in 1849, 1851 and 1852. But in the 1851 census Robert is nowhere to be found. Caroline is unexpectedly in Caernarfon, on the North Wales coast, with 2-year-old Robert junior and baby Edith, described as an ‘artist’s wife (landscapes)’. Well, I guess there were a lot of good landscapes to paint there, with Snowdonia on one side and views across the Irish Sea to Anglesey on the other.
Marian was born back in London in 1852, but by the time of Emily’s arrival in 1854 (sadly she died the following year) they’d moved to Liverpool. The Liverpool Mercury of 3rd February featured an announcement from Mrs Brooks, widow of the late Mr John Brooks, that his practice would be taken over by ‘Mr Ganthony, a gentleman with great experience in every department of dental surgery, from London’. He’s no longer drawing landscapes (at least not professionally), but drawing teeth instead. Perhaps he’d studied dentistry in the 1840s, but took a break to work as an artist. A second son, named Richard after his grandfather, was born there in 1856, followed by Charles Alfred in 1859 and Kate in 1861.
By 1863, he appears to have retired from dentistry and moved to Richmond, where Ada was born that year, followed by his youngest child, Harry, in 1866. In the 1871 census Robert, Caroline and their eight surviving children are all living in Eton Lodge, in the town centre, close to the parish church. Robert Davy Ganthony has reverted to being an artist. Caroline is once again an artist’s wife, Robert and Richard (only 14) are both involved in clerical work, no occupation is listed for the two older girls, while the younger children are all at school. Their two servants, Elizabeth Smith and Rebecca Bull, had both been with the family a long time. Rebecca was working for them twenty years earlier in Wales, and they were both in the household in Liverpool ten years earlier.
By 1881 not a lot had changed. Robert senior was still an artist, and still married to Caroline. Also at home were the four youngest children, along with Robert Junior, now an actor and author, and his wife. Their faithful servant Rebecca Bull was still there as well. It was this stage of his life that saw his brief career in competitive chess: from his position in the Twickenham team he must have been a reasonably proficient player, and must have played socially most of his life.
In 1891 he was still in Richmond, now an artist and sculptor, with his wife and four of his children: Marian, a schoolteacher, Charles, a clerk, Ada, an actress and Harry, a macramé mat maker. Rebecca Bull had by now retired to a nearby almshouse and had been replaced by a young servant.
Caroline died the following year, but Robert was still going strong. In 1901 he was living with his daughter Marian, his unmarried sister Maria, and, again, a teenage servant.
Robert Davy Ganthony kept active to the end of his life. He was always a keen cyclist, although it’s not entirely clear whether it was he or his oldest son who had been fined for riding a velocipede along a public footpath back in 1869.
And then, in 1905, this happened.
An extraordinary story: what a way to go, and what a man he must have been.
(It seems that the streets of England at that time were full of elderly gentlemen named Robert suffering tricycle accidents. In August 1899, round about the time of his 76th birthday, Robert Padbury was thrown from his tricycle in Cox Street, Coventry. Although he was still in a critical condition he was sent home from hospital a few days later. He died the following March: it’s not known whether or not the accident was responsible for his death. How do I know this? Robert was my great great grandfather, and his name was originally Badby.)
It’s worth a look at three of his children. We’ve seen that Robert junior was an actor, dramatist and society entertainer, and that his daughter Ada, whose stage name was Nellie Ganthony, was also an actress. They were both very popular performers in the days of Music Halls.
Robert was nothing if not versatile. He wrote and performed comic songs, sketches and monologues (The Man with the Single Hair) in the fashion of the times, wrote textbooks on ventriloquism and performed conjuring tricks.
You can find a pdf of his book Bunkum Entertainments, which gives you a flavour of his act and, more generally, with the type of entertainment popular in his day, here and some of his monologues here.
Nellie started off in a double act with her brother before branching out on her own with her songs and ‘humorous, musical, & emotional sketches’. She spent some time in North America in the mid 1890s, where she had a brief marriage to a wealthy barrister who was still married to someone else. On her return to England she married again, and continued her career until 1913, dying in 1952 at the age of 88.
Robert and Nellie’s brother Richard was a successful playwright, spending much of his time in the United States. His best known play was the 1899 comedy A Message from Mars, which was filmed three times in the silent movie era. His wife’s sister was the film star Marie Dressler.
So that was Robert Davy Ganthony, a man with some famous relations. A dentist, artist, cyclist, and, for a brief time, a Twickenham chessist.
Come back soon for another Minor Piece from Twickenham Chess Club.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
You saw this result in my recent article about the Coward family. There are some other names of interest in this Twickenham team.
On board 5 for Twickenham was Sydney Meymott. Many players, like Arthur and Randulph Coward, only play competitive chess for a few years before moving on to another stage in their lives. There are others for whom chess is a lifelong obsession: the Complete Chess Addicts (now that would make a great book title!), and Sydney was one of those, with a chess career lasting almost half a century.
He came from a distinguished family. His grandfather, John Gilbert Meymott was a prominent lawyer, and his father Charles Meymott a doctor whose other interests included cricket and chess.
Charles played two first class cricket matches for Surrey, but without success. Against the MCC in 1846 he was dismissed without scoring in the first innings and made 4 not out in the second innings. Against Kent the following year he failed to trouble the scorers in either innings. He also failed to take any wickets in either match.
In 1848 he submitted a ‘beautiful study’ to Bell’s Life, as you can see below.
A few weeks later the solution was published, failing to provide any moves but just saying that White will win a pawn and the game.
But as you can demonstrate for yourself (or verify using tablebases) this is complete nonsense: the position is drawn with best play.
A celebrated cricketer who composed a beautiful study? I think not.
Earlier in 1848, he’d submitted a mate in 4 to the Illustrated London News, which was at least sound, if not very interesting. You can solve it yourself if you want: the solution is at the end of the article.
#4 Illustrated London News 12 Feb 1848
In about 1859 Charles, his wife Sarah (née Keene, no relation, as far as I know, to Ray) and their three daughters (a son had died in infancy) emigrated to Australia, where his brother Frederick was a judge. The family must have been well regarded there. If you visit the suburb of Randwick today, not far from Coogee Beach, you’ll find a residential road there named Meymott Street, with Frederick Street running off it.
From there Charles submitted another mate in 4, slightly more sophisticated this time.
#4 Illustrated London News 26 Nov 1859
The following year, Sarah gave birth to a son, who was given the name of his home city: Sydney.
Charles Meymott had started out in conventional medicine but at some point he had converted to homeopathy. You can find out a bit more here, although some of the links no longer work.
Charles died in 1867 at the age of 54, and his widow and children decided to return to England. I wonder if he’d been able to teach his young son how the pieces moved.
In 1871 Sarah and young Syd were living in Queen Street (now Queen’s Road) Twickenham: perhaps the girls only returned to England later.
By 1881 the oldest girl had married and moved to Scotland, but Sarah and her three youngest children were now at 4 Syon Row, Twickenham, right by the river.
The road is so well known that a rather expensive book has been written about it.
It was from there, then that, at some point in 1883 or 1884, the 23-year-old Sydney Meymott joined Twickenham Chess Club.
Here he is again, in a match played in October, now on Board 2 against Brixton. You’ll see George Ryan on top board, with Wallace Britten and the Coward brothers lower down. Young Edward Joseph Line (not Lyne), born in 1862, who had played for Isleworth against Twickenham earlier in the year, was on Board 3, although he was one of only two Twickenham players to lose.
If you’re interested in this part of the world, you might want to check out my good friend Martin Smith’s new book Movers and Takers, a history of chess in Streatham and Brixton. A review will be appearing on British Chess News shortly.
Syd had decided on a career as a bank manager, and his training would have involved working at different branches gaining more experience before managing a larger branch himself. This was perhaps to be his last appearance for Twickenham, but we’ll follow the rest of his life in this article.
Just a couple of weeks later he wrote to the Morning Post:
Disraeli Road is conveniently situated just round the corner from Putney Station, with its frequent trains to Waterloo. Impressive houses they are too: young Syd was doing well for himself.
The new chess club in Putney rapidly became very successful. Inevitably, they invited Blackburne to give a blindfold simul in February 1886: Meymott was the only player to draw.
In December the same year, Sydney issued a challenge to his old club, with Putney winning by 5 games to 3.
Here’s what happened in the return match in the new year.
He was soon on the move again, leaving the good chess players of Putney to their own devices. Without their leading light the club struggled on for a few years before apparently folding. This time, Syd’s work took him to Honiton, Devon, where again he started a chess club. By now he was writing regularly to the Morning Post, solving their problems and sometimes submitting problems of his own – which were not considered suitable for publication.
In this game he demonstrated his knowledge of Légal’s Mate. (In this and other games in this post, click on any move to obtain a pop-up board and play through the game.)
Source: Morning Post 17 Dec 1888
Here, he was able to show off his attacking skills in the Evans Gambit, giving rook odds to another semi-anonymous opponent.
Source: Western Morning Post 26 Feb 1891
By now it was time for Sydney to move on again, this time back to West London, to Ealing the Queen of the Suburbs, where he’d remain for the next 40 years. He’d eventually become the Manager of the Ealing Broadway branch of the London and South Western Bank.
This time he didn’t need to start up a chess club: there already was – and still is – one there, founded in 1885. As a bank manager, he was soon cajoled, as bank managers usually are, into taking on the role of Honorary Treasurer.
In this game from a local derby against Acton, Black’s handling of the French Defence wasn’t very impressive, allowing Meymott to set up a Greek Gift sacrifice.
Source: London Evening Standard 25 Nov 1895
Meymott commented: … it may interest some of the younger readers and stimulate them to ‘book’ learning, the game being a forcible example of the utility of ever being alert to the well-known mating positions… Sixteen years later, the young Capablanca played the same sacrifice in the same position. Perhaps he’d read the Evening Standard. Learning and looking out for the well-known mating positions is still excellent advice today.
In May 1896 Sydney made the headlines in the local press for reasons unconnected with either chess or banking. He was one of those stuck for 16 hours on the Great Wheel at Earl’s Court, and was interviewed at length about his experiences by the Middlesex County Times (30 May 1896 if you want to check it out). Fortunately, a lady in his car managed to let down a reel of cotton, so that they were able to receive refreshments, in the shape of stale buns and whisky and soda, from the ground.
A match against Windsor in 1897, where he was described as a ‘bold dashing player’ saw him pitted against an illustrious opponent in Sir Walter Parratt, organist and Master of the Queen’s Musick, and a possible subject of a future Minor Piece.
Life at Ealing chess club continued with a diet of inter-club matches, internal tournaments and simultaneous displays, with Syd often successful in avoiding defeat against the visiting masters.
In 1899, approaching his forties, he married Annie Ellen Nash. They stayed together for the rest of his life, but had no children.
In this 1902 match against Richmond, Ealing scored an emphatic victory helped by the non-appearance of Richmond’s board 2. A future series of Minor Pieces will introduce you to some of the Richmond players from that period in the club’s history.
As he settled into comfortable middle age, life continued fairly uneventfully for Sydney and Annie. The 1911 census found them at 18 Uxbridge Road, Ealing, which seems to have been in the town centre, possibly above the bank.
Many clubs closed down during the First World War, but Ealing, with Sydney Meymott still balancing the books, kept going. Electoral rolls from the 1920s record Syd and Annie at 23 Woodville Road, Ealing, and very nice it looks too. A spacious detached house just for the two of them. In 1921, he was in trouble with the law, though, receiving a fine for not having his dog muzzled.
At some point in the 1920s, Sydney would have retired from his job as bank manager, giving him more time for chess, and time to resume submitting games for publication. In his sixties, when many players would be thinking about hanging up their pawns, Syd, always the chess addict, took up tournament chess.
Hastings 1922-23 was what might have been Meymott’s first tournament. Unfortunately he had to retire ill with 1½/6 in First Class B section.
In 1925 he visited Scarborough, playing in the Major A section. He won a few games but didn’t finish among the prizewinners.
In 1926, using his favourite French Defence, he managed to beat Fred Yates in a simul. The complications towards the end are intriguing: do take a look.
Source: Middlesex County Times 23 Jan 1926
That Easter Syd took part in one of the First Class sections of the West of England Championship at Weston-Super-Mare, finishing in midfield.
Later the same year, representing the Rest of Middlesex against Hampstead, he played this game against Ernest Montgomery Jellie. White’s 11th move looked tempting but turned out to be a losing mistake: Jellie’s knight was very shaky on d6 and his position soon wobbled.
Source: Middlesex County Times 16 Oct 1926
At this point it’s worth taking a slight detour to consider Meymott’s opponent. Ernest Montgomery Jellie and his wife Emily, who sadly died young, had three Jellie babies. Their daughter Dorothy married Sidney Stone, and one of their sons, Chris, inherited his grandfather’s love of chess.
I knew Chris very well back in the day, when he was involved with Pinner Junior Chess Club, where his son Andrew was one of their star players. Chris was an enthusiast rather than a strong player himself, but Andrew is both. He’s been a 2200 strength player for many years, representing Streatham in the London League as well as his local club, Watford.
You can read much more about the Jellie-Stone connection here (Martin Smith again).
After Christmas 1926, Sydney went down to Hastings where he took second prize in the Major C section with a score of 7/9. Well played, Syd!
On his return, he played this game. This seems to have been in a handicap tournament, where, instead of giving knight odds, the players agreed that Meymott would play blindfold.
Source: Acton Gazette 14 Jan 1927
At Hastings 1927-28 he scored 50% in the First Class B section. Easter 1928 saw him back at the West of England Championships, held that year in Cheltenham, where he galloped to victory in the Class IIB section, scoring 7½/9.
The British Championships in July 1928 took him further west, to Tenby, where he played in the First Class A section, sharing third prize with the aforementioned Ernest Montgomery Jellie on 6½/9, but again beating him in their individual game.
He was back at Hastings 1929-30, where he scored a respectable 5/9 in the First Class B section.
In September 1931 he did what many chess players of that period did: he retired to Hastings, after four decades living and playing chess in Ealing. He was soon playing for his local club.
In a match against Brighton in 1932 his opponent was Kenneth Gunnell, who would much later become, briefly, a rather controversial member of both Richmond and Twickenham Chess Clubs.
That would be one of his last games. On 7 February 1933 Sydney Meymott died at the Warrior House Hotel, St Leonards on Sea.
Writing about Ernest Montgomery Jellie, Martin Smith summed him up beautifully:
But who is he, and why should we be interested? There two reasons that come to mind.
One is that he turns out to be an exemplary specimen of an ordinary decent chesser, the sort often overlooked in histories of the game. He and other enthusiasts like him, then and now, are the body-chessic upon which the chess bug spawns and beneficently multiplies. Stir E.M. Jellie together with the rest and you get the thriving chess culture that we all know: the one that germinates the few blessed enough to rise to the top.
Replace E.M. Jellie with Sydney Meymott, and the same sentiments apply. A good player, but not a great player. For almost half a century a stalwart of club, county, and, later, congress chess. A club treasurer for many years, but in his younger days also a founder and secretary of two clubs.
In these days of chess professionalism, even at primary school level, of obsession with grandmasters, prodigies and champions, we’re at risk of losing the likes of Jellie and Meymott. We should be developing chess culture in order to develop champions, not the other way round. And that celebration of chess culture is one of the reasons why I’m writing these Minor Pieces. My friends at Ealing Chess Club today should certainly raise a glass to Sydney Meymott.
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