Saturday, 26 December 2015

Obituary - JOHN S. EVANS

By Gordon Cadden, Club President.  Copyright reserved.

John Selwyn Evans died at Hastings & St Leonards on 7th October, 2015, aged 78 years.  It may not have been a coincidence that he should have lived his last years at the home of British chess.

John has a strong claim to be one of Monmouthshire's most charismatic players.  He was not a person that you could easily forget.  His passion for the game stayed with him all his life.  Slim, average build, his grey green eyes would look at you intensely, and there would be fast conversation when not playing chess over the board.  Amongst his achievements, he claimed to have invented the Gwent Gambit in the 1960’s.  This was a gambit pawn in the Scandinavian Defence, which re-surfaced in the 1980’s as the Icelandic Gambit.

John was brought up in Beaufort, Ebbw Vale. After leaving school, John became a Police Cadet, and eventually a full-time Policeman. But he was not content with life on the beat, and applied for a position as Cost Accountant at Richard, Thomas and Baldwin's Steelworks in Ebbw Vale. He was successful, and joined the RTB Works Chess Club. This is where he developed his enthusiasm for the game. This period would be the early 1960’s, when he would have married.  They had one son by the name of Kevin, who joined him at the Pontypool Club in later years.

I played five recorded games with JSE between 1963 and 1966. We met on weekends playing in the Monmouthshire Closed Championship, and also in the West of England Zonal Competition for entry to the British Championship.  Entries from Monmouthshire were included during this period.  I moved to London in November of 1964, but often returned to Newport on weekends.  I also met John in the Welsh Championships.

1968 was a memorable year. John was playing Home matches for the Newport Club, in the Newport and District League. He would play quickly, making sure that he would finish his game before 21:30, when he would catch the last bus to Ebbw Vale.  The Welsh Championships were held in Aberystwyth that year.  Distance did not deter John from playing chess.  He hired a mobile home, and took four Newport players with him to Aberystwyth;  Robert Graham Taylor and John Williams from the Newport Club, Philip A. Thomas from Hartridge High School,  and Richard Miles from Newport High School.  I was also offered a place, but decided that this would be too crowded for comfort.

Towards the end of the 1960’s, John was to join the Pontypridd Club, playing in the East Glamorgan League.  He also joined the Pontypool Club, and became close friends with Nigel Saunders.  He even managed to play for the Caerleon Club.  His wife filed for divorce during this period. I do not know the reason, but the term “chess widow” was in common usage at the time.

I left John in the 1960’s, and we did not meet again until 1995, which was the Jubilee Year of what was now the Gwent Closed Championship.  The organisers searched far and wide for past champions  to participate.  John was the joint winner with P. Cunningham in 1981, and I was the joint winner with Colin Gilbert in 1965. It was perhaps a miracle that we should meet, since John was living in Hastings & St. Leonards, and I was living in Hampstead, London.  In appearance he had hardly changed, the Peter Pan of chess. He won his game, making up for the 100% score that I achieved against him in the 1960’s.

I believe that John was made redundant by RTB in the 1970’s.  He found employment as a Mathematics Lecturer at Pontypridd.   His life was to change dramatically when he met a woman from Bagdad, Iraq, around the early 1980’s. Her name was Wedad, and she was of the Islamic Faith.  John married a second time, embracing  her Islamic faith.  John was successful in applying for a job as Sub-Postmaster at St. Leonards, on the Bexhill Road, East Sussex. He enjoyed a peaceful life as a Postmaster, and joined the Eastbourne Chess Club. According to his friend Sevket at Eastbourne, John played in the Mid-Sussex League, and participated in club competitions.  His life as a Postmaster came to an end, when he was the victim of an armed robbery at his Post Office.  He was left injured, and eventually decided to take early retirement.  And so he joined the Hastings Club, which is open daily.  His friend at Hastings, Rasa Norinkekciute remembers Hassan (John) with affection.  He said that Hassan (John) had done the Hajj, the long pilgrimage to Mecca, he became a “mustati” and was proud of his achievement. To the Hastings club members, the man we knew as John S. Evans, was called Hassan. The transformation to the Islamic Faith was complete.

John continued to play chess and tennis, until shortly before he died.  Rasa Norinkekciute informed me that his health declined in recent years, and he required dialysis. When the opportunity arose, John made the fatal decision to opt for a kidney transplant. The operation was successful, and John returned to playing tennis and chess.  It was later discovered, too late, that the new kidney was cancerous. The cancer spread to his lungs, with fatal results.

John was born at Ebbw Vale in 1937.  He is survived by his widow, Wedad, and by his son Kevin from his first marriage.


Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Newport Chess Club - The Founding Years

By Gordon Cadden, Club President
Copyright reserved

A key player in the early development of chess clubs in South Wales was Christopher Rice Mansell Talbot, F.R.S. (b. 10th May, 1803; d. 17th. January, 1890). Chess player, pioneering photographer, landowner, industrialist, Liberal politician and Father of the House of Commons: he was the Member of Parliament for Glamorganshire for nearly sixty years. He inherited immense wealth from the Margam Estates, and invested shrewdly in Great Western Railway stocks. By 1850, daily London newspapers were reaching the Newport Town Hall Subscribers' Reading Room, travelling via Cheltenham, Gloucester and Lydney. During this period, chess was played almost exclusively amongst the clergy and the gentry. There was a distinct class divide up until the First World War, with the Newport Street Directories giving a separate list for the clergy and gentry.

C.R.M Talbot
C.R.M Talbot was instrumental in the founding of the Newport Chess Club.
The world’s first International Chess Tournament was planned in London for the year 1851, to be held in conjunction with the Great Industrial Exhibition. Howard Staunton was the main organiser, but C.R.M. Talbot was also on the committee, as a founder member of the exclusive St. George’s Chess Club, which met at 3 Cavendish Square. Such was Talbot’s enthusiasm for the game that he purchased a town house in Cavendish Square. On the organising committee with Talbot were Howard Staunton, Captain Kennedy, Marmaduke Wyvil, M.P., J. Milnes Gaskell, M.P., William Lewis, etc. – a very distinguished group of gentlemen. Talbot described himself as representing the “Chess players of South Wales”. As a subscriber, he volunteered a subscription of £25. Only the Calcutta Chess Club volunteered a higher subscription. With daily reports on the 1851 Tournament reaching the Old Newport Town Hall Subscribers' Reading Room, there was great excitement amongst the chess players. Howard Staunton’s Chess Players Chronicle was delivered to the Reading Room, and members could analyse the games. Imagine the excitement when they analysed this game:

London 1851
White: Adolf Anderssen
Black: Lionel Kierseritzky

1. e4 e5 11. Rg1 cb 21. Ng7+ Kd8
2. f4 ef 12. h4 Qg6 22. Qf6+ Nf6
3. Bc4 b5 13. h5 Qg5 23. Be7++
4. Bb5 Qh4+ 14. Qf3 Ng8
5. Kf1 Nf6 15. Bf4 Qf6
6. Nf3 Qh6 16. Nc3 Bc5
7. d3 Nh5 17. Nd5 Qb2
8. Nh4 c6 18. Bd6! Bg1
9. Nf5 Qg5 19. e5 Qa1+
10. g4 Nf6 20. Ke2 Na6

Chess continued to be played casually, until early 1855, when it was decided to Constitute Rules for the Newport and County Chess Club. Charles Lyne was a solicitor with an office at Bank Chambers in the town, and he is very likely to have drafted the Constitution. They may have had plans to play the Bristol and Clifton Club, which was founded around 1839. No records survived from the Old Town Hall, but we have a report in the Monmouthshire Merlin, for 2nd March 1855:

"A Chess Club has been formed at the Commercial Reading Rooms, which from the large number of gentlemen who are partial to the noble game, bids fair to prove a source of gratification and amusement during the Winter hours".
The club Rules were officially Constituted, and that Constitution is with us to this day, but with some necessary amendments for the 21st century.

Colonel Charles Lyne, J.P. was duly elected President, and he became Mayor of the town in the following year, 1856. Two Vice-Presidents were elected, Mr Salter and Mr May. Mr Salter had offices in Clarence Place, and was a Land Assessor for the Inland Revenue. Mr Will was elected honorary secretary and treasurer, and this dual office continued until the death of J.W.F. Greenleaf in 1954. The club met at the Town Hall from 6pm, three nights each week, usually Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. This custom continued to within my lifetime, until the late 1960’s, when the club moved from the Y.M.C.A. to the Dolman Theatre. Today, the old Y.M.C.A. building is in use as the Wetherspoons' “Tom Toya Lewis” public house.

Charles Lyne
Charles Lyne was Club President and Mayor of Newport.

The Monmouthshire Merlin report continued,

"A committee of six gentlemen was appointed to manage the affairs of the society. 25 gentlemen enrolled their names."
The emphasis was on "gentlemen". It was a gentlemen’s club, and the names of any new prospective members had to be seconded by an existing member. Any member of the six man committee could "blackball" a prospective member. By the mid-1890’s, the chess club was the most exclusive society in Newport. You only have to look at the list of Vice-Presidents for that period, which looked like they were taken from Debrett’s “Who's Who”, in Monmouthshire. I have traced another early member, by the name of William Conway, whose obituary appeared in the British Chess Magazine for 1891:
The old Town Hall in Newport
Old Newport Town Hall, where the Club met in the early years.
"The South Wales Press has done full justice to the memory of William Conway, of Ponthir, Monmouthshire, but as an old and strong player, he deserves at least passing notice in these pages. Public Work of which he took upon himself a large share, occupied all his time of late years; but there are many players still with us who remember in him one of their strongest but withal most amiable antagonists. Besides holding several church and political Offices, he was a member of many Local Boards, and Provisional Chairman of Monmouthshire County Council. He died on the 5th. February, 1891, aged 71 years."
This obituary was almost certainly written by John Moses, Mayor of Newport in 1877, and the only Mayor to play on top board for our club. William Conway was born in 1820, and was a Druggist based in Pontypool during his early years. He later purchased a Tin-Plate Works in Ponthir, with his brother. John Moses was born in 1829, ten years before the Chartist Riots. He was one of the early members, and eventually became the Club President. Another early member was John Gall, Club Secretary in the 1870’s, and 1880’s. I have other names from the 1880’s, but can only speculate as to whether they were members in the 1850’s and 1860’s. The Newport Solicitor George Frances Colborne was a member from at least 1884, until his last appearance at the club in 1945. The Newport Problemist Alonzo Townsend published in the Huddersfield College Magazine in the 1870’s, and the early editions of the British Chess Magazine during the 1880’s. His problems were also published in the Illustrated London News. The 1881 BCM mentions the Isca Chess Club, which met at the "Ship and Pilot" public house in Pillgwenlly. This public house was popular with Ships Officers. Alonzo Townsend is shown as President, with Joseph Williams as honorary secretary. Blands Chess Club directory also mentions the Isca club in 1882. They claimed to have twenty-five members. Townsend was a member of the gentry, living at Caerau, but Joseph Williams lived in Railway Street, and would not have belonged to the gentry, which indicates a possible split from the Newport Club. John Moses was probably the most illustrious club member, only the second citizen to be honoured with the Freedom of the Town. He was a ships broker, owned steamships, was an iron-ore merchant, and a senior Alderman, and prominent member of the Baptist Church in Commercial Street. He died on 29th December 1915, aged eighty-seven years. His funeral service took place on January 8th 1916. Amongst the mourners, I was surprised to see the name of Ivor Llewellyn Phillips, who now stands as a life member of the club. His father, Edward Phillips, J.P. was a member of the gentry, who lived at Friars Cottage, Waterloo Road. In 1916, Ivor moved to a splendid new home in Edward VII Avenue, and probably married that year. In the late 1950’s I called to Ivor’s home in Waterloo Road (he returned to his parents' home in late life). As a teenager, Ivor would take me to away matches in his car. One can only speculate, but it is likely that Ivor’s father took him to the Newport Club in his youth. To think that Ivor knew John Moses, and many of the other old members. He would have played at the Newport Town Hall, he could have told me so many tales of the old Newport Chess Club.

I conclude with a game played by C.R.M. Talbot in his youth. His enthusiasm for the game helped indirectly to establish the Newport Club in 1855, and many other clubs throughout South Wales. Published in the British Chess Magazine shortly after his death, the game is taken from Howard Staunton’s Chess Players Chronicle, published in 1843. The notes are by the Reverend William Wayte, a contributing editor to the B.C.M. This is coffee house chess, but it does give you an idea of his style of play. Staunton had an irritating habit of giving anonymity to prominent losers.

St. Georges Club, 1843
White: Anon.
Black: C.R.M. Talbot, M.P.

1. e4 e5 10. Bg8 (c) Qg2
2. f4 ef 11. Rf1 Qe4 +
3. Nf3 g5 12. Kf2 (d) Bh3
4. Bc4 Bg7 13. Rg1 (e) Bd4+
5. d4 d6 14. cd Qd4+
6. c3 Nc6 (a) 15. Ke2 Qg1
7. Qb3 Qe7 16. Qh3 Qc1
8. Ng5 Qg5 17. Qc3 Qc3
9. Bf7+ KQ8 (b) 18. Nc3 Rg8 0 – 1

(a) 6…, h6 or 6…, g4 are more usual; but we have always thought the text move worth trying for a change, especially by an attacking player.

(b) With excellent judgement, black escapes a snare into which even the great Labourdonnais fell (game 42 of the series with MacDonnell). After 9…, Kf8 10. Bg8 Rg8 11. Bf4 Qg6! 12. Rf1 with strong attack.

(c) And now white is in too great a hurry to recover his piece – castling would have been more prudent, and occurs if we remember right, in a game of Rosenthal’s.

(d) His only move to avoid immediate mate.

(e) If 13. Bd5 then Bd4+ and winning.

Friday, 28 August 2015

Monmouthshire County Chess Association

The Early Years

By Gordon Cadden, Club President.
Copyright reserved.

1935 was a dramatic year for chess in Monmouthshire. JWF Greenleaf was the driving force, but it was the Working Men's Institutes in North Monmouthshire, which established the County Association, and eventually a Monmouthshire League.

Early in April, JWF Greenleaf, and senior committee members of the Newport Club, drove to Crumlin, together with representatives from the Abercarn, Blaina, Oakdale, and Tredegar Clubs. They probably convened at the Viaduct Hotel. In the chair was D.I.Jones, the former secretary of the Welsh Borders League, which was established 4th September, 1920, and flourished during the 1920's, but folded during the depression of the early 1930's.

It was unanimously decided to form a county chess association for Monmouthshire. JWF Greenleaf was duly elected honorary secretary and treasurer, and it was notified that Sir Henry Mather Jackson, Bart; C.B.E., was prepared to accept the Presidency.

There is no evidence of a Monmouthshire County League being established in the 1930's.

The most dramatic decision was to join the Southern Counties Chess Union. It must be remembered that the West of England Chess Association was not established until 1st June, 1947. It would mean having to travel long distance to county matches. There was no Severn Bridge, and the Beachley to Aust ferry was not reliable, closing early evening, and not operating in bad weather. It would also mean alienating Monmouthshire from the South Wales Chess Association. But the chess starved County players were eager to meet their adjoining English County Teams.

The first OTB match took place at the Kings Head Hotel, Newport, in November, 1935. Our opponents were the Gloucestershire County Team, over 16 boards. The more experienced Gloucestershire players dominated the match, which ended with Monmouthshire scoring 4 points, against Gloucestershire's 12 points. Our President, Sir Henry Mather Jackson, formerly welcomed the visiting team, and provided tea for all the visitors. R.O. Wickham, President of the Gloucestershire County Chess Association, formerly responded.

On 14th December, 1935, Monmouthshire played their first County match by telephone, against Dorsetshire. Because we were inexperienced at telephone match play, the British Chess Federation secretary, R.H.S. Stevenson, travelled to Newport, to act as Umpire. Match result: Dorsetshire 11 points Monmouthshire 5 points.

We were more successful with County Correspondence Teams. JWF Greenleaf played on top board for our correspondence team, and it is claimed that he never lost a game.

For the record, a list of M.C.C.A.senior officials during the early years:


1935-1939 Sir Henry Mather-Jackson, Bart., C.B.E.
1946 Lord Tredegar
1947 -1954 H. Ivor-Smith (Newport)


1936-37 D.J.Jones (Blaina)
1937-1938 W.A. Jones (Newport)
1945-1946 N.W.C. Lee (Newport)
1946-1947 R.B.Herbert (Newport)
1947-1948 E.McHugh (Pontypool)
1948-1949 N.W.C. Lee
1949-1950 G.P.Pyle (Abertillery)
1950-1951 E.McHugh(Pontypool)
1951-1953 G.B. Eliot (Newport)


1935-1951 JWF Greenleaf
1951-1953 H.Golding (Noral)

1945 – The Abercarn club has dropped out of the Association, but Blackwood have joined. The Maindee club is still affiliated to the MCCA, but have no plans to join the League. They probably played friendly matches against Newport High School, and Newport Police. The 1946-1947 season commenced, with Abergavenny, Chepstow, and Pontypool joining the Association. Abergavenny did not list a Headquarters. Chepstow gave 13 High Street, Chepstow, and Pontypool gave 15 George Street, Pontypool. It should be noted that Abergavenny withdrew from the MCCA the following season. They may have had a problem finding a venue.

League Champions

1946-1947 Blaina
1947-1948 Blackwood
1948-1949 Newport and Tredegar
1949-1950 Blackwood
1950-1951 Tredegar
1951-1952 Newport "A"

The 1948-1949 season shows Abertillery joining, and Oakdale re-joining. The 1949-1950 and 1950-1951 season gives the same club structure for league matches. The Pontypool Club had moved to the Pontypool Educational Settlement at Panteg House. The County Team was getting stronger, with Dr Joseph Fine challenging for top board, and Colin Gilbert emerging as a new star player. 1950 was to be a very successful year for the county team, and their adventures into the Southern Counties Chess Union. Monmouthshire had reached the final of the Stevenson Minor Counties Trophy, and were scheduled to meet Hertfordshire in London, St. Bride Institute, on Saturday 6th May. Face to face with a Metropolitan Home County, Monmouthshire defied the odds, and defeated Hertfordshire. They arrived in triumph at Newport Rail Station, with JWF holding aloft the Stevenson Trophy. Their photograph was splashed across the South Wales Argus on the following Monday.

1950 – This year was the most successful in the history of the MCCA. We travelled to London and played Hertfordshire in the final of the Stevenson Trophy. The venue was St Bride Institute, Fleet Lane, EC4. Hertfordshire was left in a state of shock, that a County somewhere near South Wales, was taking the trophy with them. One can well understand the excitement in Monmouthshire; it was a very close match indeed. I have heard that JWF and young Colin Gilbert were carried shoulder high from Newport Rail Station.

We were congratulated by the editor of the British Chess Magazine, Brian Reilly, who unfortunately, made the disastrous mistake of describing Monmouthshire as "Western England". Subscribers to the B.C.M. included the libraries of the Working Men's Institutes in North Monmouthshire. This very contentious statement went down like a lead balloon. Indeed, it could be said that the editor of the B.C.M. had set in motion the movement to establish a Welsh Chess Union.

The County correspondence players also had a very successful year. The West of England Chess Union was established on 1st June, 1947, and Monmouthshire qualified to represent the West of England in the Final against the top team of the British Correspondence Chess Association.

Monmouthshire also qualified to play against a nationwide team, and came within an ace of defeating them.

The winner of the Monmouthshire League was the Blackwood Club. Newport's Dr Joseph Fine won the Individual Championship Trophy. The Abertillery Club had a successful year, with Dr Maria MacLean winning the Ladies Championship, and Eric Long the Boys U-18 Championship.

Stevenson's Trophy Final St. Brides Institute, Fleet Lane, London EC4.

Dr J. Fine 1 M. Rumney 0
H. Pugh 0 W.E. Pryer 1
J.B. McPherson 0 D.G. Durham 1
Dr H.V.M. Jones 0.5 W.C. Lewis 0.5
E. McHugh 0.5 H.J. Warren 0.5
W. Williams 0 J.W. Dickson 1
C.B. Eliot 1 J.A. Jepps 0
D. Reardon 0 J. Hakansson 1
A.S. Griffiths 1 H.G. Arnold 0
J.W.F. Greenleaf 0.5 E.J. Fairchild 0.5
A. Williams 0.5 H.L. Palmer 0.5
D. Price 1 J.R. Cheshire 0
I. Richards 0 P. Shapira 1
E. Long 0 W. Walker 1
Colin Gilbert 1 G.F.H. Packer 0
J.H.W. Roberts 1 H. Jacobsen 0
Francis Greenleaf 0.5 C.C. Sainsbury 0.5
J. Taynton-Evans 1 A.J. Thomas 0
Ed. Evans 1 W. Starling 0
M. Pedel 0.5 H. Green 0.5
11 9

1950 – It should be remembered that Correspondence Chess was very popular, and 1950 was a very successful year. I know that we still have correspondence players at the Pontypool and Newport clubs, and perhaps other clubs have correspondence enthusiasts. Monmouthshire was selected to play for the West of England, against a very strong team representing the British Correspondence Chess Association. You get an idea of the playing strength of our team, when you notice that the Monmouthshire OTB County Champion, is playing on board 10. A.S. Griffiths was the first winner of the Welsh OTB Championship in 1955.

JWF Greenleaf 1 0.5 G.R. Mitchell 0 0.5
Dr H.V.M. Jones 0.5 0.5 H.F. Battersby 0.5 0.5
H. Pugh 2 T.H. Black 0
J.B. McPherson 0 J.A. Graham 2
A.S. Griffiths 0.5 0.5 J.W. Hastie 0.5 0.5
D. Price 0 E.C. Still 2
D. Reardon 2 S.M. Sawerby 0
W.J. Price 0 0.5 R.P.F. Rickard 1.05
R. Williams 1 J.G.A. Farrell 0
Dr J. Fine 0 J.M. Soesan 2
K.P. Hughes 2 R.A. McBrayne 0
11 11

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Newport and County Chess Club

The class of 1935
By Gordon Cadden, Club President - copyright reserved

This was the first year since our club was Constituted at the beginning of 1855, for which we have a full list of members. The club venue was the Great Western Railway Restaurant Lounge, at Newport Station. The Honorary Secretary and Treasurer was James Francis Walter Greenleaf, of “Montana”, Risca Road, Newport.

I have included Titles, full names, occupation, and honours, where known.

F.A. Aycliffe C. John P.C. Roberts
H.W. Bevan (Stamper) J. Francis Jupp, M.I.C.E. Arthur Rowland
Herbert J. Bussell (Railway Surveyor) Arthur H. Langford E.N. Rowland
W. Charles F. Herbert Lewes H.I. Smith
Sir Reginald George Clarry, M.P. W. Llewellyn S.I.R. Smith
George Frances Colborne (Solicitor) H. Mark George Stow
Miss V.M. Davis M. Morgan A.J. Shepherd
D.T. Edwards H.A. Oberholzer (P.T. Instructor) T.R. Steer
G.W.I. Greenish W.P.R. Peters R.W. Tallis
J.W.F. Greenleaf (Railway Surveyor) Ivor Llewellyn Phillips, O.B.E. A. Tennyson-Evans
A. Holman H.J. Porter (Civil Servant) Dr Charles Stuart Vines, B.Sc.,J.P.
Mrs. Mary Mills Houlding William H. Powell (Superintendent) E.B. Williams
Ken P. Hughes ( Electrical Retailer ) E.I. Reed F.C. John (Public Assistance Officer)
J.D. Reynolds

Up until the Second World War, club membership was restricted to sixty members at the old Town Hall, and forty members at other venues.

George Frances Colborne was the most senior member. He played in the first friendly match against the Cardiff and County Club, at the Angel Hotel, on Saturday the 25th October, 1884: a double round match over ten boards. Colborne was on board five against G.H. Down. He won both his games. Cardiff won the match by 11 – 9. The South Wales Chess Association was not founded until 3rd November, 1888. In 1945, the club reconvened at the Kings Head Hotel, and Colborne attended. It was his last year. He was a member of our club for at least sixty-one years.

I knew W.P.R. Peters very well, and played many friendly games with him. He was the manager of the Wimpy bar in town.

Ivor Phillips was another member that I knew well.

K.P. Hughes was the Electrical Retailer in Clarence Place. I played many games with his son, also named Ken Hughes, who was my match captain when I played for Newport Knights in the late 1950’s. Ken only retired in 2008. Running the business made it difficult for him to play OTB chess after his father died, but he played correspondence chess all his life.

A few comments on other members:

Sir George Reginald Clarry was the last chess playing member of the gentry at our club. Lord Tredegar and Sir Henry Mather-Jackson C.B.E. were Patrons, but did not play serious competitive chess.

Herbert J. Bussell would have been a colleague of J.W.F. Greenleaf, based at the GWR Administrative Offices in Devon Place.

Mrs Mary Mills Houlding was the former British Ladies Champion, and would have been in her 85th year.

Dr Charles Stuart Vines wrote the death certificate for Mrs Mary Houlding. They both lived in York Place. He played on a high board for the Newport team.

To celebrate our eighty year link with the class of 1935, I will publish a game that I played against Harry Pugh, of the Tredegar Working Men’s Institute. Harry was the first County champion in 1937, and won again in 1938, 1946, 1949, 1952, 1953, and tied for first place with G.P. Moore in 1954. I was a Knight and a pawn up against Harry, but was relieved when he offered a draw, because my King-side defences were about to be breached.

Let us raise our glasses to the members of 1935, who passed the baton on to future generations; they were every bit as proud of our club's long history as we are today!

Newport and District League
Away match
Noral v. Newport Bishops
28th December, 1960
Board 1
H. Pugh - G.V. Cadden

1. e4 c5 10. Qd3 Ne7 20. Qg3 Bb7
2. Nf3 Nc6 11. f4 0-0 21. f5 ef
3. Nc3 e6 12. a4 d5 22. gf Kh8
4. Bc4 a6 13. Bb3 Rd8 23. Bg5 h6
5. d4 cd 14. e5 Nf5 24. Bd2 Rg8
6. Nd4 Bb4 15. g4 Qb6+ 25. Kh2 c4
7. Nc6 bc 16. Rf2 Ne7 26. Ba2 Bc8
8. 0-0 Bc3 17. a5 Qa7 27. Raf1 Qa5
9. bc Qa5 18. h4 Qc7 28. Qe3 Qa2
19. Bd2 c5 29. f6 draw offered and agreed.

Monday, 1 June 2015

Mary Houlding

By Gordon Cadden, Club President
Copyright reserved

The Death of Mrs Mary Mills Houlding

The following obituary appeared in the British Chess Magazine for April, 1940:

The death is reported of Mrs Mary Mills Houlding on February 19th, 1940, at the age of 89 years. She was an exceedingly brilliant player and may be said to have been a pioneer of chess amongst women.

After her marriage she lived in Australia for many years, and was the recognised Lady Chess champion of Australia, where she often played chess by telegraph.

Upon her return to England, she went to live at Newport, and joined the Newport Chess Club. In 1910, when it might have been expected that her mental powers had passed their zenith (for she was then about 60 years of age) she entered for the British Ladies Championship, which in that year was contested at Oxford, and won the Championship. In the following year, she again won the Ladies Championship. Then in 1914, in her 64th year, she won it once again. On quite a number of subsequent occasions, even until quite recent years, Mrs Houlding entered for the Ladies Championship but did not succeed in winning it again.

On one occasion she played in a simultaneous display against the then World Champion, Emanuel Lasker, and won her game. She said that she never remembered learning the game of chess, and seemed (like Topsy in Uncle Tom's Cabin) to have "grown" with it. At four years of age, when playing a game of chess with her father, she lost her Queen. Her father said to her; "Why Mary, you have lost your Queen !" She quickly retorted, "I know that daddy, but look at my position".

She bequeathed a number of chess trophies and medals, to her relations and friends.


Thus ended a long love of chess, that began in Lancashire, in the 1850's.

I was curious about the person who wrote this extended obituary. He had more than a casual interest in Ladies chess at the highest level.

Rufus Henry Streatfeild Stevenson 1878-1943, was the Honorary Secretary of the British Chess Federation in 1940. His first wife, Agnes (née) Lawson, was to win the British Ladies Championship on four occasions: Edinburgh, 1920; Stratford on Avon, 1925; Edinburgh, 1926; and Scarborough, 1930. In 1935, she had been selected to represent Great Britain in the Women's World Championship, held in Warsaw, August 1935. She arrived in Poznan, by plane from Berlin. After presenting her passport for inspection at the airport building, she started returning to her aircraft. The pilot had started the propellers, she panicked thinking that the aircraft was leaving and, running to what she thought was the rear (it was the front) of the plane, she made physical contact with the propellers and was killed instantly.

In 1937, Stevenson married a second time, to the Ladies World Champion, Vera Menchik, born in Russia, 15 February, 1906. Vera was to meet a terrible tragedy, when a V-2 Rocket destroyed her home at 47 Gauden Road, Clapham, London SW4, on 27th June, 1944. Her mother and sister Olga were also killed.

R.H.S.S. died in 1943.

The Early Years

Mary Mills Palmer was born in Manchester, on 24th September, 1850. Her father was a Vicar, who taught Mary the chess moves. Her mother and three brothers all played chess. Mary and G. Mills Palmer were step-brother and sister to their elder brothers, Edward Davidson Palmer and C. Palmer. All three brothers attended Manchester Grammar School, which was the leading Independent School in Lancashire. They joined the school chess club, which had a reputation for producing strong chess players.

The following obituary was published in the British Chess Magazine for March, 1928:

The North London Club has suffered a severe loss by the death of Edward Davidson Palmer, a member of the club for 23 years, and in 1919-20, its President. Deceased, who was in his 82nd year, was a familiar figure at Federation Congresses, and his genial personality will be much missed. He came from a chess playing family, his sister, Mrs Houlding, being a holder of the Woman's Championship, while his brother, G. Mills Palmer, formerly played a strong game for Manchester, and for Lancashire.

In the 1891 match, Manchester v. Liverpool, G. Mills Palmer was on board 7 for Manchester. He won his game against G. Imlach. Interesting that the top board player for Manchester was Wilfred Charles Palmer, who was born on 1st July 1873. His father was the Reverend H.J. Palmer. He also attended Manchester Grammar School, and may have been a cousin to Mary Mills Palmer. He followed his father, and became the Reverend W.C. Palmer, in 1900.

Richard Clewin Griffiths, the son of the Founder of Hampstead Chess Club, published his Reminiscences in the April 1932 edition of the British Chess Magazine. He attended Charterhouse School, in the City of London, between 1885 and 1890. After school hours, they would sometimes walk to Crosby Hall, where chess players would gather. He describes meeting two brothers, known as E.D. Palmer, and C. Palmer. The pupils would call them little "P", and big "P", because the latter was very fat, and the former very spare. A third brother, G. Mills Palmer, was described as living in Manchester.

It is evident that the Palmer brothers were attracting attention as strong players, but apart from playing chess with her immediate family, there is no evidence of Mary Mills Palmer taking part in competitions. Chess clubs were all male gatherings, that did not encourage women to become members. Not until the 1890's did women form their own chess clubs. The world's first International Ladies Tournament, took place in London, 1897.

It is very likely that Mary Mills Palmer was engaged in Missionary activities before her marriage. She was to marry Harry Maughan Houlding, before departing for New South Wales, in 1885.

Australia Bound

During 1885, Mary Mills Houlding and her husband Harry, departed Great Britain for New South Wales. They were to settle in Narrandera and Wagga-Wagga. These townships had large Aboriginal Settlements. Harry was to find employment as a Law Clerk, but I believe that it was Mary's work as a Missionary, that brought them to New South Wales. She was to leave a lasting influence on chess in Australia, pioneering the play of chess by Telegraph. She coached Spencer Crackenthorp, who went on to win the Australian Championship at Sydney, 1926, and Perth, 1927. The Son-in-Law of Crackenthorp was Cecil John Seddon Purdy, who won the Australian Championship at Melbourne 1934/35, Perth 1936/37, Melbourne 1948/49, Brisbane 1951, and Perth 1962/63. He was to edit the Australasian Chess Magazine, and "Chess World". He wrote several books on coaching, and correspondence games. In 1939, he wrote a classic book on chess humour, using the pen name "Chielamangus". The book was entitled "Amongst These Mates". He was the first inaugural World Correspondence Chess Champion, and a grandmaster of Correspondence Chess. In 1976 he was awarded the "Order of Australia", for services to chess.

An excerpt from the Australian Town and Country Journal, 1897:

Mrs Mary Mills Houlding, Narrandera, NSW. "A Leading Chess Player". Strongest OTB and Telegraph Player. Travelled from England to NSW in 1885. Mrs Houlding had played her first match by Telegraph, in 1893, Narrandera against Wagga-Wagga. I quote from Mary Houlding; "Chess lovers must feel under obligation to the Government, for granting the use of the Telegraph to the various country clubs, for these matches. Not only is chess made more popular, but a quite unique friendship is created between persons who may never see each other. When I remember some of the friendly "enemies" with whom I am now acquainted, and think of their awe-inspiring appearance, I feel sure I could not have braved an introduction without the shelter of miles of distance. All loyal chess players will acknowledge the justice and appropriateness of this grateful tribute to the efforts of Mr S.H. Lambton and Colonel P.B. Walker, themselves enthusiastic chessists, in facilitating Telegraph Operations in matches". During 1893, Mrs Houlding took part in nine other Telegraph Contests, and has been victorious in eight. She has played at board 1 for Narrandera, and at board 4 for Wagga-Wagga. The Wagga-Wagga club paid her their compliments in 1894, of electing her an Honorary member.

Sydney 1898 Sydney Daily Telegraph

Mrs H.M. Houlding vs Mr William Ridley

1. e4 e5 14. Bb2 Nc5
2. Nf3 Nc6 15. Rad1 Qc7
3. d4 ed 16. Rfe1 Bg4
4. c3 dc 17. Re3 Re8
5. Bc4 d6 18. b4 Nd7
6. Nc3 Be7 19. Nd5 Qc8
7. Qb3 Na5 20. Nf6 Nf6
8. Bf7+ Kf8 21. Rd6 Re6
9. Qa4 c6 22. Re6 Be6
10. Bg8 Rg8 23. Ng5 h6
11. Qc2 b6 24. Bf6 hg
12. 0-0 Bf6 25. Bg5 1-0
13. b3 Nb7

South Wales

During 1899, Mary and Harry Houlding returned to Great Britain. They settled in Newport, Monmouthshire.

It was a mystery as to why they selected Newport. Many years later, in the early 1960's, C.J.S. Purdy was to make a special journey to Newport, in the hope of solving this mystery. He arrived at the Central Reference Library in Newport, hoping to find a relative in the Town. Mary and Harry had no children, and he was to discover that they had no roots in Newport. A few nieces and cousins did attend Mary's funeral service, but they are likely to have travelled from Lancashire and London.

I believe that it was Mary Mills Houlding's work as a Missionary that brought her to Newport. In 1900 she became the Superintendent of the North Street Mission, which used a building next to St Woolos Primary School, opposite St Mary's Street, Baneswell. This area was the poorest district of Newport. Before the Welfare State was created, the Christian Churches were the Guardians of the Poor.

Upon arriving in Newport, they rented accommodation at 40 Bassaleg Road, and joined Newport Chess Club, which met at Newport Town Hall in Commercial Street. The club met on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, from 6pm. Egalitarianism had yet to reach the Newport Club, whose members represented the gentry, the clergy and the businessmen of the Town. The arrival of a female must have caused great consternation at the club. But Mary was erudite, and accomplished in the Arts and Literature. She soon became one of the most popular members, and was a regular competitor in the Club Championship. But she was not to win the male dominated Championship until 1922, and again in 1928, at 78 years of age. This age record stands to this day.

During 1908, the World Chess Champion, Emanuel Lasker, arrived in Newport, to give a simultaneous display on behalf of the Newport Club. The venue was Blands County Restaurant, at 153 Commercial Street, not far from the Town Hall. Lasker lost just one game, to Mrs Houlding.

Dr E. Lasker vs Mrs H.M. Houlding, Blands County Restaurant, Newport, 1908

Bland's Hotel
1. e4 b6 15. Re1 0-0
2. d4 e6 16. Re4 Ne4
3. c4 Bb7 17. Na3 f5
4. d5 Bc5 18. Rd1 Nc5
5. Nf3 Nf6 19. Qf3 Qc7
6. Bd3 d6 20. Nc2 Ne6
7. 0-0 e5 21. Qd5 Qf7
8. b4 Bd4 22. Bb2 Nc5
9. Nd4 ed 23. Qf7 Rf7
10. Bb2 c5 24. Rd6 Rd7
11. dc e.p. Nc6 25. Rd7 Nd7
12. b5 Ne5 26. Ne3 g6
13. Bd4 Nd3 27. Nd5 Kf7
14. Qd3 Be4 28. f4 Re8 0-1

Mary was to become the British Ladies Champion at Oxford, in 1910. Later that year, Mary was the guest of honour at Blands County Restaurant. The Squire of Llanwern, Mr D.A. Thomas, presented her with a magnificent Davenport Bureau, the cost of which had been raised by subscription, from her chess friends in Monmouthshire. She was to win the British Ladies Championship at Glasgow, in 1911, and for the last time, at Chester in 1914. She continued playing in the British Championship until 1932, when she retired at 82 years of age.

Mary Mills Houlding
Mary Mills Houlding is the petite lady on the front row of this photograph featured in the September 1913 issue of the British Chess Magazine.
Her husband, Harry, was employed as a Cashier, at Messrs. Davis, Lloyds, and Wilsons, and used to join her at the Newport Club, but I have no record of him playing in match events. He died on 10th December, 1917, at just 67 years of age. Mary continued to play for the club, and at Monmouthshire County Events, up until the Autumn of 1939, when the club secretary, J.W.F. Greenleaf, a Surveyor for the Great Western Railway, made the decision to officially close the club premises, following the declaration of War against Germany. Seven members continued to meet weekly, at the home of Reginald Brine Herbert, where they played American Swiss Tournaments. They were joined in 1943 by an industrial chemist with the name of Henry Golding, who moved from Banbury to Newport, and was engaged in war work, at Aluminium Industries in Rogerstone.

Funeral of Mary Mills Houlding

Her death was extensively reported in the South Wales Argus. She was a Superintendent of the North Street Mission, a religious charity for helping the poor of the Baneswell District of Newport.

Her death certificate records that she died at 20 York Place, Newport, on the nineteenth of February, 1940, at 89 years of age. Her death was attributed to a brain haemorrhage, and old age. Certified by Dr Charles Stuart Vines, who was a high board player for Newport in the 1920's and 1930's. He lived at 55 York Place.

South Wales Argus, 20 February, 1940:

Christian Worker and Chess Champion. There are many to deplore the death of Mrs H.M. Houlding, one of the Founders of the North Street Mission, Newport. She was old, in her ninetieth year, and lately her activities had been seriously curtailed through ill-health, but she maintained her interest in the Mission, and was an inspiring power.

South Wales Argus, 24th February, 1940:

The funeral of Mrs H.M. Houlding, of 20 York Place, Newport, formerly the Superintendent of the North Street Mission, took place at Newport (St. Woolos Cemetery), on Thursday. The Reverend D.W. Ingram officiated at the house, and cemetery, and graveside. The Hymn "Forever with the Lord" was sung. The mourners were Messrs. Alfred and Henry Palmer, nephews, Miss Palmer and Miss Curry, nieces, Miss Elaine Oakley, companion and friend. The bearers were Messrs. Wilkes, Corcoran, Oakley and Cliss. Representing Newport Chess Club were Charles O. Lloyd, Mr & Mrs Ivor Smith, G.F. Colborne. Dr. Charles Stuart Vines, and his wife Dr Charlotte Vines, and Harold Smith.

Many members were missing, because J.W.F. Greenleaf had closed the official club premises, at the outbreak of war. Members under 50 years of age would have been available for active service, Civil Defence, and many other war duties. Ivor Smith was the 1916 Club Champion. I was astonished to see the name of George Francis Colborne on the list. According to chess historian, Martyn Griffiths, he was born in Wiltshire in 1859, and later moved to London. Upon qualifying as a Solicitor, he took up a position in Newport, where he remained for the rest of his life. My records show that he played in a 10 board double round match Cardiff versus Newport, held at the Angel Hotel, Cardiff, on Saturday, 25th October, 1884. He won both his games. Cardiff won the match 11-9

Representing the North Street Mission were Superintendent Mr E.M. Jones and secretary, Mrs Wallis-Evans; Workers, Mrs Norrish, Mr J.H. Hughes, Mrs F.H. Beddis, Mrs Hunt, Mrs Wilkes, Mrs Harry Davies, Mrs Cliss.

Mrs Houlding was described as a Lady cultured in Literature, Arts and Music, with an outstanding personality.

Gravestone Inscription:

Mary Houlding's gravestone In Loving Memory of Harry Maughan Houlding, born 10th December 1850
Called home December 10th 1917.
Sent from the body present with the Lord.
Also of Mrs Mary Mills Houlding, beloved wife of above. Born September 24th 1850, Re-united 19th February, 1940.

Grid Reference: Block 82 grave 10, about 150 yards from the Cemetery Office, alongside the cemetery wall that runs parallel with the Bassaleg Road.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Coronation Year 1953

By Gordon Cadden (Club President)
Copyright reserved.

With Henry Golding at the helm, this was to be an eventful year in the club Annals.
We took an active part in the National Celebrations.  It should be remembered that Monmouthshire joined the Southern Counties Chess Union in 1935, and was not a member of the South Wales Chess Association.  Monmouthshire joined the newly formed Welsh Chess Union in 1955.
A National Chess Week took place from Monday the 2 February. On the Wednesday, the Newport club held a Dinner at the Westgate Hotel, inviting selected juniors from local schools; it was hoped that a few juniors would join the club, and help raise funds by subscribing to the British Chess Federation.
The Dinner would be a formal occasion, with toasts to Her Majesty the Queen, and the future of chess in Newport, and Monmouthshire. Our President H. Ivor-Smith would preside, with club secretary Roy Finnemore, in attendance.  There would have been a vote of thanks to Henry Golding, and the Organising Committee.  Highlight of the evening, would have been a large walnut cabinet, supplied by A.E.Hughes, in a corner of the dining room. A small television screen could be observed.  Television arrived in Newport the previous year, when the Wenvoe Transmitter opened.  International Master  C.H.O’D Alexander would give a live simultaneous display at the National Chess Centre, in London.  It is believed that this was the very first live televised display in the United Kingdom. Alexander would play 18 boards.  He recently featured in a film entitiled, “The Imitation Game”, based on Alan Turing, and his war work, at Bletchley Park. Turing worked with Alexander, who was the reigning British Champion.  Mathew Goode played the part of Alexander.
On 7 March of that year, the South Wales Chess Association played the Monmouthshire County Chess Association, at Newport.    SWCA.   191/2   ---   141/2   Monmouthshire.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Sleuthing for Philidor's Grave

By Gordon Cadden (Club President)
Copyright reserved


Opening of the Account of Richard Twiss

I became interested in Philidor's grave after borrowing a book from my local Hampstead Library.

The book was entitled “Life of Philidor”, by Professor George Allen (1863).1 This was a scholarly work by a Professor of Greek, but the biography unravelled at Chapter XI, with disputes over the date of Philidor's death, and an attack on George Walker, for making charges against the English Club.  Allen believed Richard Twiss, when he stated that Philidor died on the 24th August.

I found it hard to believe that a grave could vanish without a trace in Central London.  Some years later, in the late 1990's, I set out to find Philidor's grave.  I traced comments made by past and present historians and writers.

Howard Staunton, writing in the Chess Players Chronicle Magazine for 28th August 1841 stated that Philidor died on 31st August 1795.2

I read George Walker's book entitled “Chess and Chessplayers” (1850).3 I quote from Walker:
    Philidor died almost literally in a garret.  During his last hours, he was chiefly indebted for     support, to the assiduities of one kind friend, and he passed from life in such obscurity, that I     have never yet been able to discover the spot where he was buried.4
George Walker lived in Central London, his father had a bookshop in Chancery Lane.  It was evident that Philidor did not have a memorial on his grave.

The Australian William Harris, who came to England in 1842, to see Philidor's grave, wrote to Howard Staunton, stating, “It is to the everlasting disgrace of English amateurs, that Philidor's place of interment is not known.”

Charles Tomlinson, writing in “Amusements in Chess” (1845),5 gave support to Twiss, by stating that on Saturday, 29th August 1795, the following sad intelligence appeared in the Daily Papers:
    “Mons. Philidor, the Chess-Player... On Monday last, the 24th August, etc.”

Harold Murray, in his “History of Chess” (Oxford, 1913), gives Philidor's death as 24th August, 1795.  He gives his source as Professor George Allen's “Life of Philidor.”

1926 was the bi-centenary of Philidor's birth.  John Keeble, the Norwich problemist, former chess editor of the Norwich Mercury, and stalwart of the Norwich Club, wrote an article on Philidor, for the October 1926 BCM.  Giving Philidor's date of birth as 6th April, 1726, was not a good start.6 This mistake was corrected by G. H. Diggle in the following November issue of the BCM.  He did expose the false date of 24th August, as the day of Philidor's death, and was the first historian to question the integrity of Twiss.  He quoted the “Times” chess editor, Samuel Tinsley, who said that Philidor's death was reported in the “Times” on Wednesday, 2nd September.  He gave the chess world the “wonderful news” that Philidor was buried in the graveyard of St James Church, Piccadilly.  He had seen the old Burial Register, and the entry for 3rd September 1795: “Francois Andrék [sic.] Danican Philidor. M.”  Keeble said the M stood for man (it stood for male).  He further stated that Philidor's address was 10 Ryder Street, in the parish of St James.

For this achievement, Keeble was given a special vote of thanks by the French Chess Federation.

I will return to the incorrect spelling of André, and Philidor's given address, at a later stage.

Charles Michael Carroll's dissertation for his thesis was entitled “Philidor in London”.  Excerpts were published in the 1961 BCM volume.7 He said that Philidor was buried from St James Church, Piccadilly.  He was the first writer to identify the St James Chapel, on the Hampstead Road, but did not query the purpose of that chapel.  Carroll further said that Philidor had been a member of the St James Church, since he had begun his annual journey from Paris to London in 1775.  It would have been surprising if Philidor had regularly attended this church; Philidor was a Catholic.

Richard Eales gave a good account of Philidor's life, in his chess history (1985),8 but avoided controversy by simply stating that Philidor died in August 1795.

Ken Whyld, writing on Philidor in the “Oxford Companion to Chess” (1992), gave Philidor's last address as 10 Ryder Street.9

Gareth Williams, writing in the CHESS magazine for September 1995 – the bi-centenary of Philidor's death – states that Philidor died on the 24th August, and was buried from St James Church, Piccadilly.  He did identify Little Ryder Street as Philidor's place of residence, but did not give the street number.10


St James Chapel of Ease and Burial Ground

Philidor could not have been buried in the graveyard of St James Church.  The church was designed by Sir Christopher Wren, and consecrated on 13th July, 1684.  The graveyard was full long before Philidor died.  A second burial ground was opened in Soho, between Poland Street, Broadwick Street and Marshall Street.  The St James Workhouse was built on a section of this site in later years.

A third burial ground was acquired by an Act of Parliament, on 30th September 1789.  A lease of ninety-nine years was granted on a four acre site, being a former brick-field lying eastward, before the Turnpike on the Hampstead Road.

A chapel was constructed facing west on the Hampstead Road, to the designs of Thomas Hardwick.  A house was built on the north side of the chapel, to be known as the St James Parsonage.  This would accommodate the Reverend John Armstrong and his family.  John Armstrong was to remain the incumbent chaplain until his death on 17th August 1835.  A second house was built on the South side of the chapel.  This would provide administration offices, storage for the burial ledgers, storage for the sexton and the gravedigger, and a reception area for the mourners.

The burial ground was laid out like a giant chessboard.  Every burial plot had the same dimensions, eight by six feet.

From south to north, the rows of burial plots were designated 'A' through to 'W'.  Row J was used as a carriage drive, with a circular shrubbery for the hearse and carriages to return.  The rows I shall call 'files'.  Each file had one hundred and eighteen burial plots.  The plots I will call 'ranks', the low numbers commencing by the chapel, west to east.  Sixty-four burial plots were on the graveyard chessboard.  An early chess historian is on that chessboard.  He was James Christie the younger, son of James Christie the auctioneer.

In 1801, his book entitled “Inquiry into the Ancient Greek Game” was published by Bulmer of St James.11 According to George Walker, this was a limited edition of forty copies.  Christie was buried in “Greek Sacrifice” burial plot h7.

Philidor, the greatest chess player of the eighteenth century, was laid to rest on the adjoining file, burial plot g18.


Burial Ledger and Plan of Burial Ground

I visited the Westminster Archives Department and searched the Ledger Index for St James Chapel of Ease.  There I was informed that the required ledger was withdrawn from the public shelves, because it needed conservation.  An Assistant Archivist brought the ledger to my table and watched while I searched for the burial entry, 3rd September, 1795.  All the entries were in brown ink, with the same handwriting: that of the Reverend John Armstrong.

The ledger was divided into columns: Name – Andrék [sic.] Danican Philidor; Address – 8 Little Ryder Street; Age – 69 years; Date of Death – 31st August 1795; Cause of Death – Decline; M

A burial fee of one guinea was paid, with a request for prayers.  The burial plot reference was g18, Ground 3.

The catalogue listed a plan of the burial ground, which was withdrawn in 1800.  I examined the plan, again with an Assistant Archivist standing nearby.  Most of the burial plots around the chapel were full.


Philidor's burial spot

Plot g18 stood alone, away from the occupied burial plots around the chapel, but Philidor was not alone in the burial plot.  The first interment was for Ann Hughes on 17th October 1794.  The second interment gave me important information.  This was for Ann Tipper, who was laid to rest on 2nd September 1795.  I searched her records and discovered she was eighty-eight years of aged, and was removed from the St Marylebone Workhouse.  A burial fee of one guinea was paid, with a request for prayers.  This was the standard fee for a pauper's funeral service and burial.

Philidor's name was not visible to the naked eye, but there was a space where there should have been a name.

I placed a magnifying glass over the space, and could see the faint outline of two words: François Philidor.

The last interment was for Eleanor Griffiths, who was laid to rest in 1796.

Possibly lemon juice was used to remove Philidor's name.  Exhumations were very expensive, and required a signed and sealed parchment document issued by the Bishop of London.  I have examined all exhumation documents for the burial ground and can confirm that the name of Philidor was not listed.  Philidor's eldest son,  André, is believed to have searched for his father's grave early in the nineteenth century.   André could have placed a memorial to his father inside the St James Chapel of Ease.  The London County Council published an extensive survey of the St James parish in 1960.  They listed all the memorials inside the chapel and the name of Philidor was not listed.

The Anglican Church would not allow a memorial to be placed on a pauper's grave.  Today, the burial ground is known as St James Gardens.  The gardens were opened on 17th August 1887, by the St Pancras Vestry.  Many of the standing gravestones were removed to the perimeter.  One or two layers of soil would have been placed over the graves.  The vaulted tombs, including one for the Reverend John Armstrong, and his mother, remain in situ.

The St James chapel was demolished in the 1870s.  The foundation stone of the National Temperance Hospital was laid on 8th May 1879.  The car park of this hospital now occupies the site of St James chapel.  During the 1880s an Act of Parliament secured one acre of the burial ground for the North Western Railway Company, to widen Euston rail station, and to construct Cardington Street.  The high numbered burial plots were exhumed, and the remains re-interred in St Pancras Cemetery.

Philidor's gravesite is undisturbed.


Newspaper Obituary Notices

Here is a list of the London newspapers that reported the death of Philidor, for Monday the 31st August.  The “Whitehall Evening Post” indicated the wrong date for Philidor's death.  Instead of “same day”, the newspaper should have stated “yesterday”.

The “Morning Post” was the first newspaper to record his death, on Tuesday 1st September.  The obituary has the 'hallmarks' of Richard Twiss.  Describing Philidor as “near 80 years of age” and as a “poor old man”.

I will repeat the last words of this memorable obituary:
    “From the moment he was made acquainted with this circumstance, he became the martyr of     grief, his philosophy forsook him, his tears were incessant, and he sunk unto the grave without a     groan!”
And this was three days before Philidor was lowered into his grave! Twiss was a friend of Dr Samuel Johnson, who first used the expression “sunk unto their graves” lamenting the loss of so many of his friends during the eight years it took to finish his dictionary in 1755.

The “St James Chronicle” reported his death on 1st September.
The “Whitehall Evening Post” on 1st September.
The “General Evening Post” on 1st September.
The “Times” on 2nd September.
The “Oracle and Public Advertiser” on 2nd September.
The “Sun” on 3rd September.
The “Star” on 3rd September.
The “Gentleman's Magazine and Historical Chronicle” was published in September, with an extensive obituary on Philidor.


Memoirs of Thomas Bowdler (1754-1825) and Louis Dutens (1739-1812)

The members of the chess club had nothing to record on the mystery of Philidor's grave.  There was a wall of silence.  Embarrassed silence, since they had allowed the greatest chess player of the eighteenth century as well as an important composer to be buried like a pauper.  Hence also the effort to erase his name from the register.  I will now come to the figure of Thomas Bowdler, who died at his home the Rhyddings, overlooking Swansea Bay, South Wales, on 24th February 1825.

Shortly after his death his nephew, also named Thomas Bowdler, published a memoir of his uncle.  I quote:
    “His residence in the Metropolis during some portion of the year, continued until 1800, when     finding his health considerably impaired, and wearied of a Society, where moreover, he saw his     friends dropping all around him, he quitted London altogether, and retired to St Boniface, on the     Isle of Wight, where he lived 10 years.”

His nephew also wrote:
    “He became a Fellow of the Royal and Antiquarian Societies; the Chess Club, of which he is     well known to have been a distinguished member, introduced him to many valuable persons,     with some of whom he contracted an intimate friendship, which formed a source of comfort     through many years; his presence was welcome wherever science and literature were cultivated     and admired.”

Louis Dutens (1739-1812) was a member of the London Club, but spent the greater part of his life travelling.

In his Memoirs of a Traveller, published in 1806,12 he made comment possibly with Philidor in mind;     “Society does nothing in England for the sick; I mean the bedridden.  In France and Italy, a man     goes a hundred miles to be at the bedside of a sick friend.  Here, if he is in the house, he quits it.

    I wish neither to praise or to blame.

    I only mention the fact.”


Comments on Twiss


Twiss travelled through Spain and Portugal, in 1772 and 1773.  He dined with the brother of Lord Grantham, Britain's Ambassador in Madrid.

On 22nd March 1773, Frederick Robinson, brother of Lord Grantham, wrote to his sister Anne:
    “Your friend Twiss dined with me yesterday, you was much in the right when you said he was a     great vulgar, and you might have added, a compleat gig.  It seems he is a great traveller, speaks     most of the foreign languages, and is the son of a man of considerable fortune, that at least is his     own account of himself.”

Had Professor George Allen lived in Ireland, instead of Philadelphia, he would have been familiar with the history of Richard Twiss.  The second edition of his book, “Travels in Ireland 1775”, was published in Dublin in 1776.13 The indigenous population of Ireland was insulted.  I quote: “The women of Connemara are remarkable only for the thickness of their legs.” I further quote: “What little the men can obtain by their labor, or the women by their spinning, is usually consumed in whiskey.”

A Dublin Pottery exploited the public dislike of Twiss, by selling a bedroom chamber pot with a portrait of Twiss on the inside bottom, and accompanied by this verse:
    “Here you may behold a liar,
    Well deserving of hell-fire,
    Everyone who likes may piss,
    Upon the learned Doctor Twiss.”

And so the colloquial piss-pot became known as a Twiss-pot.14


Twiss on Philidor

Twiss visited Philidor and his family, in Paris, 1783.  He later wrote that Philidor had nineteen children.

According to Professor George Allen, Philidor had five sons and two daughters.  A son and daughter died in early childhood.

Twiss had a tolerable relationship with Philidor, until the publication of “Anecdotes of Mr Philidor” as communicated by himself in CHESS vol. I pp. 149-171.15 According to Twiss, in his two volume Miscellanies (1805), Philidor never communicated with him again.  Philidor's father, and several of his brothers, were described as belonging to the Band of Lewis [sic.] XIV and Lewis [sic.] XV.

Twiss describes a blindfold display at Parsloes, on 25th May 1782.  Philidor's opponents were Count Bruhl and Thomas Bowdler.  I quote the last lines of “Anecdotes of Mr Philidor”:
    “In that period, the memory of this astonishing man, was never for a moment absent or     confused.  He made not one mistake.  Of the two games, one Philidor lost – the other he left a     drawn game.”

I also researched the MS correspondence from Richard Twiss to his close friend Francis Douce, held at the Bodleian Library, Oxford.  Douce had an outstanding collection of books at his home, 6 Coney Court in Grays Inn.  They shared a love of literature with chess references, and they also had many other interests.

They would meet regularly at the Black Bul Inn, 60, Grays Inn Lane (1851 cencus).  The Black Bull had overnight accommodation for country gentlemen.  Chess would be played at the Black Bull, and Twiss was fascinated by a circular chessboard.

Twiss had a country estate at Bush Hill, Edmonton, where he lived with his wife, and children.

I will quote some excerpts from this Twiss correspondence:16

18th October 1788
“I have written to Paris, to Philidor, and to the Abbe Rives, to know if they have any communications.”
“I wish not to make any more quotations from Hyde; many trifling stories are in his book, and that of Lambe.”
“What has Mr Thorkelins got for me?” (I believe Twiss is writing about Professor Thorkelins, the Icelandic-Danish scholar, who travelled to London in 1786.)

3rd November 1788
“I am trying the trick of the horsemove on the circular chessboard.  I can get as far as 60, no further: I try on a slate; perhap's tis impossible.”

29th November 1788
“I wrote to Paris 5 or 6 weeks ago, to Philidor, to see if he could get it there, and desired him to send it by Post.” (He is looking for a particular book.)

He writes about CHESS, volumes 1 and 2:
“Vol.I CHESS 750 copies printed.  Sold 335 copies, gave away 60 copies.  355 copies remain on hand.
Vol.II 500 copies printed.  149 copies sold.  Gave away 41 copies.  Remained 310.”
“I am still about twenty guineas out of picket by both.  This is a fine livelyhood.”

18th May 1789
“My Uncle Christopher Twiss is a farmer near Norwich.”
“Francis Twiss, my brother, married to Frances Kemble, lives near Norwich, one child.”
“My father's second wife who is now alive (the more the pity).  She is near 80 years old, and I find it high Time she should be gathered with her ancestors, as I pay her £40 per annum.”

22nd May 1789
“The Philidor game I shall never bother my brain about.”

30th July 1789
“Philidor ran away the day after the performance of his Restoration Concert, Hanover Square, without paying the musicians, so that he has checkmated us all.  His book is not yet sent to press.”

19th January 1795, Bunhill Row, Old Street, London
“I suppose it hardly possible that they have mistaken some other person for Philidor, pray make some inquiries about this, and let me know.”

20th September 1795: No mention of Philidor.

9th April 1799: Attends music concert.  Mentions Mr Atwood.

1st December 1803: Has lost most of his money in a disastrous Straw to Paper venture.  He plans to publish two volumes of Miscellanies.



All the London Newspapers reported Philidor's death for the 31st August.

Richard Twiss was not telling the truth when he gave Monday 24th August as the day that Philidor died.

In Miscellanies, vol. II, p. 110, Twiss said that he had the original newspaper before him.17

The Anglican Church, represented by the Reverend William Parker, Provost of St James Church, Piccadilly, in 1795, must share some responsibility for the cover-up.  The burial ledger at St James Chapel of Ease gave Philidor's address as 8 Little Ryder Street.  This ledger was examined, because they repeated the same mistake on Philidor's second name.

The gentlemen of Parsloes Club should not be condemned.  The 1794 etching of Philidor shows him surrounded by his faithful surviving friends, Count Bruhl, Frances Masere, Thomas Bowdler, George Atwood and Joseph Wilson.  General Henry Seymore Conway died during 1795.  Richard Twiss had ceased to be a friend of Philidor.  This was a farewell occasion for Philidor, who was returning to Paris for good.

Verdoni would take his place as the new coach.

With the gentlemen of the chess club on their estates, or travelling in the United Kingdom or Europe, Philidor was left alone, desperately waiting for his passport.  During his last period in London, he was ailing, and lived like a pauper.  He was to die as a pauper, and was buried as a pauper.  He was a victim of the French Revolution, and the war between Great Britain and France.



1. Allen, George: The Life of Philidor, E. H. Butler & Co., Philadelphia, New York, 1863, 155+ xii pp. 

2. Staunton, Howard: Chess Players Chronicle, Vol. I, 1841, p. 284. 

3. Walker, George: Chess and Chessplayers, London, 1850, 384+ ii pp. 

4. Ibid., p. 127. 

5. Tomlinson, Charles: Amusements in Chess, J. W. Parker, London, 1845, pp. 85-86. 

6. Keeble, John: Philidor, in BCM, October 1926, pp. 434-436. 

7. Carroll, Charles Michael: Philidor in London, BCM, 1961, pp. 11-13, 76-79, 102-104 & 152-155. 

8. Eales, Richard: Chess – The History of a Game, Batsford, London, 1985, p. 118. 

9. Hooper, David andWhyld, Kenneth: The Oxford Companion to Chess, 2nd ed., OUP, Oxford, 1992, p. 305. 

10. Williams, Gareth: Philidor Bi-Centenary, in CHESS, Vol. 60, 6, September 1995, pp. 21-24. 

11. Christie, James: An Inquiry into the Ancient Greek Game, London, Bulmer, 1801, pp. 169+xvi. 

12. Dutens, Louis: Memoirs of a Travellers, London, Richard Phillips, 1806, 5 vols. 

13. Twiss, Richard: A Tour of Ireland in 1775, London, J. Robson, 1776, p. 198. 

14. Powell, Martyn J.: Piss-pots, Printers and Public Opinion in Eighteenth Century Dublin, Dublin, Four Courts Press, 2009, pp. 7 and 40. 

15. Twiss, Richard: Chess, J. Robinson, London 1787, vol. I. 

16. Bodleian Library, Special Collections Department, MS Douce392, p.v. MS Douce c.11. 

17. Twiss, Richard: Miscellanies, London, 1805.

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