On the first leg we ambled from Stop 1 to Stop 7 in a loop starting at Streatham and Brixton Chess Club’s venue in Streatham, via Tooting, up through Balham. We are now on the edge of Clapham Common next to another of Holden’s tube stations - a dead ringer for Tooting Bec station that we saw last time.
Talking of coincidences: we noted one or two previously, and a near-miss to boot; now there’s another one waiting for us just round the corner, at Stop 8.
On that occasion we were investigating Broadmoor patient and chess problemist Walter “There Has Been So Much Piffle” Stephens. He too lived in Honeywell Road, Balham, also in the early years of the new century. It’s where he committed the dreadful deed that resulted in his committal to that high-security hospital. He was at number 45 to be precise. But when? Could it be that he and Gunsberg had been living in Honeybrook Road at the same time, bid “Good day” in the street, and bumped into each other in the corner shop?
Alas, probably not. Stephens committed his crime, and was immediately detained, in late August 1905, and from Tim Harding's data (unpublished) Gunsberg moved into Balham just about three weeks later (and before I forget: both 14 and 45 still stand today in their Victorian terraces). But there’s perhaps a more definite crossing of their paths.
Stephens had his “Piffle” letter, and two of his problems, published in the Daily Telegraph on 1 July 1922.
And who was it that edited the Telegraph chess column at the time? Isidor Arthur Gunsberg, that’s who (TH following W/S). It would be nice to think that Isidor, who appears from Tim Harding’s book to have served, albeit some years before, and only briefly, controversial political causes (writing tracts for the wonderfully exotic chesser Wordsworth Donisthorpe (TH)), might have been sympathetic to the expostulations of the Broadmoor Problemist, even if he hadn’t know him personally. Nice to think; impossible to know.
Next we thread our way a mile or so north through the generous avenues of Clapham Park, lined with comfortable semi-detached Victorian villas, we join the hoi polloi in the High Street, and we go on just beyond the railway arches at Clapham North. Here, at Stop 9, we have a rendezvous with a tragic episode in chess history.
On 27 June 1944 a V1 flying bomb fell on 47 Gauden Road SW4 and extinguished the lives of Women's World Champion Vera Menchik (b. 1906), her mother, and her chess-playing sister Olga. Her story has been well told elsewhere, for instance by the West London CC.
It is all the more desolate as Vera had already, in 1939, witnessed the destruction of the National Chess Centre in Oxford Street of which she was custodian, and in 1943 she lost her husband R.H.Stephenson (then Hon. Sec. of the BCF); her own number came up the following year. She was only 38. Wretched times.
An ECF thread reports that efforts to install a Blue Plaque in Gauden Road as long ago as 1962 were frustrated by the obliteration of the building in which the family lived. To be fair to the authorities its undistinguished replacement doesn't seem worthy enough to bear such a poignant commemoration.
At the scene todayNow you now have a choice. If you fancy flogging on up the A3 for ¾ mile to Stockwell and Stop 10, you are more than welcome. If you do: stroll on and imagine the imperious Legions barrelling towards you down the old Roman Road.
"Hail Caesar"When you get to Stockwell find John Ruskin Street off to the right where, before it changed its name from Beresford Street (TH), Johannes Zukertort (Chapter 8 of EVCPs, and in the news again with the splendid restoration of his grave, championed by Stuart Conquest) lived, and died in 1888 aged only 45.
Notice of Zukertort's death in Chess Monthly July 1888
- the magazine he co-edited with Leopold Hoffer.
From the Scientific American Supplement in 1877
So we now we go south, and beyond Brixton (in which Prison your blogger briefly played chess) passing by Ruskin Park – a hint of what comes next – to Herne Hill where "The Professor" himself lived (Stop 12). Actually, in London and indeed the whole country, you can’t get away from him. There are over 200 Ruskin Avenues, Closes and whatever, nationwide. In this neck of the London Borough of Southwark, along with Ruskin Park, there comes a Ruskin Walk (once his favoured footpath) and a JR School. We've referred above to the JR Street up beyond Stockwell, and there's a Ruskin Way in Colliers Wood 3 miles south west.
The local interest is explained by a plaque, retiring under a shading tree, just inside the front fence at 26 Herne Hill, SE24.
White to mate in three.
Morphy v Amateur [1858.03.10 Blindfold simul.]