Saturday, May 24, 2014

Brixton Byways: 4. Regular Bricks

We are pressing on with our chronicle of a chess foretold, trying to make sense of the inexorable unfolding of S&BCC here in south west London in the late C19th. We set out with the successful Endeavour of the early 1870s which, by twists and turns, emerged finally as Brixton Chess Club in the early 1880s. In this episode we will push on through its second decade. It may be for some, I regret to say, a little remote from our modern everyday chess experience, but it is about the period when local club chess as we now know it took shape; for any who prefer a piece of the action this post does offer a couple of little games, one of which was said to be "replete with instructive points".

As we noted last episode, the chess scene in the 1880s was now getting more organised, with the signs of an emergent national organisation, although that would take us too far afield for this story of chess in Brixton (the English Chess Federation's own historical overview is here). Closer to home, in London, the terms of an inter-club competition, the Baldwin-Hoffer Trophy (B-HT), were formally adopted at a meeting of 18 metropolitan club secretaries on 23rd September 1884: all play all, at least eight boards, adjudication, 1 hour default time, to be played at the Salutation Tavern, Newgate Street (unless agreed otherwise), starting at 7.30 pm. The club winning "the majority of matches" would get the Trophy - and hang on to it after three wins. "Brixton (late Endeavour)" was there and entered the competition. Herbert Baldwin incidentally was from the North London CC, and Leopold Hoffer, of the City of London Club, was a general mover and shaker on the London chess scene and editor (with Johannes Zukertort) of The Chess-Monthly.

The same assembled gents also heard (the BCM reported) revised rules for the Staunton Medal competition coming into its fifth year for which 13 clubs were eligible for this the 1884-5 round. "Brixton (late Endeavour)" was one, and Excelsior - still extant - was another, though the latter didn't appear to compete (see Appendix 1 for the clubs concerned). The Staunton was "run on pretty much the same lines" as the B-HT (said the BCM) competing for a medal for the best individual performance in the winning team (although in other references it sounds like a team medal, but anyway it looked less an "all play all", and more a "play who you may", with a minimum quota to qualify). Although the two competitions overlapped, not all clubs competed in both, and there was also another individual prize, it seems, in the B-HT. Not very tidy.

The tables for the 84/5 season, with Brixton respectably placed in one, though not the other, are in Appendix 2. North London CC was top dog in 84/5. But then what is this in the BCM in December 1886? "The Baldwin-Hoffer Trophy presently held by Brixton" - and so a triumph for them in the 85-86 season. Well done chaps; and not only for denying Herbert Baldwin permanent possession of his own Trophy after his club had won the two previous years. However, North London were not to be denied and soon gained the required third victory which they celebrated by quaffing liberally from the trophy itself: a "valuable drinking horn". In case you were wondering, here is a fine example:

A Valuable Drinking Horn (Victorian)
 - apparently you sup from the sharp end.

(From here)
By contrast with the intricacies of Baldwin/Hoffer/Staunton set-up, Surrey Chess Association, launched back in 1883, seemed a more streamlined affair, even if the county, as facts on the ground, was a tad messy. Surrey in days of yore stretched right up to the Thames, but the expansion over the years of the administrative boundaries of London swallowed chunks of the county: including in modern times Lambeth at the northern tip, and as far south as Kingston and Croydon. But old habits die hard and, as the ancient purview of the county is what still counts for chess purposes, Brixton and Streatham have always remained in "Surrey".

In 1883 Leonard Rees, of South Norwood CC, fronted the campaign for a county association; he claimed (in a letter of July 83 to the Croydon Guardian, reprinted in CPC in August) there were some 250 players in a dozen active clubs in Surrey, and a similar number unattached. "Much might be accomplished in the Chess world of Surrey if strong and close union existed between the several parts" he argued. Thus on the 9th October representatives of six clubs (Croydon, South Norwood, New Cross, Wallington, "Endeavour" of North Brixton, and the Bermondsey Institute) inaugurated the Surrey County Chess Association.

So as to give the admirable Mr Rees his due, here is a little effort of his, continuing our flirtation (in the style of our occasional blogger) with the Centre Game begun in episode 3. It was published, along with notes below, in The Chess Player's Chronicle of April 1886. His opponent commits accidental hara-kiri at the end.

According to the Croydon Guardian in June 1884, which was nine months after the SCCA's creation, the enterprise had been faced at the outset with "a certain amount of indifference and incredulity from one or two quarters" -  but now it was "firmly established and well progressed on a course of most useful work" and "the roll of members shows nearly seventy names [which] includes gentlemen of the highest standing in the county".

Picked out for special note were three of the Vice-Presidents of the Association: Sir Trevor Lawrence M.P. for Mid-Surrey (indelicately described in the column as "an old chess player" - he was a youthful 53); Captain A.S. Beaumont of South Norwood ("with his accustomed energy and liberality") and - getting his second mention in this series - Mr.Wyke Bayliss, F.S.A., ("so well known in the artistic world for his writings and paintings"), who - if we may remind readers - was a member of Brixton Chess Club, and who will get his own episode later in Brixton Byways (for a chess playing artist should not be denied).

Left: Sir Trevor Lawrence MP (1831-1913), from Vanity Fair 1899, by Sir Leslie Ward (from here).
Centre: Captain A.S.Beaumont, from The Chess Monthly, December 1893.
Right. Sir Wyke Bayliss (1835-1906) National Portrait Gallery .
SCCA committee members included Messrs. G.S. Carr, J.B. MacDonald, C.E.Vincent - all, at the time, from Brixton CC. Charles Vincent was soon to be checking the finances as auditor in 1886 - he was a stockbrokers clerk according to the censuses, so would have been familiar with the dark art of cooking the books (as we will see in two episodes time). So, the club was in at the ground floor, and this was just the beginning of its involvement with the Association, which had instituted the Surrey Trophy for a club championship, a Challenge cup for individual contest, a problem composing competition, a correspondence tournament, and regular matches against other counties. Apart from a "slide" in 1887-8, rescued (according, several years later, to the BCM) by the energetic Capt. Beaumont, the SCCA soldiered briskly on to WW1 and beyond, and is happily with us still today.

In this new environment Brixton was now up, running, and "very active" said the BCM in November 84, which continued with some colourful reporting of the club's efforts. Thus, on the 6th October Brixton's second team played Twickenham away returning "sadder if not wiser men" after being "utterly routed" 6.5 to 3.5. But undaunted, on the 9th the "Brixtonians" first team played Ludgate Circus and "smote their enemies hip and thigh" and "completely swept them from the field....8 games to love" (and that would have been in the B-HT/Staunton).  

They smote their enemies in the Surrey Trophy as well, winning four years in succession 83/4 through to 88/9 (interrupted only by the above-mentioned blip in 87/8, when there was no competition). The "Brixtonians" were (pun alert! Victorian-style!) "regular bricks" - which we'll take as a compliment, thank you - according to the BCM of January 85 on the occasion of another smiting (6.5-1.5 v Kentish Town in the B-HT).
Brixton CC 
But the 84/5 Surrey Trophy was no such push-over. Brixton just edged out South Norwood with one game point separating them (New Cross and Bermondsey were "also rans"). Naturally South Norwood issued "a défi" over 20 boards, counting on strength in depth. Whatever the outcome, Brixton are recorded as the winners of the Trophy.

Lodged at 43,Vassall Road the Brixtonians indulged a taste for simuls: they played Zukertort blindfold in April 85 (mentioned last episode), perhaps hoping for better luck in a sans voir than they had against the sighted Herbert Jacobs - an amateur, unlike the pro Zukertort - in January that year. Over 8 boards against Jacobs, the Brixton team scraped only a win and a draw. Reporting his effort the BCM noted first that "simultaneous play is not to be monopolised by the professionals" and then, as if with applause, that "Mr Jacobs [had] made his first venture in this line, with a result on which he is to be congratulated" - his opponents were said to be "good second class". Young Herbert (he was 21) "much fatigued by the unusual nature of his exertions" lost only to Mr Balfour.

Herbert Levi Jacobs (b.1863), soon to make a name for himself on the national scene and not just in chess, does indeed give the impression of great energy and enthusiasm in this period, winning the Surrey Challenge several times in the 80s, though in 1886 it was claimed by Wyke Bayliss, artist and chess player, who - on this occasion - beat Herbert Jacobs to win the crown.
Wyke Bayliss
Herbert crops up frequently in the chess press as H. Jacobs, confusing your blogger no end as there was another H. Jacobs: his brother Harold Aflalo Jacobs (b.1864; as was the fashion he was blessed with his mother's maiden name). Herbert was Secretary of Croydon CC in 1884 (CPC), but was then definitely with Brixton CC in December 1885, throughout 1886, and beyond, for Surrey chess purposes anyway (for London chess he was with the City Club). Both Jacobs appear in a Brixton v South Norwood match as far down the track as January 1895 (in The Chess Monthly).

As with Wyke Bayliss, Herbert is a significant enough figure also to get his own dedicated episode later in this series, even if he was not an artist, but we'll give an early game of his now. Perhaps because of his earlier Croydon affiliation he turned up several times in the Croydon Guardian's chess column, which published this score on the 8th August 1884. Joseph Steele, the SCA's first president and the column's editor, introduced it thus:
"The highly classical game we give this week is the first of two forming the match by correspondence between Mr. Herbert Jacobs, of Croydon, and Mr. W. T. Pierce, of Brighton, the champions respectively of Surrey and Sussex. It is replete with instructive points."
The notes to the game are Mr Steele's, too.

Finally (though not done yet with the decade of the 80s) let's note, from the Chess Monthly in November 87, that Brixton Club HQ #3 was now 322 Brixton Road. Brixton CC was creeping south towards Brixton central, and for a few years they had rooms in what was, in 1888 and a few years beyond, the Central Office of the Brixton Liberal Association (according to Kelly's).

On the left is 322, Brixton Road as it was in 2012. On the right it is as it might have been a few years earlier, and in the more distant past, showing some interesting features and maybe some original ones too. Clearly it was in community service again quite recently, and it looks like there would have been room for chess - and more - a century or so ago. Although the building is now being redeveloped, and has acquired an extra storey, let's hope that some of the ground floor facade might remain.

Although a political party, the Liberals seemed to have been quite keen on chess. Peckham and Greenwich Liberals had teams, and there was a chess circle later at the National Liberal Club (mentioned in the BCM January 1901).  The poster below shows the Liberals then (1891), as now, providing some entertainment on the side.            

Posters and photos re No. 322 from here
And here is the sting the tail of this episode, and further evidence of the profusion, not to say confusion, of chess clubs in Brixton (as we have noted previously). What are we to make of this - apart from yet another simul - in The Chess Player's Chronicle of February 1889?
"Mr. I. Gunsberg paid a visit to the Brixton Liberal Club on Wednesday 20th inst. and played simultaneously against the members and friends of the Effra Chess Club which meets there. (Effra Road is well-known in downtown Brixton [MS]) Twenty players were opposed to Mr Gunsberg who, on this occasion gave additional proof of his powers of rapidly grasping the situations before him. Mr Munzing, the Vice-President of the club secured a win against the single player, while Mr Izard, the President of the Effra, and Mr Sargent, of the Brixton Club, drew. The other games were won by Mr.Gunsberg."  
Mr Izard had been with Endeavour back in the 1870s, then gone to Excelsior, and here he is with yet another outfit: Effra Chess Club, about which next to nothing else appears in the chess press. Mr Sargent, however, stayed loyal to Brixton, and we'll return to him in two weeks time - when Sargent majors.

Previous episodes 1. Earnest Endeavours2. Peyers You Go3.Onwards and Upwards.

This thread on the English Chess Forum, on the history of London League Chess Clubs, is worth a visit - if you've not seen it already and, after getting this far, you are a glutton for punishment.

Appendix 1 
Clubs represented at the meeting of Club Secretaries held at Oliphant's Café, 5, St. Bride Street, Ludgate Circus, on the 23rd September 1884, to discuss the draft rules of the Baldwin-Hoffer Trophy:  Athenaeum, Bermondsey, Brixton (late Endeavour), City of London, Croydon, Great Western, Greenwich, Kentish Town, Ibis, Isleworth, London and Westminster Bank, Ludgate Circus, North London, Railway Clearing House, St. John's Institute, South Hampstead, Twickenham, and Walthamstow.

The same meeting considered "revised rules" for the 1884-5 Staunton Medal competition (its fifth year according to the BCM), which "was open" to the following clubs: Alexandra, Athenaeum, Bermondsey, Brixton (late Endeavour), Excelsior, Greenwich, Ibis, Kentish Town, Ludgate Circus, North London, Railway Clearing House, Shaftesbury, and South Hampstead.

Source BCM October 1884.

Appendix 2
Baldwin-Hoffer and Staunton Medal tables for the 1884/5 season.
Tables for the 84/85 season from the BCM.

History Index


Richard James said...

Excellent news that Brixton's 2nd team was utterly routed by Twickenham. Quite right too! (We ought to discuss where your research touches on Twickenham/Richmond at some point.)

Martin Smith said...

Regular Bricks routed by Regular Twits, eh, Richard.

Richard James said...

If you'd been playing for Brixton and I'd been playing for Twickenham the result would have been different.

Martin Smith said...

Wise - but sadly 130 years too late.

Harold Crabchester said...

I witnessed the result and I can say with the artistry of a self proclaimed scribe that justice was served.
The players representing Twickenham exhibited heroic actions, only seen before in the trenches of a bygone era.
Tears of joy rolled down my aging cheek as I watched members of the Brixton team capitulate. The many pints of beer enhanced the emotional experience I had while watching these great warriors.
It was with great melancholy that I drove home following this wonderful match, so much was my desire to see it last forever. It will stay in my memory for eternity along with images of Albert Tatlock and other great visionaries....

Martin Smith said...

Better lay off the drinking horn, Harold.