Saturday, June 21, 2014

Brixton Byways: 6. Men of Might

They Might or they Might Not: but hopefully all will be revealed as we continue to lay bare Brixton Chess Club's early history. Last time we featured John Sargent and his 28 moves of fame in 1891, and in this episode we continue through the final decade of the 19th century, at the end of which our time-line will more or less hit the buffers - but leaving a few tasty bits left to savour for a few episodes beyond.

So far we have watched Endeavour CC gradually evolve into Brixton CC; noted, in spite of a murmuring of nay-sayers, the let's-just-get-on-with-it birth of the Surrey County Chess Association; and the emergence, after a more protracted gestation, of the London League (about which there is still a bit more to say). We have also plotted the progressive migration, ever further south, of Brixton CC HQ eventually to the Bon Marché Restaurant, at 240-250 Ferndale Road around 1890; and also identified a surprising number chess associations in the Brixton area apart from Endeavour/Brixton, including one other (the Effra Chess Club) that, curiously, shared a few years earlier the very same venue as Brixton CC at 322 Brixton Road. 

In this episode we will continue to mine this rich - and sometimes confused - seam of chess club history as we dig deep into the 1890s.

Confused and confusing, not simply because of the mystery of "Effra CC " in 1889 (as we noted the end of episode 4), but also because of references to a "North Brixton" chess club in 1893 - the BCM gives two results for it in what appear to be local friendlies, duffing up Balham 7 v 2, and St. Paul's (Brixton, not Cathedral [from episode 3, and see note]) 8 v 0. Brixton CC proper was still then at its Bon Marché rooms, generously proportioned enough to host another simul by Henry Bird (he was living at nearby Upper Tooting at the time) over 16 boards losing to Messrs Britten, Neville and Weston, and drawing another two (London Standard 21 February 1893), and prestigious enough, one could imagine, to encourage the club to ask the Marquess of Carmarthen, the local Member of Parliament (Conservative) to honour it again as Club President (BCM).

Also known as George Osborne (yep) (1862-1927) the Marquess was to inherit his father's title as 10th Duke of Leeds causing his elevation to the Upper Chamber in 1895. The seat, covering North Brixton and parts of Stockwell, was to remain Tory (though the Liberals won it for a few years in 1906) up to the Labour landslide of 1945. It is now, in 2014, reorganised into the Vauxhall constituency and is solidly Labour. Times have changed.

The number of speeches in the House by the Marquess of Carmarthen during his tenure of the Brixton seat? None. (As recorded by Hansard.) A Man who Might, but Didn't.

The "Vice-commodore", aka 10th Duke of Leeds,
aka Marquess of Carmarthen, aka George Godolphin Osborne,
aka President of Brixton Chess Club.
From Vanity Fair 1906, by "Spry", aka Leslie Ward
(from here)   
The Marquess was supplanted as President in 1894 - a year of change for the Club, as we see in this report in November's BCM:
"North Brixton and Brixton Chess Clubs have united forces, the latter name being retained. The season of the united clubs was opened on 1st October by the AGM, which was well attended. Dr. R. Dunstan was elected as President for the year."  
And it also moved to "new and convenient quarters" (The Chess Monthly November 1894; this also made it to the Morning Post 8 October 94) a hundred yards further south: at 502a Brixton Road, at the Brixton Conservatoire of Music run under the disciplined baton of Miss Stocken, Directress, and Fritz Hartvigson, President (Kelly's). Thus we have segued to Brixton HQ #5. The building was later to be used as a Bank (again, according Kelly's). Today there are flats with a 502 address, and a bank at street level with number 504.  
They were up there, somewhere.
So, who was "North Brixton Chess Club", the other partner in the amalgamation? Perhaps the remnants of Excelsior from episode 3, or even the chess association at St. John's - it is not clear. Dr Dunstan, on the other hand, is better documented: in Surrey County matches and moving on to nearby Nightingale Lane Club sometime before 1901 (of which more when we get onto Sir Wyke Bayliss), and then to Plymouth as Devon Champion in 1911 and 1921.

Charles Vincent was now (we are still in 1894) Brixton Club Secretary, as shown by a piece in the BCM, although it reports not so much the goings-on in the club, as the Surrey County Chess Association, to which we now briefly turn our attention.

H. J. Osborne and Charles Vincent from Brixton had been elected on to the SCCA committee at the 1893 AGM, with the ever-dependable Captain Beaumont (South Norwood) as President, and Harold Jacobs from Brixton now Treasurer. The old chess mags invariably give a report of these AGMs every October. It was sometimes a cursory note, but other times more fulsome, as in 1894 when, in what must have been a slow news month, we read that Charles Vincent disputed Harold Jacobs' Treasurer's report. He hadn't, said Vincent, made financial allowance for the replacement of the Challenge Cup which had been won outright and therefore had to be replaced. Good spot - in which he was supported by Mr Ward.

Controversy! Not of de Mooigate proportions admittedly; but Jacobs and Vincent were both from Brixton CC, (as was Mr Ward, and with friends like that, etc. etc). But: Order! Order! "Upon the opinion of the meeting being obtained, it was found to be antagonistical to [Mr Vincent's] view, and in this opinion the chairman fully concurred." said the BCM report (penned, as it happened, by the deft chairman of the meeting: L.P.Rees). Thus was the Treasurer vindicated, and Harold Jacobs would be re-elected as SCCA treasurer over the next two years. But perhaps our account is a little unfair to the vigilant Mr Vincent: as we shall see in the next episode, chess clubs hereabouts were about to be given good cause for concern over the financial shenanigans of their officers.

At the board Brixton players were regulars in the county team, and the usual suspects turn out with great regularity throughout the decade - See Appendix 1 - in we should note the appearance of G.A.Felce, prefiguring the Brixton and Surrey scene in the C20th between the wars when a Vincent, too, appears in the County year book as Brixton CC Secretary.

However the most eye-catching Brixton contribution to SCCA was that of Bentley McLeod, a survivor from the early Endeavour days, and a permanent feature of the County side. He was elected County President in 1895 and 1896 - providing a respite for the indestructible Captain Beaumont ("A soldier and a gentleman" said the BCM) who was able to say of himself, in 1901, that he had been President for 12 of the SCCA's 18 years.

Whatever the financial fixations of certain members of Brixton CC, others were definitely taking the game seriously - seeking advice and encouragement where they may, as witness this in the Standard chess column of 13 July 1896.
"The following interesting game occurred at the Brixton Chess Club between two members. It was sent to us by the winner, with the request to withhold the names, his only object being 'to see our remarks on the game.' "
Here it is - with the original notes (but algebraic notation used where necessary to activate the game-player).

Who was the self-effacing Mr G? Perhaps Mr. W. Grasty, who, writing from the club's address, appears in the "Answers to Correspondents" section of the chess column of the Morning Post on 3 July 1899. He had successfully solved its chess problem (if I have interpreted it correctly). Or maybe it was one of two Mr. Greens in the Brixton CC team lists. But we may never know who the "talented conductor" was.    

The Club was to win the Surrey Trophy in 1896, and again in 98 and 99; and it was 1898 that was to be the club's annus mirabilus winning also the London League Division A. This was the season after it's promotion from Division B and the club began therefore with, by a rule of the time, a gratis one point head-start, and it was by this margin that Brixton sneaked ahead of Ludgate Circus (the previous season's winners)  in the final table (see Appendix 2) to steal the trophy, as the clip below registers.

Brixton's name on the London League Trophy 1897-8 (and underneath, by coincidence, 1932-3)
(Pic kindly provided by Brian Smith, Secretary of the LL - for which thanks)  
The culmination of Brixton's mighty effort to win the League was a narrow 11 v 9 victory over North London on the 29th March 1898, eternally inscribed in chess history by this epic poem by H. S. Swinburn Ward, which we give in full for your unalloyed pleasure.

Brixton v North London 
Final Match in "A" Division, played March 29th.         
'Oh! how our hearts were beating,' when, seated at each board,
We saw our rivals of the League, all met with one accord;
Behind embattled Pawns their Kings looked proudly o'er the field,
Foredoomed to death those Pawns - those Kings their royal crown to yield,
What though our gallant leader failed, as fail full well he might
Before a hero crowned with bays new won in cable fight, 
Of all the other games that day our losses were but four,
And bravely did the Brixton tail contribute to the score. 
Ho! players of the Circus! Ho! London 'West' and 'North';
Close, close your boards, disband your teams - the challenge cup bring forth;
Bring forth the cup that all may know the South has won the fight,
Then yield it up, a goblet meet for Brixton's men of might.
Ho! skilful clubmen of the League! Ho! problemists renowned!
See to it next year that you make your combinations sound;
The captured cup we'll strive to keep, yet deem our task not done
Till under one proud captain South London fight as one.
Then when North London gathers, where Atheneaum meets,
Where Ludgate, Ibis, and the "Met." perform their chessy feats,
Where the Spread Eagle screeches, where lofty towers crown
The peaks of smiling Sydenham, - where heights of Hampstead frown,
Yea! even at the "City," where Russell rules in fame,
Shall be great dread and fear wide-spread of Brixton's rising name.  

The "cable fight" reference must be, I think, to the 3rd Anglo-American match by cable of March 18 (5.5 v 4.5 to Team GB) and to H.J Trenchard of North London CC (I think), who beat Galbreath of the USA (Herbert Jacobs also played,and won, in the same cable match, but he played in the LL for the City of London CC ). Otherwise there are several hints in this stirring piece that the Brixton team had in its ranks players from other Surrey clubs (Swinburn Ward himself was with South Norwood for Surrey chess purposes), and that some thought that Surrey might do better if all its clubs rallied under one flag in the London League as "London South".

H. S. Swinburn Ward in BCM 1901
A Man who Might, and Did 

(and took on the bardic burden of this name )
The London League had, incidentally, adopted a new rule at the 10 May 1894 Annual Meeting: that...
"All League matches should be played at the rate of 24 moves per hour, and that any club may demand the use of clocks to be provided by the club making the demand...Clubs eligible [to play in the League - MS] should be that of the Metropolitan Police Area..."
...and in 1900 (BCM in October) there was a further development. A third Division had been added in 1897, but now there was the introduction of fourth "Early Hours" Division designed to cater for "those clubs connected with Banks, Insurance and Government Offices, and others, whose members wish to commence play early in the evening - at 6.00 pm", i.e. a more convenient time for those enjoying normal office hours (as we might call them). Teams included the London County Council, and the Local School Board. "The hour of play also suited the Ladies, (i.e. The Ladies Chess Club, to which we shall return - MS) and they have decided to compete in this Division". However, it would appear that this arrangement didn't survive for very long, being overtaken by an independent Civil Service and Municipal League in 1904. Another development had been the inauguration of an independent West End Business Houses League in January 1902, with such teams as "Kildare" and "Clarence" from Whiteleys and Maples stores respectively. This maybe a precursor to the modern-day, and now sadly shrunken, London Commercial League (inaugurated in 1924; you can see their history splendidly analysed here) one of the Leagues in which your blogger competes.   

In that poetic year of 1898, or maybe later in 1899 (in view of the club address given by Mr Grasty when submitting his problem solution mentioned above) Brixton CC once again was on the move, if less than another quarter of a mile further south, and renewing its acquaintance with the Liberal Party, this time at Raleigh Hall, Saltoun Road/Effra Road (HQ #6).
Raleigh Hall in 1969
Pic courtesy of  Landmark Lambeth, whose own caption reads:
"The former Liberal Club in Saltoun Road Brixton, was adapted from a pair of houses built c.1810. It became Brixton Chess Club from 1903-4 and then in 1914 the Brixton Christian Society."
This link shows it as the Brixton  Liberal Club in 1885.  
According to Kelly's the club was to remain there for a bit more than "1903-4", for much of the first decade of the C20th in fact, with what looks like a further removal in or around 1908/9 (according to Kelly's) to the Prince Regent Hotel, Dulwich Road, Herne Hill, with C.E.Vincent as Hon. Sec (and, as far as this series goes, that is the final HQ, #7).
The Prince Regent today
As we have now peeped into the new century we should just note that Brixton CC gave every sign of wishing to raise its game after a calamitous start, when they managed only 0.5 match points in Div A of the London League: Van Vliet was invited to the club to lecture on opening theory, and according to the BCM in 1901...
" his first address he laid stress on the importance of studying the openings, and gave some demonstrations of attack and defence, based on variations of the Max Lange Attack and the French Defence...[in] The second lecture...dealing with the Ruy Lopez...Mr. Van Vliet contended that to obtain an even game it is necessary to adopt Steinitz's move 3...P-Q3, or 3...P-QR3; and 4...Kt-KB3, followed by P-Q3 and P-QKt4, in reply to P-Q4, as played by Lasker against Janowski in Paris. Those who could not manage this kind of defence successfully he thought had better avoid the Lopez by means of the Petroff, Sicilian or French Defences."     
Queen Victoria passed her 60th anniversary on the throne in 1897, which occasioned a look back over chess during her reign in a long review article in the BCM of July that year; and she died in 1901 prompting appropriate solemnities in the chess press - and that, with the ending unchessically before the opening (of the C19th and C20th, respectively) brings us to the conclusion of our self-imposed Brixton CC time-line.

In the next episode we will double back and have a look at Streatham Chess Club, the other half of S&BCC.

On St. Paul's Cathedral Chess Club/Team: The Chess Player's Chronicle gives a venue for this at Wardrobe Place, which was part of the Doctor's Commons, which cropped up in our Every Picture... series episode 7. Apparently these old civil law buildings were demolished in 1857, but the precinct seems to have been devoted to legal and other professions, although a GPO telecomms building arrived in the early C20th. It seems possible that the chess club/team was not connected with the Cathedral as such, except by proximity. I noticed that where team lists were occasionally given, on top board the team had a Tinsley.   
Note added 11 July 2014:  For more on the history of the London League see Tim Harding's excellent recent article.    

Previous episodes: 1. Earnest Endeavours2. Peyers You Go3. Onwards And Upwards; 4. Regular Bricks; 5. Sargent Majors.                                                                                                                                                                          History index  

Thanks to James Toon for info on the Civil Service League, and Bill Linskey of the Brixton Society for the later Kelly's tips. Martin Cath, of South Norwood CC and the SCCA, has also been incredibly helpful with data on Brixton, and Streatham, CCs.

Appendix 1
The 1894-6 period all of the following from Brixton CC appear for Surrey in county matches: C.Britten, Dr. Dunstan, G.A.Felce, J. A. Green, A. Howell, H.A. Jacobs, H. L. Jacobs,  H. W.Johnson, R.A. Klein, A.Marfleet, B. McLeod, J. Sargent, R.A. Klein, T.C.Thatcher, C. A. Vincent. H.S.Ward, W. E. Vyse.

Appendix 2

Final cross table of London League Division A, 1897-98



Richard James said...

Coincidentally, perhaps, an article about Dr Dunstan was posted on Keverel Chess just three days ago.

Pity about this misspelling of Housman, though.

Martin Smith said...

Maybe not such a coincidence Richard, as I have recently been directing some inquiries in that direction on the subject of Dr.D. Perhaps he is emerging from obscurity at last.

Alas, no time to comment further as am in deepest Brittany and have other things on my mind!

Au revoir!

ejh said...

Funny the piece should mention both George Osborne and Vanity Fair. Thackeray's novel of the same name has two George Osbornes in it and the second receives a chess set as a present.

Joseph Skielnik said...

-Dec. 3 - Mr. Herbert Jacobs, a strong amateur from the Brixton Club and Surrey County champion played eighteen ladies simultaneously, winning 14, drawing 2, and losing 2.
Joe S

Martin Smith said...

Thanks Joe. There'll be an episode in this series devoted to Herbert Jacobs coming along in a few weeks time.