Saturday, October 15, 2011

Frideswide And Reggie's Charming

Back at the beginning of September we added Robert Coombes to the list of noteworthy Broadmoor chessers: Richard Dadd, Edward Oxford, and Reginald Saunderson. And a few days ago I hinted we'd reprise Reginald Saunderson, so here goes (we’ll add a new name or two next time).

But before we go any further we’ll take a short detour and visit Dublin and its environs. We can get an unexpected insight into Broadmoor chess from this unlikely vantage point, and we will do so in the company of the redoubtable Mrs Thomas Rowland (1843 [or 1851, see note] -1919).

It’s a fair bet you’ve never heard of her (nor I, till quite recently). She deserves better, being, as she was, a capable though not top-flight player and most obviously a woman in the world of late 19th and early 20th century Anglo-Irish chess.

Née Frideswide Fanny Beechey, her grandfather was the Royal Academician Sir William Beechey (1753-1839) who your two Thomas Leeming sleuths once briefly suspected was TL's mentor, and you can see the stylistic similarity here and here, perhaps.

But you may wonder how Sir William found time to paint at all, given he was so busy fathering 21 children - 21! One of them, Richard Brydges Beechey (he too was to become an artist), was Frideswide's father. Sir William sired five children by his first wife, and with his second Richard came out as number 9 - though by then Sir W. had probably lost count.

The artistic touch was with Frideswide as well; she did floral watercolours. She was also Irish women’s chess champion, a problemista of considerable talent….

…..and a serial chess columnist.

Just look at her form: she had a hand (or two) in columns in the Mail and Warder, Cork Weekly News, Irish Figaro, Irish Fireside, Kingstown Monthly, Kingstown Society, The Visitor, and The Irish Times. That’s as well as writing a couple of problem books - the delightfully titled "Chess Blossoms" (1883), depicted above, and "Chess Fruits" (1884) - and a biography cum game collection of W.H.K. Pollock (1889), and more.

From 1905 to 1914 she also edited, sometimes jointly with her husband, a slim chess magazine "The Four-Leaved Shamrock" whereby she kept up her pretty line in botanically inclined titles.

The Four-Leaved Shamrock displays its USP

In those days before partition the whole of Ireland was part of the United Kingdom and Dún Laoghaire, a few miles to the south of Dublin, was patriotically known as the above-mentioned “Kingstown” (reverting back in 1921 to the Gaelic); it had an active chess scene centred on the Rowlands. In the summer of 1911, to capture the national mood, they loyally produced a souvenir cover to celebrate the coronation of George V.

You can see that it featured a specially composed problem with a regal arrangement of the pieces. I'll leave you to find the key move, though it will inspire none but the most rabid monarchist to grab the bunting, rush into the street and party.

The King's Crown by T.R.D.
White to play and mate in two moves

So to get to the Broadmoor connection: here are the first two paragraphs of a piece written by Mrs Rowland herself in the June 1911 number. From its base near Dublin The Four-Leaved Shamrock found its way into some surprising corners.


Passing a new agency a few days ago I was arrested by a poster with the heading of BROADMOOR, and my thoughts wandered back to the year 1903, when a match England v Ireland was being organised, and the chess paper having got inside the precincts of Broadmoor, many of the inmates enthusiastically entered the lists - some on the English side and some on the Irish. The first win was scored to "Broadmoor", and his opponent was a champion of an English county, and this is how he won. Broadmoor was white and he started 1 PK4, and sent a number of conditional moves, to which the champion unwaringly agreed. Then came the second instalment with more conditional moves, also agreed to. Alas too late the champion discovered that his game was hopeless, and resigned on the 25th move!!
Very good problems were sent to me occasionally, and one of the Irish inmates was so keen on correspondence play that he carried on 71 games simultaneously, very few, if any, of his opponents being aware of his detention. He was a bright, pleasant correspondent and a strong player, and for a couple of years sent me each season tin boxes of beautiful strawberries by post. But the excitement of too much chess proved fatal to its continuance. Suddenly all communication ceased, and I afterwards heard that the management had to curtail the play, for on dull damp days when they could not get out, the chess proved too exciting and the results were not satisfactory.


Mrs Rowland reminisced?

And who could that “bright, pleasant correspondent” have been, that strawberry charmer who played wittily on the lady's "Chess Fruits", that obsessive poor-weather chesser who tested the Asylum's regime to the limit?

How about another wager: it was Reginald Treherne-Bassett Saunderson, whose last taste of freedom was in Dublin’s fair city itself, where he fled after his murderous episode in 1894.

And just a last curiosity from the 1903 England - Ireland correspondence match (in which Frideswide, on board 48, beat the Reverend Robert Bee - she reports the detail in her Irish Times column of 7 May 1904) which owed everything to the Rowlands' organising zeal. Board 25 for Ireland was one Charles Heaviside (who beat an Arthur Schoinberg). Whether or not he was the brother of the scientist Oliver is unclear, but he is interesting in his own right for also being an inmate: of Richmond District Asylum, Dublin.

Acknowledgment and notes
Again, thanks to Dr Tim Harding for his generous leads on The Four-Leaved Shamrock and Broadmoor. He also provided the Heaviside detail. See his page for Irish chess mags. etc.
The British Library has an almost complete set of TFLS.
For more on the Rowlands see this excellent blog, from which the second Frideswide photo comes (if indeed it is she). There are two different dates on the web for her birth. While it seems indelicate to probe such a matter concerning a lady, if a proper historian could put us right it would be appreciated.
As usual, all the inevitable errors are my responsibility.

Here is the last part of Mrs Rowland's June 1911 article.
"The articles in "Answers" are exceedingly interesting, and perhaps later on the writer may tell us something about "Chess at Broadmoor." He says, "Probably in no other institution of its kind in the world does one meet with such interesting characters as in Broadmoor." Here is an extract from the second instalment: "The man with the snow white beard and hair is not yet fifty, but for the last ten years he has been an inmate of this institution, winning the respect of all with whom he comes in contact. He is detained during the Sovereign's pleasure because in a fit of madness he shot his aunt. He has a comfortable income, writes regularly for many of the high-class magazines, and even the editors do not know that the brilliant contributions they receive from this man are penned in Broadmoor."
How To Beat Your Dadd At Chess
Dadd, Oxford. Saunderson. Who's next?

Note added 9 July 2012. Dr Harding confirms that Mrs. Rowland's birthdate was March 18 1845, as Richard James states in the first comment below. He also confirms that it is she in the pictures above.


Richard James said...

Many thanks for yet another fascinating post, Martin. Frideswide appears in Devon in the 1861 census 'aged 15' and in the 1881 census 'aged 30'. Fredeswide (sic) Frances Beechey was baptised in 1845 in Co. Galway according to a record on the RootsIreland website. I don't have any credits available to check the details. So it seems a reasonable guess that she was born in 1845 and that the age given in the 1881 census is incorrect.

Several trees on date her marriage to Thomas Benjamin Rowland as 1863 but the records confirm that they married in Dublin North in 1884. There is, of course, a lot of junk copied from one tree to another on these sites.

By the way, the Wikipedia entry on Sir William Beechey seems dodgy - his second wife was born in 1764 but they apparently had their last child in 1822 when she would have been 57/58. Should we believe this?

Looking forward to more from Broadmoor.

Martin Smith said...

Thanks Richard for putting the record straight(ish) on the delicate subject the Mrs R's age. Looks like the birth year of 1843 was closer than 1851, but maybe not close enough. The marriage date is interesting. If you are right then she was maybe already around 40, which sounds late. They had a daughter, I think.

It would be nice to know that Sir William allowed the 2nd Mrs B a respite from his attentions in her later years.

Yes, more from Broadmoor to follow.

Richard James said...

The 1901 census gives Thomas, Frideswide and Frideswide A B Rowland living in Dublin. It costs 5 euros to get any further information (this is only on RootsIreland, not on ancestry - I can find nothing in the birth records or in any family trees on But it seems reasonable to assume that Frideswide A B was their daughter.

ejh said...

Has anybody checked the veracity of any of the good lady's stories?

Anonymous said...

1. Bf5 for the problemette. Straightforward once you realise the need to provide for 1. ... Re6, all other moves being covered already.

Martin Smith said...

One of my projects, ejh, is to check the list of players in the 1903 match against the Broadmoor admissions records held at Reading. As for the strawberries, I suspect Frideswide dumped the evidence.

hylen said...

A bit off-topic, but I note that the Oct. 14 issue of the Times Literary Supplement has a review of "Richard Dadd: The artist and the asylum." Not readily available online.

Martin Smith said...

Thanks hylen. The Tromans book, to which you refer, makes two interesting comments in connection with The Child's Problem:

(i) it is "original and difficult to interpret", and is one of "several works [that] include children or youths shown halfway between naughtiness and malevolence, possibly indicating something of Dadd's sense of how he was perceived by [Doctor] Hood" (p 114)

(ii) "[The act of] Painting may have felt to Dadd like the experience of playing chess with oneself, as represented in The Child's Problem." (p 123)

That second point, about what the painting supposedly represents, is maybe over-reaching things a bit.