Saturday, September 01, 2012

Streatham Strolls East

Strolls 1, 2 and 3 started this series by wandering around Streatham where we mapped the chess history of our neighbourhood following clues from Tim Harding’s Eminent Victorian Chess Players. Then for a couple of weeks Streatham Strolled In The Country and Continued, when we examined the chess talents or otherwise, and mostly otherwise, of the four Eminent Victorians written about by Lytton Strachey. You may remember that, in among all this, Stroll 3 offered an optional diversion to Lewisham and Ladywell. Well, this week we are going to take it. Streatham Strolls East.

We are going to look at some chess archaeology - of the Victorian kind, of course - which has only, in the last few weeks, been retrieved. A good place to meet is Ladywell station, near Lewisham, opened in 1857. It feels Victorian still; it's like stepping back in time...

It is a quarter of a mile to Brockley and Ladywell Cemetery, where we will be strolling. It's due west from the station along Ladywell Road, past the site of Ladywell Mineral Spring according to the plaque on number 148. The Lady Well, one supposes.

When we get there we’ll not surrender to the temptation of Victorian necrophilia. Not that they were into cadavers as such, only overwrought ritual and maudlin sentimentality attached to demise and departure. If you fancy picking over the bones, this article explains it all.

The Cemetery extends over the 37 acres you can see in this aerial shot, and decades of benign neglect have encouraged the growth of an uncommonly diverse plant and bird life along with the graves.
It is managed by Lewisham Council who cut the grass, where possible, and maintain the infrastructure, but its heritage and natural richness are mapped, researched and fostered by the Friends of the Brockley and Ladywell Cemetery, to whom this post – and chess history recovery - is indebted.

We haven’t got time to visit the graves of the many notable people who ended up here. Our chessic quest takes us to see just two, although you will need detailed instructions to find them in the overgrown and crowded confusion of the cemetery. These are in Appendix A. Please follow them should you fancy your own unaccompanied stroll. Remember, though, that the undergrowth runs untamed in many areas, and reclaims whatever is neglected, especially in high summer.

Our strolls (confined to the eastern half) begin at the eastern gate, the Ladywell entrance:

For our first expedition follow the shady perimeter path for about 200 yards around the north edge of the cemetery and you will get to the vicinity of the recently located grave of Joseph Henry Blackburne (1841 - 1924). He was buried there two years after his third wife Mary.

Here it is: cleared but time-worn on the left; on the right is the headstone (before clearance) flipped photographically upright to make it easier to read (click on to enlarge).

Blackburne is discussed at length by Tim Harding (ECVP Chapter 7) and Alan Smith on the Manchester Chess Federation site, so please refer to their authoritative accounts for full details of his life and chess.
Here are a just few snippets.

Blackburne was brought up in Manchester, learning the game at age 17, and (quoting from his obit in BCM) “in his 26th year he adopted chess as a means of livelihood”.
“The outstanding feature of Blackburne’s chess career was undoubtedly his tournament play; this began with a first place at Manchester early in 1862, and ended fifty-two years later at Chester in 1914 with a tie for first, truly an amazing record! None can ever have deserved so justly the title of “‘Prince of Tournament players.’”
His skills as a problemist were also lauded in the same issue of BCM, and he was an indefatigable simultaneous player (blindfold as well) – on one occasion he was plied with whiskey in the hope of blunting his judgement. Without dropping a stitch he polished off two bottles, and the opposition (AS).

Tim Harding suggests he might be considered to be of GM strength after Vienna 1873, in which he was second to Steinitz after a playoff. The tournament book dubbed him, unforgettably, “the iron Blackburne, the Black Death of chess players” (BCM 1974, and ECVPs).

He gives the impression of having a mercurial character; occasionally given to violent tactics (and that’s off the board) - allegedly. There seemed to be no love lost between him and Steinitz, as witness the latter's account of this fracas:
" Purssell's about 1867, in a dispute between us, he struck with his full fist into my eye, which he blackened and might have knocked out. And though he is a powerful man of very nearly twice my size who might have killed me with a few such strokes, I am proud to say that I had the courage of attempting to spit into his face, and only wish I had succeeded..."
Whatever you think of Steinitz's disregard for the Queensbury Rules, his splenetic tirade is worth reading in full: it's in EW CN 3195.

(Un)surprisingly, Blackburne's health was vulnerable, but the chess community rallied round several times to support him, assisting him in 1884 with a recuperative cruise to Australia (!). He evidently recovered his fighting spirit on board as he dealt, "as any Englishman would", with an abusive fellow passenger (CN 6437/OU), only to be sued (unjustly perhaps) for his troubles when he reached his destination.

The shock of a bomb detonation near his home in 1918, and the death of his third wife in 1922 hastened his end (BCM). He was a Lewisham man in last decades, and his obituary in The Kentish Mercury (see Appendix B) mentions that he was still giving local blindfold simuls just three or four years before his death. His last address was 50 Sandbrook Road near Lewisham town centre (EVCPs).

The obituary mentions that, as well as the local MP, a number of mourners from the chess world were present at his funeral, including the son of another, perhaps less eminent, Victorian chess player: Samuel Tinsley (1847-1903). And we'll go in search of him next as his is the second chess grave located recently by Geoffrey Thurley of the FoBLC.

Details of the route to Tinsley are also in Appendix A, but broadly from the Ladywell gate you follow the main thoroughfare through the cemetery to the respectfully managed Commonwealth War Grave, and then go on a bit to the inner path of the lowest quadrangle. See Appendix A also for a close up of the inscription on the headstone.

If Blackburne appears larger than life, then Tinsley comes across as a modest, and model, Victorian citizen: setting up in business; conscientiously editing his chess columns over a span of years; undemonstratively indulging his passion for chess; and devoting his spiritual energies to his church. The Chess Bouquet of 1897 says:
"The charming chess-column of the The Times (Weekly Edition) is well maintaining a high standard of excellence attained in the early day, and a few particulars of the chess work of its energetic editor will be read with interest by all devotees of chess... even disposition, a constant thirst for knowledge and experience of all sorts, and very temperate habits, have kept him ever with the desire to rise up and go forward."
Kind words - and not yet his obituary.

Born in 1847, he hailed from Hertfordshire, establishing a printing firm with two brothers. He learnt chess at 20, and in 1893 tied second after Blackburne in a tournament at Simpson’s Divan. His BCM obituary quotes a contemporary to the effect that Tinsley furnished “one of the few examples of a really strong player who obtained his strength during middle age. He was admittedly never quite in the first flight, but his games were always highly original and entertaining.”

Of an "even disposition" (as the Chess Bouquet put it) he may have been, yet able to stand on his dignity if need be, as when his chess column in The Kentish Times reported thus (23 January 1903)...
"...a curious incident has been the over-ruling of a decision on a difficult ending by the committee of the Kent County Association. This has led at once to Mr. Tinsley's resignation as official adjudicator."
The long notice in The Kentish Mercury (see Appendix B) a week after his death (with details of the inquest held following his collapse during a meeting at his Baptist Chapel) attests to his high regard in the community, there having been "a large congregation" at his funeral service, including members of the Bible class, the YMCA, the senior, junior and women's Christian Endeavour Societies, and so on and so forth.

The 1891 Census puts him at 71 Ennerdale Road, Lewisham, with his wife Sarah and their seven children, and in 1901 he was round the corner at 107 Gilmore Road, but now with three, the others having flown the nest. She lived on until 1925, and the age of 84.

Although a bit chalk and cheese, Blackburne and Tinsley would have known each other, and of course played each other, too. It would be nice to give a draw but I can’t find one, so as JHB was the stronger of the two here is a link to Tinsley fighting back against the Black Death only for the Iron One to stir himself and sneak a mating net around his opponent at move 38.

And with this final slice of Victorian chess history we finish this series of Streatham Strolls. (But see*)

Acknowledgments and sources.
As well as saying thanks again to Geoffrey Thurley (and Mike Guilfoyle) of FoBLC, mention should also be made of Jeroen Hoogenboom, who came over from Holland, and Percy of Lewisham Council, who both spent time this summer looking for Blackburne, without success. Geoffrey kindly let both Jeroen and I have photos of the graves immediately he had discovered them, although I have not used them in this post.

Photos/pictures: Ladywell Station past from Ideal Homes; Cemetery Maps from FoBLC, who also do guided tours of the graves, and nature trails; Blackburne is from Sargeant's A Century of British Chess; Samuel Tinsley is from the 1895 Hastings Tournament book - online at Chessville. All other photos by MS (others may be added later in the interests of clarity and legibility).

EVCPs: Eminent Victorian Chess Players. Tim Harding. McFarland &Co. 2012.
EW/CN:Edward Winter's Chess Notes (OU: Olimpiu Urcan) - some items available elsewhere e.g. in Chess Facts and Fables (2006). Chess Bouquet is on line here. Blackburne's obituary is in British Chess Magazine 1923 - 1932 An anthology (1986); BCM 1974 is an article "50 years ago Today" by R N Coles.

*For a continuation of the Tinsley story see a later post Streatham Strolls to Canada  

Appendix A - Finding the graves.

1. Blackburne
Inside the gate follow the northern perimeter path to the right, which follows Ivy Road on the other side of the wall. After 200 yards ignore the left turn and at the fork which follows after a few paces, stop. Now keeping right (keeping to the perimeter path) measure out 30 paces. On the left of the path is a large whitish monument to one John Hinder (faintly readable), it is on the left of the picture below - the view now facing into the cemetery - and JHB is behind the 15 foot high hawthorn tree on the right.

You take ten big paces at right angles to the main path, into the picture as it were. Then turn 90 degrees to your right, and under that very thorny hawthorn lie Joseph Blackburne and Mary.

The headstone lies flat so may be overgrown again when you get there, and the rest of the grave site may also have re-grown and be obscured.

2. Tinsley

Starting from the Ladywell entrance, go straight ahead to the white cross (see entrance picture above), then round via the chapel (over to your half-left) to the Commonwealth War Grave (photo below, top row). Standing at it, with its short side on your right, you see three paths. Ignore the curving path right, and the path left to the gated maintenance yard (not on map) - go ahead on the decaying metalled path counting 80 paces to a cross roads with grassy paths. On the back-left corner is a cross: "Thy Will Be Done" it says - a fine monument to the family of one Captain McKenzie; sadly, not the Scottish chess-player Captain Mackenzie (1837 - 1891)! Turn left on to a grassy path and go for the 16 paces possible to a T junction, where you seem to be surrounded by a host of angels (bottom left). Go right for 20 paces to Celtic cross on the corner as the path turns left (pic. bottom right). Tinsley's grave is actually at the back in this picture, but you need to go on just a bit further to access it.

So go on 10 paces and pick out the Johnson family headstone just off the path on the left (pic below, left). Behind it, six paces into the grass is Samuel Tinsley's dull-reddish headstone also standing upright. Geoffrey Thurley has cleared the stone, but time and ivy has taken their toll. Please don’t be tempted to tear more of the stuff away as it’s easy to damage the flaky sandstone – it’s best left to someone more practiced.

Appendix B - Obituaries from The Kentish Mercury. (Click on to enlarge)

1. Joseph Blackburne. 5 September 1924.

2. Samuel Tinsley. 6 March 1903.


Martin Smith said...

The inscription on the Tinsley headstone is illegible in the post (at 1 September). It reads:
Till He Come (At the very top)
In Loving Memory of
Born 13th January 1847
Died 26th February 1903
"The waters closed over him"
"Death to Sin"
"Life to Righteousness"
Also of Sarah Ann
Wife of the above
Called home July 26 1925
Aged 84
the lowest line is damaged and lost

Richard James said...

Many thanks, Martin. One correction: I think you mean Hastings 1895 tournament book, not London, for the Tinsley photo.

Martin Smith said...

Thanks Richard. I've corrected it in the post itself.

Martin Smith said...

Geoffrey Thurley has been in touch to say that the Lady Well had a location distinct from the Mineral Spring.
The Lady Well was situated under what is now the road bridge, adjacent to Lister House, in the station forecourt.
He says that the Ladywell Society is in the process of arranging for a plaque commemorating the Well which dried up in 1855 (he thinks) to be placed on a building close by.
Thanks Geoffrey.

Carolyn said...

I am the great great great granddaughter of Samuel Tinsley (He was my maternal Grandfather's Grandfather). I live in Ontario, Canada. My Grandparents immigrated here in early 1950's. Grandpa spoke of his Grandfather (Samuel) often. And my son loves to play chess and does quite well! I am thrilled to find this information and these photos! We plan to visit this cemetery on our next visit to the UK and now thanks to you - have wonderful directions. I am wondering if the text from his obituary could be forwarded to me as it is too blurry to read? Much appreciated! Thank you so very much for posting!

Martin Smith said...

Thanks Carolyn! Am in touch.