Saturday, April 26, 2014

Brixton Byways: 2. Peyers You Go

The first episode of this fortnightly history of Streatham and Brixton Chess Clubs explained that our earliest antecedent was the Endeavour Club of Brixton, emerging around 1870-ish in a boom period for London (i.e."metropolitan") chess clubs.

Of the many clubs mentioned last time most were conventionally named after locality or venue. But a few took a different tack: "Ibis" -  aka the Prudential Clerks Society - for example. The Society started out, so the Pru's official history says, with rowing (hence the wading bird thing). Cricket, and chess, arrived later. Endeavour and Ibis often played each other and were pretty evenly matched: for example, Endeavour losing 4 v 6 in 1874, but winning 7 v 5 the following year.      

Sadly not Endeavour HQ,
but the Prudential Insurance Company in Holborn,
home of Ibis - in 1879.
 The building is still there.
 (From here)
Any connection of the Brixton club with the Christian Endeavour movement seems doubtful, as far as I can see, as the latter only got off the ground, in Britain anyway, a decade later - but the club's name is clearly intended to be boldly aspirational, as befits the zeitgeist.

Endeavour HQ, at 138 Brixton Road, was at the northern end of the Brixton district, and as we investigate who was involved in the club, and who played for it, we will see (where identification is possible in the censuses) that they tended to live in north Brixton and its hinterland: Stockwell, Vauxhall, South Lambeth (that's Lambeth, looking across the Thames to Parliament, where - in the 1930s - the locals supposedly went about "Doing the Lambeth Walk"), Kennington and Camberwell.

The City of London Chess Magazine is very helpful in reporting the annual meeting of Endeavour at "their rooms" at 138, Brixton Road on the 23 January 1875. Mr George Thatcher was in the chair (in the 1871 census the Thatchers lived at 20 Thorne Road, Vauxhall; he was a solicitor, and at the AGM would have been aged 29). Mr F.H. Mitchell was elected President and I can't help hoping (because it hints at an exotic back-story) that he might have been the "disabled former mariner, now commercial traveller" in the 1881 census (living in Clayton Rd, Camberwell). Joint Secretaries were E. E. Peyer and W.N. Osborne; and other Committee members were Messrs Clayton, Königs, Pether, V.C. Peyer, Thatcher and J.Wilson. The results of the 1874 club tournament were also reported: Ist, V.C. Peyer; 2nd, R.J. Leigh and 3rd, Charles P. Kindell.

Now, this may seem all a bit dry and dusty - just names - but actually it opens a window on Endeavour in the 1870s, especially as the City of London Mag also reports (in a match context) that Messrs. Wilson and Königs were Endeavour's strongest players, and goes on to give the team lists for two contests in 1875, with these two gents on boards 1 and 2 (and apologies for the fuzz below).
Left: International v Endeavour 7 May 1875
Right:  Endeavour v City of London (Knight Class) 9 April 1875 
Note that Mr Muggeridge is neither on the committee, nor in the teams - even though the meeting was held in his residence (there's no gratitude); and nor do committee members Thatcher, Mitchell, Osborne, and Clayton get games above.

But the other Endeavour players? Well, notice also that the top six boards are the same in April and May: that's Königs down to McLeod. We'll have to take a rain-check (for now anyway) on Mr Königs on Board 1 - a nice chessy name, but with too many ways of misspelling to make research easy for the likes of your blogger; and we'll also pass over Mr. Keene on board 8, hard to resist though he is given ejh's dogged exposure of the journalistic practices of his modern-day namesake.

But McLeod (that's Bentley McLeod, aged already 31 in 1875) is worth keeping an eye on as we follow the Endeavour/Brixton story. The same surname also crops up in connection with the City of London Chess Club in 1874, when a McLeod takes part in a 24 board simul given by Potter. And we'll come across another Endeavour player in an 1875 CLCC simul below - which suggests that some of the Brixton boys had wider chess horizons and were evidently taking the game seriously. They may also have brought Endeavour to Potter's notice: he an important chap at the CLCC, and as a South London man himself - his obit in the British Chess Magazine in 1895 points out that his middle name was "Norwood" (two miles south of Brixton) and he died in Sutton (eight miles south west) - he may thus have had a fellow feeling for the young turks of 138, Brixton Road.

Let's pause a while, though, in the company of the Reverend Henry Jones Alcock who, on the bottom boards, drew twice with Anton Rosenbaum from the City Club in April 1875, an achievement which, alas, didn't earn him inclusion in the latter's mass portrait painting of 47 chess gents upon which he would have been working at the time (it has been discussed on this blog at length, starting here). Nor, incidentally, does he get a mention in Batgirl's listing of almost 30 chess-Revs., but then his star blazed but briefly in the chess firmament. He was (according to Crockford's) a curate at another soaring Victorian-Gothic edifice, the church of St. Michael, Stockwell (round the corner from No. 138) from 1872 to 1878; that is after good works in Sierra Leone, and among the water-men on the Thames, before Stockwell; thereafter moving on to Cork, Lincolnshire and eventually Victoria in Australia. Verily was the Reverend Alcock a man on a global mission. He even gets a mention in the History of the Parish St. Michael Stockwell  (1989) by the Revd. Tony Lucas.
St.Michael, Stockwell, built 1840-41,
plus period-looking street lamp, in 2014.
In 1877, says the History, there was a sudden collapse in attendance at the church for reasons not entirely clear: Stockwell falling out of fashion as a 'must have' address is one suggestion; the departure of the popular Revd. Thompson to pastures new, another; or then again a supposed suicide - beside (perhaps pointedly) the altar - which surely would have spooked the sensitive souls of Stockwell and North Brixton. Nothing conclusive though, and at least no one is pointing the finger at the Revd. Alcock for impiously preaching chess-play as the path to salvation.

As for the eye-catching Peyer brothers (sometimes given as 'de Peyer'): there was (so the genealogy websites tell us) a Vincent Conrad Peyer (the youngest, born in 1854), then the slightly older Everard Charles (born 1852), and Ernest Edward, the eldest, born in 1851. In 1875, as we have seen, Ernest was elected (again) as club Secretary, with his two brothers also on the committee. It is maybe telling, from the social history point of view, that in the 1871 census all the Peyer lads were described as "commercial clerks" and even the father, Charles, (born it says in Switzerland, hence at some stage an incomer) was in the same line when nearly 50 years old. Even in 1901, and then himself aged 49, Ernest remained a "Clerk", at the Stock Exchange, and is thus categorised by the census as a "worker".

Part of the union. In 1909 - when it was a man's world.
(from here)
Compared with the gents of the City Club, chess in Brixton had, on this evidence anyway, a lower middle/upper working class following (saving your Reverend, of course), as Potter had celebrated in his mag. The Peyers, incidentally, had addresses in Camberwell, not too far from the top end of the Brixton Road, and number 138.

Of the three bothers, young Vincent may have been the strongest chess-wise as he won the 1874 club tournament, and played higher up in the matches listed above. And remarkably we even have one of his games which he played in a blindfold simul given by Blackburne at the City of London CC on 21st April 1875. When reporting the event, the CLC Mag says Blackburne was "in his best form, and some fine games were the result"; and it also indicates that this Peyer - V.C. - may have been, at the time, a member of CLCC.

The game turns up in Chess Sparks (1895) by J.H.Ellis. Unfortunately Vincent lost. But he secured for himself a place in posterity by selflessly marching his King into the oncoming attack so as to set up a coup de theâtre for "The Black Death" - blindfold, remember - to announce, at move 21, mate in 4. Close your eyes when you get there and see if you can do it (though Blackburne played the whole game, and several others, in his mind's eye).

Forgive me if I mention Anton Rosenbaum again: he played in the same simul, and won. Getting back to Endeavour: Ernest Edward Peyer, still only in his early twenties, was the club's highly effective secretary, as he probably had been from 1870/1, judging from the following report in the City Mag in late 1875: 
"We are sorry to hear that this creditably militant and flourishing Association is to lose the services of its energetic Honorary Secretary Mr E.E. Peyer. He has held that office for four years [i.e. putting the origin of Endeavour back at least to 1870/1 - MS] and to his vigour is owing the fact that from a small body which could only send three weak players into the field to contest a match, the Endeavour has acquired its present reputation both for the success which generally attends its battles, and the cohort of skilful players to which that success is due. For a flourishing Club to lose its Secretary is like a victorious army deprived of the able commander in which is trusted. However, Mr Peyer has well deserved the repose which he feels himself called upon to claim, and we hope the inheritor of his shoes will tread in his footsteps."      
So big boots to fill then, even if worn by one so young, and a huge challenge for Endeavour to meet. But no prizes for guessing why the "able commander" stood down from his post (even if he actually played in another match in December) - he got married, of course, (with all its consequences) on 9 November 1875: to Miss Ellen Parkin. She was, so the marriage certificate says, a minor, and Ernest would thus have needed to get her father's express permission, and, when you see the date of the birth of their baby daughter, Nella Lilian Edith Peyer, on the 21st December 1875, one imagines that Ernest got a lot more besides.

For the club to lose its lynchpin secretary when it was doing so well was bad enough, but an even bigger tragedy was to follow: a blow not for chess, but for the spirit. On the 9th January 1876 Ellen died from complications with the birth which was, as per the norm, a home delivery. Thus Nella lost the mother she never knew, and Earnest was a widower at 24.

Ellen succumbed, says her death certificate, to "Child birth Septicemia, Thrombosis and Embolism".

1 in 20 births (but see comments below-MS) resulted in a maternal death in Victorian England, and it remained so well in to the 20th Century: a shocking statistic not put right until WW2, the NHS, etc.

Maternal deaths per 1000 births 1850 -1970 (JRSM)
We find Ernest five years later in the 1881 census living with his sister Ellen and her husband - still in Camberwell, and now a "commercial traveller". Then ten years later again, now age 39, he is living with Isabella de Peyer, his second wife (one supposes) aged 29, and 15 year-old Nella, his daughter. But he never re-appears in the story of Brixton chess.  

I hope we have not strayed to far into the realm of "Who Do You Think You Are?and away from the fortunes of Brixton's chess clubs. In two weeks time, after these first two episodes exploring the initial few years of its inception, we continue to follow Endeavour-cum-Brixton, upwards and onwards, towards the end of the century. 

Sources not given so far in the series  
The Chess Player's Chronicle  New series. Edited by C. E. Ranken, etc. vol. 1-16. Jan. 1877-March, 1900. With special thanks to Mike Gunn, President of SCCA, for loan of Vols VII and IX.

Previously in Brixton Byways: 
1. Earnest Endeavours

And see the History Index for links to all subsequent episodes.                 


Richard James said...

Everard Charles de Peyer had a son with the extraordinary name Everard Esme Vivian de Peyer.

Everard EV had three children, Gervase, one of the leading clarinet players of his generation, Deirdre, an actress and Adrian, an opera singer.

You can hear Gervase playing Wolfgang at

Adrian's son Nicholas is a strong, but not currently active chess player.

His last grade, in 1999, was 179.

Martin Smith said...

Thanks Richard.

Anonymous said...

I made, or thought I made, a post here a few days ago. It wasn't offensive or anything, so I must have screwed it up. Please confirm!

Jonathan B said...

Hello Anonymous.

I’m not aware of any post being deleted from this thread. I’m not the only person who mods the comments but if there was no reason to bin it then it wouldn’t have been. I can only assume that there was a problem in transmission.

please do have another go.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, it must have been the text confirmation thingy that tripped me up.

I only wanted to point out that the claim that 4-5% of UK births resulted in maternal death before WW1 has to be wrong. The average mother had 4-5 kids in that era, meaning that the death rate for childbearing women would've been in the order of 15-20%, which is impossibly high.

It's possible the graphic you referenced confused the maternal mortality ratio and rate.

Martin Smith said...

Thanks Anonymous for your comment, and your perseverance in posting it.

The graph in the post is "Figure 1" in the text below (quoted from the original article), and I have italicised its legend:

"Figure 1 records maternal death rates (or, to be more mathematically correct, ratios) from 1850 until 1970. There was a period of irregular but general steady maternal death rates until about 1900. These then dipped slightly till the First World War and continued so till the late 1930s. Then a sudden precipitous reduction in maternal deaths occurred which could not be due to any natural factors involved in death. It was, in fact, due to the overcoming of maternal infection by chemotherapy and antibiotics.

Figure 1

Annual death rate per 1000 total births from maternal mortality in England and Wales (1850-1970) (Registrar General Reports)

The Four Horsemen of Death in maternal mortality were puerperal pyrexia, haemorrhage, convulsions and illegal abortion. They still are—in various proportions—major killers in most of the world, although their effects are greatly reduced in the UK now."

Anonymous said...

What I'm saying is that the reference is wrong, not that you've misquoted or misunderstood it.

Maternal mortality ratios are usually quoted per 100,000 live births. 5% equates to 5,000. The current rate in the UK is about 8, or over six hundred times lower. The worst figure in the world is currently Afghanistan's, estimated at 1,500. The notion that the UK's until WW1 could have been of the order of three times as bad (and 10x as bad as most Third World countries) is incredible.

In short, I think your figures are ten times too high. So it was 1 in 200, not 1 in 20 births that resulted in maternal death.

Martin Smith said...

Thanks Anon. I have put a note in the post referencing your comment.