Saturday, May 10, 2014

Brixton Byways: 3. Onwards And Upwards

In the first two episodes of this chronicle (here and here) of Brixton's chess times past we investigated the fortunes of the Endeavour Club (the ancient forerunner of S&BCC) in the decade of the 1870s up to the tragedy that befell Ernest Peyer (the club's secretary) and his young wife Ellen in 1875/6. This sad business happened to coincide with the closure of the City of London Chess Magazine in early 76, William Norwood Potter having already stepped down as its editor one issue before curtains.

The lady succumbed in childbirth, Endeavour lost an able secretary, and the club a vocal supporter ("Endeavour CC always merits our attention" wrote Potter): a double and triple whammy after which it is difficult to know whether, in the few years following, the club disappeared altogether, or was merely lost to view. However Leonard Rees, who was shortly to become the first Secretary of the Surrey County Chess Association, made a significant remark in a letter to the Croydon Guardian in July 1883 - and reproduced in The Chess Player's Chronicle in August. He said, when proposing a Surrey Chess Association (with italics added): "holding a prominent position among the town clubs of Surrey, [is] the "Endeavour" of North Brixton, established on a new basis in 1879....".

Whether it collapsed, or was just forgotten, or even a bit of both, we can, after the renaissance of 79, pick up the Endeavour trail again in the early 1880s; and in this episode, with two games near the end, we will follow it into the middle of that decade. Before we do, however, we need to go east a bit, to Endeavour's next door neighbour, where we will find a suggestive clue as to what might have happened to the men of Endeavour in the dark years of 76 through to the post-79 revival.

Of Endeavour's many metropolitan rivals, one was to be found nearby just a mile or so away in the adjacent Borough of Camberwell. "Excelsior" (which had "existed in a flourishing condition since 1872" said Rees in the same letter) was another club sharing the Brixtonian taste for an inspirational title, though perhaps the chosen moniker had more resonance back then. The exhortation "Excelsior!" derives from a Henry "Hiawatha" Longfellow poem of 1841 - a modern rendering may be "onwards and upwards" - and was the spirited rallying call of the doughty hero of the first stanza: The shades of night were falling fast,/As through an Alpine village passed /A youth, who bore, 'mid snow and ice, /A banner with the strange device,/Excelsior! 

Also available in music (1909). 
(From here )
Today's chess problem afficionados - they were so much more popular in the Victorian era - will also know of "Excelsior" as a theme popularised by Sam Loyd, though originated in problem form by Robert B.Wormald (who, coincidentally, lived in Angell Road, North Brixton - did he directly inspire the club name, I wonder) and published in 1857 in the Illustrated London News (according to this Chessbase article from 2013 by David Friedgood, joint author of a recent book that bids to re-invigorate a long-flagging interest in the genre). In the Excelsior theme a tenacious pawn travels onwards and upwards the length of the board to give mate. Here is the original for you to get your teeth into.

Robert B Wormald - Mate in 5
Illustrated London News 1857 [David Friedgood]

Endeavour would have played Excelsior many times in the early 70s as the two clubs engaged in neighbourly jousting - although the few published results in the City of London Mag show Endeavour winning by large margins. Consequent on Endeavour's woes, Excelsior might surely have been delighted (discreetly, of course) if it had picked up some of its members (but please don't say "poached" - it just isn't cricket).

Messrs Izard, Kindell, McLeod and Wilson, who we saw playing for Endeavour in the mid-1870s, can all be found in team lists for Excelsior in late 1879, 1880 and 1881. We should also mention Mr A.C. Nursey from teams in 79 and 81 who crops up again later in this episode. Who he? If I've read the censuses right: Bentley McLeod's brother-in-law to be, that's who - living at 51 Holland Road, Stockwell in 1881, along with Bentley, and Bentley's cousin Ellen. That's Ellen, who he (Bentley) was to marry in 1884. It's a recurring leitmotif: chess in Brixton as a family affair (and family affairs among chessers in Brixton?). Anyway, if Queen Victoria could marry her first cousin, why couldn't her subjects? Mr Kindell also puts in an appearance in 1882 for the Railways Clearing House, another established team, and will have a long association with them. These team lists, incidentally, were all in The Chess Monthly - the new chess magazine from late 1879, edited by Leopold Hoffer and Johannes Zukertort. With such a haemorrhage of talent, Endeavour, if it still existed at all, would have been going less on and up than back and down.

It seems, though, that in the new decade of the 80s the Phoenix was rising from the ashes, and Endeavour reappears in print, for example in The Chess Monthly, which reports it contesting a match in October 82 against Greenwich, fielding a team of some now familiar, and yet some unfamiliar, names: Messrs McDonald, W. Osborne, A. Osborne, Sargeant (sic), Clayton, Bartlett and Thatchers (sic) - they lost 2-5. Of the new names, we will meet Mr Sargent again in episode 5, including for his 15 minutes of fame in 1891; but of the old there are two names that imply continuity amid the flux: W. Osborne had been elected joint secretary (with E.E. Peyer) of Endeavour in 1875, and Mr. Thomas C Thatcher (without the typo 's') was the brother (less likely to have been the father, who had the same name) of George Thatcher. You'll remember George. He was the chair of the Endeavour committee meeting in 1875 where we started this series. And talking of brothers: there seemed to be three Osbornes  - an 'E' joined the 'W' and the 'A' in the side that beat Ibis on 26 October that same year (they all won).

So, Endeavour seemed to be getting back on its feet, and we can trace its steps in occasional reports in The Chess Monthly: here, in December 83 (losing, badly, away to North London, 2-7; and to Greenwich 3-4); and there, in April 1884, when North London came south to play at "Vassall Road, North Brixton", and to deliver another thumping (2.5-7.5).  But it is The Chess Player's Chronicle that really puts Endeavour back on the map with regular reports, especially throughout 83/4, of its matches at home at 43, Vassall Road, and away. These include team lists (which will summarised, for the record, at the end of this series) that itemise just about 40 different players in the Brixton/Endeavour teams (including second teams) in the early 80s.        

43, Vassall Road, was where Brixton CC now had its "club room" - a designation used by The Chess Player's Chronicle (Jan 84) - meeting every Monday and Thursday at 7.00pm (CPC Oct 83). It was the address of the Christ Church Young Men's Society (according to the local Kelly's Directory). Thus we have, after 138, Brixton Road in episode 1, logged Endeavour/Brixton CC's second HQ - perhaps it had been its base since the renaissance of 1879.

Vassall Road, looking east in 1905. (from here)
No 43 (Brixton CC's 2nd address)  would have been on the left  

(though perhaps behind the camera).
The whole terrace is now replaced by a modern social housing redevelopment.
All in the shadow of the Victorian-Gothic masterpiece that looms in the background above:

St John the Divine, Vassall Road, North Brixton. 
Designed by George Edmund Street in 1870-4,
 "one of the best Victorian churches in south London" (Pevsner).

© Copyright Stephen Richards and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
And like that street scene above, the chess scene looks a bit a murky, too: clock the following in the Chess Monthly of February 84:

Which shows that there was yet another chess outfit in North Brixton - at St.John's, Foxley Road (round the corner, but a quarter of a mile from 43, Vassall Road). Again Kelly's helps us out: this was the St.John's Institute, No 19 Foxley Road; Secretary, Alfred Young. And the Chess Player's Chronicle confirms this. No.19 no longer stands, but originally it was "a three-storey stucco-fronted house with a flat pediment carried on consoles over the architrave-lined central entrance” (according to The Survey of London (Vol. XXVI 1956)). But was St.John's really up against "St.Paul's Cathedral"? The big one with the dome? Did the C of E high command really field a chess team? To get their bishops out? Yes, apparently so. And (according to the CPC again) their home venue was, appropriately enough, 6, Wadrobe Place.

As if to add to the busyness of the chess scene in this corner of London S.W., the local Ordnance Survey map of Brixton shows a St.Paul's Church off Acre Lane in downtown Brixton, and St Paul's, Brixton crops up, even as late 1900, in the 'C' Division of the soon to arrive London League. Moreover the Christ Church Youth Institute itself ran a team that played, among others, the Endeavour 2nd team. In fact Endeavour also used the CCYM's "Parochial Rooms" in Cancell Road - adjacent to Vassall Road -  for chess events, as will be seen further down. And to cap it all there was yet another: the St. Matthew Institute Chess Club in Camberwell (though I haven't pinned down its precise location). This map shows some of the addresses.
1888 map of Victorian London showing:
HQ1 - Endeavour HQ c 1870-6 @ 138, Brixton Road; HQ2 - Endeavour HQ c 1883 @ Church Institute  43, Vassall Road.;
St. J's - St. John's Institute @ 19, Foxley Road.; Par Rms - Church Institute Parochial Rooms, Cancell Road;
St J Divine - St. John the Divine; Rev Alcock's church - St. Michael, Stockwell Park Road (see episode 2).
(Map adapted from 1888 Ordnance Survey, given in The A to Z of Victorian London  Harry Margery 1987)  
We should pull back briefly at this point and put the Endeavour/Brixton resurgence in a wider context, noting in passing that "Excelsior" had as good as disappeared from the record: there are no match results in CPC for 83/4 (although there is a reference to it in the BCM, playing St.John's - and losing - in late 1884, when it also turned up at a meeting of metropolitan CC secretaries).

Firstly, the Surrey Chess Association - as we shall see in ensuing episodes, "Brixton (late Endeavour)" figures prominently in Surrey chess - was constituted in 1883, when its first president was Joseph Steele of Croydon CC. Mr Steele gets a mention here for his weekly chess column in the Croydon Guardian - until it fizzled out in mid 1885 - and thanks to him we will get some chess in this post. His column was, said the BCM, more or less the official bulletin of the SCCA. Secondly, as the British Chess Magazine reported, a meeting in September 1884 of 18 metropolitan clubs, including "Brixton (late Endeavour)" and "St. John's Institute", supported the creation of a Baldwin-Hoffer Trophy competition, a precursor to the London League, that which we touched on above and which emerged a few years later. We'll return next episode to the SCA, the B-HT, and eventually to the LL.

Thus there was a more organised framework for inter-club chess, there were trophies to be won, and "Endeavour (of North Brixton)" or "Brixton (late Endeavour)" was now well on the way to becoming known as "Brixton", pure and simple, consistent with other clubs in the new competitions who identified themselves by home locality; and in 1884 and on into 1885 "Brixton" was motoring, with Thomas Thatcher (in The Chess Monthly of April 1885) reporting that in the season just ended Brixton had played 21 matches, winning 13, losing 6, and drawing 2. This would have included its campaign in the Baldwin-Hoffer Trophy.

As if to celebrate, Blackburne was invited to give a blindfold simul in 7th January 84 (scheduled for the "Parochial Room, Cancell Road"), but it was postponed to the 28th because of his ill-health and eventually abandoned - to be replaced with a "smoking concert" (music, chat, smoking - strictly men only) at the Landor Hotel, Landor Road, Stockwell, at which "a room will be appropriated to those who may wish to play chess" (CPC Jan 84).
1870 Wood Engraving of a Smoking Concert,
given by The Wandering Minstrels.
(From here)  
In April of the following year, 1885, Johannes Zukertort, no less, came down to Brixton (not far if he was living up at Walworth, just a mile or so away, at the time) to give an eight-board blindfold simul, lasting 3 hours and 40 minutes (losing to Messrs Nursey and Sargeant (sic); drawing with McLeod; beating Wilson; 4 unfinished - as reported in The Chess Monthly). You'll notice that Nursey, Mcleod and Wilson have all now returned from Excelsior. Yes, something was definitely going on in SW2.

While we are in early 1885 a snippet from The Chess Monthly in January is worth a mention: St. John's beat (5.5-2.5) The Church Institute, Tooting - thus this fabled corner of the fair County of Surrey (three miles south west of Brixton) could boast a chess-player or two a good century before your blogger fetched up (Tooting's first mention in this series - it won't be the last). And with the Church Institute, Tooting, we have yet more evidence of ecclesiastical chess in these God-fearing parts.       

Brixton (late Endeavour)'s chess was, shall we say, of club standard. Here is a game played by G.S.Carr, of "Endeavour" (as he was described), in the Surrey Challenge Cup Competition as reported in the Croydon Guardian on 16th February 1884. The notes must be, I think, by Joseph Steele, the chess editor. Mr Carr (living in Clapham according to the BCM) was later to detach from Brixton CC, and we may encounter him again later in this series in another place; he was also to become a bit of a theoretician, with an analysis of 3...P-B4 (as they said in those days) in the Ruy Lopez - in The Chess Monthly in 1894. The game below, however, may assist you with the theory of the Centre Game, should you be thinking of adding that to your repertoire.

If that's not enough excitement for one episode, we'll follow Mr Steele and show this second game, just as he did in his column back on that Saturday in February 1884. It was won by Mr. Nursey in a Surrey v Sussex match (inter-county matches were another developing feature of the chess scene, especially with the formation of the SCCA).

Alick Nursey, McLeod's brother-in-law-cum-cousin-in-law, once of Excelsior, was now back in the Endeavour/Brixton fold, as is apparent from their team list v Croydon CC in the Croydon Guardian of 23rd February 1884 (likely to have been a Surrey Trophy fixture on 11 February; a draw at 4.5 each). Also in the same Endeavour/Brixton line-up was Wyke Bayliss - later, in 1897, to be dubbed Sir Wyke  - and he will get an episode of his own further on in this series, even though he, too, will eventually move on to greener pastures.

So, to finish this episode: hold on to your hats for some Evan's Gambitry, and yet more of the Croydon Guardian's sometimes intriguing ring-side commentary.

Next time: regular bricks.

Thanks to the staff in the Croydon Museum and Archive Service, and to Bill Linskey at the Brixton Society for the description of 19, Loxley Road in its heyday.

Previously in Brixton Byways:
1. Earnest Endeavours;
2. Peyers You Go;

History Index.

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