Yorkshire Chess History
Henry Ernest Atkins
(Westminster Budget, 18/09/1896)
Life Before Huddersfield
Henry Ernest Atkins was a son of clergyman Edward Atkins (born 1836/37, Leicester) and Jane Atkins (born 1836/37, Manchester) who had at least the following six children:
In 1871 the Rev. Edward Atkins was a science teacher, and his wife Jane was a schoolmistress. They were living at 57 King Richard Road, Leicester, with Elizabeth and Margaret, both scholars, baby George, and a servant. Edward was perhaps away at school somewhere.
Spencers' Illustrated Leicester Almanac, 1880, listed Rev. E. Atkins more specifically as one of the masters at Wyggeston Hospital School for Boys, where Henry was later to be a pupil, and later still to be a master for a while.
The 1881 census found the Rev. Edward Atkins, his wife, the above six children except Elizabeth, and two servants, at 25 Fosse Road, Leicester. Edward, Margaret, George and Henry were scholars.
Around 1881, the Rev. Edward Atkins would seem to have disappeared temporarily, as Kelly's Directory of Leicestershire & Rutland, 1881, listed “Mrs. Atkins” at 25 Fosse Road, and no longer listed Rev. E. Atkins as one of the masters at Wyggeston Hospital School for Boys. Nevertheless, Wright's Directory of Leicestershire, 1887-1888, listed Rev. Edward Atkins B.Sc. at 25 Fosse Road, Leicester, and he was back for the 1891 census.
George Estlin Atkins was educated at Wyggeston Hospital Boys’ School (later called Wyggeston Grammar School), and went on to Caius College, Cambridge, and entered the church. Henry Ernest Atkins was also educated at Wyggeston Hospital Boys’ School, from 1883 to 1890. He was admitted as a pensioner to Peterhouse, Cambridge, on 18th October 1889, matriculating Michaelmas 1890, getting his BA in 1893, finishing as 9th wrangler, “Cambridge-speak” for scorer of the 9th highest marking in the Mathematics Tripos third-year final exams in the given year.
The 1891 census found parents Edward and Jane living still at 25 Fosse Road, with Margaret, George, Henry and Emma, and also 13-year-old Grace Atkins, cousin to the other children. Edward was described both as a clerk in holy orders and a schoolmaster. Margaret was described as an assistant schoolmistress (with her father?); George was a science student (at Caius); Henry was a mathematical student (at Peterhouse); Emma and Grace were scholars. The household also included a servant.
After leaving Cambridge he started a career as a schoolmaster by taking a post as assistant master at King’s School, The Precincts, Canterbury, which was founded in 1542 by Henry VIII, as an adjunct to the cathedral.
From 1898 to 1901, our man was an assistant master at Northampton and County Modern and Technical School, Abington Square, Northampton. This establishment had opened in September 1894, and consisted of a day school catering for about 150 boys, and an evening technical school catering for about 670 students. Kelly's Directory of Beds, Hunts & Northants, dated 1898, listed H. E. Atkins, B.A. as the mathematical master in the day school.
The same Kelly directory also listed Geo. E. Atkins at 78 Byron Street, Kingsley Park, Northampton, who was presumably his brother.
The 1901 census found Henry E. Atkins as a schoolmaster lodging with 63-year-old widow Caroline Calverhouse at 22 Alexandra Road, Leicester, where he occupied two rooms.
He got his MA in 1901.
He was an assistant master at Wyggeston Grammar School from 1902 to 1908.
Life in Huddersfield
He moved to Huddersfield on securing the post of principal at Huddersfield College (for which appointment there were 171 candidates in late 1908), in 1909, a post he held for twenty-eight years, until he retired. This was, of course, the Huddersfield College in whose magazine, the Huddersfield College Magazine, John Watkinson had conducted the famous chess column, until it evolved into the British Chess Magazine. One imagines, therefore, that the new headmaster must have gone to the school library as soon as practically possible, to look up the school magazine from the October 1872 to September 1880.
The 1911 census found 38-year-old Henry Ernest Atkins as one of three gentlemen lodging with 67-year-old widow Helen Normington at 49 New North Road, Huddersfield. The other two lodgers were a clergyman and a solicitor. John Watkinson lived at number 84 New North Road at that time.
At some stage he married Elspeth Skene Wilson. Date and place of the marriage are elusive. Elspeth was the eldest child of Thomas and Elizabeth Wilson who were both school teachers. She born 05/08/1880 at Ackworth, and was baptised there as Elspet Skene Wilson, without an “h” in “Elspet”, on 31/10/1880, by John Bramley. This h-less spelling persisted in censuses listings for 1881, 1891, and 1901, when in each case she was living with her parents. In the 1901 census, she was a 30-year-old, unmarried headmistress at a pupil teacher centre, lodging with boarding house-keeper Mary Rothwell, at 1 North Square, Retford. In this census she was listed as Elspeth Skene Wilson, with the “h” at the end of “Elspeth”, and she seems to have been “Elspeth” for the rest of her life.
He retired from Huddersfield College in 1936. In the week prior to Christmas, 1936, a farewell gathering took place. Old boys presented him with a silver tea and coffee service. In reply to the presentation, he let on that he was quite partial to tea, typically partaking of it on six different occasions during the day. He further confessed he not that infrequently broke the teapot, so the gift of an unbreakable silver one would be particularly advantageous. There were at that stage no immediate plans to leave Huddersfield, though if in time he did leave then it would be to return to his native Leicester.
Retirement to Leicester
There seems to be a frequently recycled myth that H. E. Atkins died in Huddersfield, but this is wrong. After retiring from work, he soon moved back to his native Leicester, where he lived out his life resident at 29 East Avenue, Leicester. He was listed in the Leicester telephone directories at that address (tel. Leicester 77594) from 1938 to 1955.
The Huddersfield Daily Examiner of Tuesday 1st February, 1955, carried an obituary which started as follows:
Strictly, he was in his eighty-third year.
A probate return records more specifically that he died on 31/01/1955, aged 82, at the Fielding Private Hospital, Regent Road, Leicester. (The said hospital is now a Grade II listed building). Probate was granted 26/03/1955 at Leicester to Elspeth Skene Atkins, widow. He left effects of £2,370 10s 1d.
Apparently Henry learned chess from one of his brothers, and joined the Wyggeston School Chess Club at age 10. One of his sisters gave him a copy of Howard Staunton's The Chess-Player's Handbook. When 15 years of age, he joined Leicester Chess Club, and rose to board 1 within two years. As a student, he also played board 1 for Cambridge University, and in four years lost only one game in university matches. In the 1893 annual match he beat R. G. Lynam. He was president of the Cambridge University Chess Club for three years.
At the 1895 Hastings tournament, in a minor tournament which also served as the 7th British Amateur Championship, and which ran alongside the main international tournament, he finished top in an 8-player preliminary section:
Then in the final section he finished second equal, and was awarded the Newnes Cup as the highest place British amateur:
He won the British Amateur Championship again in 1897 (Southampton) and 1900 (Bath).
He tied for first place at the first British Championship of the BCF, in 1904, but lost the play-off with W. E. Napier. He then won in every year from 1905 to 1911. He didn’t enter again until 1924 and 1925, winning on both occasions. He made one more British Championship appearance, in 1937, but the winner on that occasion was William Albert Fairhurst (designer of the Tay Road Bridge, which opened in 1966).
He played in twelve of the first thirteen Anglo-American cable matches, missing the 11th. These spanned the years 1896 to 1911.
One of his first engagements with Huddersfield chess was when he gave a talk on the Ruy Lopez at the 1909 Huddersfield Chess Club start-of-season meeting.
He played in the Olympiads of 1927, London (+3, =8, -1; 58%) and 1935, Warsaw (+6, =14, -5; 52%).
He was a contemporary of Fred Dewhirst Yates, somewhat pushing him into second place. For a while the two dominated not only the Yorkshire Chess scene but the English Chess scene as well. Unlike Yates, Atkins treated chess strictly as a hobby, whereas Yates tried to make a living out of the game. Atkins played very little international chess, mainly leaving that arena to Yates. The general theory is that had Atkins devoted himself less to the “day job” and gone down the path trodden by Yates, then he would have been a very significant player on the international scene.
From 1895 to 1937 he played in the following events:
After retirement from teaching, and removal to his native Leicester, Henry didn’t give up chess, but effectively withdrew from competitive chess, except for special occasions. He was happy, however, to support chess from the sidelines, as an official and by give simultaneous displays from time to time.
He didn’t represent Leicestershire in county matches in 1937-38.
In the season 1938-39, H. E. Atkins M.A. served as the vice-president of Leicestershire Chess Club, as the Leicestershire county association was then called, T. Ashwell being the president. He was also one of the vice-presidents of the Leicestershire Chess League, the president being R. Pruden. His role seems to have been largely honorary. He was not, for instance, an adjudicator for the Leicestershire League for 1838-39. He didn’t play in the Leicestershire Individual Championship of 1938-39.
A match “The North and Midlands versus the South” was planned for 1939, and H. E. Atkins agreed to lead the North and Midlands team. Unfortunately, this match, like the English Counties final in which Leicestershire were due to play, were cancelled due to the war. Nevertheless, our man gave simultaneous displays during the war years.
In 1945-46, 1946-47, 1947-48 and 1949-50, H. E. Atkins was a member of the General Committee of the Leicestershire Chess Club, and a vice-president of the Leicestershire Chess League. In the 1945-46 MCCU county team championship he played for Leicestershire against their toughest opponents, Warwickshire, beating H. C. Lewis on board one. In 1947-48 he didn’t represent Leicestershire, who lost 14½-15½ to Warwickshire that year. (Based on English Counties Chess Unions Combined Year Book 1938-1939, and BCF Year Book 1938-1945, 1946-1947 and 1948-1949.)
When Grand Master and International Master titles were invented by FIDE, various players were immediately given titles in 1950, on the basis of previous performances, and H.E. Atkins was awarded the IM title in this way.
Copyright © 2012, 2013 Stephen John Mann
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