Yorkshire Chess History
William (“Bill”) Batley
William (“Bill”) Batley was a Barnsley-born chess-player who lived for most of his adult life in Sheffield, and was a newspaper journalist for all his working life. He was a strong player by local standards, but his main contribution to chess was as a chess columnist in local papers, chronicling local chess in Sheffield and district, and county-level chess in Yorkshire as a whole.
William Batley was born on 13/05/1874 (date both in Gaige and 1939 Register) in Barnsley, being baptised at St. George’s,-Barnsley, on 1st November 1874. His parents were Thomas Batley, born 1848/49 at Silkstone, and Emma Batley, born 1846/47 at Barnsley. The couple got married around 1873/74.
In 1891 the family was living with Thomas’s older brother, Joseph Batley, at 14 Alma Street, Barnsley. Joseph was a millwright, and Thomas was an iron-turner. Thomas and Emma’s other children were Ellen Batley, born 1875/76 in Barnsley, and Joseph H. Batley, born 1882/83 in Barnsley. As early as 1891, 16-year-old William was described as a journalist.
In 1896 he moved to Sheffield, where he remained resident until his death in 1942. In 1901 the census described him as a newspaper reporter boarding at 97 Machon Bank, with 80-year-old widower Charles R. Wood and his daughter Sarah L. Wood.
Around 1899 he became a reporter for the Yorkshire Telegraph and Star, were he worked for 39 years.
In 1902/3 he married Ada Emily [surname?], who’d been born on 27/08/1874 at King’s Lynn.
In 1911 the couple lived at 11 Chantry Road, Norton Woodseats, Sheffield, and had with them three children, all born in Sheffield:
They also had a servant living with them.
At this time, his parents were living at 25 Park Grove, Barnsley, with daughter Ellen who worked as a cutter.
In about 1912, Bill and family moved to 105 Meersbrook Road, Sheffield, which remained Bill’s home to his death.
That “Bill” Batley will never be equalled as a Sheffield newspaper chess columnist is a reasonably safe bet. To local chess-players, Batley’s labours on their behalf will have been highly regarded for decades, but there was the other side of the coin. A member of a later generation of the Batley family, who happened to be a work colleague of one-time Sheffield University student and Sheffield chess-player Richard S. (“Stormont”, if you didn’t know) Hughes, reported that Bill’s chess endeavours caused a certain amount of friction within the family!
He retired from work as a journalist in 1938.
It appears a secretary at the Sheffield Telegraph & Star, Margaret Elizabeth Stewart (born 03/05/1915, West Derby, Liverpool) live with Bill and his wife as 105 Meersbrook Road in 1939.
Bill Batley died on 26/12/1942 at his home, 105 Meersbrook Park Road, Sheffield, aged 68. He was cremated on 29/12/1942 at Sheffield City Road Cemetery.
Batley’s name is commemorated in that of the Batley-Meek Memorial Trophy, the trophy for the Sheffield &District Chess Association’s league’s third division which started in 1948.
The Sheffield Telegraph of Monday 28th December 1942 carried a brief obituary:
In his youth he played chess at the Mechanics Institute, Barnsley.
He was a founding member of the Sheffield Chess Club, formed in 1905, and for a while around 1941 was secretary of the Sheffield & District Chess Association and Sheffield Chess Club during the period when the two were administratively combined.
As a player he ranked among the stronger Sheffield players, winning the Sheffield Championship in 1914-15 and in 1930-31, and being runner-up in 1913-14, 1924-25 and 1928-29. He also played for Yorkshire.
His most impressive-sounding chess-playing feat may be defeating Alekhine in a 36-board simultaneous display given by the World Champion at Leeds on 10th December 1938. Alekhine conceded six draws and two losses.
His most outstanding chess feat, however, lay in his work as a chess columnist in local papers. By trade or profession he’d always been a journalist, ending up as a long-serving reporter for the paper we now call the (Sheffield) “Star” for which he worked for 39 years until retiring early in 1938.
He wrote a chess column in the Sheffield Weekly News, from October 1899 to August 1922 when that paper ceased publication, with a period in the middle when the column was carried by Yorkshire Telegraph and Star. The column ceased for a few weeks in August 1922, then resumed in the Yorkshire Telegraph and Star on 9th September 1922. The Yorkshire Telegraph and Star’s name over the years has lost its “Yorkshire” and then its “Telegraph”, and is now what Sheffielders know simply as the “Star”.
The frequency and regularity of the column’s appearance in the Sheffield Weekly News is unclear, but once it appeared in the Yorkshire Telegraph and Star, it was published normally fortnightly throughout the year. Occasionally, a note would appear to the effect that the chess column had been held over to the following week, but that fortnight’s column would not be lost.
Batley’s column gave full details of all chess activities in and around Sheffield, including such types of information as in later years came to be published in the bulletins and circulars of the Sheffield & District Chess Association, the Sheffield & District Works Sports Association Chess Section and the Yorkshire Chess Association. There was news of neighbouring leagues and of county chess.
Particularly interesting retrospectively were biographical articles which were occasioned either by a player winning some competition, or else by way of an obituary. Such articles often provided insight into aspects of local chess history not available elsewhere, fragments of local chess history waiting to be pieced together.
There were also chess problems, often by local composers. The first problem appeared in the Sheffield Weekly News on 23rd January 1904, being a “three-mover” by A. O. Boardman of Sheffield. The third problem appeared on 26th March 1904, and was by the notable Sheffield composer Howard Lawton, who in his career had his problems published in numerous chess columns throughout the world. At first, the problems were only an occasional feature of the column, but after the First World War they became a regular feature.
Successive chess problems published in the column were numbered. In 1912 the numbering started again at no. 1. This new “No.1” was in fact the 98th to appear in the column. The problem in the Yorkshire Telegraph and Star on 9th September 1922 was no. 264. No. 1000 appeared on 25th July 1936, and was the 100th contributed by Howard Lawton, being specially composed for the occasion.
Whenever a meeting of some sort was reported in the column, the list of those present commonly included “W. Batley (Chess Correspondent of the ‘Telegraph and Star’)”, but the chess column itself (at least that in the “Star”) contained no explicit statement of the author of the column, which bore simply the anonymous attribution “By a Sheffield Expert”.
Copyright © 2012 Stephen John Mann
Census information is copyright of The National Archive, see UK Census Information