Yorkshire Chess History
Polish-born Jacob Bronowski is best known, to most who at least recognise his name, as the presenter of the television series “The Ascent of Man”, but he lived for a while in Hull, where he won not only the chess championship of Hull, but also that of Yorkshire. He was allegedly known as “Bruno” to at least some friends.
Jacob Bronowski was born on 18/01/1908, at Łódź, Poland, the first of three children born to haberdasher Abram Bronowski, and Celia Bronowski (née Flatto). One of his siblings was a sister called Lilian. The family fled to Germany from the Russian occupation of Poland during the First World War, remaining in Germany until 1920, when the family moved to London.
Though not being able to speak English when he first arrived in England, Jacob obtained a sufficiently good education at London’s Central Foundation School to secure a scholarship to Jesus College, Cambridge, where he studied mathematics, starting in 1927, and graduating in 1930, getting an MA. He had been first Class Wrangler in the maths tripos part 1, then Senior Wrangler in part 2. He continued to study at Cambridge, and was awarded a PhD in 1933.
While at Cambridge, though academically a mathematician, he displayed an interest in poetry and literature. He co-edited a literary magazine called Experiment, with another student.
From about 1931 to 1938 or later, the Jacob lived with his parents at 26 Rookwood Hill, Hackney, London. Electoral rolls listed his father as “Abraham” rather than “Abram”, and his mother as “Cecilia” in 1931, but thereafter as “Celia”. Sister Lilian is listed as resident at the same address from 1932 onwards.
After finishing his PhD thesis, he went in 1933 on a trip to Mallorca with Eirlys Roberts, a women who later co-founded the consumer magazine “Which?”, living for a while in Mallorca, supposedly to be near poets Robert Graves and Laura Riding, who had been living in Mallorca since Graves’s separation from his wife back in England.
He became a British citizen in 1933.
Jacob Bronowski was born in to a Jewish family, and considered himself a Jew. Some people apparently felt that as a Jew he was unlikely to become a Fellow at Jesus College, Cambridge, and this may have influenced his taking a post as a mathematics lecturer at University College, Hull, from 1934. In time he became a senior lecturer.
He produced mathematical papers while in Hull, but it was not until 1939 that he published his first book, not on mathematics, but on poetry, called “The Poet's Defence” – no, not a new variation in the French. He also wrote poetry and had it published.
In early 1941, allegedly during a daytime air-raid, 33-year-old Jacob Bronowski married 23-year-old (approx.) Rita Coblentz (born 1917/18), who worked as a sculptor under the name Rita Colin, the marriage being registered in the first quarter of 1941, at Hampstead. The couple went on to have four children:
As late as 1942, the Hull telephone directory was listing J. Bronowski at 29 Hallgate, Cottingham, to the northern periphery of Hull.
The Second World War led to Jacob Bronowski being enlisted to assist the war effort by applying his mathematical approach to war operations.
After the end of the war, in 1945, he went to Japan, as a scientific deputy to the British Joint Chiefs of Staff mission to Japan, to study the effects of the nuclear bombs dropped there. Accordingly, he produced a report, Effects of the Atomic Bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Did he realise the “effects” were only just beginning and were not yet evident?
As late as 1949, Jacob’s parents were still living at 26 Rookwood Hill, Hackney, London. His father was now named more accurately as “Abram”. Abram and Celia now had “Lili Stein” living with them. (Was this Lilian, after marriage, and perhaps widowed?)
Jacob and his family seem to have lived after the war around the south-west of England. Telephone directories for various years give the following, which appear to relate to our man:
Jacob and his wife Rita made a trip to the USA in 1953. In the passenger list relating to their arrival at Plymouth on 17/06/1953, after their return voyage on the Ile de France, Jacob was described as a professor resident at Cleen Hill, Cheltenham. This squares with the above list of addresses, if you accept confusion between “Cleen” and “Cleeve”.
He continued to be involved in the development of government scientific policy, and never resumed his pure academic career. He later became involved in the development of smokeless fuel, on behalf of the government-run National Coal Board.
At some stage he became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.
He was made a Foreign Honorary member of the American Academy of Arts, in 1960.
In 1964 he became an associate director of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in California, where he lived for the rest of his life.
He was made an Honorary Fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge, in 1967.
In 1973, his 13-part television documentary, The Ascent of Man, was broadcast. It aimed to describe the development of science in human history in a way which would parallel Kenneth Clarke’s 1969 series Civilisation, which described the development of art.
Jacob Bronowski died on 22/08/1974 at La Jolla, San Diego, California, USA, according to US death records, though other sources say, more implausibly, that he died at East Hampton, Long Island, New York. The cause of death was a heart attack.
There is a flat squarish stone set in the ground in Highgate Cemetery, London, which says:
1908 - 1974
Whether this marks a burial plot, or the site of interment of cremation ashes, or what, is unclear.
He had demonstrated himself to be an accomplished chess-player while at Cambridge, where he was a contemporary of C. H. O’D Alexander. He represented Cambridge in matches, becoming a Half-Blue. (There was no full Blue for chess.)
He composed chess problems, having his compositions published as early as 1927 and as late as 1970.
In 1934, he was playing around board three for Hull in the Woodhouse Cup, but later climbed to board one.
He won the Hull championship in about 1935.
He won the Yorkshire championship in 1936.
He played for Yorkshire in county matches, such as Lancashire v Yorkshire, 19/03/1938, when he lost on board 2 to R. J. Broadbent, and Lancashire v Yorkshire on 19/11/1938, when he lost on board 3 to Gerald Abrahams.
On 04/11/1939 he gave a simultaneous display in Hull, over 10 boards.
Shortly before leaving England for America, he presented a silver knight as the trophy for contest between winners or nominees of the London workplace-related leagues, such as the London Banks Chess League, the London Civil Service League, the Insurance Chess Club, the Central London Legal Chess League, and the London Commercial Chess League in which Bronowski himself had played.
Copyright © 2013, 2019 Stephen John Mann
Census information is copyright of The National Archive, see UK Census Information