Yorkshire Chess History



Robert Alexander Brown











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“R. A. Brown” was a Leeds chess-player and problem composer.


One Robert Alexander Brown was born on 20th June 1812, to John Brown and Mary Ann C. Brown, and was baptised in Doncaster on 11th October 1812.  In due course, a music-teacher called Robert Alexander Brown appears in the Leeds directories.  The Doncaster-born Robert Alexander Brown appears to be the Leeds-resident R. A. Brown, as the 1881 census described an appropriately named and aged Doncaster-born music-teacher, albeit living in Surrey.


R. A. Brown seems to be absent from Leeds & Clothing District Directory, 1830, but at that time he’d be only about 18 years of age, so it’s not surprising.


Baines’s General & Commercial Directory of Leeds, 1834, listed Robert A Brown, “music preceptor”, 55 Woodhouse Lane.


He became evident as a problemist as early as 1838, when two problems by him appeared in The Philidorean, on pages 98 and 212 respectively.  He was described as “R. Brown, Esq., of the Leeds Club”.  The first of these problems was what would now be termed a “fairy” problem, because it has a non-standard stipulation:


White to Mate in six moves, without capturing either of the

Black Pawns.


Apparently “either” meant “any of the three”.  The second problem was a mate in five.


He was in the committee representing Leeds in the two correspondence matches played 1839-41 between Leeds and Liverpool.


The 1841 census records 29-year-old Robert Brown as a professor of music living at Brunswick Terrace, Leeds, with his 20-year-old wife Harriet, 40-year-old Harriet Correy/Corsey who was of “independent means” (perhaps the mother-in-law), and 20-year-old Ann Denison whose occupation was clearly described as “F. S.” which perhaps meant family/female servant.


Harriet Brown’s age, as recorded in censuses, doesn’t seem always reliable, but she seems to have been born in the period 1818 to 1821, and so was somewhat younger than her husband.  The 1881 census states her place of birth to have been Riccall, four miles north of Selby.


White’s Directory of Leeds & the Clothing District, 1842, lists Robert Alexander Brown as a “professor of music” working at 18 Commercial Buildings, with his home at 8 Brunswick Terrace.  No other “R. A.” Browns are listed.


He attended the first two meetings of the Yorkshire Chess Association, held early and late, respectively, in 1841.  He seemed to miss the YCA meeting of 1842, but attended the meeting of 1843.


In 1844 he published a book, Chess Problems, which contained a number of hitherto unpublished chess problems, and also a detailed account of the above-mentioned Leeds-Liverpool correspondence matches played 1839-41.  The book was dedicated to Staunton.  (Click here for more about this book.)


Brown’s problems frequently appeared in the Chess Player’s Chronicle, and Staunton quoted problems from Brown’s book.  It seems Brown met up with Staunton, presumably during some trip or other to London, as the Chess Player’s Chronicle Vol.VI, 1845, p.163, gave the following game between Howard Staunton, giving odds of his QN, and “Mr R. A. B.”, the name under which a number of R. A. Brown’s problems were published:

White: Staunton, Howard (London), Black: Brown, RA (Leeds)

Remove White's Nb1

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5 4. c3 Nf6 5. d4 exd4 6. e5 Qe7 7. O-O Ng4 8. cxd4 Bb6 9. h3 Nh6 10. Bg5 Qb4 11. b3 Nf5 12. a3 Qf8 13. Be3 Ne7 14. Ng5 d5 15. Bd3 Nxd4 16. Bxd4 Bxd4 17. Bb5+ c6 18. Qxd4 cxb5 19. Qc5 a6 20. a4 Bd7 21. axb5 Bxb5 22. Qxb5+ axb5 23. Rxa8+ Kd7 24. Rxf8 Rxf8 25. Nxh7 Rc8 26. Ng5 f6 27. exf6 gxf6 28. Nf3 Rc3 29. Nd4 Nc6 30. Rd1 Nxd4 31. Rxd4 Kd6 32. Rb4 Rc5 33. h4 Ke5 34. h5 d4 35. Kf1 d3 36. Ke1 Rd5 37. Kd2 and wins easily, 1-0


He was a subscriber to the Souvenir of the Bristol Chess Club published in 1845.


A problem by “R. A. B. of Leeds” appeared on page 293 of the Chess Player’s Chronicle, Vol. VII, 1846.  Another appeared on page 40 of the Chess Player’s Chronicle, Vol. VIII, 1847.  A further 3 were published on pages 63, 159 and 192 of the Chess Player’s Chronicle, Vol. IX, 1848.  Then, none were listed in the Chess Player’s Chronicle, Vol. X, 1849.


He seems not to be mentioned in White’s Directory of Leeds & the Clothing Districts, 1847, or White’s Directory of Leeds, Bradford &c, 1854.  It appears that, at some time from 1845 to 1849, more probably 1848 or 1849, R. A. Brown withdrew from visible chess activity, got married, moved down south, and started a family, continuing to work as a music-teacher.


Whilst his 1851 census record is elusive, the 1861 census records Robert A Brown with his wife Harriet living at 49 St. George’s Road, Southwark with five children:

Isabella Brown

born 1841/42 in Leeds

Frederick Brown

born 1847/48 in London

John Henry Brown

born 1850/51 in London

Mary A Brown

born 1853/54 in London

Thomas D Brown

born 1859/60 in London


The 1881 census records 68-year-old Doncaster-born musician, “Rob. A. Brown” living at 22 Parsonage Walk, Newington, Surrey, with:

Harriet Brown, his wife (born 1818/19, at Riccall, Yorks. [4 miles north of Selby]),

John H Brown, his son (born 1850/51, in London), a clerk

Mary A Brown, his daughter (born 1853/54, in London), a musician

Annie E Brown, his granddaughter (born 1868/69, in London), still at school

and two lodgers, Arthur Taylor and Mary A Bramble.


His date and circumstances of death are elusive.





Copyright © 2012 Stephen John Mann

Census information is copyright of The National Archive, see UK Census Information

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