Yorkshire Chess History
Franklin Elson and Bardsley Elson
The parents of Franklin Elson were cotton worker William Elson (born 1824, Chadderton; died 1897) and Martha Elson (née Bardsley, 1826, Ashton-under-Lyne), who married on 01/04/1844 at St. Chad’s, Rochdale. The couple had at least the following children:
The 1841 census found parents and children Mary and Joseph living on Cow Hill Lane, Ashton-under-Lyne. Father was a cotton warper.
Third child, John, died on 05/08/1846 at little over the age of 1 year.
The family is elusive in the 1851 census, but the family is recorded in baptismal records of living in Hope Street, Hurst, Ashton-under-Lyne.
Second child, Joseph, died on 27/05/1851, aged 12, leaving just two out of the first four children still alive. This may have contributed to the family upping sticks and emigrating to the United States of America the family. Curiously enough, there was a similar Elson family already living in the US. This was the family of another William Elson who had emigrated with his wife and two children, initially to Ohio but later moving to Michigan it seems. One might guess the two Williams were cousins, and the first one to emigrate had sung the praises of the New World, inducing the second to follow in 1858, give or take a year.
Thus the US 1860 census found parents William and Martha living with Sarah, “Frank” (i.e. Franklin), Bardsley and Willie in Salem, Ohio, USA. Father William was described as a foundryman. The first three of these children had emigrated from the UK with their parents, but Willie had been born in the US, probably in Salem. It seems Mary Ann Elson had stayed back in the UK. Martha was the second child to be born in the US, again probably in Salem.
Then, for some reason, the family returned to the UK at some time from 1861 to 1868.
In 1868, in Bolton, Mary Ann Elson married Joseph Chapman, but he died aged 30 in 1870, in Bury.
The 1871 (UK) census found parents and seven surviving children living at 60 Princess Street, Ashton-under-Lyne. Father William was an over-looker of twisters in a cotton mill. All was much as if the family had never emigrated to the US. 16-year-old Franklin was a grocer’s assistant.
By 1880, Franklin Elson had become a Methodist New Connection circuit minister, in the Thorne circuit. Thorne is close to the Yorkshire-Lincolnshire border, and the Thorne circuit seems to have included the village of Epworth in Lincolnshire, which may have been where Franklin was living. (Epworth was the birthplace of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism.) Newspaper reports illustrate his activity as a Methodist minister.
On 24/10/1880, at the Anniversary Services of the Methodist New Connexion Foreign and Colonial Missions, held in the Methodist New Connection Chapel, Epworth, the Rev. F. Elson preached in the morning service. The annual Missionary Meeting was held in the chapel in the following Tuesday evening, and at this meeting, “The annual report, which was of an encouraging character, was read by the Rev. F. Elson.” [The Epworth Bells, 30/10/1880]
On 11/12/1880, at the Epworth Bible Meeting, amongst other thing which took place, “the Rev. F. Elson, Methodist New Connection Minister, offered up prayer.” [The Epworth Bells, 11/12/1880]
The 1881 census found 26-year-old Ashton-under-Lyne-born Methodist New Connection Minister Franklin Elson visiting schoolmaster John C Leadbitter (wrongly recorded as “Leadbeater”) and his schoolmistress wife at Commonside, Haxey, which is 3 miles south of Epworth. What the census return did not mention was that John C Leadbitter was himself a Methodist New Connection Minister, or else was shortly to become one.
The Sheffield Independent of 27/05/1881 reported in detail on the annual meeting of the Sheffield District of the Methodist New Connexion, which was held at Westwoodside, in the Thorne circuit, on 25th and 26th May 1881. J C Leadbitter, mentioned in the previous paragraph, was recorded as from the said Westwoodside circuit. F. Elson of the Thorne circuit was one of three people mentioned specifically as a “ministerial probationer”, and that they were examined and had been passed on to the next year of their probation.
The reason Franklin Elson eventually ceased being a Methodist minister may simply be that he ultimately failed in his probation, so that he never became known as “the Rev. F. Elson” to the chess world.
Mother Martha Elson died on 11/03/1882, aged 55, at Ashton-under-Lyne, and was buried at St. Peter’s, Ashton-under-Lyne.
On 20/11/1882, circuit minister “F Elson” was present at the opening of the annual bazaar at the Methodist New Connection Chapel on Sheffield Road, Barnsley [Barnsley Times, 25/11/1882].
In 1885, in Halifax, Franklin Elson married Lily Greenwood (born 1866/67, Halifax). In the fullness of time, they had one son:
(In adulthood, William Cyril Elson restyled himself as Cyril William Elson.)
Chess records show that by January 1887 (probably before), Franklin had moved to Leamington Spa.
It seems that by this time Franklin had ceased practice as a preacher, as a list of those confronting Joseph Henry Blackburne to Banbury ran, “Rev. A.P. Dodd, Mr. and Mrs. Elson, Leamington; Miss Stutterd, Banbury; Mr. Thackwell Smith and Mr. Bowley, Charlbury” and so on. Thus the Leamington chess-player was not a “Rev.” but merely a “Mr.”
At some time after 29/09/1889 (when he played in a match for Leamington), Franklin moved to Yorkshire. The first Yorkshire chess club he is evidently recorded as representing is that of his wife’s native town of Halifax; “F Elson” is recorded as first playing for Halifax in the Woodhouse Cup on 10/01/1891. Thus it seems the Franklins moved from Leamington to Halifax in in late 1889 or in 1890.
The 1891 census found Frankin and Lily visiting the manager of a blanket mill, Percy L. Clay (apparently not a relative), in Oxford Road, Gomersal. Franklin was described as a cashier in a woollen mill. In early 1893, “F Elson” is recorded in chess records as resident in Gomersal. However, Gomersal is only about one mile in diameter, so there would be no need for an overnight stay if the Elsons themselves lived in Gomersal at the time of the 1891 census. Maybe the visit was in connection with a possible job in Gomersal.
The next Woodhouse Cup season saw “F Elson” playing for Dewsbury, which is about 5 miles from Gomersal. Dewsbury’s first Woodhuse match of 1891-92 was on 09/01/1892, with “F Elson” on board 4. Thus the Elsons would appear to have moved from Halifax to Gomersal during 1891.
Chess records indicate that at some time in 1894 the Elsons moved from Gomersal to Bradford.
Franklin Elson died, aged only 42, on 11/10/1896, at 38 St. Andrew’s Terrace, Horton, Bradford. The death notice in the Leeds Times of 17/10/1896 gave the address as 38 St. Andrew’s Place, whereas probate records (which said he was an accountant’s clerk) gave it as 38 St. Andrew’s Terrace. “Terrace” would appear to be correct, as in the 1898 Bradford PO Directory, “Place” even numbers run up to no. 34, whereas “Terrace” even numbers ran up to no. 46. He left effects of £157 5s.
38 St. Andrew’s Place was listed in the 1898 directory as occupied by dyer Percy Robinson, and it seems Lily and son William Cyril Elson had moved back to Halifax. The 1901 census found the two living at 6 Vincent Street, Halifax, with Lily’s unmarried sister Eleanor Greenwood, who was an elementary-school teacher. Lily was a saleswoman in a mantle showroom.
The 1911 census found the same household of three people living at 3 Mayfield Terrace South, Halifax. (Lily was now “head”, whereas in 1901 Eleanor had been “head”.) 17-year-old William Cyril Elson was a banker’s clerk.
William Cyril Elson in time adopted the name Cyril William Elson, perhaps being dissatisfied with the initials “WC”. He also became a doctor. Thus when he married Marjorie Sinclair Brewis (born 04/10/1911) on 22/09/1932, at Adel, Leeds, the marriage notice in the Yorkshire Post of 23/09/1932 referred to him as “Dr. Cyril William Elson, only son of the late Franklin Elson and of Mrs. Elson, of Bradford”.
The 1939 Register found the couple living at Stratford Lea, Stoke Abbott Road, Worthing, Sussex. Cyril William Elson was described as a medical practitioner.
Cyril William Elson, still of the above Worthing address, died on 03/03/1961, leaving effects of £62,094 10s 1d.
Franklin Elson seems not to become evident as a chess-player until he was living in Leamington.
The Leamington Spa Courier of 04/02/1888 detailed a match on 28/01/1888 between Stratford and Leamington, giving the Leamington player on board 4 as “E. Elson” which presumably was a misprint for “F. Elson”.
The Leamington Spa Courier of 29/12/1888 recorded the return match between Oxford City and Leamington on 15/12/1888, with “F. Elson” on board 3 for Leamington.
The Banbury Beacon of 28/01/1888 listed “Mr. and Mrs. Elson, Leamington” among those against whom Joseph Blackburne played a blindfold simultaneous display at Banbury on 25/01/1888.
The Leamington Spa Courier of 05/10/1889 recorded a match on 28/09/1889 between the Leicester Excelsior Club and Leamington, with “F. Elson” losing on board 1 for Leamington against another player destined to move to Yorkshire, namely 17-year-old Henry Ernest Atkins.
Halifax played three Woodhouse Cup matches in the season 1890-91, and conceded the last one. “F Elson” played in the three matches actually played by Halifax.
For the 1891-92 Woodhouse Cup, Franklin Elson switched colours to those of Dewsbury, as he was by then living in Gomersal, though Dewsbury were still competing in the Woodhouse. As the event was for that season run as a knock-out, Dewsbury got to play 2 matches: a drawn match and a lost replay against Sheffield, F Elson playing in both matches.
At the annual meeting of the West Yorkshire Chess Association, on 23/04/1892, in Wakefield, Emmanuel Lasker took on 22 players simultaneously, beating 20 of them but losing to 2, namely G. G. Hein (of Wakefield) and F Elson “of Heckmondwike” (meaning Heckmondwike Chess Club, though F Elson lived in Gomersal). Lasker had allowed 2 players to take back a move, but Elson was apparently not one of those, and by inference Hein perhaps was.
“F Elson, Heckmondwike” entered the first ever formal West Yorkshire Chess Association Championship – that of 1892-93. There were no Dewsbury or Heckmondwike teams in the 1892-93 Woodhouse Cup, though he may well have played that season for a Minor Trophy team.
For the 1893-94 season, Heckmondwike once again fielded a team in the Woodhouse Cup, and “F Elson” played for that team.
Franklin, still of Heckmondwike Chess Club, played in the 1894 North of England v South match.
He played in the 1895 Yorkshire Championship run by the Yorkshire County Chess Club.
He played for Yorkshire against Cheshire on 18/04/1896 – possibly his last chess match before he died.
The Leamington Spa Courier of 22/01/1887 printed what was billed as “Problem by Mr. F. Elson, of the Leamington Chess Club”, with the stipulation “White to move and mate in two moves”, though it was also stated, “This position occurred in actual play.” So it was not a composed problem as the term “problem” would normally be interpreted. Nevertheless, it seems Franklin did compose the odd problem. Thus on page 342 of the British Chess Magazine of 1889 there appears a problem composed by “F. Elson, Leamington.”
There was in 1889 a “problem tourney” being run by the Leamington Chronicle, and Franklin Elson is believed to have been the editor of the chess column in that publication.
The greater “Elson” connection with chess problems lies with Franklin’s brother Bardsley. It was customary for chess columns to feature one of more problems for readers to solve, inviting solvers to submit their solutions, whereupon the names of those submitting correct solution would be published in a later edition, and “Bardsley Elson” or simply “B Elson” was often so listed as a successful solver.
Bardsley does not seem to feature prominently as a player. The only possibly reference found to him playing the game is in the Manchester Evening News of 04/02/1893, where “R Elson” (here taken as a misprint for “B Elson”) is listed at board 6 for Manchester Athenaeum Chess Club 4th team, against People’s Institute. In the event, the People’s Institute defaulted on this board, so even if it was Bardsley, then he did not actually play a game.
Copyright © 2020 Stephen John Mann
Census information is copyright of The National Archive, see UK Census Information