Yorkshire Chess History
The Govers of London
Identity of the Chess-Players
“W S Gover”, “H Gover”, “F F Gover” and “H S Cover” cropped up as London chess-players over at least the period 1852 to 1899. In the cases of WSG, FFG and HSG, the combinations of forename initials and surname, combined with time and place, are sufficient to identify these three, WSG being the father of FFG and HSG. The chess obituary of HSG in The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News confirms FFG to be a son of HSG. It seems safe to assume the “H Gover” who often played in the same team as William Sutton Gover was the latter’s brother Henry.
There seems some uncertainty around “H S Gover” since the could he Hubert Sidney Gover, but could also be a misreading of “W S Gover” If WSG and HSG were reported as playing in the same match, then it that would confirm “H S Gover” was Hubert. Not report of such a match is immediately evident, so that there is a lingering suspicion the “H S Gover” might he a misprint for “W S Gover”, due to misinterpretation of handwriting.
William Sutton Gover occasionally got referred to as “Mr. Sutton Gover”, as though “Sutton Gover” was a double barrelled surname (which it was not) or else he were known in public life as such (seems improbable on the evidence).
FSG was usually called “Frederick” with a “k” in census returns. He was “Frederic” in his birth registration, “Frederick” in his death registration, “Frederic” in probate records, and “Frederic” in newspaper averts for the British Equitable Assurance Company, of which he was assistant actuary. The “k” seems to be an inaccurate assumption on the part of people recording the spoken word.
William Sutton Gover
The parents of William Sutton Gover and Henry Gover were brush-maker William Gover (born 1797/98, Newington, Surrey) and Mary Ann Gover (née Cooper, 1796/97, Chelsea, Middlesex; daughter of John Cooper, former silversmith, last of Great Dover Street), who had at least the following children:
Around 1833, William Sutton Gover started developing skins of some kind over his eyes, but the problem was eventually cured by operations, but for a number of years was not allowed to read or write.
The 1841 census found parents and two sons at Roebuck Place, Great Dover Street, Newington, Surrey. Father William was a brush-maker.
Outside work, father William was also for 40 years superintendent of the Lyon Street Sunday School, New Kent Road, and for some years on the Committee of the Sunday School Union. He was “the first to print a magazine for the young” [Biographical piece on WSG in South London Press of 13/07/1889 – one of the sources of DoB of WSG – and the source for various items of information]
In 1845, William Sutton Gover married Maria Field (born 1825/26, Newington). The two had at least the following children:
The 1851 census found William junior, wife Maria, and three daughters, living with said William’s parents and brother Henry at 4 Holley Terrace, Highgate. William senior was now a “proprietor of houses” and William junior was an actuary. That father William had switched from brush-maker to proprietor of houses suggests he had come into some money.
It was in 1854 that father William Gover, and sons William Sutton Gover and Henry Gover founded the British Equitable Assurance Company, with William Sutton Gover as managing director. Its new offices which were opened in 1889 were designed by another son, architect Arthur Sutton Gover.
In 1857, Henry Gover married Elizabeth Burgess. The couple had at least the following children:
Both above two Gover families are elusive in the 1861 census.
Father William Gover died on 01/12/1868, aged 70, and was buried at Nunhead Cemetery, Linden Grove, Southwark.
Around the late 1860s, William Sutton Gover started involvement with the Corporation of London, being chairman of various committees.
The 1871 census found actuary William Sutton Gover, his wife, his mother, and all 8 children, except Emma who was away visiting somebody, living at Havering House, Dartmouth Terrace, Lewisham Hill. Son William Henry was a London University undergraduate. Henry Gover, a solicitor, and wife Elizabeth, and seven children, living at Lyncombe, Crescent Wood Road, Camberwell.
The 1881 census found William Sutton Gover, his wife, his mother, and all 8 children, living at Casino House, Herne Hill, Camberwell. Father William was a member of the London School Board. Meanwhile Henry, wife and the children except Amy and Frank were still at Lyncombe, Crescent Wood Road, Camberwell.
The 1891 census reveals a sad turn of events in that Hubert Sidney Gover had become permanently resident in a mental hospital in Bristol, remaining there to his death in 1945, by which time he was the only one remaining of the four chess-players. Thus the 1891 census found Casino House, Herne Hill, Camberwell, occupied by the same members of the Gover family as in 1881, except for Hubert, who was in 1891 a patient at the Brislington House Asylum, Bath Road, Brislington, Somerset. Brislington is now a district of Bristol, about 3 miles SE of the city centre. Kelly’s 1902 Somerset directory described the asylum as “a private asylum for the upper classes, licensed for 105 patients.” Unmarried 26-year-old “retired clerk” Hubert Sidney Gover was described as suffering from “mania”. A commoner affliction of inmates was “dementia”, while a few had “general paralysis”, and a still fewer number had “melancholia”. Hubert’s first name was recorded unclearly, being open to interpretation as either “Hubert” or “Herbert”. Hubert is difficult to identify in the 1901 and 1911 censuses, but he emerges in the 1939 Register as “Herbert S Gover”, born allegedly in 1866, a patient at the Brislington House Mental Hospital, Bath Road, Bristol. His death at age 81 was registered in the 4th quarter of 1945, in the Bristol registration district, using “Herbert” for “Hubert”. Only in the probate record, which would be based on a will, did his name get spelt more correctly as “Hubert Sydney Gover”. (It should have said “Sidney”, but you can’t have everything.) Probate records gave his date of death as 29th October 1945. Sister Beatrice, named with her married name Beatrice Taylor, was his executor. (Beatrice had married John Russell Taylor in 1896, in Croydon, and this reference to Beatrice Taylor establishes that the “Herbert” mentioned was in fact Hubert.)
To help confuse matters, there are references to a clearly younger “H. S. Gover” in Bath, also “Mrs. H. S. Gover”, from 1936 to 1946, but this appears co-incidental.
Casino House was situated in an estate of over 16 acres, well wooded with established trees, and with a lake.
The 1891 census found Henry Gover and family still living at Lyncombe, Crescent Wood Road, Camberwell.
Mother Mary Ann Gover died on 09/10/1895, aged 98, and was interred at Nunhead Cemetery.
The 1901 census found the household of Govers which formerly lived at Casino House was now living at 8, 10 & 12, Lee Park, Lee, except of course for William Sutton Gover who had died in 1894.
The 1911 census distributed family members across the three house numbers 8, 10 and 12, Lee Park. Mother Maria and offspring Mary and Arthur living at 10, Lee Park, Blackheath, London SE, while Frances and Agnes live at 8 Lee Park, Blackheath, London SE, and William and Emma lived at 12 Lee Park, Blackheath, London SE. Frederic is not evident in the 1911 census.
It rather seems mother Maria might have moved to Bath, or visited, to be near Hubert, as the death of a Maria Gover, aged 88, was registered in the 1st quarter of 1915, in the Bath registration district.
Elizabeth, wife of Henry, died in February 1916, aged 79.
William Sutton Gover died on 24/11/1894, at Nunhead, Southwark, aged 72, and was buried at Nunhead Cemetery, Southwark, in an elaborate grave in which other family members were very probably interred. Henry Gover died soon after, on 25/03/1895, aged 60, at Camberwell. Frederic Field Gover died on 08/05/1936, at Lewisham. Hubert Sidney Gover died on 29/10/1945, at Bristol.
William Sutton Gover at an early age bought some chess books from a shop in the Strand, made a chess set out of firewood, and drew the squares of a board on a piece of paper. He presumably practiced with brother Henry.
WSG and HG appear to have been founder members of Greenwich Chess Club, which in April 1852 was described as “recently formed”. WSG was President as at April 1852. This club played matches against other clubs such as Walworth CC and the City of London CC. Such “matches” involved a group of players from one club playing in consultation games with a consulting group of players from the other club, presumably transmitting moves by post.
On 08/04/1862 WSG played for Canterbury CC against Ashford, now with each player of one club playing a member of the other club, as we would now expect. On 05/06/1862 “Mr. Gover” played for Canterbury against Ramsgate, in what was a return match between the clubs.
On 01/03/1864, brothers WSG, HG and others played for Blackheath CC in a consultation match against St. James’s CC, and in the return match on 23/03/1864.
In March and April, Blackheath CC played the St. James CC. In the chess column of The Era of 11/12/1864, the St. Georges, London and Blackheath chess clubs were recorded as having been described as the three leading Metropolitan chess clubs.
WSG was president of Blackheath CC in February 1865.
The public chess careers of FFG and HSG, sons of WSG, started around 1883. That of HSG appears limited to be limited to 1884 to 1886, whereafter he presumably moved to the mental hospital in Bath, as described above. (Earlier references to “H S Grover” will be mistranscriptions of “W S Grover”.)
Over time, FFG became a stronger player than father WSG.
Both FFG and HSG (presumably not misreported WSG) played for Surrey against Sussex twice in 1884 and twice in 1885 and at least once in 1886. Thereafter we have to assume HSG vanished from the chess radar.
By 19/01/1885, “Mr. Gover” (WSG?) was playing for the St. George’s club against the City of London CC, on board 14.
On 17/02/1885, FFG played for South Norwood against Brixton, in the Surrey Challenge Cup competition.
On 08/05/1886, in a Sussex v Surrey match, FFG was on board 1 for Surrey, while HSG was on board 13.
On 12/03/1887, FFG played for Surrey against London University.
In 1890 WSG was the “recently-elected” president of Surrey CCA.
On 02/01/1893, FFG and WSG were boards 1 and 2 respectively for City Liberal Club against National Liberal Club.
On 25/01/1893, FFG was on board 1 for Surrey (the only Gover in the team) against Kent. FFG was Surrey captain.
FFG played in the 1893 North of England v South match.
As at 30/09/1893, WSG was president of the Metropolitan Chess Club.
With the deaths of WSG and HG in 1894 and 1895 respectively, the only chess-playing Gover in the London area was F F Gover.
If 1899, FFG was playing for Kent v Surrey, on board 4.
There was an “H Gover” playing chess for Redland Reading Rooms in Bristol in 1899. This was presumably not Hubert Sidney Gover. This “H Gover” may have been Henry E. Gover. This Henry E Gover had a nephew Herbert Sandford Gover; born 10/10/1905, Bristol; married Vera (born 26/01/1908) 1925, Bristol. This younger H S Gover was probably the one evident, with his wife, in Bath public life over at least the period 1936 to 1946 (after the death of Hubert Sidney Gover). There is no evident close connection between the Govers of London and those of Bristol, though one wonders whether the placing of Hubert Sidney Gover in an asylum in Bristol points to a connection.
Copyright © 2020 Stephen John Mann
Census information is copyright of The National Archive, see UK Census Information