Yorkshire Chess History
Harold Alexander Hunnam (born Harold Alexander)
H. A. Hunnam” was a Sunderland-based chess-player who achieved attention as a strong player with much potential in the late 1920s and the 1930s, but ceased playing chess at the start of the Second World War, and didn’t resume organised chess until about 20 years later, and never fulfilled the potential which had been shown in his youth.
The only apparent evidence of a death of an “H. A. Hunnam” is that of a Harold Alexander Hunnam who died in Sunderland on 23/01/1983 and was cremated at Sunderland Crematorium on 28/01/1983.
The date of birth given at the time of death of this Harold Alexander Hunnam was 22/08/1904, yet no evidence of a birth in 1904 answering to the name “H. A. Hunnam” is evident.
It’s possible, of course, that the given date of birth is wrong. There was Harold Hunnam whose birth was registered at Sunderland in the third quarter of 1898, but a corresponding death was recorded in the same quarter so this was presumably not the chess-player. He could have been born abroad, or records could have gone astray, but the reason for the absence of a record of the birth of chess-player “H. A. Hunnam” seems to be that his birth was in fact registered under a different name.
By a “deed poll” dated 22/11/1939, a certain “natural born British Subject” known as “Harold Alexander”, a joiner of 2 Fox Street, Sunderland, changed his name legally to “Harold Alexander Hunnam”. A South Shields player, Joe Watson, who as a schoolboy played for Sunderland YMCA, recalls that chess-player Harry Hunnam, who then also played for Sunderland NALGO (though not actually a Local Government Officer), was in fact a joiner by trade. The chess-playing Harry Hunnam thus looks like the Harold Alexander who became legally a “Hunnam” on 22/11/1939. However, if this is indeed the case, then he’d been playing chess for over a decade under the “unofficial” name “H. A. Hunnam”.
The 1939 Register found “Harold A. Hunnam”, born 22/08/1904, involved in the building trade, residing at 2 Fox Street with Anna Hunnam. Thus he was using “Hunnam” (in the Register) before the formal change (deed poll). The date of birth ties in with that given at his death. Thus he was born Harold Alexander, on 22/08/1904, and such a birth was registered at Sunderland in the fourth quarter of 1904.
Ward’s Directory for Sunderland &c, dated 1939, listed Mrs. M. Hunnam at the above-mentioned address, 2 Fox Street, Sunderland. Thus we have a “Hunnam” connection with the Harold Alexander who added “Hunnam” to his name, though “Mrs. M.” and “Ann” are inconsistent as cohabitees of 2 Fox Street. “Mrs. M.” would most likely be a Martha Hunnam.
Martha Hunnam and Harold Alexander “Hunnam” must have recently arrived at 2 Fox Street, as Ward’s Directory for Sunderland &c, dated 1938, listed “Misses Johnson” at 2 Fox Street, Sunderland.
Martha Hunnam (née Martha Bland, born 1856, Deptford, Sunderland) had married Robert Hunnam (born 1855, Sunderland) in 1878. It is conceivable that Martha Hunnam was Harold Alexander’s grandmother, and one of her son’s was his father. If that is the case, then two sons fit the bill, Robert Bland Hunnam (born 1878, Sunderland), who in time married in 1909, and George Hunnam (born 1883, Sunderland, baptised 16/05/1883, Sunderland), who seems to have married in 1914. Equally, some Hunnam household could have taken in Harold Alexander when he was young, without his father having been a Hunnam. His mother’s surname was presumably Alexander.
That all means that chess-player Harold Alexander Hunnam’s birth, on 22/08/1904, was apparently recorded under the name Harold Alexander. If “H. A. Hunnam” was in fact originally “Harold Alexander”, then answers to the questions of when he adopted the additional “Hunnam”, albeit initially informally, and why, are not clear, but he was certainly known in the wider chess world as “H. A. Hunnam” as early as 1927.
There was a Harold Alexander born in Sunderland in the fourth quarter of 1904 who could have been he who became H. A. Hunnam, but, if so, the birth was seemingly not registered for at least 40 days, suggesting possible complications arising from illegitimacy as suggested by the term “natural born”. The idea that this Harold Alexander became Harold Alexander Hunnam is supported by the lack of a corresponding death record in the name “Harold Alexander!”.
There was another Harold Alexander, who was born in 1896, but he appears to have died, aged 72, in 1968, still called Harold Alexander, so presumably ruling him out of being the chess-player, so the 1904 birth remains the most likely.
This explanation of the dates of birth and death of chess-player H. A. Hunnam is clouded by a reference in John Wheeler's book Chess in Northumberland (2nd edition, p 136) stating Hunnam was of age 82 at a match played on 13/05/1978 (implying birth in 1895 or 1896). Further, one who remembers him once told of an incident when Hunnam was described as “well over 80”. Somebody who was born in 1904 and died in 1983 was never aged 82, let alone “well over 80”. Wheeler says Hunnam died in the mid-1980s, so agreeing with the 23/01/1983 theory.
No feasibly corresponding entry for Harold Alexander (Hunnam) is evident in the 1911 census in or near Sunderland, or indeed elsewhere.
In 1929 the chess-player H. A. Hunnam went to live in Scotland for a short while, but was back in Sunderland in time for the chess season 1930-31, and it was as a Sunderland chess-player that he became best known. [BCM]
As stated above, Ward’s Directory for Sunderland &c for 1939 listed Mrs. M. Hunnam at 2 Fox Street, Sunderland, this being the address given as that of the Harold Alexander who changed his name on 22/11/1939 to Harold Alexander Hunnam.
Martha Hunnam died on 30/11/1940, aged 84, at Monkwearmouth and Southwick Hospital, Sunderland, at which time her residence was given as 80 Coniston Avenue, Sunderland. Probate was granted to younger son George Hunnam, marine engineer, and John Hudson Meek, engineer’s foreman. Her estate totalled £276 6s 4d.
A Harold A. Hunnam married to Emma Robina Gilbert at Sunderland in 1945. This was presumably the chess-player, who would no longer be in the flush of youth. The couple appear to have had no children. The death of Emma Robina Hunnam was registered in 1972.
H. A. Hunnam was seemingly still resident at 2 Fox Street throughout the 1940s, as he is listed there in Wright’s 1952-53 Sunderland Directory. He was listed at this address on telephone books right up to that dated 1955.
In telephone books dated 1956 and 1957 he was listed at 44 Otto Terrace, Sunderland. Then from 1963, somewhat enigmatically, he was listed at 31 Broad Meadows, Sunderland. (The 1963 Sunderland Directory listed J. W. Humble and E. Swales at 2 Fox Street.) Nevertheless, from 1971 to 1981 he was listed as before at 44 Otto Terrace, Sunderland.
Although in 1939 he’d been described as a joiner, telephone directories from 1950 to 1963 described him as a builder, though by 1971 the “Bldr.” epithet had been dropped, suggesting he retired at some time from 1963 to 1971 (e.g. 1969).
No pre-war directories seem to list H. A. Hunnam under trade headings such as joiner or carpenter, suggesting he had been an employee then.
Former Wakefield player John D. Taylor recalls that around 1959 he played against H. A. Hunnam who was playing for Sheffield’s Woodhouse Cup team. So, why was he in Sheffield?
Possible Hunnam-Sheffield Connection
There was a William Hunnam who was born in Leeds on 24/12/1882 but by 1911 was living in Sheffield, where the 1911 census recorded him living at 6 Botham Terrace, Brightside, Sheffield, with his wife of barely three months, Mary Elizabeth Hunnam (née Everson or Alderson, 1886, in or near Merthyr Tydfil). William was employed as an engine fitter.
William and Mary had two children, Constance Hunnam (born 1915, Sheffield; died, unmarried, 1944, Wortley, near Sheffield) and Kenneth W Hunnam (born 1927, Sheffield; married Jacqueline A Paget, 1959, Sheffield; son Gregory C. Hunnam, born 1965, Nottingham).
In 1961, William and Mary lived at 38 Greystones Crescent, Sheffield, into which they’d moved as the first residents after its being built around 1930/31. Wife Mary died at Sheffield in 1961, whereupon William evidently moved to live with or near son Gregory, as he died in the Nottingham area in 1963.
So, perhaps this William Hunnam was connected in some way with H. A. Hunnam, being perhaps an uncle – or even the father, though his birth in Leeds reduces the probability. Burgess Rolls for 1959-60 show only William and Mary as voters resident at their home, though the chess-player could have been resident with them at that time though without a vote.
One possible reference to H. A. Hunnam in Sheffield is found in Kelly’s Sheffield directory dated 1961, which lists “Alex Hunnam” at 35 Forres Road, Sheffield. So, was Harold Alexander Hunnam recorded living in Sheffield as “Alex Hunnam”? It seems highly unlikely, yet no records of birth or death of an “Alex Hunnam” (or “Alexander Hunnam”) are evident, so who was this person? This record is all the more mysterious as the householder at that address given for 1957 was Willie Troake, then no occupant was listed for 1959, then Alex Hunnam popped up for 1961, but then in 1963 Willie Troake was back in residence there.
H. A. Hunnam was seemingly back in Sunderland fairly soon, being absent from the writer’s memory of the Sheffield chess scene from the late 1960s onwards.
An illuminating source of information on the earlier phase of H. A. Hunnam’s chess career was provided by an article by the Northumberland Chess Association secretary (in 1932), Robert Pringle Boutland (presumably the one b. 1888, d. 1953), appearing on pp. 209-210 of the 1932 British Chess Magazine.
H. A. Hunnam had started playing in the Newcastle & District Chess League ten years earlier (as at about April 1932, hence started about 1922), and since then had been undefeated in the league and county matches.
In 1924-25 he won the Newcastle Weekly Chronicle Trophy for the Class 2 championship of Northumberland County Chess Association, so becoming counted as of Class 1. (No grading system in those days.)
The series of Scarborough Whit congresses which ran from 1925 to 1929 was run primarily by Gerald Mutrie Reid (b. 1895/96, Harrogate, d. 1958, York), honorary secretary of Scarborough Chess Club.
H. A. Hunnam played in the 1927 event, held at the Pavilion Hotel, Westborough, Scarborough, from Saturday 04/06/1927, to Saturday 11/06/1927. He finished 1st-4th= in the Major A section (second in rank to the Premier Section, won by Edgar Colle). The Major A placings were as follows:
* not to be confused with Albert Walter William Tulip
(Main source Yorkshire Telegraph & Star 04&11&18/06/1927.)
Boutland mentioned that Hunnam had scored wins in this event against Wenman, Schofield and Kahn. (The Major B section featured players weaker than those in Major A.)
In the 1928 Scarborough Whit Congress H. A. Hunnam appears to have played in the Premier Reserve section (again second in rank to the Premier, won by William Winter, ahead of Colle), but finished joint next-to-bottom.
Boutland goes on to record than in 1929 H. A. Hunnam moved to Glasgow where he played on board 1 for Pollack Chess Club in the Spens Cup, scoring =5, =1, -0.
In a web article titled “P.B. Anderson Remembers”, the opinion is expressed that only two players had cropped up who might have challenged the superiority of William Fairhurst in Scottish chess, though neither had stayed around long enough to do so, “One was H.A. Hunham, of Northumberland, and the other was Max Pavey, from Brooklyn, N.Y. I was a great admirer of both players, . . ” Editor Alex McGowan points out this should have read “H. A. Hunnam”. (The slightly erroneous reference to Northumberland will have stemmed from Sunderland-resident Hunnam being a member both of the Newcastle and Sunderland chess clubs, imparting a two-county eligibility shared by a number of players in the area.) (http://www.chessscotland.com/history/andersonmemoirs.htm)
Hunnam seems to have been back in the North East, presumably Sunderland, for an inter-county friendly match played on 24/01/1931.
For the season 1930-31, the Northern Counties Chess Union tried allowing Northumberland and Durham to compete in the NCCU county-team championship as a combined county team.
Hunnam played in at least 4 county matches from January 1931 to March 1932:
He’d risen up the county board order, but had yet to displace Charles William Fallows from board 1.
Boutland mentioned that in 1931-32, Hunnam’s score playing on board 1 for Sunderland in the Newcastle & District Chess League was +3, =2, -0, and that in county matches he’d drawn against Cheshire and won against Lancashire, agreeing with the above list.
In 1931-32 H. A. Hunnam, as a member of Newcastle-upon-Tyne Chess Club, won the Zollner-Viking Trophy for the (Class 1) championship of Northumberland County Chess Association. (This was what occasioned Boutland’s article in the BCM.) In the final he beat F. Dovey of Whitley Bay Chess Club. C. W. Fallows had had to withdraw due to illness. This appears to have paved the way for Hunnam to participate in the British Championship.
The 1932 BCF Championship took place at Whiteley’s, Bayswater, London, the cross-table being as follows:
Thus H. A. Hunnam finished 8th-9th= on 5 out of 12, with a draw against Sultan Khan, and wins against Fairhurst and Golombek. (Some game scores appended.)
Hunnam, it appears, was now a minor celebrity in Sunderland, and on Tuesday, 18/10/1932, billed as the “chess champion of Northumberland and Durham”, he played a 12-board simultaneous display at St. Gabriel's Church Hall, and was unbeaten.
(Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette of 19 October 1932)
Hunnam played in the following two county matches for Northumberland:
Alongside the team Olympiad run by the BCF in Folkestone in June 1933, there was a “General Congress” which consisted of a Premier Tournament (in which Hunnam played) and a Premier Reserve Tournament. In the 9-round premier tournament the final scores and placings (from Yorkshire Telegraph & Star of 01/07/1933) were as follows:
* born Mexico, raised in Liverpool; spent time prior to this in Bradford and Hull
** chess champion of Singapore at the time
*** not to be confused with Alfred Eva of Cheshire
**** donor of the NCCU junior championship trophy
“Dr. Blum” is sometimes said to have been “Dr. Oscar Blum”, but reports on Folkestone use “A.” as his initial, where one is used. (Possibly an error was copied from a single source.)
The YT&S did not report round-by-round Premier results, but the Folkestone, Hythe, Sandgate & Cheriton Herald did carry such detailed reports, though not all content is accessible to me. The following are Hunnam’s round-by round results as far as I can glean:
* pairing and result deduced from other known pairings in given rounds
It appears Emmanuel Lasker visited Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1934, as there is record of a consultation game being played on that occasion between “Scott/Hunnam/Bardsley” as White, and “Lasker, Em/Beaty” as Black, with the Lasker-Beaty syndicate winning. The White players would have been J. E. Scott, H. A. Hunnam and H. Bardsley, while Emmanuel Lasker’s partner will have been G. H. Beaty. All three local players played for Northumberland against Yorkshire on 24/11/1934 (below).
For the season 1934-35, the combined Northumberland & Durham team ceased competing in the NCCU county-team championship, and only Cheshire, Lancashire, Northumberland, and Yorkshire competed that season. Northumberland was due to play Yorkshire in Newcastle, but Yorkshire could raise only five players prepared to make the journey, so Yorkshire conceded. Cheshire met Lancashire at Warrington, and the final 8-8 score gave Cheshire victory under the bottom-board elimination rule. Northumberland beat Cheshire in the final at Leeds, on 17/03/1934, over 16 boards. After 8 adjudications results were resolved, Northumberland ended winners by 10-6. [Details not to hand, but Hunnam presumably played.]
Hunnam played for Northumberland in the following county matches:
At this time H. A. Hunnam seems to have given up playing in county matches. Maybe his relative playing strength was waning due to lack of top-level practice, and that prompted him to withdraw.
He was absent from the following:
Lancashire v Northumberland, on 11/01/1936, at York,
Yorkshire v Durham, on 18/01/1936, at Darlington,
Yorkshire v Northumberland, on 14/11/1936, at York,
Lancashire v Durham, on 28/11/1936, at Durham, and various later pre-war matches.
He may by now have been cultivating an interest in his future bride, which may have put the brakes on his chess activities.
After the war, on 14/12/1946, he played on board 3 for Durham v Northumberland, beating George Sydney Sell, playing below Fred Waldo Yielder (then county champion) on 1, and P. Mason on 2. This appears to have been something of a one-off.
H.A. Hunnam was absent from the following:
By his own admission, H. A. Hunnam had given up chess for 20 years, but whilst he remained a Sunderland-based player, he surfaced briefly, it seems, playing chess in (or for) Sheffield. John Dudley Taylor, who has played for both Wakefield and Sheffield in the Woodhouse Cup, remembers that while playing for Wakefield against Sheffield he was defeated by H. A. Hunnam, who mentioned he’d given up chess for 20 years, and mentioned some of his past notable results. This will have been in about 1959, and he must soon have returned to Sunderland, otherwise the present writer would remember him.
On 13/05/1978 he played in Northumberland v Durham match organised to commemorate the 100th birthday of George Sydney Sell. Sell was born 08/05/1878, so 13/05/1978 was the Saturday after his birthday. H. A. Hunnam played against, and beat, birthday-boy Sell.
Paul Bielby remembers (in April 2016) how when he moved to the North East in 1967, he encountered “Harry” Hunnam, commenting as follows:
Harry Hunnam was a very senior member of the Sunderland YMCA club when I moved to the NE in '67. He was well past his best as a player by then, but we played many games together. He had played against Sultan Khan in the British Championships, and those were the days before Swiss tournaments so he must have been regarded as among the best 12 players in the country at the time. He won the Silver Knight in 1925. This seems to have been the nearest thing to a Northumberland/Durham Championship at the time; though games were played with players giving odds! He won the Northumberland County Championship in 1932, a year after its inception. I am sure he has won the Durham County Championship in the past.
I remember playing in the George Sell Centenary match at Alnwick, when George played Harry on top board. There is a very blurred photograph of that game in progress in John Wheeler's book Chess in Northumberland which devotes a whole chapter to George Sell.
One final anecdote - I can remember a fellow club member, Stan Graco (now deceased), telling me that he was walking past Harry's house one day, when he was hailed from the rooftop. There was Harry, well over 80, up on the roof repairing the tiles!
1) British Championship 1932
2) Consultation game v Emmanuel Lasker
Copyright © 2017 Stephen John Mann
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