Yorkshire Chess History
The Littlewoods of Sheffield
There were four prominent twentieth-century Sheffield-born chess-playing brothers by the name of Littlewood. The most famous outside Sheffield was John, who in the past represented England in Olympiads. John was the father of chess-playing Paul E. Littlewood. The second most important brother was Norman, who like John represented England in his day. The third was Michael (“Mike”) who didn’t attain the same levels as his older brothers, but has prominent in Sheffield chess. The fourth was Peter, who was better-known as a bridge player, but who briefly played chess in his youth, well enough to take his turn at winning the Sheffield Championship.
Brother Frank played chess for South Yorkshire police in the 1960s,which would have been in the Sheffield & District Works Sports Association Chess Section’s league rather than the Sheffield & District Chess Association’s league, but he never won the Sheffield Championship.
Brother David says he played chess with his older brothers but was not at the same level and lost on most if not all occasions and finally gave it up as a bad job.
Brother Raymond says that he never took up chess because, as a teenager, he was beaten by Norman; who played him “blind”, whilst simultaneously doing mathematics and watching television!
The four chess-players were members of a family of eleven children born to Alfred Edward Littlewood and Ida Littlewood, née Wheeldon.
Alfred Edward Littlewood’s name and Ida Littlewood’s maiden name are present in the birth registration index records of the eleven children. The married couple’s names are also present in burgess (electoral) rolls referring to the former family home at 222 Eastern Avenue. Entries for that address in Kelly’s are on the face of it less easily explained, being successively Frank Littlewood (1937), Alfred E. Littlewood (1948-57), and F. Littlewood (1959-75). This explained by the fact that Alfred Edward Littlewood, though he signed himself as such, was for some reason widely known by the nickname “Frank”.
There was an Alfred Edward Littlewood whose birth was registered at Rotherham in the third quarter of 1901, and whose death at age 73 was registered in the first quarter of 1975 giving his date of birth as 08/08/1901. This seems to be the father of the chess-players, though the 1939 Register gave his date of birth as 07/08/1901 which is presumably correct. He is hard to locate in the 1911 census.
According to Mike, the family surname should have been Preston. Seemingly some forebear, either the father or the grandfather, I forget which he said, had been born with the surname Preston, but was then brought up by his maternal grandparents, whose surname was Littlewood, which surname he consequently assumed. This theory is borne out by David remembering his father mentioning he’d fallen out with his father, and joined the Foreign Legion, where, incidentally, while in India, had got shot in the stomach and nearly died. On return to England he presumably lived with the relatives called Littlewood, in Rotherham.
The paternal line is difficult to trace backwards with certainty. There was in fact a Littlewood family in the 1911 census which fitted these vague stories, that of 58-year-old carter, Edward Littlewood, and his wife, 55-year-old Isabella Littlewood, who lived at 7 Marsh Lane, Ickles, Rotherham, with 21-year-old coal-miner son George Littlewood, 19-year-old day servant daughter Bella Littlewood, 12-year-old scholar daughter Alice Littlewood, and 9-year-old scholar grandson Frank Littlewood. Edward was born in Chapeltown to the north of Sheffield, while his wife and all four children listed were born in Rotherham. It would fit Mike’s stories if the grandson were Alfred Edward Littlewood, born Alfred Edward Preston, being raised by maternal grandparents who elected to call him “Frank” and use their own surname for him. The age and place of birth match.
Ida Wheeldon was born on 03/08/1907 at Birch Vale, Derbyshire, in the extreme north-west part of Derbyshire, a mile west of Hayfield, about two-and-a-half miles south of Glossop, quite near to Stockport and on the same latitude as Sheffield. Her parents were Joseph Ernest Wheeldon (born 03/01/1883, Wormhill, Derbys., 4 miles E of Buxton, son of Joseph and Ann Wheeldon) and Ada Elizabeth Wheeldon (née Thorpe 18/08/1882, Hague Bar, Derbys., a mile west of New Mills, daughter of Edwin and Harriet Thorpe) who married on 11/06/1905, at St. George, New Mills.
Alfred Edward (“Frank”) Littlewood worked as a barman at the Dusty Miller, a pub in the angle between Sheffield Road and Canklow Road, and Ida Wheeldon played the piano there. The two got married in 1925. Their eleven children, all Sheffield-born, were:
The members of this large family developed skill in games, mainly chess and bridge, but also draughts, by playing amongst each other. A chess-playing friend of the young Littlewoods was the young Otto Hardy (latterly of Loughborough, though playing quite recently for Sheffield, d. 04/04/2010), who was at Sheffield University in the 1950s, and who latterly still had living in Sheffield a sister with whom he would stay while playing in the Sheffield Congress.
In earlier years, the family lived in Sheffield city centre, at The Wicker, a wide (by Sheffield standards) road on the east bank of the River Don, reached form the city centre over Lady’s Bridge.
Around 1937 the family moved to Eastern Avenue, Sheffield. Judith was the first of the children to be born at Eastern Avenue.
222 Eastern Avenue, Sheffield
The focal parental/family home of the Littlewood family became 222 Eastern Avenue, Sheffield, a small semi-detached council house on Sheffield’s Arbourthorne estate. Downstairs it had one living room, a kitchen, a pantry, and a downstairs toilet. Upstairs such houses had either two or three bedrooms. In this case there were presumably three bedrooms, one for the parents, one for the sons and one for the daughters. Very small children might have slept in their parents’ bedroom.
The house seems to have been built about 1936 as part of the council housing built on what was historically the enclosed parkland surrounding Sheffield Manor (whence the parliamentary constituency of Sheffield Park). Kelly’s Sheffield directory of 1935 didn’t mention Eastern Avenue at all. The 1936 edition listed Eastern Avenue, but with no even numbers between 120 and 234.
The 1937 edition of Kelly’s directory listed Frank Littlewood, barman, as the occupier of number 222. This “Frank” seems to have been the father of the chess-playing brothers, as described above. Kelly’s Sheffield directory of 1940 listed Alfred Edward Littlewood, labourer, as the occupier, and he remained listed there up to 1957. This was more overtly the father of the chess-playing brothers. From 1859 to 1975 the occupier named by Kelly’s directories was F. Littlewood, “Frank” being Alfred Edward Littlewood’s nickname.
Quite how many of the family lived there at any one time is unclear. The household probably peaked immediately after the end of the war. In 1946-48 the tally looks like twelve, the parents and ten children. Joyce will have moved out before Raymond appeared on the scene, otherwise the tally would have risen briefly to the maximum of thirteen. Except for Judith, all the children appeared on the electoral role at 222 Eastern Avenue when they became old enough.
Joyce left home about 1949, but was to return around 1971 with her married name, Hatton. Lawrence left home around 1953. Irene seems to have lived at the parental home for most of her life, though dropped out of the electoral roll there for very brief intervals. John left home around 1954. Norman was resident for his whole life at the parental home, except when on National Service. Peter and Judith seem both to have left home around 1959. Frank left home around 1975. Mike left home around 1966, but returned for a spell roughly from 1984-86. (Norman may have found the impact of Michael’s gambling addiction intolerable.)
When Norman died in 1989, Mike moved back in to look after his mother Ida and sister Joyce. John had apparently wanted his mother to move to his home in Skelmersdale, but she preferred to stay put. (Joyce could have gone to live with her daughter in Leeds.)
After Ida Littlewood died, Mike was left as the sole occupant of the house, and in time Sheffield City Council relocated him to a single-person flat, so ending over sixty years of occupancy by its original occupants, the Littlewood family.
The postcode at 222 Eastern Avenue, was S2 2GR. There was not normally a telephone in the house, so inviting its occupants to play in chess matches could involve going round in person and knocking on the door. (One was installed latterly by Michael, though it was soon disconnected.)
Ida Littlewood (The Mother)
The 1911 census found Joseph and Ada Wheeldon, both 28 years old, with 3-year-old daughter Ida Wheeldon and 7-year-old step-daughter Margaret Rylance Thorpe living at Brook Bottom, Strines, near Stockport. Brook Bottom is a village just on the Derbyshire side of the Derbyshire-Cheshire border, about three miles west of Ida’s birthplace, Birch Vale. Joseph was a general labourer in the paper-making industry.
In the latter years of her life, the family’s widowed mother, Ida Littlewood, lived at 222 Eastern Avenue, Sheffield, and presumably had lived there from 1948, if not before. In the 1980s she had Joyce and Norman living with her. After Norman’s death, Mike moved in to look after his mother and sister. In time Ida Littlewood’s health declined to the point where she was admitted to Sheffield’s Nether Edge Hospital (where 4NCL founder Chris Dunworth was born), and she died there in November 1993. The hospital happens to be on the other side of the road from the former Nether Edge Grammar School attended by John. She had survived four of her eleven children.
Mike had entertained the idea of writing his mother’s life history, but not surprisingly never got round to doing it. When registering her death he couldn’t remember her place of birth, remembering only that it was in North Derbyshire.
Joyce Littlewood (married name Hatton)
Joyce Littlewood married Peter T. Hatton in Jan-Mar 1949, and had at least one child, a daughter who in the latter part of Joyce’s life lived in Leeds. In later life Joyce was diagnosed as hypomanic and needed looking after, and lived at 222 Eastern Avenue with her mother and brother Norman, then, after Norman’s death, with her mother and brother Michael. (A typed letter from her doctor had said “hypermanic” but was corrected manually to “hypomanic”.) Brother Michael expressed the view that the rest of the family tended to ignore and overlook Joyce. She smoked when allowed, was somewhat overweight, and had physical medical problems (diabetes?). She died in Sheffield in December 1992, aged 66.
Lawrence had apparently worked at one time for Chesterfield town council. In Oct-Dec 1952 he married Eve Z. Jones. His death aged 33 was registered Apr-Jun 1961 at Romford, Essex. His early death was attributed to a brain tumour.
Irene never married. She worked at one time as a nurse at Sheffield’s Northern General Hospital. She was apparently found dead in circumstances which were somewhat unclear. The death was not officially regarded as suicide, yet her brother Michael expressed the view that she’d committed suicide while mentally disturbed.
John Eric Littlewood
See John Eric Littlewood for more on the chess-player.
See Norman Littlewood for more on the chess-player.
Peter Donald Littlewood
See Peter Donald Littlewood for more on the chess-player (better known as a bridge-player).
Judith (“Judy”) A Littlewood (married name Hunter)
Judy married Dennis Hunter Jul-Sep 1959, and the couple now (2013) have been long resident in Wolverhampton. Before the move to Wolverhampton Judy taught at Ecclesfield Grammar School, Ecclesfield, Sheffield.
In earlier years Frank was a policeman, but he left the police force. Like Peter, he was a bridge player. Frank played for South Yorkshire Police in the Sheffield Works league in the 1960s, but, like Peter, moved to bridge. In Oct-Dec 1975, he married another member of Sheffield Bridge Club, Judith Patricia (“Pat”) Spittlehouse, who had cutlery and catering interests. More recently Frank and Pat have been members of Beauchief Bridge club where Pat was partnering former chess-player Dr. Michael (“Mike”) J. Rook.
Michael Paul Littlewood
See Michael Paul Littlewood for more on the chess-player.
David Littlewood (piece contributed by David himself)
David went to Arbourthorne Junior School and then on to Hurlfield Secondary School. David was the practical one, being more interested in mechanical and electrical devices and also radio construction which must have come from his grandfather. After leaving school he started work at Walker Miller Ltd, Sheffield, and served an Electrical Apprenticeship, studied at Granville & Stannington Colleges and finally at the Sheffield Polytechnic (now Sheffield Hallam University) where he obtained a CGLI Full Technological (FTC) Certificate in Electrical and Electronics Engineering, and specialised in Industrial Electronics and Control Engineering. David later obtained a Graduate Certificate in Engineering and became a Member of the Institute of Engineering & Technology (MIET). David worked at various companies as a Senior Systems Engineer and at present (2013) he is a part time Engineering Manager. David maintained his interest in Radio and became a licensed Radio Ham in 1981 with call sign G6DCT. David played chess with his older brothers but was not at the same level and lost on most if not all occasions, and finally gave it up as a bad job.
Raymond Littlewood (piece contributed by David)
Raymond went to Arbourthorne Junior School, then on to Abbeydale Grammar School, and then on to Bradford University where he graduated with a Degree in Mechanical Engineering. Finally he went to Aston University in Birmingham and obtained a Masters Degree in Mechanical Engineering. He started work at Laycock Engineering, Sheffield, had many jobs in the mechanical engineering field, and finally became a specialised Pressure Vessel Design Engineer. Raymond liked folk music (Bob Dylan) and was a reasonable acoustic guitar player and like David played chess but not at the same level as brothers John and Norman. Raymond says that he never took up chess because, as a teenager, he was beaten by Norman; who played him blindfold, whilst simultaneously doing mathematics and watching television.
The usual birth/marriage/death and census sources, directories and electoral rolls, as quoted.
Some missing dates of birth and other snippets from Judy.
Memories and specially contributed pieces from David.
Things mentioned en passant by Mike.
Copyright © 2013 Stephen John Mann
Census information is copyright of The National Archive, see UK Census Information