Yorkshire Chess History
The Spelling of the Surname
Chess literature variously spells the surname of this blind chess-player as “Lumley” or “Lumbley”, both of which occurred often enough, in the population at large, to be plausible. “Lumley” appears to be the commoner choice in chess literature. In the notice from his father in Bell’s Life in London (below), there’s a “b” in the surname, but this could be attributable to the notice having been dictated; the “b” may have been a fancy of the scribe, and was not necessarily written down by the father. The simple “Lumley” appears in all official documents (a baptism register and three census returns) which appear to relate to the chess-player.
So, statistically, and on the basis of the likely level of knowledge on the part of the writers concerned, the correct spelling is here assumed to be without the epenthetic “b”.
George Lumley is one of those few people in connection with whom “chess” is explicitly mentioned in a census return. Thus the 1861 census provides crucial evidence of the date and place of origin of this player whose name in itself is so indistinctive and subject to varied representation. What the 1861 census tells us is that “George Lumley” (without a “b”, for what that’s worth) was a 24-year-old, Manchester-born “chess tutor”, residing as one of four boarders in the Procter household at Wellington Street, Hull. Wellington Street is between Humber Dock and the river Hull, and about 250 yards from the Humber estuary. Head of household, Joseph Procter, was a licensed porter, presumably in the docks. This puts his date of birth from 08/04/1836 to 07/04/1837.
The Worcestershire Chronicle of 01/06/1859 gave the chess-player’s age as 22, putting his date of birth in the range 02/06/1836 to 01/06/1837, further limiting his probable date of birth to the range 02/06/1836 to 07/04/1837. His place of birth was never indicated as anything other than Manchester.
Census returns had space in the rightmost column for recording disabilities, including blindness. In the case of the 1861 census, George is recorded as blind, with explanatory small print, below, which seems to say “not from Birth”. His blindness probably came about in 1846 or 1847, as it was most often reported as when he was aged 10.
There were a number of people called “George Lumley” born in or around 1837, in or near Manchester. The most likely one to be our man looks like one born to John and Jane Lumley, and baptised at Manchester Cathedral, on 22/05/1836. This doesn’t quite tally with the above range for the date of birth, but he may have said at Worcester that he was 22 when he was actually very nearly 22. The baptism register gave dates of birth for some baptises, but not this one, suggesting baptism was soon after birth. A census return listing both a blind George Lumley and his parents, or other documentation supplying such a link, is hard to uncover, so George’s parents’ true identities and his date of birth remain unclear.
An 1841 census entry listing a blind George Lumley seems is difficult to locate. He was probably still sighted at this stage. The above possible parents, cotton-spinner John Lumley and cotton-ruler Jane Lumley, are listed with their three children, of whom the eldest is 5-year-old (sighted) George, and an 80-year-old Ann Lumley, who presumably was John Lumley’s mother, all living together at 2(?) Baxter’s Buildings, Hulme, Manchester.
According to newspaper reports covering his trips to chess clubs around the country, George lost his sight due to being struck on the head by a cricket ball. This was reported as being when he was 10 or 13 years of age, according to the source. The change may, of course, have been progressive over a number of years. (The Liverpool Mercury of Friday 06/01/1860 said on page 8 that George had been blind from birth, as did The Preston Chronicle, the Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser and other papers of the following day, all quoting the same report in origin, it seems.)
If the Lumley family in Baxter’s Building in 1841 was in fact that of our George Lumley, then the young boy must have lost his sight at some time from 1841 to 1851, as the 1851 census lists a 15-year-old, blind, Manchester-born George Lumley living in the Blind Asylum, Charles Road, in the Old Trafford area of Manchester. This George Lumley has to be our man, but his stated age (implying birth at some time from 31/03/1835 to 30/03/1836) is not quite consistent with that in the 1861 census. The asylum may have had a record only of his age at the time of his entry, and not his date of birth, in which case the age of 15 might be approximate, and he may have been only nearly 15.
There were about 58 inmates, both males and females, of all ages, not just children. Besides a governor and domestic staff, the staff included three teachers, one for basket-making (George Maddison), one for music, and one for teaching specifically females; some of the girls learnt rug-making. George was a basket-maker.
Details of boarders, as recorded in census returns, are often inaccurate, especially for boys in boarding schools. Not only can the name be misspelt, and the age wrong (quite possibly in some cases because the boarder had lied at the outset), but the place of birth was sometimes recorded as the place whence the person had arrived, or as the place of residence of a boy’s parents, on the assumption that that was also the place of birth.
The implications of the information provided by the census on 07/04/1861 are quite astounding. Though blind, George had given up the relatively safe occupation of basket-making, in sheltered accommodation, for chess-tutoring and giving simultaneously blindfold displays, presumably as a way of earning a living. Further, he seems to have moved from Manchester to Hull, as the term “boarder” suggests residence, rather than being merely a visitor (“boarder” and “visitor” being distinct concepts in censuses), though it may be that he was briefly staying in Hull while on his peregrinations around the country’s chess clubs, which activity may well have meant he had no permanent residence for months or years at a time.
Bell's Life in London of 21/06/1863 carried the following notice from George’s father years:
Apart from apparently helping to identify George’s father, from the initial “J”, the notice shows that rather than returning to his parents’ home between bouts of travel to chess clubs around the country, he must have led a primarily itinerant life, moving from place to place, but perhaps adopting some location as a base for a while. Thus when he was boarding in Hull, that might have been a temporary launch pad for trips to chess clubs in Yorkshire, before he moved to a different part of the country.
Further census records are elusive. “George Lum(b)ley” is not a very distinctive name, but his subsequent census records, if any, should be identifiable by a reference in the disabilities column to him being blind. He may have returned to basket-weaving, which in those days was roughly the equivalent of modern-day piano-tuning as an occupation for the blind.
All contemporary references to his activities seem to dry up after February 1862, when had appeared in Leicester. (Later references in 1863 appear to be retrospective.) His parents’ fears expressed in Bell’s Life in London, that some ill had befallen him, may well have been justified.
As with records of his birth, records of his death are not easy to identify as relating to him.
If one assumed, somewhat unjustifiably, that he died in or near his native Manchester, then the most likely such death might be that of a George Lumley whose death at age 35 was recorded in the second quarter of 1872, at Manchester, but this seems to relate to a George Lumley born in 1836/37 to Leonard Lumley and Hannah Lumley (nee Berry). There was also a George Lumbley (with a “b”) whose death at age 39 was recorded in the first quarter of 1876, at Haslingden, Lancashire; this also could be our man, but seems less likely.
In view of his itinerant lifestyle, it is probable that he died away from his native Manchester, in which case, even if his death was recorded, the record would be very difficult to identify as relating to the blind chess-player.
Sadly, an unnoticed, untimely death in 1862, at the age of 26, far from home, seems quite likely.
Perhaps his death was that recorded in the records of Withington workhouse, south Manchester, which was of a supposedly 27-year-old George Lumley who died at 4.05 p.m. on 27/04/1864 at Withington workhouse. (The person baptised on 22/05/1836 would now be 28.) This death seems not to appear in the national death registry index.
From brief and vague allusions in newspapers it seems George learnt chess mainly at Manchester Chess Club, around 1856/57. In any event, however, it seems he learnt chess after he became blind, as a way of occupying the mind. In March 1859 he was said to have learnt chess two-and-a-half years earlier, i.e. in late 1856. In August 1859 he was said to have known chess for only two-and-a-half years, i.e. since early 1857; yet in August 1860 he was said to have turned to chess “some five years ago”, i.e. in about 1855, and in May 1861 was said to have “known nothing of chess five years ago”, i.e. in 1856. The year he really learned chess appears to have been 1855 at the latest, on the basis of what follows.
It is likely that the blind asylum taught and fostered chess. (A blind school in Sheffield, in later years, taught and fostered chess among its boys.) It is said he received chess teaching at Manchester Chess Club. Former Lancashire player Owen Hindle is reported as unearthing references in 1855 to George composing and solving chess problems [www.chesshistory.com/winter/winter16.html note 4006]; George’s basket-making teacher, George Maddison, had written to a chess-columnist. It looks as though he probably was taught chess at the blind asylum in 1855 or before, showed greater skill than most, and so went on to receive more-advanced tuition at Manchester Chess Club, progressing fast enough to embark on a tour of British chess clubs, giving simultaneous quasi-blindfold displays (usually against three or four opponents at a time) over the period 1859 to 1862 and perhaps later.
As regards strength, he was able to achieve a majority score over the locals at most provincial clubs he visited, but was not of the high calibre of his more famous fellow Mancunian, Joseph Henry Blackburne. He wasn’t strong enough to tangle with top players; he lost a game against Adolph Zytogorski, who gave George odds of pawn and 2 moves [Chess Player’s Chronicle, 3rd Series, Vol.1, 1859, p.297].
He toured chess clubs giving simultaneous blindfold displays, usually over three to eight boards, and apparently always less than ten. He would not, of course, be literally blindfolded, but he would not have access to a blind player’s chessboard, a variety of which he was accustomed to use, as mentioned in the write-up of his 1861 visit to Sheffield. His opponents would be sitting at chess boards on which they played out the moves of their games. It is apparent form the write-ups of displays that his opponents were identified to George, for the announcing of moves etc, by board numbers.
Whereas with sighted simultaneous players, both sides in a game would make their moves on the board, with George moves had to be announced verbally, often with someone recording the moves. Sometimes it occurred that the sighted played failed to make a move on the board, which fact would come to light later. Recourse to the written score would show George to be right that a certain move had been made.
His tours around the country’s chess clubs included visits to Yorkshire clubs in February and March of 1860, and in April and May of 1861 – see 1860: George Lumley in Yorkshire, and 1861: George Lumley in Yorkshire. Most clubs he visited were in the so-called “provinces”, but at least one trip to London is evidenced by an item in the Chess Player’s Chronicle, 3rd Series, Vol.1, 1859, page 284, which said:
(The game then given was a protracted draw.)
One of his visits to a provincial cub, in Wellingborough, was reported in the Chess Player’s Chronicle, 3rd Series, Vol.3, 1861, page 110, quoting the Wellingborough News, as follows:
His visits to chess clubs were more-widely covered by local newspapers of the day than by chess periodicals, and an impression of the extent of his activity is given by the table below, the basis of which was a superficial search of the British Newspaper Archive website [www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk © 2014 brightsolid Newspaper Archive Ltd] .
(In the absence of a subscription to that site, none of the quoted sources have been accessed fully on that site by the present writer, though some had already been retrieved in local studies libraries; the minimal, garbled data initially returned by entering search criteria don’t always give enough clear information for one to be sure what the article contains; but, whilst the table consequently contains uncertainties and possible misinterpretations, it gives a good overall impression of George Lumley’s peregrinations and the attendant newspaper coverage.)
The Dundee, Perth & Forfar People's Journal of Saturday, 11/08/1860, referred to a match, for the best of 13 games, between George Lumley and “an Amateur of Dundee”. George Lumley is known to have played a series of 7 games with George Brunton Fraser (b. 1831, d. 01/02/1905), of Dundee, who became Scottish Chess Champion of 1898. The Dundee Courier of Monday, 02/03/1863, seems to have given one of these games. The result of the series was referred to in the Dundee Courier of Monday, 31/08/1863, but referred to it as something that had occurred some time ago, so this looks rather as if Fraser was the “Amateur of Dundee” mentioned in the article of 11/08/1860. A further game was given by the Dundee Courier of Saturday 09/01/1864.
Copyright © 2014 Stephen John Mann
Census information is copyright of The National Archive, see UK Census Information