Yorkshire Chess History



James Rayner











Made in Yorkshire



Sheffield Sub-Site



16/07/1859, Topcliffe, North Yorkshire


07/08/1859, Topcliffe, North Yorkshire


04/06/1898, Leeds


08/06/1898, Woodhouse Cemetery, Leeds


James Rayner.jpg

(photo from The Chess Bouquet)


Non-Chess Life


The marriage between William Rayner (born 1834/35, Topcliffe) and Ann Mennell (born 1834/35, Thornton-le-Moor, 4 miles SSE of Northallerton) was registered at Thirsk in the third quarter of 1859.  The couple had at least the following four children:


James Rayner

born 16/07/1859, Topcliffe, North Yorkshire

baptised 07/08/1859, Topcliffe

Thomas Rayner

born 1860/61, South Cowton, Yorkshire

John Rayner

born 1861/62, Bradford

Jane Rayner

born 1863/64, Leeds


Topcliffe is a village on the River Swale, 4 miles SW of Thirsk, and 2 miles NE of Dishforth.


The 1861 census found 26-year-old William Rayner, a farm bailiff, his 26-year-old wife Ann, his 1-year-old son James, and his 6-month old son Thomas, living at Pepper Hall Farm House, South Cowton, North Yorkshire, an area about 2 miles SE of the village of North Cowton, which 7 miles south of Darlington.  “Pepper Arden” remains on modern maps as an area of woodland in that vicinity.  The move from Topcliffe to South Cowton was probably related to William Rayner’s work.


At some stage the family must have moved to Bradford.  The birth details of John suggest this was around 1861.  The first disaster for the family came when William Rayner died in 1863.  Two deaths of a William Rayner were registered at Bradford in 1863, in the first and fourth quarters respectively.  Which was James Rayner’s father matters little.


Soon after the death of William Rayner, the widowed Ann Rayner, with two young children, must have moved to Leeds.  On the basis of the birth details of Jane, who was born in Leeds, that was by 1864 at the latest.


On 12/04/1868, the widow Ann Rayner, then of North Street, Leeds, daughter of farm bailiff Francis Mennell remarried, to Charles Mark Brown (born 1836/37, at Markington, about 4 miles SSW of Ripon), commercial traveller of North Street, Leeds, and son of Robert Brown, farmer.  The wedding took place at St. Luke’s, Leeds, and was conducted by the curate, ?. Hardwood??, MA.  The marriage register erroneously described the bride as a spinster rather than a widow.


White's Directory of Leeds & the West Riding, 1870, listed Charles Brown, corn and flour dealer, at 138 North Street, Leeds.  At this stage, 128 North Street was listed as occupied by Jonathan Stowe, pawnbroker, but it becomes apparent that the corn and flour business of Charles Mark Brown was soon relocated to number 128 North Street, Leeds.


The 1871 census found 34-year-old corn and flour dealer Charles Mark Brown and 36-year-old Ann Brown, with Ann’s four children by her previous marriage, all scholars, living at 128 North Street, Leeds.


The once-widowed Ann Brown became doubly widowed when Charles Mark Brown, late of 128 North Street, Leeds, flour and horse-corn dealer, died at Leeds on 14/09/1875.  His will was proved by Ann Brown of 128 North Street, Leeds, widow, relict and sole executrix.  He left effects of under £800.  James Rayner had thus lost two fathers while still only 16 years of age.


Ann Brown continued the flour and corn business, and the 1881 census listed the widowed Ann Brown as a flower dealer at 128 North Street, Leeds.  All four of her children were still living with her.  21-year-old James was an assistant schoolmaster; 20-year-old Thomas was a book-binder; 19-year-old John was a midshipman, and Jane was still a scholar.  The household also contained a servant.


Kelly's Directory of Leeds, 1888, listed Mrs. Ann Brown, corn and flour dealer, at 128 North Street, Leeds.


On 05/09/1888, James Rayner attended the wedding of his 25-year-old sister Jane, who married 26-year-old Henry Dawson, a commercial traveller of 16 Lascelles Terrace, Roundhay Road, Leeds, son of deceased boot manufacturer Peter Dawson.  James Rayner and somebody whose signature looks like Thomas W. Thornton signed the register as witnesses.  The wedding was conducted at Brunswick Wesleyan Chapel, Leeds, by the minister, J. C. Wright.  This couple’s first child was Thomas Rayner Dawson, who went on to become famous as a chess problemist.


The 1891 census found only 31-year-old James Rayner still living with his mother, doubly-widowed Ann Brown, at 128 North Street, Leeds.  Ann was still a flour and horse-corn dealer, while James was still an assistant schoolmaster.  The enumerator made the mistake of recording James as Ann’s stepson.


The death of Ann Brown, aged 60, was registered in the first quarter of 1895 at Leeds.    Quite what happened with the flour and corn business is unclear.  Did James give up being a schoolmaster and take over the business?




James Rayner died on Saturday 4th June 1898, six weeks short of his 39th birthday


The cause of death was allegedly a chill acquired while attending a memorial service, at Brunswick Chapel Leeds, on 28th May, for the recently-deceased Rt. Hon. William Ewart Gladstone [An English Bohemian, J. Keeble, 1933, pp 19-20, (A C White Christmas Series)].


He was interred at Woodhouse Cemetery, Leeds, on Wednesday 8th June 1898.  The site of his grave is now an open space in a cemetery where most headstones have been cleared.


Probate records show that James Rayner of 128 North Street, Leeds, died on 04/06/1898.  Administration of his estate was granted to Jane Dawson, wife of Henry Dawson).  He left effects of £186.


The chess column in the Leeds Mercury Weekly Supplement of Saturday, 25th June, 1898, under “Chess News”, carried the following:

THE LATE MR. JAS. RAYNER.- Mr. & Mrs. Dawson, relatives of the late Mr. James Dawson, return their sincere and heartfelt thanks for kind sympathy; and they desire us to convey through the medium of our column their grateful thanks for sympathy expressed towards them from the chess world.


The “Mr. & Mrs. Dawson” referred to will have been Henry Dawson and his wife Jane Dawson, sister of James Rayner.


After Death


Making guesses to fill the cracks between items of information we can infer that Henry and Jane Dawson took over occupancy of 128 North Street, Leeds, and the running of the flour and corn business.  The story continues under Thomas Rayner Dawson.




James Rayner taught himself chess from Staunton’s Handbook in 1879, and taught the game to his school-friend of Isaac McIntyre Brown.  His interest in chess was increased by James White’s chess column in the Leeds Mercury’s, which started on Saturday 27th September 1879.


In 1881, he won Leeds Chess Club’s Cup which was contested as a handicap tournament.  James received odds of a pawn from the strongest players, and he won 32 of the 36 games.  He attended the West Yorkshire Chess Association meetings of 1881, 1883, 1884, and 1887, and he won the Yorkshire Championship in 1887-88 and 1889-90, thereby winning the Fattorini Trophy outright.


He had so-so results when representing Yorkshire.  Against Lancashire in 1884, at Manchester, he lost on board 6 to Samuel Wellington.  In the 1887 Yorkshire-Lancashire match he drew on board 2 with Robinson Leather.  In the 1888 match between the West Yorkshire Chess Association and Tyneside & Tees-Side he drew with Frederick Downey.


In the 1896 Yorkshire-Cheshire match he lost on board 1 to Amos Burn:

Yorkshire v Cheshire, Manchester, 1896, board 1

White: Burn, Amos (Cheshire)

Black: Rayner, James (Yorkshire)

1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. exd5 exd5 4. Nf3 Nf6 5. Bd3 Bd6 6. O-O O-O 7. Re1 Nc6 8. c3 Ne7 9. Nbd2 Bf5 10. Bxf5 Nxf5 11. Qc2 Ne7 12. Ne5 Ng6 13. Ndf3 c6 14. Bg5 Qc7 15. Bxf6 gxf6 16. Ng4 Qc8 17. Nxf6  Kg7 18. Nh5  Kh8 19. Qd2 Qg4 20. Qh6 Nf4 21. Qf6  Kg8 22. Qxf4 Qxf4 23. Nxf4 Bxf4 24. Re7 Rab8 25. g3 Bd6 26. Rd7 Rfd8 27. Rxd8  Rxd8 28. Re1 Kf8 29. Kg2 Be7 30. Ne5 Bf6 31. Nd3 Be7 32. f4 f6 33. Kf3 Kf7 34. Kg4 Rg8  35. Kf5 Rg6 36. Re3 Rh6 37. h4 Bd6 38. Re2 Rg6 39. g4 Rg8 40. Re6 Be7 41. g5 fxg5 42. Ne5  Kf8 43. hxg5 Bd8 44. Rh6 Rg7 45. Kg4 Be7 46. Nf3 Bd8 47. f5 a6 48. Re6 Re7 49. Rxe7 Bxe7 50. f6 Bd6 51. Ne5 Ke8 52. Kf5 c5 53. Ke6 Bxe5 54. dxe5 d4 55. f7  Kf8 56. Kf6 d3 57. e6 d2 58. e7 mate


When in 1897 Yorkshire played a cable match against London, he drew on board 1 with Stephen Smith.


In 1897-98 he won the Leeds Chess Club Silver Cup.


His final appearance in a county match was on board 2 against Lancashire in 1898, when he drew with Henry Jones.


Though a strong player over the board, he was perhaps more famous, and more widely known, as a chess problemist, both as a composer and a solver.  In 1889 he became editor of the problem section of the British Chess Magazine, holding that position until he died. 


(Heading of problem section from an 1892 issue of the British Chess Magazine.)





Copyright © 2012 Stephen John Mann

Census information is copyright of The National Archive, see UK Census Information

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