Yorkshire Chess History



John Rhodes











Made in Yorkshire



Sheffield Sub-Site







St. John’s, Leeds



Potternewton House, Potternewton, Leeds



St. Matthew’s churchyard, Chapel Allerton, Leeds


John Rhodes was a member of Leeds Chess Club, and a primary mover in the formation of the original Yorkshire Chess Association, besides being possibly the county’s strongest player in his day.  The span of his life meant that he witnessed, within his own lifetime, how the evolution of the original Yorkshire Chess Association led progressively to the development of regional and national organisations of the sort which in his youth simply had not existed, yet which we now take for granted.


Private Life


He was born on 26th August 1814, at Leeds, to Fairfax and Hannah Rhodes, and was baptised on 5th October 1814 at St John’s church, Leeds.


In his early working career he was a clerk in the office of the Aire and Calder Navigation Company in Leeds.  White’s directory of 1837 lists a John Rhodes, bookkeeper, living at 5 Queen’s Square, Leeds; this is almost certainly our man.


By 1842 he was working as a share-broker, in partnership with Charles Bell, under the name Bell & Rhodes, at 20 Albion Street, Leeds.  White’s directory of 1842 gives his home address at this time as 4 Queen’s Square.


Thereafter directories list him as working in various partnerships, or on his own, but always as a share-broker.  For himself, he built up investments and shares in one of the largest mining companies in Yorkshire, based at Middleton Colliery.


His marriage was recorded by the Leeds Mercury of Saturday, 21st December 1844, p. 5, as follows:

Yesterday [20th December 1844], at our parish church, by the Rev. W. F. Hook, D.D., vicar, Mr. John Rhodes, share broker, to Mary, youngest daughter of Mr. R. [=Robert] Benson, wool merchant, all of this town.


The couple named their first child after its paternal grandfather.  Fairfax Rhodes junior was born on 28th December 1845, and was baptised on 9th July 1846, at St Marks, Woodhouse, Leeds.  Fairfax was educated at Leeds Grammar School, and went on to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he obtained in 1869 a 3rd Class Classics B.A, going on to become a barrister, being called to the Inner Temple in 1870.  He became more famous than his father in the world outside chess.  He was a captain in the Royal Sussex Artillery Militia during 1879-80. He continued to practice law and also served as a Justice of the Peace when he moved to Brockhampton Park in Gloucestershire in 1900.  Colonel Fairfax Rhodes died on the 2nd December 1928, bequeathing his large collection of books to the Cambridge Union Society, which now has a Fairfax Rhodes reading room.


Later they had at a daughter, Mary, who in 1874 married Edward Hamer Carbutt (later to become “Sir”).  He was some time MP for the Monmouth Boroughs, and Mayor of Leeds in 1877.


In 1846-47, the Leeds Sharebrokers’ Association built Leeds Stock Exchange in Albion Place.  This will have been important to John Rhodes’s career.


In 1847 John Rhodes was listed as working with share-brokers Bell, Beverley & Co., he presumably being “Co.”.  At this time his home address was 7 Woodhouse Cliff, near Hyde Park, Leeds.


In time, Charles Bell retired, and John Rhodes was joined in partnership by his brother Thomas Rhodes until the latter’s death, after which John continued in business on his own for some years.


By 1853, he was living at Potternewton House, on the north side of the modern Potternewton Lane (earlier known as Town Street, Potternewton), at its junction with Henconner Lane.  Potternewton House remained his residence for the rest of his life.


In 1854, his business address, as a share-broker, was quoted as 12 Albion Street, Leeds.


In 1866, he was listed as part of Rhodes & Atkinson, share-brokers, of 18 Albion Street, Leeds.  His partner, William Atkinson lived at 83 Woodhouse Lane.  (His obituary mentions a partnership at some time with a John Wilkinson.)


John Rhodes was joined in 1867[?] by John Raynar in a partnership which lasted until John Rhodes retired in 1887[?], whereupon John Raynar was joined in partnership by David Grimshaw, who had worked in the office since boyhood.


In 1870, he was listed as part of Rhodes & Raynar, share-brokers, still at 18 Albion Street, and was also listed as a Leeds Borough Magistrate, and was described in the 1881 census as a J.P.




His obituary in the British Chess Magazine says he was associated with Leeds Chess Club as far back as 1834, which suggests he was a founder member of the club, as it was reputedly formed in 1834.


He was a key member of the Leeds Chess Club team which defeated Liverpool in two correspondence matches between the two clubs from 1839 to 1841.


He was secretary of Leeds Chess Club at the time of the first meeting of the Yorkshire Chess Association.  He attended the YCA meetings of 1841 (January), 1841 (November), 1842, and 1843.  In 1844 he was a member of the Yorkshire contingent at the Nottingham Chess Club Meeting.  He seems to have missed the YCA meeting of 1845 in Leeds, perhaps because his wife was two-months pregnant.


He attended the YCA meeting of 1846, on which occasion he won a game against St Amant, though, to be fair to the loser, the winner had received odds of pawn and two moves.


In 1847 he beat Edward Cronhelm in a match, 4-1.


He attended the YCA meeting of 1850.


He appears not to have been too keen on the expansion of the YCA to form the Northern and Midland Counties Chess Association, and later the British Chess Association.  Nevertheless, there appears no evidence that John Rhodes had a hand in the formation of the West Yorkshire Chess Association, which in effect replaced the original Yorkshire Chess Association for rank-and-file Yorkshire players, but it seems likely he was at least sympathetic to the move.


He attended the WYCA meetings of 1856, 1857, 1860, 1861, 1864, 1865, 1867, and finally 1878 in Leeds, by which time he was 63 years old.


At the 1860 WYCS meeting he received odds of a pawn and two moves from Daniel Harrwitz, and lost.  At the 1865 WYCA meeting he lost a game to John Watkinson.


On 27th August 1858, at the 1858 Chess Association meeting at Queen’s College, Birmingham, Paul Morphy gave an eight-board blindfold simultaneous display.  His opponents were Lord Lyttelton (President of the British Chess Assoc.), Rev. George Salmon, Thomas Avery, James Stanley Kipping, John Rhodes, Dr. James Freeman, Jabez Carr and William Rideout Wills.  John Rhodes lost as follows:

Paul Morphy - John Rhodes {Notes by J. Lowenthal}

1.e4 e5 2.f4 Bc5 3.Nf3 Nc6 4.fxe5 {We consider 4 Bb5 to be also a good move at this juncture.} d5 {The sacrifice of the Knight here is not advisable, as the variation appended will prove : 4...Nxe5 5 Nxe5 Qh4+ 6 g3 Qh4+ 7 qe2 Qxe4+ 8 d4 (Ng6+ though apparently a good move is not so; for after taking the rook the knight could not easily be liberated) Be7 9 Nf3 d6 10 Be3 Bg4 11 Nbd2 and we prefer the game of the first player.} 5.exd5 Qxd5 6.Nc3 Qd8 7.Ne4 Bb6 8.c3 Bg4 9.d4 Qd5 10.Nf2 Nxe5 11.Qe2 {It will be noticed that if White had instead played 11 dxe5, Black would have answered ...Bxf2+ and so obtained a decisive advantage.} Bxf3 12.gxf3 Qxf3 {When Mr. Rhodes sacrificed the piece, he no doubt thought that after moving ...Kf8 he could bring his queen's rook with great effect to e8 or he would hardly have dared to give up so much to so formidable an opponent.} 13.Qxe5+ Kf8 14.Be2 Qc6 15.Rg1 f6 16.Qg3 g6 17.Be3 Re8 18.Kd2 Ne7 19.Bd3 Qd7 20.Ng4 Nd5 21.Rae1 Nxe3 22.Rxe3 Qf7 23.Nxf6 Rxe3 24.Qxe3 Qxa2 25.Qe8+ Kg7 26.Nh5+ Kh6 27.Qe3+ Kxh5 28.Qg5#


He also attended the 1862 British Chess Association, the North Yorkshire and Durham Chess Association meeting of 1866, and was a subscriber to Skipworth’s “Yorkshire Chess Association” meeting of 1868.


He appears to have known George Walker, as the latter dedicated his book Chess & Chess-Players: consisting of original stories and sketches to




That John Rhodes had spare-time interests other than chess is evidenced by the fact that A History of the Birds of New Zealand listed “RHODES, John, Esq., Potternewton House, Leeds” as one of its subscribers.  The Yorkshire Archaeological and Topographical Association Record Series, Volume VIII (for year 1889) also listed him as a subscriber.  He thus had diverse interests outside chess.




The Rhodes grave is in the churchyard of the old Chapel Allerton church of St Matthew, on the east side of Harrogate Road, Leeds, near the library.  That church is not now standing, having been replaced by the present church in Wood Lane, on the west side of Harrogate Road.  The churchyard is quite small, but crowded, and contains a number of trees.


According to the grave inscription, Dorothea Fairfax Rhodes, daughter of Fairfax Rhodes, was born on July 25th 1879, but died on December 11th 1880, aged 16 and a half months, and was buried in St Matthew’s churchyard, Chapel Allerton, on 14th December 1880.  John’s wife, Mary, died 9th November 1885, and was buried in the same grave as Dorothea, on 12th December 1885.  Another grandchild, Gerald Fairfax Rhodes, who was born 27th May 1882, but died 6th January 1889, at the age of 6 years and 7 months, and was buried with his sister and grandmother on 9th January 1889.


John Rhodes himself, died on 16th May 1898, and was interred in the same grave as his wife and grandchildren on Tuesday 18th 1898.  The notice in the “deaths” column of the Leeds Mercury of Tuesday 17th May 1898 read:

RHODES. – On the 16th inst., at his residence, Potternewton, Leeds, John Rhodes, in his 84th year.  (Interment at Chapel-Allerton Church tomorrow (Wednesday) at 11. 30.  Friends will kindly accept this intimation.  No flowers, by request.)


The same edition of the Leeds Mercury carried an obituary of which the following paragraphs are part:


Leeds has lost an old and esteemed citizen by the death of Mr. John Rhodes.


For some months past he had been declining in vigour.  About a fortnight ago he caught a chill, and, gradually growing weaker, passed away shortly after seven o’clock yesterday morning.


Of a retiring disposition, Mr. Rhodes took little or no part in public [political] affairs, though throughout he was a staunch Conservative.  A patron of art, he had one of the finest collections of paintings in the north of England.


His favourite game was chess.  In this he excelled.  At one time, Mr. [Robert] Cadman (another Leeds man) and Mr. Rhodes were considered the best players in the county.


He contributed liberally to the fund for the erection of the home of the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society in Parkrow; the benevolent organisations found him ready to aid them; and many worthy movements had his support.  Mr. Rhodes was a magistrate for the city, and until two or three years ago sat regularly on the bench.  For a lengthened period he had been a member of the Pious Uses Trust [?].  He was a director of the bank of Leeds from its formation until its absorption by the National Provincial Bank of England.


Mr. Rhodes leaves a son and a daughter – Mr. Fairfax Rhodes, who resides in London, and Lady Carbutt, wife of Sir Edward Carbutt, formerly Member for the Monmouth Boroughs, and Mayor of Leeds in 1877.  The interment will take place

tomorrow, in Chapel-Allerton Churchyard.  Aged 83.



A more personal, chess-oriented obituary was included by James White in his chess column in the Leeds Mercury Weekly Supplement of Saturday 21st May 1898.  It read:

On Monday last a chess player whose name carried great honour and respect with all classes of chessists in the county breathed his last.  The end had been looked for, for John Rhodes had reached the ripe age of over fourscore years.  He was born on August 26, 1814.  He was a brilliant example of commercial success.  In chess he was perhaps the strongest player in Yorkshire, at the time when he was in practice.  He was one of the leading players in the contests by correspondence between the clubs of Leeds and Liverpool.  The first match, begun in December,1838, was resigned by Liverpool in November, 1839, Leeds winning both games; and a second match, begun a week after the conclusion of the first, was also won by Leeds, although Liverpool had been strengthened by the accession of Mr. Mongredien to its playing committee.  The second contest was severe, but was resigned by Liverpool in January, 1841.  It was quite a treat to hear from Mr. Rhodes the history and details of these matches.  Indeed, the accounts he gave of his chess experiences in foreign travel, the racy anecdotes of chess celebrities who met at his hospitable board at his own house, and the evident desire in all recounting of chess exploits in which he himself figured to keep himself in the background, could never be forgotten when once heard.  Many chess celebrities of his time, both native and foreign, have visited him at Potternewton House, and expressed themselves delighted with their reception there.  Not long ago he played a few games at the Leeds Club, and his style and skill showed what he must have been previously, for he won every game on that occasion, though he had been out of serious practice for many years.  The Leeds club has received many marks of his favour and liberality for a number of years.  The Silver King, still fought for annually in the club’s tournament, was presented by him; while the donations from his purse as occasion required them were frequent and liberal.  A fine trait in the character of the departed one was the quiet and un ostentatious manner in which he performed his good deeds in the club’s favour.  The writer [James White] remembers that during the time he held the office of treasurer, notes for the club’s funds were pressed into his hands unobserved by any one, and a promise of secrecy exacted as to who the donor was.  Such a benefactor as the late John Rhodes, to the Leeds Chess Club in particular, and to the county chess generally, has proved himself the veritable friend in need; and sincere regrets are expressed by all Yorkshire chessists at his removal from their midst.



Rhodes Grave, Chapel Allerton

(There are a few unrelated occurrences of “Rhodes” in the same graveyard.)


The grave is surmounted by a rectangular stone of the type resembling a long gable roof, with two side gables, back to back, at one end, so that the ridges form a cross.  On the north long sloping side of the “roof” is the inscription:


Dorothea Fairfax Rhodes

BORN JULY 25TH 1879,


Also Gerald Fairfax Rhodes,

BORN MAY 27TH 1882,


The beloved grand-children of John Rhodes


On the south long sloping side of the “roof” is the inscription:


John Rhodes

of Potternewton House, Leeds,

WHO DIED MAY 16th 1898,


Also Mary Rhodes,




(Click here for images of the grave.)





Copyright © 2012 Stephen John Mann

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

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