Yorkshire Chess History



John Watkinson











Made in Yorkshire



Sheffield Sub-Site



05/02/1833, at West Parade, Huddersfield


19/12/1923, Fairfield, New North Road, Huddersfield


22/12/1923, Edgerton Cemetery, Huddersfield



Family Background


John Watkinson’s father was Charles Clapham Watkinson, who was born 1784/85, and baptised on 15th April 1785 at All Saints, Gainsborough.  Charles Clapham Watkinson was married to Sarah Wild on 28th June 1819, at St. Peter’s, Huddersfield, by the vicar, John Coates.  One of the witnesses was a William Watkinson.  The couple appear to have had a son who was baptised on 28th January 1821 at the Highfield Independent Chapel, Huddersfield.


Sarah Watkinson seems to have died as 1st September 1825 Charles Clapham Watkinson married Ellen Edwards (born 1789/90).  This couple had at least four children:

Sarah Watkinson

born 1825/26;

Edward Watkinson

born 10th June 1829, at Huddersfield,

baptised 30th August 1829 at Highfield Independent Chapel;

John Watkinson

born on 5th February 1833, at West Parade, Huddersfield;

Ann(e) Watkinson

born 1830/31.

One daughter in due course married a David Johnston.


Pigot & Co.'s Directory of Cheshire, Cumberland etc, of 1828-29, listed Charles Clapham Watkinson under “Hosiers and Stocking Manufacturers” and “Linen Drapers and Haberdashers” in New Street, Huddersfield.  White’s Leeds & Clothing District Directory, 1830, similarly listed C. C. Clapham as a hosier in New Street.


At some stage Charles Clapham Watkinson seems to have opted for a career change, as at the time of John’s birth Charles Clapham Watkinson was an accountant in the employment of John Brooke and Sons Ltd.  At that time the family home was of 68 West Parade, Huddersfield.


At the age of five John Watkinson became one of the first pupils at Huddersfield College, which was founded in 1838 [3].  He was under minimum age at the time, but was admitted as his older brother Edward had been admitted [4].


The 1841 census found the Watkinson still at West Parade.  The household consisted of the following:

Charles Clapham Watkinson

age 50, a “threadster”;

Ellen Watkinson

age 50, his wife;

Richard Watkinson

age 25, possibly a nephew, a merchant;

Sarah Watkinson

age 15, daughter;

Edward Watkinson

age 11, son;

Ann(e) Watkinson

age 10, daughter;

John Watkinson

age 8, son.


The identity of Richard Watkinson is unclear.  He was too old to be Charles Clapham’s son (if born in wedlock).  He may have been Richard Foster Watkinson, son of William Watkinson and Mary Ann Watkinson of Fartown, Huddersfield, born 12th August 1815, and baptised 10th September 1815 at St. Peter’s Huddersfield.


John left school in 1848, and joined the Halifax and Huddersfield Union Bank as a clerk.


The 1851 census found the Watkinsons still at West Parade.  66-year-old father Charles was listed as a clerk.  The mother, Ellen was 64.  21-year-old Edward and 18-year-old John were both banker’s clerks, and 20-year-old Ann was still at home.


In 1853 John followed in his father’s footsteps by joining John Brooke and Sons at Armitage Bridge Mills4.  Coincidentally, this was during the period when child prodigy Walter Parratt was organist at Armitage Bridge church.  These two, who might at this time unwittingly have passed each other in the streets of Armitage Bridge, would get to know each other later as Huddersfield chess-players.


White’s Directory of Leeds, Halifax, Huddersfield, Wakefield etc, 1858, listed Charles Clapham Watkinson as an employed person, still at 68 West Parade.


Ellen Watkinson must have died at some time from 1851 to 1861, as the 1861 census found only 76-year-old Charles Clapham Watkinson and youngest offspring John left at West Parade.  Edward got married around this time, and Ann had presumably married as well.  John was now listed as clerk to a woollen manufacturer.


In June 1863 John Watkinson married Laura Ellen Robinson (born 18th May 1830, at Honley near Huddersfield), elder daughter of John Robinson, a dyer of Huddersfield.  The wedding was conducted by the Rev. Dr. Bruce at Highfield Independent Chapel.  In time, the couple had at least three children:

Mary Watkinson

born 15/02/1864, at Huddersfield;

John Arnold Watkinson,

born 10/06/1865, at Huddersfield,

died 13/11/1870, age 5 years and 5 months;

Kate Watkinson

born 22/04/1867, at Huddersfield.

These three were all baptised on 3rd July 1870, at Highfield Independent Chapel.


Charles Clapham Watkinson died in the third quarter of 1863, in Huddersfield.


White’s Directory of Leeds & the West Riding, 1870, listed John Watkinson, cashier, at West Hill, off Trinity Street, Huddersfield.  Edwin Woodhouse was also resident at West Hill at this time.


The 1871 census found John, his wife and two daughters living at New North Road, Huddersfield.  The 1881 census showed no change, but John Watkinson’s trade or profession was now listed as “woollen manufacturer’s cashier” and “editor if British Chess Magazine”.  The 1881 census showed no change except that the address on was more specifically 84 New North Road (confirmed by Kelly's Directory of West Riding of Yorkshire, 1881).  The status quo remained in the 1891 census.  The house at some time acquired the name “Fairfields”.  (Click here for photos of “Fairfields”, 84 New North Road, Huddersfield.)


In the last quarter of 1896, Kate Watkinson married Arthur Harley, a son of Rev Robert Harley, a principal of Huddersfield College from 1882 to 1885.  In October 1900, in Huddersfield, the couple had a daughter, Kathleen May Harley.


The 1901 census listed John Watkinson and his wife Laura Ellen Watkinson living still at 84 New North Road, with unmarried daughter Mary, married daughter Kate Harley and 5-month-old granddaughter Kathleen M. Harley.  Kate’s husband was not evident, but he must have still been alive as in 1902/03 John Arthur Laurence Harley was born.


The 1911 census listed the same household as in 1901, but with the addition of the second Harley child.  John Watkinson was now described as a retired cashier.




John Watkinson died at his home, Fairfield, New North Road, Huddersfield, on Wednesday 19th December 1923, at the age of 90, and was buried at Edgerton Cemetery on Saturday 22nd December 1923, in section 26.

(Click here for images of the Watkinson grave.)


The Huddersfield Daily Examiner of Thursday 20th December 1923, page 6, column 5, under “Deaths” listed the following:

Watkinson- On 19th inst, at Fairfield, Huddersfield, after a brief illness, John Watkinson, in his 91st year.  Interment at Edgerton Cemetery on Saturday morning, at 11-45.  No flowers.


There was long obituary in column 4 and the top of column 5.


Still on the same page, in the adjacent column 6, providing a possibly-unwitting testimony to Watkinson’s legacy to chess, there was a report of the match between Berry Brow Liberal Club, at home, and Huddersfield YMCA, in the Watkinson Trophy competition.  (YMCA won 4-2, despite defaulting on board 6.)


The Huddersfield Daily Examiner of Monday 24th December 1923, page 3, carried the following article:


The funeral took place on Saturday morning at Edgerton Cemetery of Mr John Watkinson, of Fairfield, who died on Wednesday last.  The service at the house and at the graveside was conducted by the Rev. T. Webster, pastor of Highfield Congregationalist Church, with which place of worship Mr. Watkinson was connected for many years.

The family mourners were
Mrs. [Kate] Harley (daughter)
Miss [Kathleen May] Harley (granddaughter)
Mr. F. C. Wilkinson (nephew)
the Misses Johnson (nieces [daughters, number unstated, of his sister])
Mr. G. C. H. Williams
Mrs. Norman Hall
and Mrs. Norman Firth.

Major T. Brooke and Mr. E. R. Benson represented the firm of Messrs John Brooke and Sons, Ltd, Armitage Bridge.

Mr. C. H. Carr (Mr. Watkinson’s solicitor) was present.

Councillor Walter Halstead was present on behalf of the Public Library and Art Gallery Committee, and also the Huddersfield Chess Club.

Other chess club representatives were Fred Lee (President), F. M Bassano (Secretary), H. E. Atkins, and Alfred Denham.

Mr. G. W. Richards represented the Huddersfield Savings Bank of which Mr. Watkinson was one of the oldest trustees.

Alderman Lawson (chairman), Alderman Platts and Councillor F. W. D. Walker represented Huddersfield Education Committee.

Mr. F. C. Cole represented the staff of the Public Library and also the Huddersfield  Amateur Operatic Society.

Among the other mourners were Mr. Arthur Pearson (borough organist), Mr. Elliott Dodds, Miss Quarmby (Mr. Watkinson’s nurse) and several of Mr. Watkinson’s domestic servants.

The funeral arrangements were carried out by Mr. J. Whiteley, of Marsh and Edgerton.


The Huddersfield Daily Examiner of Monday 31st December 1923, page 2, under “Correspondence”, carried a letter dated 27/12/1923, from a former resident of Huddersfield, H. J. Boyd of 42 Westover Road, Wandsworth, SW18, who remembered John Watkinson with respect and affection.  It started as follows:

Sir. – I thank you most heartily for the full and interesting record of the late Mr. John Watkinson.  There is only one thing lacking, the great moral influence he exercised during his long and useful career.

After remarks regarding the writer’s own interaction, when resident in Huddersfield, with John Watkinson, the letter concluded with an outline of church-related activities of other members of the Watkinson family, as follows:

[In 1864] Edward Watkinson was a deacon at Highfield, and secretary of an appointed committee of the Paddock Congregational Mission.  William Watkinson was one of the superintendants of the Paddock Congregational Sunday School.  John Watkinson and his sister, Mrs. David Johnson, were exercising great influence in the moral life of Huddersfield.


He left £17,392 gross and £17,154 net.




He was indoctrinated into the mysteries of chess, as Watkinson himself put it, by a Mr. Shaw, another former pupil of Huddersfield College, who in due course emigrated to Canada.  In his early chess career, says Watkinson, the height of his ambition was to beat “Shaw” [3].  This “Shaw” was presumably Henry Shaw junior.


J. Watkinson and friends, of Huddersfield are listed as subscribers, with the sum of £1 1s. 0d, to the London Tournament of 1851.


Priestley say that in 1851, aged eighteen, he took first prize a minor section at the 1851 London Exhibition chess tournament, winning a guinea, but there’s no evidence in Staunton’s book of the tournament of any such section, or of Watkinson participating as a player.


Hitherto, it seems, there had been no formally organised chess club in Huddersfield.  Rather, the likes of Thomas Parratt and David Marsden would meet informally to play chess, it seems.  In November 1852, however, a club was formed with Watkinson as president, and Henry Shaw junior as secretary. [4]


In 1853, he played three games against Walter Grimshaw, who was then still resident in York, winning two and losing one (for the score of the loss see Walter Grimshaw).


Watkinson became one of the strongest players in Yorkshire, but although there existed the West Yorkshire Chess Association, there was no longer a Yorkshire Chess Association, as such, and so no formal way to determine a Yorkshire Champion.  At around the same time, Edmund Thorold, then of Sheffield, was likewise coming to the fore, and Thorold issued a challenge to Watkinson for a match.  This match would resolve the unofficial chess championship of Yorkshire.  The match took place in 1861 and was won by Watkinson (click here for details).


When an international chess event was organised to take place in Dublin in September and October 1865, John Watkinson was listed as one of the 33 members of the “Co-operative committee”.


A position he encountered over the board was published in the Chess Player’s Magazine of 1866, on page 124, which was presented as a study, as follows:


White to play and win.


You might be excused for agreeing a draw, but there’s an “easy” win – easy after you’ve spotted it!  The threat of 1. ... Rd1 mate limits White’s, options.  1. Rg6+ seems forced, but what if 1. Rg6+ is met by 1. ... Kh6?  Is a draw by repetition inevitable?  In fact White can play 2. Rg1! and win, e.g. 2. … hxg1=Q+ 3. Kxg1 Kg6 4. Kf1 Kf6 5. e8=Q so that 5. … Rd1+ can be met with 6. Qe1 and wins.


When the Huddersfield College magazine started up, Watkinson was engaged to write a chess column in it.  In the fullness of time this column became a separate publication, the “British Chess Magazine”, of which Watkinson was the first editor, remaining so for the first seven volumes (1881 to 1887).


He was still playing club chess at least as late as 26/01/1903, when he played for Huddersfield on board four in a match against North Manchester.



1 gravestone

2 Post Office Directory (Kelly) of Yorkshire, 1857

3 Huddersfield College Magazine, [Huddersfield LSL]

4 Huddersfield Daily Examiner of Thursday 20th December 1923, page 6





Copyright © 2012 & 2013 Stephen John Mann

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

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