Yorkshire Chess History
Identity of the Chess-Player
There are numerous reports of a Bradford chess-player called “R. Whitaker” (with one “t”). His forename “Robert” is occasionally given, as for instance in connection with preparations for the 1888 BCA meeting in Bradford. As it turns out, there is only one player answering to this name in Bradford directories and census returns, namely this Robert Whitaker. The nearest alternative would have to have started playing team chess at the age of 13, which, without any comment in match reports, can be dismissed.
Robert Whitaker’s grandparents were John Whitaker (born about 1786, outside Yorkshire, most probably Burnley or Bury), an engineer, and Mary Whitaker (born about 1796, Bury), who had at least the following children:
The 1841 census found the family of parents, their above five children, plus 4-month-old Robert Whitaker, all living at “Pinch Beck or Throstle’s Nest”, in Thornton, near Bradford. All but Robert were stated as born outside Yorkshire. As the 1851 census stated Alice and Martha were born in Burnley, the other siblings were probably born there too. The oldest 4 daughters were recorded as working in a factory. That Robert was 5 months old means he was born in December 1840 or January 1841. Since his birth was registered in the last quarter of 1840, it follows he was born in December 1840. Though the 1841 census did not state relationships, it becomes evident that Robert was the illegitimate son of an unmarried daughter, or of a son not listed with his parents in 1841.
Charlotte appears to have got married, seemingly, in 1844 in Bradford, and Ellen seemingly got married in 1845 in Bradford. Mary Whitaker seemingly got married from 1842 to 1851; at least one Mary Whitaker got married in Bradford each year. If the girls did not get married as indicated, then they perhaps passed into domestic service, or even died. By whatever way, they left home, leaving Robert behind, so making it most likely that the remaining unmarried Alice Whitaker was Robert Whitaker’s mother. Martha evidently married a “Duckett” from 1841 to 1951, but the marriage in hard to pin down.
Robert’s grandfather John Whitaker died between 1841 and 1851; seven possible matching deaths of a John Whitaker in Bradford occurred in 1843, 1844, 1847, 1849 (3) and 1851.
The 1851 census found widowed mother Mary living with unmarried daughter Alice Whitaker, married daughter Martha Duckett, grandson William Duckett, and grandson Robert Whitaker, at Kipping Lane, Thornton. Martha was a silk-warper, and 10-year-old Robert was a spinner.
The 1861 census found unmarried 20-year-old Thornton-born Robert Whitaker lodging at 35 Clayton Street, Bradford. He was now a grocer’s warehouseman.
At some stage from 1861 to 1871 Robert married a Martha. This was evidently 19-year-old Martha Mann (born 1844, Esholt, near Otley), daughter of William Mann, who married a 23-year-old Robert Whitaker, in Bradford, on 26/10/1864. This agrees with the 1911 census which said Robert and Martha had at that point been married 46 years.
Robert and Martha had four children, one of who had died by 1911 (possibly at birth). The number of deaths in Bradford of Whitaker children aged 0 were numerous in the relevant period. The three surviving children were
The 1866 Bradford directory listed Robert Whitaker, clerk, at 9 St Jude's Square, Bradford.
The 1871 census found parents and three above children living in Bradford. Robert was now a warp agent.
The 1881 Bradford directory listed Robert Whitaker living at 173 Hollings Road, Bradford. The 1881 census found parents and three daughters at this address. Robert was now a “foreign correspondent”, which probably meant he handled commercial correspondence in foreign languages, rather than that he was a newspaper reporter.
The 1887 Bradford directory listed Robert still at 173 Hollings Road, and still a “foreign correspondent”.
In 1889, give or take one or two years, the Whitakers moved to 14 White’s Terrace, which is where the 1891 Bradford directory found Robert Whitaker, who was now described as a commercial traveller.
The 1891 census found parents and three daughters at 14 White’s Terrace, with Robert’s widowed mother-in-law Mary Robinson. One would expect this lady to have the surname “Mann”. This apparent “Robinson” anomaly could be explained by Martha’s mother (re)marrying; indeed, it seems a Mary Ann Mann married a James Robinson in Wharfedale in 1879, and a 73-year-old James Robinson died in 1890 in Wharfedale. Employment-wise, Robert was foreign correspondent and traveller; probably he had been both for some time, probably for the same employer.
The 1898 Bradford directory repeated that Robert Whitaker was a commercial traveller living at 14 White’s Terrace.
The 1901 census found parents and three daughters still at 14 White’s Terrace. Robert’s occupation was stated a little more specifically as “traveller worsted yarns”.
Mary Alice Whitaker seemingly married a “Jarman” from 1901 to 1011, but again pinning down the marriage is difficult.
The 1911 census found parents, childless married daughter Mary Alice Jarman, and unmarried daughter Frances Ethel Whitaker, still at 14 White’s Terrace. Robert was now a retired commercial traveller. Over the last three censuses, Robert had shaved two years off his own age and three years off his wife’s.
It is difficult to tell when either Robert Whitaker, or indeed his wife Martha eventually died. Deaths of a Robert Whitaker in Bradford or Wharfedale, on close examination, prove to be different people of the same name, and usually quote the wrong age for our man, though stated age at death is not necessarily to be relied upon.
He is recorded as playing for Manningham Liberal Club in Bradford inter-club matches, e.g.
He played for Bradford teams in pre-Woodhouse inter-town matches and similar, e.g.
He played for Bradford in the Woodhouse Cup, e.g.
He played for Yorkshire in county matches, e.g.
He was presumably the “Whitaker” who played in the 1886: Yorkshire County Chess Club, 1st Annual Meeting
He was a member of the sub-committee to investigate feasible arrangements for holding the 1888 BCA meeting in Bradford
Copyright © 2019 Stephen John Mann
Census information is copyright of The National Archive, see UK Census Information