Yorkshire Chess History



Dr. William John Wilson











Made in Yorkshire



Sheffield Sub-Site





10/01/1835, Kendal, Westmoreland


19/11/1880, Brighton


Clay Cross (?)


Early Years


William John Wilson was born to Isaac (son of George and Elizabeth Wilson) and Fanny Wilson, and baptised in the parish of Kendal, in the county of Westmoreland, now part of Cumbria, on 10th January 1835.  On the basis of his stated age at death (in his obituary and on a grave inscription) and his date of death, one can infer that his actual date of birth was during the period 20/11/1833 to 19/11/1834.


Possibly excluding some infant mortalities, Isaac and Fanny Wilson had seven daughters, then three sons.  The family thus consisted of:


Isaac Wilson,

born 1790/91,

baptised 16th January 1791


Fanny Wilson,

born 1795/96



Elizabeth Wilson,

born 6th July 1818,

baptised 23rd July 1818


Tamer Ann(e) Wilson,

born 1819/20,

baptised 19th September 1819


Mary Wilson,

born 1820/21,

baptised 25th December 1820


Fanny Wilson,

born 1822/23,

baptised 31st May 1822


Henrietta Wilson,

born 1824/25,

baptised 7th August 1824


Charlotte Wilson,

born 13th February 1826,

baptised 27th July 1826


Emma Jane Wilson,

born 1828/29,

baptised 5th November 1829


Edmund Wilson,

born 1832/33,

baptised 10 May 1833


Thomas Henry Wilson,


baptised 10 Jan 1835


William John Wilson,

born 1834/35,

baptised 10 Jan 1835


Baptisms were at Kendal, Westmoreland.  A contemporary directory lists at least two other females with the forename Tamer.  Census transcribers have sometimes transcribed this as James!  That Thomas and William were christened on the same day, may mean they were twins, but it may be that they was born roughly a year apart.


By the time of the 1841 census, Elizabeth, who would have been a month short of 23 years of age, seems to have left home, perhaps having got married.  Young Thomas had died on 17th May 1837.  The family, consisting of two parents and eight children remaining at home, was listed in the 1841 census as living at Kirkland, a township adjoining Kendal to the south, within the parish of Kirkland.  The main road in the centre was itself called Kirkland, now a part of the modern A60, and the family appears to have lived on that road as the census form appears to say Kirkland road.  The father, Isaac Wilson, was recorded as being a solicitor.  All were recorded as born in Westmoreland, except mother Fanny whose place of birth was not noted.  The second forenames of Emma and William were not stated in 1841, and Tamer’s age had been altered to 25, which is wrong.  Details stated above are as more generally endorsed by baptismal records and subsequent censuses.


The 1851 census records the five sisters Tamer, Fanny, Henrietta, Charlotte and Emma as proprietors of a “Powder mill”, living at Burton-in-Kendal, 11 miles south of Kendal, in Lonsdale Ward.  Mannex’s History & Directory of Westmorland, 1851, describes Wakefield and Bainbridge’s powder mill at the village of Sedgwick, three-and-a-half miles south of Kendal.  The description includes the remark, “An explosion occasionally takes place, which may be heard at a considerable distance, but without occasioning any loss of life.”  Thus “powder mill” clearly meant “gunpowder factory”, though that of the Wilson sisters was seemingly not the one at Sedgwick, unless recently purchased from Wakefield and Bainbridge.  The sisters’ other siblings seem to have move to a safe distance!


Mary may have got married by 1851.  Edmund was presumably at school, like William.


William John Wilson is recorded as being a 16-year-old boarder at Christ Hospital, London, which was also known as the Blue Coat School.  (This was not a medical school.)


William must have gone on to get medical qualifications.  He’s mentioned in Burke's Irish Family Records, simply because one of his daughters married into an Irish family described therein.  There he is said to have “graduated as a Doctor of Medicine”, though there’s no indication of where or when this occurred.  He is not listed in the British medical directory for England, Scotland and Wales, 1853, so must have qualified after that.


His obituary in The Derbyshire Times of Wednesday 24th November 1880, page 3, column 6, says that he served in the Crimean War, which ran from October 1853 to Feb 1856, and that he received the English, Turkish and French medals for that war.  It seems likely that he went to the Crimean War as a medical officer.  The same source goes on the say that he was subsequently surgeon to the convict prison at Dartmoor where he had some celebrated prisoners under his care, of whom he used to narrate interesting anecdotes.


Dartmoor prison was originally constructed to relieve Plymouth of the problem of holding prisoners in the Napoleonic Wars.  After falling into disuse, it was reopened in 1851 as a convict prison.


The obituary says he arrived in Clay Cross in 1859 or 1860 as surgeon to “the works”, meaning the Clay Cross Company, which mined coal and produced iron.  This means he must have qualified as an MD, then worked for a period at Dartmoor, roughly over the few years from 1856 to 1859.  Some of the history of Clay Cross is needed to put the rest of Dr William John Wilson’s life into context.


Clay Cross is a village 5 miles or so south of Chesterfield, in north Derbyshire, on the road between Chesterfield and Derby, the former Roman road known as Rykneld Street.  With other nearby villages it was in the parish of North Wingfield.  North Wingfield itself was a similarly-sized village little more than a mile NE of Clay Cross.  At one time the locality had been know as Clay Lane, but the name Clay Cross developed, as an alternative, due to the existence of a cross in the village.  This cross was allegedly destroyed about 1648, or some such date, but what is reputedly its basal stone lies before the south wall of St Bartholomew’s church on High Street.


The Railway Reaches Clay Cross


The sleepy rural tranquillity of Clay Lane, a term then still used for various official purposes, was suddenly shattered by the North Midland Railway who were constructing a railway line from Derby to Leeds, via Sheffield.  Clay Lane was in the way, so the NMR decided to dig a mile-long tunnel underneath it.


Back in 1833, a farmer in the area, Abraham Gent, built Hill House on what is now High Street.  Still standing, it is reputedly the oldest building in today’s Clay Cross.  After he died, it was put up for sale by auction in February 1837, and was purchased by the North Midland Railway for Frederick Swanwick, their resident engineer involved in the tunnel construction, to use as an office.  In due course, Hill House was to become the residence of Dr. William John Wilson.


Tunnelling started in February 1837.  A total of ten ventilation shafts where sunk.  These were not simply for ventilation; each shaft provided two access points for tunnelling, one in each direction, so that, with the two ends, there could be twenty-two points of excavation active at once.  That meant that at each excavation point, on average, they had to tunnel about 80 yards.  A number of cylindrical brick-built ventilation-shaft heads are still visible in Clay Cross, one directly opposite Hill House.


The advent of the railway was, in itself, likely to lead to growth in the population and economic prosperity of Clay Lane/Cross.  But a much greater growth than might have been expected came about due the entrepreneurial opportunity which came to the notice of the NMR’s consulting engineer, a certain George Stephenson of railway engineering fame, and of whom a statue stands at the entrance the Chesterfield railway station.


Coal had been mined in the area in the past, but had ceased for one reason or another.  George Stephenson realised that in the immediate Clay Cross area there were relatively shallow-lying coal reserves which could be exploited to economic advantage, so in 1838 Stephenson set up a company to mine for coal in the area.  Capital for the venture was of course needed, so he persuaded five more individuals to invest, so forming the George Stephenson Company in 1839, with each of the six shareholders having two of twelve shares in the company.  The George Stephenson Company was in due course to become the employer of Dr. William John Wilson.


This is where one of Clay Cross’s big names of the past enters the scene.  Charles Binns was born on 23rd October 1813.  He was the second son of a Lancaster land-surveyor and estate agent, Jonathan Binns.  After education at a private school in Lancaster, followed by a time at the Society of Friends School in Kendal, Charles worked for his father’s business.  Then in 1832 he became private secretary to George Stephenson, who in 1839 appointed him “agent” (later “manager”) of the George Stephenson Company in Clay Cross.  Around 1838/39 he appears to have married Julia (born 1827/28, “Dieppe (B S), France”), though that is not the wife buried with him at St. Bartholomew’s.  Charles Binns became a prominent member of the Clay Cross scene, becoming president of various local bodies such as the Board of Health, and becoming a JP.  In due course he took up residence at Clay Cross Hall.  Charles Binns was to become father-in-law to Dr William John Wilson.


In 1840, the George Stephenson Company bought Hill House from the NMR, who had now finished their tunnel.  James Campbell, company engineer, lived in the house up to 1846, followed by William Howe.  In 1847 the company expanded into iron production.  In 1851, its name was changed to the “Clay Cross Company”.


Dr. William John Wilson Comes to Clay Cross


The Clay Cross Company retained its own surgeon, which at one time was a Dr William John Mackarsie, who was also been medical officer for the Chesterfield Union within which Clay Cross fell.  Dr Mackarsie died, and was interred at Bartholomew’s on 3rd March 1860.  The position of surgeon to the Clay Cross Company was given to the similarly-named Dr William John Wilson.


Once settled in Clay Cross, “Dr. Wilson, Clay Cross”, as he was most frequently referred to in chess references, was in a position to take an active part in the game.  If it were feasible, he would doubtless have liked to be a member of the Sheffield Athenaeum Chess Club, but records to 1874 show no trace of him.  Whilst today’s Clay Cross Chess Club plays in the Sheffield & District Chess Association’s league etc, the distance of Clay Cross from Sheffield must in those days have been too much of an obstacle.


The 1861 census records the unmarried William J Wilson, working as a physician and surgeon in Clay Cross, and living on Wingfield Lane, Clay Cross (modern Market Street?).  Listed in his household were his sister Fanny, who was described as being of independent means; a London-born assistant, Edward Houghton, M.D. (St Andrews); a 30-year-old servant, Eliza Paskey, and a visitor, 5-year-old Emily Paskey.


The sixth annual meeting of the West Yorkshire Chess Association was held in Leeds on the 1st of June 1861.  Leeds was conveniently placed as he could catch a Leeds-bound train from Clay Cross.  The Leeds Mercury of 4th June 1861, after mentioning the presence as visiting celebrities Kolisch, G. Walker and Kling from London, and Stanley of Manchester, goes on to say, “Several other players from a distance also honoured the association by attending.”  He was clearly not very well known at the time, as the Leeds Mercury refers to him throughout as “Mr. Wilson”.  The first class (knock-out) tournament included “Mr. Wilson”.  Had this gentleman been a notable Yorkshire player then he would have been among those listed as being present, but he was not so listed.  Nevertheless, “Mr. Wilson” was clearly a relatively strong player, as in round 1 of the 1st class he beat John Watkinson of Huddersfield.  In round 2 he lost to Charles Henry Stanley of Manchester, but that was no disgrace.


Kolisch gave a simultaneous display against eleven opponents, of whom Dr William John Wilson was one.  His game against Kolisch is given in the Chess Players Chronicle, 3rd series, volume III, 1861, page 268.  Staunton gives Black’s name as the metathetic “Dr. J. W. Wilson”.  The game went as follows:

White: Kolisch, Baron Ignatz (von) (Austria-Hungary),

Black: Wilson, Dr WJ (Clay Cross), 01/06/1861

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Nf6 4. d4 Nxe4 5. dxe5 f5 6. O-O Bc5 7. Nc3 Na5 8. Nxe4 fxe4 9. Qd5 Nxc4 10. Qxc5 exf3 11. Qxc4 fxg2 12. Re1 b5 13. Qxb5 c6 14. Qc4 Qb6 15. e6 d5 [15 ... dxe6 16. Rxe6+ Bxe6 17. Qxe6+ Kf8 18. Bf4 Rd8 19. Re1 and now either 19 ... Qb4 20. Bc7 and wins easily, or 19. ... Qb7 20. Bd6+ and mates in 3 moves - CPC] 16. Qf4 Rf8 17. Qg3 Qc5 18. Bf4 Qxc2 19. Bd6 Rf6 20. Rac1 Qg6 21. Rxc6 Rxe6 22. Rxc8+ Rxc8 23. Qxg6+ hxg6 24. Rxe6+ Kd7 25. Rxg6 Rc6 26. Rxg7+ Kxd6 27. Rg6+ Kc5 [CPC says simply “K moves”] 28. Rxc6+ Kxc6 29. Kxg2 resigns, 1-0


During the dinner, Edward Shepherd of Wakefield moved a vote of thanks to “Mr. Walker, Herr Kling, Mr. Stanley, and Mr. Wilson.” 


In 1861, there was a fatal colliery accident at a Clay Cross Company mine, the Black Shale Pit.  William John Wilson, who as company surgeon had inspected the first four bodies found, gave evidence at the inquest on those four.  This was reported in the Derbyshire Times of Saturday 6th July 1861, p.3, as follows:

William John Wilson, surgeon, Clay Cross, sworn:  “I saw the bodies the first time this morning about ten o'clock.  They were in a very advanced state of decomposition.  I can say they have not died from starvation, but, judging from the position in which they were found, I think they died from the inhalation of carbonic acid gas.”


From 10th to 14th September 1861, the (yet-to-be-labelled-“British”) Chess Association, freshly formed from the Northern and Midland Counties Chess Association, held its annual tournament in Bristol.  In the top section, the “Grand Tournament”, one of the participants was “Dr. Wilson”.  It appears he probably entered the Minor Tournament, but was elevated to the Grand Tournament, perhaps to make up numbers therein.  It is usually held that this “Dr. Wilson” was Dr William John Wilson of Clay Cross.  In round 1, with White, he beat Charles Henry Stanley of Manchester, so revenging his loss at the WYCA meeting.  In round 2 he played the eventual winner, Louis Paulsen, to whom he not surprisingly lost.  “Dr. Wilson” had earlier been one of those taken on by Louis Paulsen in a blindfold simultaneous display.  His was one of the games left unfinished when play ceased.  (See pp. 362 and 364 of The Chess Congress of 1862 for the Grand Tournament games.)


He appears not to have played in the British Chess Association tournament in Bristol, in 1862, but “Dr. W. J. Wilson, Clay Cross” was listed as one of the 44 members of the Co-operative Committee.


The eighth annual meeting of the West Yorkshire Chess Association’s meeting, on 20th May 1863, was again in easy reach, being at Sheffield.  “Dr. Wilson, of Clay Cross” was reported as attending.  This time he won the eight-player knockout tournament, beating H L Mort of Sheffield in round 1, Robert Cadman of Leeds in round 2, and Mr. Barlow of Sheffield in the final.  (There were three members of the Sheffield Athenaeum Chess Club in 1863 with the surname Barlow, so identification is difficult, but Edward Barlow is the most likely, being the most established at the time, the other two having freshly joined that season.)


Married Life


He married Adeline Binns (baptised in the parish of North Wingfield on 24th July, 1840), daughter of Charles Binns, seemingly in the quarter July to September 1863.  The wife of Charles Binns was Elizabeth, eldest daughter of Sir Joshua Walmsley of Wolverton Park, Hampshire.  She had died on 3rd July 1860.


In October 1864, the Clay Cross Company built the Clay Cross Colliery hospital, next door to Hill House, to the north of it.  The doctor became, of course, the doctor in charge of the hospital.  There were also some live-in staff.


Quite when Dr William John Wilson and his wife Adeline moved into Hill House isn’t too clear, but it appears to have been given to them as a wedding present, which would be in 1863.  William resided there for the rest of his life.  Kelly’s directory of 1876, and White’s Directory of Sheffield, Rotherham [etc], 1879, list him at Hill House.


The 1881 census reveals that their first child, Elizabeth Adeline Wilson, was born at Hill House.  She was baptised 27th July 1864, taking her maternal grandmother’s first name as her first name, and her mother’s first name as her middle name.


Mabel Florence Wilson was the next child, baptised 20th July 1865.


Despite new responsibilities, chess could not be ignored, and accordingly the doctor attended the eleventh annual meeting of the West Yorkshire Chess Association, which was held in Leeds, on 26th May 1866.  The Leeds Mercury of 29th May 1866 lists “D. Wilson, Clay Cross” early in the list of notable attenders, but this can only be a mistake, meaning “Dr. Wilson”.  Strangely, he didn’t play in the First Class tournament, or any other tournament.  Maybe he wanted to get the early train back to check on a patient in the hospital?!


He was one of the 28 people listed as “Vice-President” of the Redcar chess meeting of 1866.  He also played at this event.  He is described in the Chess Player’s Magazine New Series vol. II, 1866, p.192, as “Dr. Wilson (Claycross)”.  In the 8-player all-play-all First Class tournament he scored 3 out of seven, made up of three wins, no draws and four losses.  Two wins were against tail-enders, but a notable win of his, with Black, was that over Edmund Thorold, who came second, with 5 out of seven, one point behind Cecil de Vere.


The third child was Ethel Mary Wilson, baptised 6th February 1867.


Clay Cross, like Chesterfield, tends to look to Sheffield, rather than Derby, as the “big city”.  The Yorkshire Branch of the British Medical Association held its 1867 meeting in Sheffield, under the presidency of Sheffield chess-player, Dr John Charles Hall.  A report on this meeting, published in The British Medical Journal dated August 10th, 1867, included the following:


The annual meeting of the Branch was held at the Medical Institution, Sheffield, on Thursday, July 26th, when the President, J. C. HALL, M.D., Sheffield, presided.

There was a large attendance of members and visitors.

New Members. -The following new members of the Association and of the Branch were elected: - F. T. Griffiths, M.D.; K. Wilson, M.D.; C. Elam, M.D.; J. Walker, Esq.; W. F. Favell, Esq.; R. Hewer, Esq.; G. Moseley, Esq.; W. H. Booth, Esq.; A. Jackson, Esq. (Sheffield); T. C. Allbutt, M.D. (Leeds); T. G. Smith, Esq.; V. Stawman, Esq. (Barnsley); J. B. Pritchett, Esq. (Huddersfield); W. Pritchard, Esq.; Dr. Saville (East Retford): Dr. Wilson (Clay Cross); J. Crowther, Esq. (Rotherham); W. Haxworth, Esq. (Kirkby Overblow); G. Browning, Esq. (Outbridge [Oughtibridge?]).


Two chess-players are immediately recognisable in the above list of new BMA members: Dr Charles Elam of Sheffield, and Dr William John Hall of Clay Cross.  The latter was further elected as one of the 18 members of the council of the branch for the coming year (as was another Sheffield chess-player, Dr James Hobson Aveling), and as one of the 8 branch representatives on the BMA’s General Council.


The first (and only) son was Charles Joseph Law Wilson, baptised 15th April 1868, taking as his first name from that of his maternal grandfather.  Quite where the name Law came from is a puzzle.  William’s eldest brother also had Law as a middle name.


Wood’s directory of Clay Cross was more a list of public institutions, and those who ran them, than of people and where they lived.  Wood’s directories of 1869 and 1871 list “Colliery Hospital, W. S. Wilson, Esq., Physician and Surgeon.  Hours of attendance 10 a.m. to 7p.m.”  The subsequent directories of 1874, 1875, 1876 and 1877 have the name corrected with “Colliery Hospital, Church Street, W J Wilson, physician and surgeon”.  Whether that stretch of High Street was really called Church Street is unclear.


The 1871 census shows William John Wilson and his wife Adeline living at Hill House with their four children and five other people: a nurse, a cook, a housemaid, a groom, and a “grandboy”.  In the hospital next door lived coalminer William Baxton and his wife Anne, who was a nurse, and their two coalminer sons.  The hospital also housed two surgical assistants and a general servant.  At that time there were two in-patients, one a railway labourer and the other a coalminer.


The fifth child was Emily Wilson, baptised 18th June 1871.  Little Emily died when only two days old, and was interred in St Bartholomew’s churchyard 22nd June 1871.


The sixth child was Adah [?] H. Wilson, baptised 15th July 1872.  Little Adah must similarly have died in infancy.  She was no longer alive in 1880, and whilst record of her death or interment is elusive, she must by elimination be the other of the two infants interred in the grave at St Bartholomew’s.




William John Wilson died 19th November 1880, aged 46, in Brighton, and was apparently interred at St Bartholomew’s church, which was adjacent be to Hill House, on the other side from the hospital.  The cause of death was apparently heart disease, though no prior illness had forewarned of his imminent demise.  His passing was noted in the 3rd edition of the Derbyshire Times of 20th November 1880.  An informing obituary was published on page 3 of the Derbyshire Times of Wednesday 24th November 1880, and a simple entry appeared in the “Deaths” column on page 5 of the Derbyshire Times of Saturday 27th November 1880.  A brief note appeared on page 6 of the British Chess Magazine, Volume 1, 1881.  The Reverend John Browne Nodder of Ashover, Derbyshire, and Dr Joseph Bower Siddall of Dunscombe Ross, Herefordshire, were executors of his will.  He was survived by his wife, a son and three daughters.  At least two children, therefore, had died in infancy.


His wife, Adeline, died thirty-nine days after her husband, on 28th December 1880, aged 40, and was buried in the grounds of St. Bartholomew’s, Clay Cross, on 1st January 1881.


There is a grave plot in St Bartholomew’s churchyard belonging to Charles Binns and family, and housing two graves.  The grave on the left was initially that of Elizabeth Binns, wife of Charles Binns.  Charles Binns himself was added to the grave inscription in due course.


To the right of the Binns grave, in the same plot, is one bearing an inscription relating to William John Wilson, physician, his wife Adeline, and two children who died in infancy.  A transcription of burial records at Bartholomew’s lists the interment of 2-day-old Emily Wilson on 22nd June 1871 (baptised at Clay Cross on 18th June 1871), and 40-year-old Adeline Wilson on 1st January 1881.  The other deceased infant must have been Adah H Wilson, as the other children were all still alive in 1881.  The churchyard had been closed to new interments in 1878, so Adeline was presumably interred there as it was merely a matter of re-opening an existing grave, that containing the two children.  There is no record located by the writer of the interment there of William John Wilson himself, who was perhaps buried in Brighton, though his name is recorded in the grave’s inscription as though he were buried there, which is probably the case.


The inscription on the Wilson grave reads as follows:












(Click here for images of the Wilson grave.)


After Death


In 1881, Charles Binns was presumably left with the problem of attending to the welfare of his five orphaned grandchildren.  The 1881 census shows him and his wife (he must have re-married) living at the Hall, off Market Street, with his eldest granddaughter, 14-year-old Elizabeth Adeline Wilson, and his 63-year-old unmarried sister Rachel.  They also had three servants.  The other three orphaned grandchildren were being educated, away from home.


Mabel Florence Wilson was in 1881 a pupil at a girls’ boarding school run by Miss Annie Gilby at 29 Lansdowne Rd, Kensington.  Later census records record her as head of a household in Cheltenham in 1901, and in 1911 living at Northam, Bideford, Devon.


Ethel Mary Wilson was in 1881 a pupil at a girls’ boarding school run by a widow, Jane Sleigh, and her three daughters, at 11 Church Street, Lancaster.


The youngest surviving sibling, Charles Joseph Law Wilson, was in 1881 a pupil at Epsom Downs Royal Medical Benevolent College, Epsom Surrey, which was a part-charitable organisation providing education to sons of medical men, and is now a public school called Epsom College.  In 1891 he was boarding in Harrogate.


Perhaps due in part to the recent deaths in the family, Charles Binns retired from the Clay Cross Company in 1881.  He died on 12th January 1887.  He was buried on 15th January 1887, at Clay Cross Danesmoor cemetery according to some sources, though he was added to the inscription on his wife’s grave at St. Bartholomew’s, which suggest he was interred in that commodious grave plot.  (Click here for image of Binns-Wilson grave plot.)  The inscription on the Binns grave at St.Barthlomew’s reads:






















(Click here for images of the gravestone.)


William and Adeline’s Wilson’s eldest daughter, Elizabeth Adaline Wilson, married Rev William Purdon Blakeney, son of William Purdon Blakeney and Emily Clegge, on 29th April 1889.


Hill House is now a care home with the address 121 High Street, Clay Cross, Chesterfield, S45 9DZ.  The former Colliery Hospital, next door, is now the occupied by commercial offices, with the address 119 High Street etc.  Clay Cross Hall, situated at the time in extensive open parkland, has now been adapted by Derbyshire County Council to provide a specialist social day-care facility for older people in North East Derbyshire.





Copyright © 2012 Stephen John Mann

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

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