Yorkshire Chess History



William Vernon Wilson











Made in Yorkshire



Sheffield Sub-Site



1845/46, Castlecomer, Co. Kilkenny, Ireland




03/08/1922, Hove or thereabouts


Hove Cemetery


(From Sussex Chess Journal, April 1891; courtesy of Brian Denman)


Identity of the Chess-Player


“W. V. Wilson” features extensively in connection with Brighton Chess Club in the 1880s and 1890s, but never does the player seem to receive mention of his forenames in full in any chess records.  Nevertheless, the only person evident in any source who answers to the name and is connected with Brighton is Kilkenny-born schoolmaster William Vernon Wilson, who is named in full in the 1891 census, and is represented as “William V. Wilson” in the 1871 and 1881 censuses.


Non-Chess Life


The 1871 and 1891 censuses give ages implying William Vernon Wilson was born in 1845/46, though the age given in the 1881 census implies birth in 1843/44.  His place of birth was given as (County) Kilkenny, or simply Ireland.  Records exist of him in Sussex of Surrey from 1871 (when he would be 26) to 1912 (when he would be 67).  The 1911 gave place of birth as Castlecomer, which is in Co. Kilkenny.


The 1871 census found 25-year-old Kilkenny-born “William V. Wilson” living at 5 Brunswick Road, Hove, Sussex.  It seems numbers 3 to 6 together housed a “gentlemen's boarding school (Camden schools)” in which William V. Wilson was an assistant master.  Hove is adjacent to Brighton, forming a single conurbation.


The 1881 census found “William V. Wilson” now living in South Road, Reigate, Surrey, were a number of adjacent addresses made up a similar “grammar school”.  William was described, seemingly, as “Undergraduate of T. C. D.” (Trinity College, Dublin?) and “Asst. Master in Grammar School”.


On the basis of chess records, he must have moved back to Hove at some time from 1881 to 1886.


The 1891 census found (still unmarried) “William Vernon Wilson” lodging in a private residence at 18 York Road, Hove.  He was described as “Tutor Educational”, apparently meaning he was a private tutor visiting clients in their homes etc, rather than teaching at a school.


He is elusive in the 1901.


The 1911 census found unmarried 66-year-old visiting tutor William Vernon lodging at 35 Lansdowne Street, Hove, his place of birth being given as Castlecomer.


On 14/01/1926, it was described how children in the care of the Steyning Board of Guardians had received presents from the Christmas tree as it was taken down, and had later received further gifts “thanks to the generosity of Captain C. F. M. Chambers, D.S.O., and Mr. W. V. Wilson, of Brighton.




There seems no evident reference in any of the usual sources of the death of a “William Vernon Wilson” or a “William V. Wilson” which could refer to the chess-player, and it transpires his death was registered in the Steyning registration district (which then encompassed Hove, but not Brighton) in 1922 simply under the name “William Wilson”, his age being given as 76.  Sussex County CA archivist Brian Denman located the grave in Hove Cemetery about 25 years ago, and noted that William Wilson died aged 76 on 03/08/1922.




“W. V. Wilson” seems to have engaged seriously with Brighton and Sussex chess from about 1886.  He played within Brighton Chess Club, represented the club against other clubs, and represented Sussex against other counties.  He also played in the two North v South matches of 1893 and 1894 (the reason he gets into this website).  When the Counties Chess Association held its congress in Brighton, in 1892, he took the opportunity to participate, but otherwise seems not to have played in such events.


He played in two county matches in 1905: Sussex v Surrey and Sussex v Kent, but at that stage was probably winding down.


A late chess reference was to his involvement with the Christ Church Club, a kind of sports and social club attached to Christ Church, Brighton, which included chess among its activities.  In the 1911-12 season, “Mr. W. V. Wilson” was reported as a prize-winner.


Since the above was written, Sussex County CA archivist Brian Denman has added the following:


He was the strongest player in Sussex for about a decade and was very talented.  He won the county championship in 1887, 1891 and 1892 and the Brighton CC Championship in 1889, 1891 and 1892.  In both cases he was allowed to keep the trophy after winning the competition on three occasions.  The trophies eventually found their way back to the county association.  The original Brighton CC Championship trophy became the Wilson Cup, which is presented to the U-19 winners of the Sussex Schools' Championship.  The county championship trophy is valuable and is still given to the winner of the competition.


Wilson helped Sussex to victory in the Southern Counties' Championship in 1895, but in 1896 lost in a play-off for the Brighton CC Championship against the rising star of Sussex chess, Hector Shoosmith.  After the mid-1890s Wilson's appearances in competitive chess became less frequent. In 1904 the Brighton CC folded and several of its members joined the chess section of the local Christ Church.  Wilson himself enlisted with this club.  He was still playing after World War I until he suffered a breakdown in health.


The April 1891 issue of the Sussex Chess Journal edited by H W Butler and F Meek, gave a biographical piece (kindly forwarded by Brian Denman) which read as follows:




We this month have the very great pleasure of presenting our subscribers with an excellent portrait from Mr Bart Sharp’s studio in West street of Mr W. V. Wilson, the present holder of both the Sussex and Brighton Challenge Cups.  Our champion is a true specimen of the genial Irishman, hailing from the county of Kilkenny.  He learnt chess at the age of 15, playing a good deal during his school life; subsequently he appears to have given up the game until about 1879, when we find him one of the regular frequenters of the chess corner of Gatti’s Adelaide Gallery.Shortly after this time he came to reside in Brighton, and was in daily attendance at the Church Street Public Rooms, where he gained the reputation of a strong skittle player; it was here we had the honour of first making his acquaintance.  He required a lot of drawing out to take part in a match, and we were well set upon for our pains, as in his first match he took part in he victimized us 1½ out of the 2 games played; this was upon the occasion of the St Nicholas Club Soirée in 83.  The next summer he took a part in the home match Sussex v Surrey, with the result that he beat Mr. J. J. Watts, the well-known City of London player, both games.  Mr Wilson joined the ranks of the St Nicholas Club just before this popular institution merged itself into the Brighton Chess Club.  Shortly after that he was induced to engage in his first set match; Mr Mead was the sufferer, being defeated with a score of 5 to 2, and a drawn game.  He then competed in the Sussex Cup and held this coveted trophy at the first time of playing for it; then followed a couple of victories over ourselves [writer not explicitly named] with the scores 5 to 1 and 4 draws and 5 to 1 and 2 draws; he then wrested the Brighton Cup from us, just when we thought we would win easy [sic].  Mr Bowley thereupon tried his hand at taking our friend down a peg or two, but without success, Mr Wilson scoring an easy victory by 5 to 2 and no draws.  This season, by his double victory, he has proved himself out and out the strongest player in the county.  His style of play is well-known to most of our readers, steady development, never or hardly ever making the slightest error in position judgement, constantly on the alert for holes in his opponents’ games, and if given the slightest chance comes in wish a rush, and secures the game “on all points of the board.”  Mr Wilson has a remarkable memory for positions, and can rattle off the principal masters’ recent games with comparative ease.  Make what you consider to be a new move in an opening, and he will tell you it was played by and such a player at such and such a place and time.





Copyright © 2020, 2021 Stephen John Mann

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

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