Yorkshire Chess History
Robert Bownas Wormald
Robert Bownas Wormald was a Yorkshire-born chess-player who was educated at Oxford University and from there moved more or less directly to London. Hence his activities as a chess-player and writer are thought of as those of a London player rather than a Yorkshire player.
The Bramham Connection
Robert Bownas Wormald’s maternal grandfather was the Rev. Robert Bownas, who was born about 1759, and was vicar of Bramham for the 27 years prior to his death, at Bramham vicarage, in late (probably December) 1819, at the age of 60. This explains the chess-player’s first two names, and the connection of his family with Bramham.
Bramham is a village on what an iron milepost in the village calls the “Ferrybridge and Boroughbridge Road”, 13 miles from the former, and 16 miles from the latter. It is also about 4 miles SE of Wetherby, and 4 miles W of Tadcaster. It was in the old West Riding, but the modern NorthYorkshire.
The Rev. Robert Bownas is reported as having had Bramham House built in 1806, suggesting he had greater means than the average clergyman, though in 1814 he apparently sold the house and grounds for £3,000 to James Fox of Bramham Park, who gave it to his son, George Lane Fox, as a wedding present. Bramham churchyard has an area, surrounded by edging stones, reserved for the Fox family. Outside this area are also quite elaborately worded graves of family employees, presumably paid for by the Fox family.
In the early 1780s the Rev. Robert Bownas had married Hannah Hall. Prior to living at Bramham, the couple had lived at Bardsey, about 4 miles SW of Wetherby. Their children were (or included):
Mary Ann Bownas crops again up later in the story.
Elizabeth Bownas (2) married Samuel Wormald, at Bramham, on 22nd of July 1821. (Confusingly, two Samuels Wormald seem to have been baptised in Leeds within a year of each other. Samuel Wormald, son of Bryan Wormald, was baptised at St Peter’s, Leeds, on 4th August 1797. Soon after, Samuel Wormald, son of Thomas Wormald, was similarly baptised at St Peter’s, Leeds, on 8th April 1798. Either of these matches the age given for the groom at Elizabeth Bownas’s wedding.)
Baines’s directory of Leeds dated 1817 listed Samuel Wormald, cloth dresser, Woodhouse Lane, while Baines’s directory of Leeds dated 1826 listed Mr Samuel Wormald, Woodhouse Lane.
Some baptisms of children born to Samuel and Elizabeth Bownas in Leeds in the 1820s featured as the father Samuel Wormald, bookkeeper of Meadow Lane, and took place at St. John the Evangelist, Leeds. Since these started before the marriage of Elizabeth Bownas at Bramham, these can presumably be discounted as relating to siblings of Robert Bownas Wormald. Other baptisms which look as though they are of the chess-player or his siblings are as follows:
“Knostrop” was a variation of “Knowesthorpe”, a district of Leeds, to the west and south of Cross Green, by the River Aire.
The dates of birth had been added in the left margin of the St. Peter baptism register. The fact that the first Robert Bownas Wormald was baptised in Leeds, but buried in Bramham suggests the family moved from Leeds to Bramham in 1829, but that isn’t certain. It could be that the infant was buried at Bramham because his maternal grandfather had been vicar there.
White’s Leeds & Clothing District Directory, 1830, listed Samuel Wormald, gentleman, at Knostrop. The information might have recently become out of date, if indeed the family had recently moved to Bramham in 1829. Equally it may be that the family still in Leeds.
The death of a Samuel Wormald was registered in the first quarter of 1838, at Leeds.
Childhood in Bramham
The apparent move to Bramham was probably partly to be near members of the Bownas family. This might have been the case if Samuel Wormald died in Leeds. Also, there were people called Wormald already living in Bramham, who may have been relatives. Baines's Directory and Gazetteer Directory of 1822 included the following amongst those resident at Bramham:
Joseph Wormald, professor of music and parish clerk
Joseph Wormald, listed separately as a schoolmaster (possibly the same person)
Richard Wormald, blacksmith
Mrs. Bownas, gentlewoman
There is a grave at All Saints, Bramham, of one Theophilus Wilde, “many years Schoolmaster and Clerk of this Parish, who died July 1st 1823: Aged 68 years.” This rather suggests the above Joseph Wormald took over from Theophilus Wilde. The above Joseph Wormald may have been a relative of Samuel Wormald, father of chess-playing Robert Bownas Wormald.
The above Mrs. Bownas, gentlewoman, seems likely to be the widowed Hannah Bownas, mother of Elizabeth Wormald, and grandmother of the chess-player.
The 1841 census found 7-year-old “R. Wormald” as the only male pupil at a girls’ school in Bramham! “R. Wormald” was presumably Robert Bownas Wormald. The schoolmistress was 40-year-old “M. A. Bownas”, who was clearly his aunt, Mary Ann Bownas, who ran the local College for Young Ladies in Tenter Hill Lodge. (The census return gave merely “Bramham” as the address of what was obviously Tenter Hill Lodge.) She had three female assistants, 35-year-old E. Wormald, 15-year-old H. Atkinson and 15-year-old S. Atkinson. “E. Wormald” looks like the chess-player’s mother, Elizabeth Wormald, who’d be 39 years and nearly 8 months old at the time of the 1841 census, where ages were expressed often only in multiples of (complete) 5 years. There were 17 girls resident at the school. Immediately preceding “M. A. Bownas” and her charges was 40-year-old Samuel Bownas whose occupation appears to have been “Land”, who had a female servant, Sarah Stringer.
This Samuel Bownas superficially seems like the brother of Elizabeth Wormald (née Bownas), though the age seems consistently awry. The 1851 census found him still in Bramham, as a “Landed Proprietor”, still with Sarah Stringer. The 1861 census found him still in Bramham, still with Sarah Stringer, but now as a “Retired Manufacturer”, which seems slightly inconsistent.
If Robert Bownas Wormald and his mother were living at his mother’s sister’s school for girls, then his father, Samuel Wormald was presumably by then dead.
Since Robert Bownas Wormald studied in due course to Oxford, where he became noticed as a promising chess-player, it seems likely he would need better prior education than was provided by his aunt’s College for Young Ladies.
A certain Dr Benjamin Bentley Haigh (subsequently LLD, Glasgow, 1863) used to run a school at Grimston Lodge in Tadcaster (where he was a congregational minister from 1828 to 1845), but wished to expand it, and so leased a building, in Braham, called “The Biggin”, along with 130 associated acres of grounds. Adjacent to this, he had built an ornate building which, with the Biggin, was opened in 1842 as “Bramham College” to replace the school in Tadcaster. The college became highly regarded by better-off Yorkshire families as place to have their sons educated.
White’s directory of 1854 describes Bramham College as follows:
Bramham College is a large handsome edifice in the Tudor style, lately erected and furnished at the cost of £10,000, by its principal the Rev. B. B. Haigh, for the education of young gentlemen, without regard to sectarian doctrines.
Elsewhere it list the staff as:
Rev. B. B. Haigh, principal,
Rev. Wm. Harris, mathematical master,
Rev. S. E. Phillips, classical master.
(White seems consistently to have put “Rev.” for “Dr.”)
What was proving to be an excellent educational establishment suffered a severe set-back in 1869 when cholera hit the college. Dr. Haigh succumbed on 12th July 1869, aged 65, and a number of the boys died as well. Dr Haigh and some of the boys are buried at All Saints, Bramham. The inscription on the grave of “B. B. Haigh L. L. D.” says he was principal of the college for 26 years, which presumably includes the earlier period when his school was in Tadcaster. (Click here for photographs of the grave.) The college never fully recovered, and was eventually closed, and later still demolished leaving the Biggin essentially as if the college had never existed.
It seems highly likely that the young Robert Bownas Wormald attended Bramham College in preparation for going to Oxford University, but evidence seems lacking.
Life in Oxford
Robert Bownas Wormald would have gone to study at Oxford in about 1852, when he was eighteen.
The 1851 census found 17-year-old Bramham-born Robert Wormald, gentleman, visiting John Radcliffe, chaplain of Merton College, at 96 Holywell Street, Oxford. (Radcliffe’s place of birth was enigmatically recorded as Rochdale in Yorkshire?!) This visit looks like a precursor to starting studies at Oxford.
He appears to have emerged from Oxford with a B.A., but doesn’t seem to have gone on to get an M.A. Oxford lacks an easily accessible equivalent of Cambridge’s Venn.
As late as 1859, “Wormald” was still classed as a country player as opposed to a metropolitan player [Chess Player’s chronicle 1859, p 5.], implying he had yet to move to London.
Life in London
Around 1861, give or take a year or two, he moved to London and lived there until his death.
He is elusive in the 1861 census.
Though living in London he retained property in Bramham, which he rented out, as evidenced by the electoral roll books of the Bramham-cum-Oglethorpe, where he retained a vote by owning property there. The 1865 list gave his London address as 5 Clement’s Inn, London W.C. The 1868 roll gave it as 23 Lorn Road, Brixton.
On 22nd June 1865, 31-year-old Robert Bownas, son of Samuel Bownas, married 30-year-old Frances Kell, daughter of Thomas Kell [England and Wales Marriages, where “Bownas” is transcribed as “Bowner”]. Frances had been born at Bramham to Thomas and Frances Kell, and baptised there on 21st June 1834. (Thomas Kell died 27/01/1881 and was buried at All Saints, Bramham. Click here for a photograph of the grave inscription.)
Shortly after 12/07/1869, he will have come to learn of the deaths of the headmaster and boys at Bramham college.
The 1871 census found 37-year-old Bramham-born “Robert B. Wormald” and 36-year-old Bramham-born “Fanny Wormald” living at 11 Angell Road, Brixton. Robert was described as a journalist with a BA from Oxford.
He died, at only 42 years of age, on Monday 04/12/1876, at his home, 23 Angell Road, Brixton. The cause of death was apparently bronchitis and congestion of the lungs.
The Chess Player’s Chronicle, 1877, page 20, reported his death as follows:
Probate records state the death of Robert Bownas Wormald BA of 23 Angell Road, Brixton, at that address on 04/12/1876. His will was proved by Frances Wormald, widow and relict.
He was a reasonably good amateur player, but nothing very special. However, he gave his name to an opening variation, wrote a few books on openings, and for a while edited a chess column. He also composed problems.
In The Chess Player’s Chronicle, 1853, page 60, Staunton describes him as a member of the Hermes Club (the “gown” as opposed to “town” chess club), acquiring a reputation as a promising player along with V. Green.
In 1853, he played a match with Robert B. Brien from whom he received odds of pawn and two moves. The final score was 3½-3½.
While at Oxford, Robert Bownas Wormald attended the West Yorkshire Chess Association meetings of 1856 and 1857.
In 1858 he played a match with J. C(or G). Campbell, at the Mr. Starie’s Philidorian Chess Rooms in London. [Chess Player's Chronicle, 1859, p. 21, 50, 51, 53, 91, 93, 123, 147, 198, 302, 303]
In 1860 he played a match with Joseph G. Campbell winning + 7, = 11, - 4 [Chess Player's Chronicle of Jan. 1860 p.83 et al.]
He was author of The Handbook of Chess, published in 1860.
In 1861 he played two games with Ignatz Kolisch, losing overall ½-1½.
In the 1861 Bristol-London telegraph match he drew his game with Rev William Wayte.
His death notice in the Chess Player’s Chronicle suggested he participated the British Chess Association’s 1862 meeting in London, but he is difficult to find in the book of the tournament except as one of those at the meeting which considered the “Code of Laws” being proposed.
The Illustrated London News of 9th June 1866 misprinted his name on page 571 as 'T. Wormald', and this supposedly led to him acquiring the nickname “Tommy”.
In 1868-69, he played in the BCA tournament in London. In the BCA Challenge Cup he scored 5 out of 8, finishing about 5th of eleven players. In the Glowworm knockout tournament, losing in round 1 to Cecil de Vere.
The name “Wormald Attack” was given to the variation 3 Qe2 in the Ruy Lopez (Spanish Opening in modern parlance) after 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5 a6 4 Ba4 Nf6.
He edited Staunton’s Laws and Practice of Chess, the third edition of which was published in 1879.
In 1874 took over editing of chess column in the Illustrated London News, after the death of Staunton. Later, Duffy (secretary of Newcastle Chess Club?) took over from Wormald.
He was author of The Chess Openings, a 317-page volume, which appeared in 1875 to good acclaim by most reviewers, though Steinitz was adversely critical.
Copyright © 2013 Stephen John Mann
Census information is copyright of The National Archive, see UK Census Information