Yorkshire Chess History
Fred Dewhirst Yates
From 1909 to 1932, Fred Dewhirst Yates was one of Yorkshire’s two strongest chess-players, the other being the older Henry Ernest Atkins who for most of the time was regarded as the stronger of the duo. Whilst Yates was Yorkshire-born and bred, Atkins was a native of Leicestershire, becoming a “naturalised Yorkshireman” after taking up a teaching post in Huddersfield. Atkins was strictly an amateur chess-player, confining his activities to British chess, however, Yates opted to pursue a career as a chess professional, and competed abroad, beating in his career most of the top contemporary players. On the international scene, it was Yates who was the most prominent British player of his generation.
The popular rendering of his name as “Frederick Dewhurst Yates” is erroneous. There seems no evidence of any formal, official documents ever calling him “Frederick”, instead “Fred” seems to appear throughout. “Dewhurst” is a spelling mistake now widely copied in the literature.
Fred, as he was both formally and informally known, came from a family rooted in the West Riding village of Birstall, 2 miles NW of Batley. From Birstall roads radiate in the directions of Huddersfield, Bradford, Leeds, and Batley. Gomersall is a little over a mile to the east.
Fred’s paternal grandparents, his parents, and his siblings were all born in Birstall. His paternal grandparents were John Yates (born 1821/22) and Jane Yates (born 1821). They had (at least) six children, all Birstall-born, Josh (born 1844/45), Mary (born 1847/48), Ann (born 1849/50), John Thomas (Fred’s father, born 10th October 1853, baptised at Birstall St. Peter’s on 23rd April 1854), and Emily (born 1855/56).
The 1861 census listed John Yates as a general mechanic, living with his family in the Wortley area of Leeds.
The 1871 census listed the family back to Birstall, on Coach Lane. John was then described as a machine-maker, while daughters Mary and Emily were woollen weavers, and son John Thomas was an iron turner.
John Yates died on 15th February 1875, and was buried in Birstall Cemetery, across the road from St. Peter’s, on 4th December 1974.
The 1881 census showed that most of John and Jane’s family had left home (or died), and the widowed Jane Yates was living on Huddersfield Road, Birstall, with son John Thomas Yates, who was now described as a mechanic, following in his father’s footsteps, it seems.
John Thomas Yates married Birstall-born Ada Ellen Dewhirst in 1882, and they had (at least) six children, all Birstall-born, the first taking his mother’s maiden name as his middle name:
In 1891 John Thomas Yates and his family lived on Bradford Road, Birstall.
On 10th July 1895, Fred’s grandmother, Jane Yates, died at the age of 74.
Fred attended to Birstall Wesleyan School, which was built in 1862, and is now Birstall Community Junior and Infant School, on Chapel Lane, Birstall.
In 1901 John Thomas Yates and his family still lived on Bradford Road, Birstall, more specifically at number 14. John Thomas was by now a mechanic in a woollen mill, and oldest daughter Annie was a weaver in a woollen mill. Fred, however, had not followed other family members into the weaving and related trades, but had got himself an office job, being in 1901 an urban district council clerk, and was moving towards a career in accountancy.
However, an aptitude for things mechanical, which had been exhibited by Fred’s father and grandfather, seems to have manifested itself in Fred in the more abstract form of chess aptitude, and in 1909 he apparently decided to give up the office job and become a professional chess player and a chess journalist, which pursuits led him to move to London.
He was still, for voting purposes at least, resident at 14 Bradford Road, Birstall, from 1921 to 1926, along with his father, our man’s name being given throughout as “Fred Dewhirst Yates”.
Fred Dewhirst Yates died 11th November 1932, due to a gas leak, at his home, 32 Coram Street, London. He was buried at St. Peter’s, Birstall, with V. G. Johnson, vicar, officiating. (Click here for images of the grave.)
The funeral expenses and money owed to his landlady, amounting to £51 2s. 0d, were apparently shouldered by other chess-players who attended the funeral.
‘ ... Certain chessplayers who attended the funeral agreed to make themselves responsible for the funeral expenses, but as the body was removed to Birstall in Yorkshire for burial in the family grave, the expenses were considerably heavier than was anticipated and, with the money owing to the landlady, comes to a total of about £51 2s. Od.’
“British chess suffered a great loss with the death of F. D. Yates in 1932: a Memorial Fund was set up to help British players meet expenses in home and overseas events and for other benevolent chess purposes.” [BCM, December 1932, page 528]
By 1905 he was a member of Leeds Chess Club.
His debut in the Woodhouse Cup appears to have been in the season of 1905-06. Even then he didn’t play in the first four matches of the season, and played in the Leeds Woodhouse team for the first time, seemingly, on 09/12/1905 in a home match against Bradford, when he beat the Rev. S. Walker on board eight out of ten. He played in the remaining 5 matches of the season, winning 4 more games, but losing on board four to S. Jackson of Hull. He worked his way up the board order, a board per match, until he settled at board four, below J. Spencer, F.P. Wildman and F. Schofield.
In 1906-07 (not all results to hand) he got off to a bad start, losing on adjudication to J. H. Guy of Bradford, and losing to G. Barron of Hull. Later in the season he conceded a draw to Sheffield’s W. H. J. Sparkes (whose third initial was usually not given).
He continued playing for Leeds in the Woodhouse Cup through to 1914-15, the last season of play before competition was suspended due to the war.
His debut playing for Yorkshire in county chess seems also to have been in 1905-06. On 24/03/1906 he drew with W. D. Bailey of Manchester on board 29 of a 30-board match against Lancashire, in Manchester. On 26/01/1907 he beat J. S. Crawford of North Manchester on board 24 of a 30-board match against Lancashire, in Leeds. On 18/01/1908 he beat R. C. Boyer on board 16 of a 25-board match against Cheshire, in Stockport. On 21/03/1908 he beat G Gills-Palmer of Manchester on board 9 of a 30-board match against Lancashire, in Manchester.
His activities as a chess journalist were varied. He wrote a chess column in the Manchester Guardian. With Isidor Gunsburg he co-authored Grand International Masters’ Chess Tournament St. Petersburg, 1914. In 1929 he co-authored Modern Master Play with William Winter. He wrote World Championship Chess Match 1929. A posthumous collection of his own games which he’d started work on, called One-Hundred-and-One of My Best Games of Chess, was arranged and completed by William Winter, and edited by W. H. Watts (Printing-Craft, London, 1934).
The story of Fred’s fortunes in the British Championship is the story of the Atkins-Yates duo. Atkins won the Championship in the seven years 1905 to 1911. He had moved to Yorkshire in 1909. However, Fred was coming to the fore over this period. Thus in 1910 Fred had come second. Then in 1911 Atkins and Yates had tied for first place, but Atkins had won the play-off in January 1912. In 1912 Modern Chess Openings editor Richard Griffith won the championship, with Fred coming second. Then, in 1913, Fred Dewhirst Yates won the British Championship for the first time. The following year, 1914, Fred finished first equal with the now-aged Joseph Henry Blackburne. That necessitated a play-off, but Blackburne’s ill health meant he was unable to contest the play-off, and so the Championship was awarded to Yates.
Subsequent winners were as follows:
1920 Scott, Roland
1921 Yates, Fred Dewhirst
1922 (no British men's Championship)
1923 Thomas, Sir George Alan
1924 Atkins, Henry Ernest (with Yates, Fred Dewhirst 2nd)
1925 Atkins, Henry Ernest (with Yates, Fred Dewhirst 2nd)
1926 Yates, Fred Dewhirst
1927 (no British men's Championship)
1928 Yates, Fred Dewhirst
1929 Khan, Mir Sultan
1930 (no British men's Championship)
1931 Yates, Fred Dewhirst
1932 Khan, Mir Sultan.
Atkins had not played tournament chess after 1911 when invited to play in the 1922 London international tournament. That, on returning to the British Championship in 1924 and 1925, he could twice more push Yates into second place is testimony to Atkins’s inherent abilities.
His general chess career is well documented.
Amongst the simultaneous displays which he gave was one in Rotherham on 28/03/1923, over 22 boards, when he won 17 games, drew 4 (to E. J. Griffith, R. Dewar, S. P. Ludbrooke and F. R. Brown), and lost 1 (to Archibald Robert Fleming).
Copyright © 2012, 2013 and 2015 Stephen John Mann
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