SHEFFIELD Chess History
The Sheffield Athenaeum Chess Club
Parent Organisation - The Sheffield Athenaeum Club
The Sheffield Athenaeum Club was a gentlemen’s club founded by Dr. Mariano Martin de Bartolomé, Edward Tozer and others. The premises which originally served as its clubhouse were at 69 Norfolk Street “near to the current  Savings Bank.” The “Savings Bank” was what until relatively recently was the Trustee Savings Bank, now a pub and/or wine bar. Dr Bartolomé became the Athenaeum’s first president, holding that post for the first thirty-six years. The first general meeting was held on 7th April 1847.
Amongst its facilities was a library. Hitherto the only library in Sheffield had been that at the Mechanics’ Institute in Watson’s Walk.
In 1849, the opening of the Sheffield Athenaeum and Mechanics Institution on Surrey Street, caused a degree of consternation at the use of the name “Athenaeum” for a second, separate organisation. However the two elements split up organisationally, in 1851, becoming the Lyceum and the Mechanics Institution, though they continued to occupy the same building. From 1849 to 1851, however, it was necessary to distinguish between the Norfolk Street Athenaeum and the Surrey Street Athenaeum. The two “Athenaeums” each had its chess clubs, and the two clubs played against each other.
In 1851, the Sheffield Athenaeum club moved to a “large and commodious mansion” at the corner of George Street and Norfolk Street. In 1856 there were 500 members; the annual subscription was 25s. In 1856 it was described as having news and coffee rooms, a library, reading and chess rooms, a smoke room etc. [White’s General Directory of Sheffield, Rotherham &c, 1856.]
The lease on the premises was unexpectedly terminated, and Dr. Bartolomé advertised for new premises, getting two replies, one offering unsuitable premises and one offering better premises than were currently in use. A meeting of the club members on Monday 19/10/1857, to discuss what do in the face of the “present emergency”, opted to accept the second-mentioned offer. A report on this meeting in the Sheffield Daily Telegraph of 20/10/1857, reported:
Thus the Sheffield Athenaeum Club moved to larger premises, at 23 George Street, which were purchased and adapted in 1858. These premises were those previously occupied by Messrs. Parker & Son, and the adjoining warehouse formerly used by a Mr. Pearce.
These George Street premises were bombed in 1940, and the club’s archives destroyed [The Culture of Capital: Art, Power and the Nineteenth-Century Middle Class; Janet Wolff, John Seed]. A chess club treasurer’s record book does, however, remain in existence, and is held by Sheffield Archives.
Today’s Cutler’s Hotel was built upon the site of the Athenaeum’s George Street premises.
Formation of the Sheffield Athenaeum Chess Club
The Sheffield Athenaeum Chess Club was part of the Sheffield Athenaeum Club. The chess club had its own president, secretary and treasurer, separate from those of the Sheffield Athenaeum Club as such. An annual subscription for membership of the chess club was charged. One had to be a member of the Sheffield Athenaeum Club in order to join its chess club.
Like the Athenaeum Club as a whole, the chess club dated from 1847, having been established on 22nd November 1847 [Chess Weekly, Vol. IV, 1868, p. 304].
One of the founder members of the chess club, Joseph Greening, was on the committee from the club’s formation right up to his death on 31st August 1868.
The Sheffield Athenaeum Chess Club Treasurer’s cash book is held in Sheffield Archives, and besides listings of members (as they paid their subs) there is mention also of Annual Meetings which were combined with soirées. The 4th such annual meeting was held on 17th November 1851; the 5th was held 11th October 1852.
Funds were spent on playing equipment, chess magazine subscriptions, printing, paying the catering staff at soirées etc. The treasurer’s records make it evident that playing equipment and printing services tended to be provided by club members.
There was at the time no club called the “Sheffield Chess Club”, but the Athenaeum club represented, and spoke for, Sheffield chess as a whole prior to the formation of the Sheffield & District Chess Association in 1883. Thus, during the period 1847 to 1883, chess references to “the Sheffield Club” would normally be to the Sheffield Athenaeum Chess Club. Possible confusion as to the nature of “the Sheffield Club” led to a strained exchanged of letters with Huddersfield’s John Watkinson in 1866.
When the Sheffield Athenaeum Club was bombed in 1940, that may have destroyed some chess-club records, but the treasurer’s records for 1847 to 1883 survived and are held by Sheffield Archives. Inter alia, these records include some notices of West Yorkshire Chess Association meetings.
Members of the Sheffield Athenaeum Club, and therefore of its Chess Club, were drawn from the upper classes, mainly the owners of industrial or commercial businesses, or members of the “professions” such as doctors, lawyers, accountants and so on. Presumably there was a system of voting to accept new members, so that less desirable applicants could be “blackballed”.
There were other gentlemen’s clubs in Sheffield, but if you had an interest in chess then you’d presumably opt for the Athenaeum, because of the chess club.
The following are activities involving the Sheffield Athenaeum Chess Club or its member, which are the subject of separate articles:
(those marked (Y) are in the Yorkshire History part of this website)
1866 Sheffield-Huddersfield dispute
1868 West Yorkshire Chess Association’s annual meeting in Sheffield
1870 club handicap
1875 West Yorkshire Chess Association’s annual meeting
1880 West Yorkshire Chess Association’s annual meeting
1881 SACC agm
1882 SACC withdrawal from WYCA
The Sheffield Athenaeum Chess Club was one of the primary movers in the formation of the Sheffield & District Chess Association in 1883. Edward Weston (donor of the Weston Trophy) is recorded as referring in 1924 to the Sheffield Athenaeum Club as having been “formerly the father of chess in Sheffield”.
In 1883 the main Athenaeum Chess Club officials were: president, Arthur Davy; secretary, Frederick Edward Foster; and treasurer, George Bailey Cocking. On the formation of the S&DCA, Arthur Davy became its first president, and Henry Clement Twist of the Arundel Club became its first secretary.
In 1904-05 the Athenaeum Chess Club was said to be Sheffield’s largest Chess Club.
The chess club did not participate in the S&DCA league in 1905-06 or 1906-07, and probably in fact never again. Its affiliation to the Association appears to have ceased after 1912-13, though the Athenaeum club itself continued to exist.
Individuals’ Wider Contribution to Sheffield Chess
A number of members of the Athenaeum and their families supported Sheffield chess one way of another over the years, as follows, the parties involved being SACC members.
For a brief period the chess club possessed a trophy for its annual club championship. This was won outright by Edward Saville Foster, whereafter the trophy passed out of active service until re-emerging almost a century later as the Athenaeum trophy for the fourth division of the Sheffield league. That was Edward Saville Foster’s posthumous contribution!
Colonel Thomas E. Vickers of the Athenaeum served as S&DCA president for a while.
Arthur Davy’s son, Ernest Richards Davy, donated of the Davy Trophy in memory of his father. He also donated the Davy Cup to the Sheffield & District Works Chess Association around 1936. Ernest Richards Davy was S&DCA president for decades.
The Sheffield league continued to operate through the First World War with one of Davy’s cafes serving as venue for all matches.
Copyright © 2012, 2014 Stephen John Mann