(Personal experiences may follow.)
Glimpses of Yorkshire Junior Chess: 1880s to 1980s
Organised junior chess was for a long time built on inter-school team competitions, though these of course necessitated there being school chess clubs which therefore had to come first. Until school “leagues” came along, schools would arrange matches against other clubs, adult or junior.
In Sheffield, the first school chess team to become visible was that of Wesley College, whose building in time housed the writer’s grammar school. That team included both boys and masters when they took on adult teams (the only opponents then available). Thus in 1882, for instance, we see Wesley College playing matches against clubs such as Rotherham (25/02/1882) and Penistone (15/04/1882).
Chess was also keenly fostered at the Sheffield Blind School, and a match between a school team and a team from the Sheffield Blind Workshops was played on 01/03/1892. By then, the traditional sets and boards for blind players had already been developed.
Finding opponents was not at first easy for a school. Thus in 1921 we find Chesterfield Grammar School advertising for opponent teams in the local newspapers. (Chesterfield is part of the “District” in “Sheffield & District Chess Association”.)
Apart from the Sheffield Blind School, most school chess teams were from grammar schools. However, in 1924, we read of the successes of the school chess team of Maltby Senior Boys’ School, believed at the time to have been one of the few elementary school chess clubs in the country. (Maltby is a part of Rotherham.)
There seem to have been as yet not enough school chess teams to form a local schools league, yet there were enough teams throughout Yorkshire to sustain a county-wide school competition.
Thus in 1925 we find the Maltby school beating a team drawn from the Wath schools in “the Yorkshire inter-school chess competition” for school teams, and we are later told, “the Maltby boys have gone through the Yorkshire inter-school chess competition without the loss of a single match.”
Reading between the lines, this competition was not a one-day event, nor a team knock-out, and so it would seem probably to have been what is now termed a “league” team competition, i. e. an-all-play-all.
In 1925, it was advertised that formation of a Sheffield Schools Chess Association was being mooted. This seems not to have come to anything, or else did not last long, as it never got a mention in years to come in the otherwise comprehensive local newspaper chess column.
In 1929, Leeds Chess Club launched an annual Leeds Young People’s Competition “for fostering young talent in the schools”. It was a competition for individuals rather than teams. The winner in the first three years (he left school after that) was Abba Rivlin, who became a YCA Honorary Life Member, and was father of Mark Rivlin who is currently connected with the ECF electronic newsletter.
By 1934, a Leeds School Chess League had come into existence. A report on the 1934 Leeds Young People’s Competition, after noting that the first four winners of the event had all been pupils at the City of Leeds School, went on the mention that the school had finished runners-up in the Leeds [School] Chess League.
Elsewhere, Ealing Senior Boys’ Schools’ Chess Association’s 8 team league of 1936/37 featured 8 teams, each playing each other twice.
Meanwhile, in Sheffield and its wider district, though no schools league materialised before the outbreak of war, a surge of chess in schools was evident immediately beforehand.
In 1937 we read that West End Senior School, Hemsworth, of which George W. Moses was headmaster, had 100 members. (G. W. Moses had until not long before been a prominent Sheffield player, though he later shifted affiliation to Wakefield.)
In January 1939 there appeared a photograph with the caption “The Boys and Girls of Bamford village school, keen chess players, competing in their annual tournament, for a silver cup given by one of the school managers.” (Bamford is in rural north Derbyshire just beyond the border of Sheffield.)
In February 1939 we read that Chesterfield Grammar School team, in a friendly match, beat Chesterfield Chess Club 6½-5½. (Was this the Chesterfield A team? Often, in yesteryear, a strong club would turn out its second team in friendlies against weak clubs.)
In May 1939 we read of a friendly fixture on 25/05/1939 between Baslow boys and Sheffield Blind School boys, forty-one years on from the above 1892 match. (Baslow is another village in rural north Derbyshire, not far from the Sheffield border.)
In July 1939 we read of a successful season of lunchtime chess at Sheffield’s Nether Edge Grammar School, and of hopes for inter-school matches in the coming winter.
The war did not totally stifle school chess. As luck would have it, Sheffield-born B. H. Wood, founder and then-editor of “Chess” magazine, was apparently exempted from military service, having a duodenal ulcer or something similar. Thus it was that in 1940 he was able to give a four-hour simultaneous exhibition against 127 boys at Ilford School. This triggered the formation of a school chess club which by 1942 had grown to 400 members, believed at the time to be a record for any school club.
The Leeds Annual Inter-Schools chess tournament of 1944 was a one-day event featuring 6 teams held at Leeds Chess Club. Aireborough Grammar School won it. This was perhaps a wartime manifestation of the Leeds School Chess League.
George Lewin Beach was from one of three generations of a Beach family to have been prominent in Yorkshire chess. (His younger brother Thomas John Beach, known as “John”, moved in time to Liverpool where he initiated a junior chess congress which in its time was the largest of its kind in the country.) After serving on the home front during the war as a driver and in farming, George returned to teaching as a mathematics master at St. James’s Grammar School, Almondbury, in Huddersfield. There, in 1946, he initiated a Yorkshire Schools’ Chess Jamboree. The writer’s school team used to make the annual trek to Almondbury. The 1971 event was named the 8th YCA Schools’ Chess Jamboree, suggesting the event had been an independent exercise from 1946 to 1963, with the event’s organisation passing from 1964 to the YCA, though still being held at Almondbury. George Lewin Beach retired in 1975, so maybe that is when the event ceased to be held, though it may have been the teachers; strike which was the cause.
The YCA may have initiated its Yorkshire Junior Chess Championship around this time. We see that the Yorkshire Junior Chess Champion in 1948 was Alan Jowett of Bradford. This was expanded in time to separate Under-18, Under-15, Under-12, Under-9 and Girls’ Under-18 Championships, probably around the 1970s. (The writer arranged transference of the trophies, which had been collected together by Cyril Wilson, the headmaster of Blackburn School in Sheffield, to the new YCA Secretary for Junior Chess in 1991, but these trophies seem now to have been mislaid.)
At some time or other during the 1950s to 1980s there were school chess league-style team competitions, or at least school chess associations, in Sheffield, Huddersfield, Bradford, York, Hull and Doncaster, and presumably also in Leeds and possibly elsewhere in Yorkshire. Some schools’ leagues were run by the local adult associations while some had their own independent organisations.
Much school chess and some whole school leagues were terminated by the teachers’ strike of 1985 or thereabouts. In Sheffield, where the Sheffield & DCA had handed over responsibility for junior chess to the Sheffield Area Schools Chess Association formed in the 1970s, the schools league folded and SASCA became a junior evening chess club. SASCA enters teams in the S & DCA team competitions, but the scope to promote the uptake of chess by juniors seems less than that of the schools league in the writer’s day.
A subtler dampening of the school’s chess scene might have been caused by the introduction of comprehensive education. This was initiated in Sheffield in 1969, and my own school’s first year as a comprehensive was about 1971-72, by which time, we were only there for “Oxbridge” scholarships having done A-levels a year earlier than most.
It is evident that, in Huddersfield at least, the post-strike decline may not have been as rapid as in some other places. In March 1988 we read that “Mirfield High School’s chess team has won the Huddersfield Secondary School’s Chess Association League Cup.” In July 1988 we read that “Lindley Junior School chess team who have won the Huddersfield Junior Schools Chess League trophy. Lindley won the trophy in a play-off after tying with Birkby Junior School, who have taken the trophy for the last few years.”
in 1989 we hear of the Kirklees Schools League.
Memory has it that there was a schools’ league in York after 2001 – there was debate as to whether it could be graded – but that league seems to have gone.
Further afield, the Cleveland Schools’ CA’s “Sean Marsh Junior League”, with two divisions, was still active in 1992.
Various schools now have chess clubs, and even branch out to play nearby schools in friendlies. Chess in Schools and Communities now promotes development of chess in schools, but there seems a long way to go before the output from schools into the wider chess world is as effective as it was in the past, and a resurgence of schools’ leagues, seems desirable in this respect.
This latter point seems to be recognised by the ECF since in its Business Plan of 2019, under the heading of “Junior” [Directorate], there are the following objectives (amongst many others):
1969 Sunday Times Semi-Finals
Inter-school chess team leagues seem in the past to have driven uptake of chess by juniors, feeding new players into the adult chess scene, and also, less obviously, breeding the new generation of organisers.
Looking back to when my school reached the Sunday Times semi-finals at St. Ermine’s Hotel in London, in the semi-finals we encountered Dundee Grammar, whose chess activity was promoted by the Elders. Mrs Nancy Elder of Dundee was 16 times Scottish Women’s Chess Champion and was made an MBE in 1974 for services to chess. (Daughter Christine was in the Girls’ Under-18, and her husband was also there.)
Against Dundee, in 1969, I played (and drew with) Chris J A Jones, who now does the chess problem spot in the ECF Newsletter. On a lower board was Andrew J D Baruch, who later appeared in the guise of Warwickshire captain at a Yorkshire v Warwickshire county match played in Sheffield. (Chris C W Shephard, now of Sheffield, was board1 for King Edward’s, Birmingham in the other semi-final.)
After Chris Shephard had left KE Birmingham, we played King Edward‘s, Birmingham, in the Sunday Times zonal stage, and I had to play a certain Anthony J Miles, later a GM, of course, but then “unknown”. I opened, as White, 1. d4 f5 2.g4. There was much chewing of fingernails on the other side of the board, but I eventually lost.
In the schools’ correspondence team competition run by Chess Ltd, I played (and beat) Brian Valentine who is now ECF Manager of Rating.
Limited Records of Yorkshire Junior Successes
(Full details would take months to pull together.)
British Individual Junior Championship Successes
Obviously, it is difficult to be complete, especially from recent decades due to lack of knowledge of current junior players names.
The age groups currently having British Championship titles are U21 (now embedded in Championship proper), U18, U16, U15, U14, U13, U12, U11, U10, U9 and U8.
National Schools Chess Championship Successes
In the Sunday Times (from 1983 Times, then unsponsored from 2002), semi-finalists from Yorkshire to date, and final places, have been as follows:
* with the present writer on board 1
** maybe losers in 1st round of the inter-zonal stage
English Primary Schools Chess Association – School Team Events
Unearthing data re the EPSCA schools’ competition (as opposed to their Association/County competition) is difficult but it was reported in May 1988, “Huddersfield Junior Schools Chess League champions Birkby took third place in the English Primary Schools Under 11 Plate competition in the finals.”
County Junior Team Fortunes (EPSCA & NYCA)
In EPSCA and NYCA events of recent years, placings of Yorkshire teams at the North zonal stage (if there was one) and in the final (if it was reached) were as follows, as far as can be ascertained (before 2012 only known winners listed):
BCF/ECF School Award Recipients
The following Yorkshire schools have received BCF/ECF (British Chess Educational Trust) School Award in the years stated: