Yorkshire Chess History



1866: Huddersfield – Sheffield Bad Feeling









Made in Yorkshire



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Following the 1865 Huddersfield – Sheffield Athenaeum match, Sheffield challenged Huddersfield to a return match, which didn’t come about.  (Whether this was the 9th December return match or a follow-on from that isn’t too clear.)  This was taken by the Sheffield club as an inappropriate refusal on the part of Huddersfield club, which fact was aired at the Sheffield Athenaeum Chess Club’s annual general meeting on 29th January 1866.


The matter might have soon been forgotten, or at least unmentioned, but for the fact that the Sheffield Athenaeum Chess Club’s new secretary, John James Champion, perhaps on instruction from the club’s committee, sent the newspaper report of the meeting to the Chess Player’s Magazine, March, 1866, wherein it was reproduced on page 92.


When John Watkinson of Huddersfield read the article in the Chess Player’s Magazine, he responded to set straight the record which he felt had not been fully and fairly represented, though he did make a slight error in the process, which was then picked up on by the Sheffield end.


John Watkinson’s response to the original article was published in the Chess Player’s Magazine, April, 1866, page 104, and read as follows:



March 6th, 1866.


Dear Sir, - It is with some reluctance that I trespass on your valuable space, but as the statement put forward in your last number by the Sheffield Athenaeum Chess Club respecting the Huddersfield Club is not altogether correct, perhaps you will allow me briefly to lay the facts of the case before your readers.

In the winter of 1864 the Huddersfield Chess Club received a challenge from the Sheffield Club to contest a friendly home-and-home match.  The distance between the two towns – some thirty miles – and the corresponding expense, in addition to the inability of the Sheffield Club to play the match on a Saturday, which day is in this neighbourhood a half-holiday, were all felt to be serious obstacles in the way, but we waived them all, played the match, and won by a large majority.

Some few months ago we received another challenge to play a return match on similar conditions to the former.  We replied that we should be very glad to play them again, with some modification of the terms.  In the first match we were enabled to enter the field with as many as twelve players.  Owing to losses which the club has sustained, and other causes, we were now unable to muster so strongly, but we offered to play the six best players of each club, meeting at both towns, the total number of games to be added together.

The Sheffield Club, as they had a perfect right to do, refused to accept this modification of the terms, and so the match fell to the ground; and I Ieave it to your readers to decide whether the Sheffield Club is justified in now saying unreservedly, and without any explanation, that “the Huddersfield Club had declined to accept their challenge.”

The rule we have always acted upon in club matches has been for the club of the smaller town to fix the number of players, and, I ask, is it reasonable to expect the club of a small town like Huddersfield to be able at all times to rival in point of numbers the club of a town four or five times its size.

Since 1856 the Huddersfield Chess Club has contested no less than twelve matches with the clubs of Bradford, Holmfirth, Leeds, Sheffield, and Wakefield, and has been successful in winning eight and drawing one.  I believe I am correct when I further state that during this time none of these clubs have ever entered the lists against each other, or in other words, whenever any of these clubs have engaged in a match, Huddersfield has been one of the contending parties.  The now flourishing West Yorkshire Chess Association, too, was originated at a meeting of the Huddersfield Club in 1856.  From these facts, and others I might name, I think it will appear that we have done our share at Huddersfield in keeping up the “sacred fire” of Chess; and, although we have recently lost several of our experienced players, we have the satisfaction of knowing that they have allied themselves with other clubs, and are doing good service to the cause of Chess in other parts of the country.

We have lately had accessions of young and very promising players to our ranks, and I trust, Mr. Editor, you have not yet heard the last of the Huddersfield Chess Club.

I remain, dear Sir, yours very truly,

John Watkinson


John Watkinson’s unwitting slip was to assume the Sheffield Athenaeum Chess Club had the whole of the population of Sheffield to call on, whereas it was in fact limited to the membership of the Athenaeum Club of which it was a part.  When Sheffield hit back along those lines, the editor of the Chess Player’s Magazine felt obliged to publish the response to John Watkinson, but stated it could publish no more on the subject.  The following appeared in the May issue, on page 152.



Having last month printed a letter from the Hon. Secretary of the Huddersfield Chess Club, we think it right to comply with the request of the Hon. Sec. of the Sheffield Club in publishing the following letter.  We cannot, however, publish any further correspondence on the subject, and we hope that both clubs will contrive to settle in a friendly manner any little differences which may have arisen between them.


April 11, 1866.


Sir, - I trust you will be kind enough to insert these few lines in reply to the letter of the Secretary of the Huddersfield Chess Club, which appeared in your last number.  I should not have troubled you with this communication had not the letter above referred to contained, by implication, a charge that the report of the meeting of the Sheffield Athenaeum Chess Club which was inserted in your number for March, in stating that “the Huddersfield Club had declined the Sheffield challenge” – was incorrect.  I feel compelled to assert that inasmuch as we challenged that club to play a return match on the same terms and conditions as regulated the match which was played between the two club, which challenge the Huddersfield Club declined, the report in question was strictly correct.  As to the modifications mentioned in Mr. Watkinson’s letter, I consider that as of the six players Mr. Watkinson would be one, and would in all probability win his six games, we were indeed justified in rejecting them: we wished to play a return match.

Respecting his assumption that, because his club is in a town of only 40,000 inhabitants, and the Sheffield Club is in one containing 200,000, his club should choose the number of players, I can only repeat that which has been previously explained to him – viz., that in consequence of persons being unable to join our Chess club except they are members of an expensive institution (the Athenaeum), our club does not get that proportion of the towns [sic] population which one of the footing of the Huddersfield club receives; and I am sure that the Huddersfield club could at the time the match was played, and can now, boast of a larger number of members than can the Sheffield club – consequently, I cannot admit the justness of his assumption.

The club I represent is quite prepared to give full credit to Mr. Watkinson and the Huddersfield club for their exertions in the cause of Chess.

I am, Sir, yours faithfully,

J. J. Champion, Hon. Sec.


In view of the CPM’s editor calling a halt to publication of letters in this exchange, this had to be the last direct shot in the exchange, but a later letter not directly related to the subject contained another sniping shot, when Sheffield issued a general challenge for a match.





Copyright © 2012 Stephen John Mann

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