Yorkshire Chess History
The British Chess Association
At the wash-up committee meeting of the Bristol meeting of the Chess Association, it was decided to hold the next meeting at London, in 1862. This London meeting was conducted in under the banner of the “British Chess Association”. Whether adding “British” was decided by the Bristol committee, or whether it was done later by the London committee, is unclear. Either way, the British Chess Association was a continuation, under an adjusted name, of the Chess Association.
Whereas the Chess Association, as such, and its predecessor, the Northern and Midland Counties Chess Association, had moved the venue of its annual meeting around the country from one year to the next, the British Chess Association was almost exclusively London-centred. The BCA didn’t venture out of London until 1888.
The aim became to hold prestigious tournaments with an international flavour. This was fine in itself, but did little more than pay lip service to the rank and file provincial amateur chess player whose enthusiasm for the game had laid the foundations of the BCA.
For the next two decades, meetings were not held annually but at best only every two years.
Five Meetings in Eleven Years
The 1862 London “congress” (as the official book of the event called it) of the newly-“British” Chess Association was in itself a success, which was probably attributable to the overall management of Johann Jacob Löwenthal. In 1884, the book of the congress, edited by Löwenthal, was published. This book incorporated at the beginning an account by George Medley of the development of the BCA from the original Yorkshire Chess Association and the Northern and Midland Counties Chess Association.
The next BCA congress was in 1866, an interval of four years, and saw the introduction of a Challenge Cup.
The inactivity of the BCA in 1863 and 1864, apart from holding committee meetings, was doubtless a factor in the decision of the Rev. Arthur Bolland Skipworth to hold a tournament in Redcar in 1865. This was the start of a series of annual tournaments organised by Skipworth under one banner or other, catering for provincial amateurs in a way which the BCA singularly failed. From 1870 Skipworth’s activities were under the banner of the Counties Chess Association, which was seen as being in conflict with the BCA, but in reality complemented the BCA’s activity.
There followed three roughly biennial BCA congresses, all in London of course, those of 1868-69, 1870 and 1872.
The Deep Sleep
After 1872, the BCA slumped into a decade of total inactivity, it seems. In Yorkshire business was as usual, with the annual meetings of the West Yorkshire Chess Association to attend, and the annual (except 1879) tournaments of the Counties Chess Association for the more ambitious player.
The British Chess Association was spectacularly reborn in 1883. Alfred Lord Tennyson was the president, though if you look in biographies of the poet you’ll be exceedingly lucky if you find any reference there to chess. John Ruskin, whose chess-playing ability seems to have been somewhat limited, was among the vice-presidents. Robert Peel was secretary; he seems to have been a genuine worker rather than merely an ornament. The BCA congress of 1883 saw the introduction of the use of chess clocks in a tournament.
There was no BCA congress in 1884, but there followed six unprecedentedly-annual BCA congresses. The first three of these were, as ever, held in London. Then, after twenty-six years of never leaving London, the British Chess Association held its congress outside London, in Bradford. Bringing the BCA to Bradford in 1888 is attributable to Isaac McIntyre Brown, then secretary of the Yorkshire County Chess Club.
The BCA congress of 1889 was held back in London, but there seems to have been a belated adoption of the policy of alternating between London and a “provincial” venue, as the BCA congress of 1890 was held in Manchester.
The decision to venture out to Bradford and London may have been in part a pragmatic relieving of the work-load on the BCA by transferring it to local organisers. If so, then this seems to have been symptomatic of terminal illness. There was no BCA congress in 1891. There was then a BCA congress, in London, in 1892, but that seems to have been the last event run by the British Chess Association.
County chess associations had started popping up around the country, and the formation of regional county unions was starting. This led to the formation in 1904 of the British Chess Federation, now renamed the English Chess Federation.
Copyright © 2012 Stephen John Mann