Yorkshire Chess History
The Original Yorkshire Chess Association
The Chess Player’s Chronicle of 1854, page 59, informs us that the idea of forming an association of clubs was attributable to the three Wakefield players Shepherd, Robinson and Tyson, and that the process of bringing the association into being involved the active assistance of the leading Leeds players. More precisely, those Wakefield players were Edward Shepherd, William Ledgar Robinson and the Rev. Edwin Colman Tyson.
In his “Memoir of the British Chess Association”, prefixed to the tournament book The Chess Congress of 1862, George Medley wrote (p. ix):
A motivating reason for organising these early chess meetings, which might be thought of as the first chess congresses, though not chess congresses of the form to which we are now accustomed, was described by Medley, who, after alluding to the geographical isolation of the various chess clubs and lack of contact between their members, wrote:
In other words, members of a club playing only other members of the same club, week in week out, were never going to be able to improve significantly.
The above referenced article in the Chess Player’s Chronicle tells us:
Successive meetings were held in the towns of the member clubs in rotation, and were to be held annually. Each meeting decided where the next one was to be held. Responsibility for making the arrangements for a meeting fell to the host club. The YCA had no standing officials as such. A president of a meeting was appointed at the start from those present. This latter practice varied slightly from that of the later West Yorkshire Chess Association at whose meetings the president was usually that of the host club. These meetings were not tournaments; they were not small-scale local versions of the 1851 tournament in London. The formal competitive element developed in such meetings only after time.
Ten-and-a-Half Meetings in Twelve Years
There were in fact two meetings in 1841, the first in January, in Leeds, and the second in November, in Wakefield. In terms of “annual” meetings, the first should perhaps be thought of as the 1840 meeting running two months late.
The 1842 YCA meeting was held in November, in Halifax; the 1843 meeting was held in November, in Huddersfield (nine years before the formation of the present Huddersfield Chess Club).
Samuel Newham of Nottingham had been one of the visitors from outside the county at the second (Wakefield) 1841 meeting and the 1843 meeting. In his day, Newham was held to be the strongest English player outside London. At the latter meeting Samuel Newham invited the Yorkshire players to the Nottingham Chess Club’s planned meeting, to be held in December. The same meeting agreed the 1844 YCA meeting be held at Leeds.
In the event, the Nottingham meeting ended up being held in July 1844, and as a consequence the Leeds meeting was postponed to the following year. Some writers say that the YCA held its 1844 meeting in Nottingham, but while it has a joint meeting between the two organisations, it was not strictly one of the annual meetings of the YCA, rather a meeting attended by a significant number of members of Yorkshire clubs. (This Nottingham meeting was the “half” in the sub-heading.)
The secretary of Leeds Chess Club wrote a letter the editor of the Chess Player’s Chronicle, therein reproduced in volume V, 1844, p.184, as follows.
The fifth meeting of the YCA thus was held in 1845, at Leeds. This and the next four meetings were held in April.
The sixth meeting, held in 1846, at Wakefield. At this meeting Hull was admitted as a member club, so, as a consequence, the seventh meeting was held in 1847, in Hull.
The eighth meeting was held in 1848, at Halifax. Numbers attending this Halifax meeting were low by standards. This was attributed in part to the wave of revolution sweeping through Europe. Chess club members were generally from among the wealthier classes, and they might well be the ones whose commercial or industrial properties, or homes, might be attacked by the mob. Fear of insurrection in this country was quite real at that time. It was agreed that Huddersfield should host the 1849 meeting.
The Huddersfield meeting of 1849 did not come to pass. This might be blamed on lingering fear of imminent revolution. It might have been due to fear of epidemic disease. It might have been due to the demise of the Huddersfield chess club! As evidenced by Huddersfield’s participation in the YCA meetings hitherto, there was a chess-playing community in Huddersfield from 1841 to 1848. Nevertheless, the present Huddersfield Chess Club was founded in 1852. This rather implies that between 1848 and 1852, Huddersfield chess club had slumped to almost or actual non-existence.
The 1849 meeting would have decided the venue of the next meeting. It would have been the turn of Leeds, had there been no new club admitted to the Association. There may have been an exchanged of letter between club secretaries to confirm that Leeds should hold the next meeting. Be that as it may, the ninth meeting of the YCA was held in 1850, at Leeds. Curiously, Medley states no meeting took place in 1850. He may have been working from a minute book which, due to the hiatus of 1849, had never reached the Leeds secretary for him to make his record therein, but that’s speculation.
Medley appears to be right in saying there was no YCA meeting in 1851. It would be Wakefield’s turn. From Wakefield, only William Ledgar Robinson and the Rev. Edwin Colman Tyson had attended the 1850 meeting in Leeds, so maybe Wakefield Chess Club was struggling at the time. Another reason for the non-occurrence of the YCA meeting in 1851 might have been the unusual occurrence of a major chess event elsewhere in the country that year, i. e. the tournament held in London to coincide with the Great Exhibition. Had that been the reason, however, one would expect Wakefield’s turn to be held over until 1852.
After Wakefield, the next host town on the rota was Hull, and it was there that the tenth YCA meeting was held, in October 1852. The lateness in the year might have been due to initial expectations of Wakefield organising a meeting. It was at this Hull meeting that the decision was made to extend the scope of the Association, so that in future it would be known as the Northern and Midland Counties Chess Association.
From the point of view of the rest of the country, outside Yorkshire, this expansion to form the N&MCCU was the dawning of a new era. The reality was that a national chess organisation had been born, in nature though not yet in name. From the point of view of the Yorkshire players who were fond of their Association, this was the lamentable end of their beloved Yorkshire Chess Association.
A number of those West Riding players who regretted the expansion, in 1856 revived the spirit and format of the original Yorkshire Chess Association in the guise of the West Yorkshire Chess Association.
Copyright © 2012 Stephen John Mann