Yorkshire Chess History
Silas Angas was not known as a Yorkshire player, but his family moved to Yorkshire before he was one year old, and he quite probably learnt chess from his father there. In time he moved to the Angas family’s focal town of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and the chess world knew him as a Newcastle problemist and player. His name occurs here and there in chess literature.
The Wider Angas Family of Northumberland
There is a tradition, perhaps originating within the family, that the Angas family had its origins in a Scottish family which moved long ago to Northumberland. This might suggest that the family name was perhaps originally “Angus”, but the Scottish name is spelt “Aonghas” in Gaelic, so the spelling “Angas”, even if it be the Scottish name, can be justified.
In the 1800s, the name “Angas” and its variants cropped up in Northumberland, Co. Durham, and even, as in this case, the East Riding of Yorkshire. The focal location of these people called Angas seems to have been Newcastle-upon-Tyne. As far as religion is concerned, there appears to have been a strong Baptist tradition running through the family. It seems children born away from Newcastle tended to be brought back to that focal centre of Newcastle for baptism.
The name “Silas Angas” might seem distinctive, yet there were a number of people of that name or a similar one. The same applies to the name of our man’s father, Caleb Angas. Thus the identity Silas Angas, son of Caleb Angas, was shared by a number of the men of the wider Angas family of North-EastEngland.
One Caleb Angas, was born 15/03/1742, Styford, near Bywell, a hamlet on the north bank of the River Tyne, on R. Tyne, 4 miles SE of Corbridge, and about 14 miles as the crow flies from the centre of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and died on 14/05/1831, in Newcastle. He became a successful coach-builder, merchant and ship-owner in Newcastle. Coach-building seems to have been a business which was handed down to his descendents. One of his sons, William Henry Angas (born 06/10/1781 at Newcastle-upon-Tyne, buried 11/02/1862, St.Peter’s, Bywell) became the first person to be ordained specifically to minister to seamen. Another son, George Fife Angas (born 01/05/1789 at Newcastle-upon-Tyne) became an advocate of the colonisation of southern Australia, and was one of the founders of the State of South Australia, where he died on 15/05/1879 at Angaston. Both of these sons have entries in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
One Silas Angas was a well-documented master mariner who was born on 19/09/1787 in Sunderland, Co. Durham. Despite spending over a decade in the London/Kent area, he returned to Sunderland before dying there on 15/01/1876. There seems no easily established connection between this mariner, Silas Angas, and the above coach-builder-cum-shipowner, Caleb Angas, but one feels they just have been fairly closely related.
Another Caleb Angas was born in 1782, at Brancepeth, Co. Durham, 4 miles SW of the city of Durham. He was the son of a Silas Angas and his wife Sarah (née Jopling, c. 1756). A number of Angas men took wives called Sarah, making life even more difficult for those trying to construct a family tree. One feels this Caleb Angas would have been related to the above mariner, Silas Angus, possibly being his brother. Both came from Durham rather than the immediate vicinity of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. This Caleb Angas became noted as an advocate of free trade, and as being opposed trade protectionism. He also became regarded as a leading authority, in the East Riding of Yorkshire, on agriculture. He has a small entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. More importantly, for present purposes, was the father of the chess-playing Silas Angas.
The popularly quoted dates of the chess-player-cum-problemist are 08/01/1814 as date of birth (one source says at Newcastle-upon-Tyne, explained below), and 30/07/1867 as date of death. The date of death corresponds to a Newcastle share-broker called Silas Angas, who is the one described here.
Non-Chess Life of Silas Angas, Chess-Playing Stock-Broker
Attempts to track down records of the chess-playing Silas Angas are plagued by a tendency for “Angas” to be rendered “Angus” or some other variant, and by the difficulty in knowing whether a given “Angus”, or whatever, is erroneous or not. It is thus not wholly clear which of the following references do in fact refer to our man.
A present-day relative of Silas Angas, Donald Bowes, has supplied information from birth and death certificates, which tie together the marriage in 1855, at Houghton-le-Spring, Co. Durham, of a Silas Angas, to the death on 30/07/1867, at Tynemouth, of a Silas Angas. These in turn connect with a difficult-to-find 1861 census entry which identifies this Silas Angas as the Newcastle stockbroker mentioned in directories.
Birth and marriage records reveal our man’s father to have been one Caleb Angas. More than one Silas Angas had a father called Caleb, but our Silas Angas turns out to be the one born to Caleb Angas (born 1872, Brancepath, Co. Durham, 4 miles SW of Durham) and Sarah Angas (née Sample, c.1871, Highwood, Hexham), who were married on 18/07/1811, at Lee(? – seemingly in Newcastle-upon-Tyne), Northumberland. Silas Angas the chess-player is quoted as being born on 08/01/1814, but that date appears to be the date of his baptism. The birthplace of the stockbroker was given in the censuses as Durham (1851 census) and Brandon, Co. Durham (1861 census). Brandon is a mining village 3 miles SW of Durham city, and a mile from father Caleb’s place of birth.
The best interpretation of the information available is that Silas Angas was born to the above Caleb and Sarah Angas, at the village of Brandon, Co. Durham, probably in late 1813 but possibly in the first week of 1814, and was baptised on 08/01/1814, at New Court (Baptist) Chapel, West Gate Street, Newcastle Upon Tyne, back in the Baptist Angas family’s focal town.
Later in 1814, Caleb and Sarah moved with their first two children from the Brancepeth/Brandon area of Co. Durham to Neswick Farm, about one-and-a-half miles east of Bainton, the nearest hamlet, which is 5 miles SW of Great Driffield, East Yorkshire. Caleb allegedly chose to move to this area because he had seen how well wheat grew in the area. This farm was then owned by a John Grimston (born 1807 as John Wilmot, later taking his maternal grandfather’s surname, Grimston).
Caleb and Sarah seem to have had at least the following eight children:
It is unclear why George should be born at Beeford Grange, some 10 miles east of Neswick Farm as the crow flies, and somewhat further by road.
The birthplaces of the later children make it clear our Silas Angas spent his early childhood at Neswick Farm. He may well have been sent to school. (One, at least, of the Newcastle Angas boys was sent to school at Catterick, apparently.) In time, certainly by 1843, he made his way to Newcastle-upon-Tyne to earn his living.
The 1841 census listed a 25-year-old clerk called Silas Angus living at Cumberland Row, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, with five others with the same surname, the members of the household being as follows, ages being in multiples of 5:
That this “Silas Angus” was stated to be not born in Northumberland is consistent with his having been born in Co. Durham, as was the “Silis Angus” in the 1851 census reference below, but this may have been a reference to somebody different from our man. The reference to coach-making suggests this was the household of the descendents of the above mentioned coachbuilder Caleb Angas. The older Sarah could have been coachbuilder Caleb’s second wife, Sarah Angas, though Sarah was a common name in the Angas family. This all being the case, the Silas Angas mentioned might have been our man lodging with relatives in Newcastle, and the Sarah mentioned could have been his sister of that name. Unfortunately the 1841 census didn’t record relationships between members of households.
Whether this 1841 sighting of a “Silas Angus” was indeed our man is un clear, but his occupation, as a clerk, is consistent with him ending up as a share-broker. A close connection between out man and the coach-building Angas family of Newcastle is supported by the fact that one of the executors of this Silas Angas’s will was a coach-maker.
A chess reference is 1843 [Chess Player’s Chronicle, Vol. IV, page 86] places the problemist in “Newcastle” (presumably the one upon Tyne), this geographical attribution being repeated when a game of his is given on page 156.
Curiously, Silas Angas of “Durham” (the county or the town?) is given in lists of subscribers to two chess book published in 1844 and 1845 respectively (see below), suggesting that in the mid-1840s he had moved back to his native Durham – or was this a different Silas Angus, even the mariner of Sunderland, Co. Durham? Maybe both had an interest in chess.
Ward's Northumberland & Durham Directory, 1850, listed Silas Angus, of Charlton & Angus, merchants, at 69 Quay, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, resident at Blenheim Street, Newcastle-upon-Tyne. This seems to have been our man.
The 1851 census listed a 36-year-old unmarried Durham-born general merchant called “Silis Angus” lodging at Blenheim Street, Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Given that the enumerator seems to have put “Silis” instead of “Silas”, it seems reasonable to suppose “Angus” may have been recorded in error for “Angas”. This person would thus seem to be the Silas Angas in the 1850 directory. If this was the chess-player, and if the popularly quoted birth date of 08/01/1814 is correct, then he’d be 37 at the time of the 1851 census, not 36, but the ages of lodgers were frequently inaccurately recorded, presumably because the information was supplied by the lodging-house keeper rather than directly by the person concerned.
Whellan’s History, Topography, and Directory of Northumberland, 1855, listed Silas Angas & Co., stock and share brokers, 24 Dean Street, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and Silas Angus, of Silas Angus & Co., residing at 64 Westmoreland Terrace, Newcastle-upon-Tyne. (At this time, 8 West Parade was occupied by Richard Allinson, accountant and arbitrator.)
The marriage of a Silas Angas was registered in the second quarter of 1855 at Houghton-le-Spring, 6 miles SW of Sunderland. A present-day relative, Donald Bowes, confirms that this was in fact the chess-playing stockbroker, Silas Angas, and supplying information both from the marriage certificate and a notice in the Newcastle Journal. Thus we find that Silas Angas, sharebroker of Newcastle and son of Caleb Angas, was married to Jane Hodgson, youngest daughter of the late Mr. Francis Hodgson of Durham, at Houghton-le-Spring, on 28/06/1855, by the Rev. A. Blagden, with James Foster as a witness. (James Foster was later present at the death of Silas Angas.)
The Post Office Directory of Northumberland & Durham, 1858, listed Silas Angas & Co., stock and sharebrokers at 42 Side, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, with Silas Angas residing at 8 West Parade, Newcastle-upon-Tyne. The change of address was perhaps the result of him getting married.
1861 census found 47-year-old Brandon-born stock and share-broker Silas Angas, and 39-year-old Durham-born wife Jane, living at 8 West Parade, Elswick, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, with one servant.
The death certificate in the possession of Donald Bowes records that Silas Angas died on 30/07/1867, in the presence of James Foster (husband of Jane Angas’s sister Mary).
Probate records state that Silas Angas, share-broker of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, died 30/07/1867 at Tynemouth, Northumberland, 6 or so miles east of the centre of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. The death register index entry gives his age at death as 53.
His will was proved by the above-mentioned James Foster of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, white lead manufacturer, and William Angas of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, coachmaker. The “coachmaker” reference supports the idea that the Silas “Angus” living in 1841 in the household of Henry “Angus”, coachmaker, was probably our man.
Silas Angas was best known as a chess problemist, assuming the pseudonym "Alpha" (“A” for Angas”), rather than as an over-the-board player. His published problems seem to cover the period of 1842 to 1859, at least.
His father was reputedly able in mathematics and mechanics, and so might well have had a mentality appropriate to being a chess-player. Thus it seems likely that young Silas Angas learnt chess from his father Caleb, especially considering that his early years at Neswick Farm are unlikely to have afforded contact with chess-players outside the immediate family. It’s feasible, however, to suppose that the mariner, Silas Angas, might have been a chess-player (see below), and he is very likely to have been a relative of our man, so there may have been some input from that direction.
The Chess Player’s Chronicle, Vol. IV, 1843, included 8 problems by Silas Angas, explicitly “of Newcastle”, three of which were aimed at young players. It also included a game of his giving odds to an “amateur”, on page 156. This appears to be about the earliest he gets mentioned in the chess literature.
Silas Angas, listed as of “Durham”, was a subscriber to Robert Alexander Brown’s book “Chess Problems” (1844). Silas Angus, master mariner, was resident in Sunderland, Co. Durham, at this time, so the identity of this subscriber isn’t clear, but the stockbroker might have still regarded his “roots” as being in the Durham area. Was it the stockbroker or the mariner?
Silas Angas, again listed as of “Durham”, was a subscriber to the “Souvenir of the Bristol Chess Club” (1845). Again this could have been the master mariner.
Silas Angas played in the 1851 Exhibition Tournament, in the “Provincial” section (entry fee £1 1s. 1d.), held from 03/06/1851 to 15/07/1851. In round one he played Samuel Standidge Boden, losing both games, which is excusable, but meant he didn’t proceed beyond “Series One” as what we would call “round one” was described in the tournament book.
The Chess Player’s Chronicle of 1851, on page 294, recorded a game in which Silas Angas lost to P. W. Humble, another strong North-Eastern player.
In 1856, Silas Angas served as umpire, working with five judges, for determining which of two people would win the 1856 Era problem tournament. By that time he had himself been winner of a problem-setting competition. [Selected Problems from the Era Problem Tournament, J. Löwenthal, 1857.]
“Silas Angas, Esq., Newcastle-upon-Tyne” was listed as a member of the Co-operative Committee of the British Chess Association’s “Grand International Chess Congress and Tournament” of 1862. The attribution “Newcastle-upon-Tyne” shows this was not Silas Angas the master mariner, who at the time was resident in the London area.
Copyright © 2013 Stephen John Mann
Census information is copyright of The National Archive, see UK Census Information