Yorkshire Chess History



Hilda Florence Chater











Made in Yorkshire



Sheffield Sub-Site



1876, Leytonstone, Essex




1968, St. Albans




Non-Chess Life


The parents of Hilda Florence Chater were William Charlton Chater (born 1843, Sunderland) and Margaret Elizabeth Chater (born 1842/43, Sunderland), who had at least the following four children:


Edith Isabella Chater

born 1869, Sunderland

Helena Maria Chater

born 1874, Leytonstone

Hilda Florence Chater

born 1875, Leytonstone

Elsie Jane Chater

born 1880, Leytonstone


It appears a daughter Hilda Frances Chater was born at Leytonstone in 1873 but died a year later.  The future lady chess-player would seem, therefore, to have been the second Hilda of the family, with the middle name varied for distinction.  It also appears a son, William Charton Chater junior, was born at Leytonstone in 1878 but died at or not long after birth.


Father William Charlton Chater was a sea captain, and was consequently not always around at census time.  Indeed the whole family is elusive in censuses.  There was also a Charles W. Chater (born 1844/45, Sunderland) who was also a seafarer, and a possible brother to William Charlton Chater.


The 1881 census found mother Margaret and the four surviving daughters living at 4 Grove Road, Leyton Low, Essex.  Father William was presumably away at sea.


It seems William Chater sometimes took his family with him on sea trips, or else they visited the United States for some reason in 1890.  For whatever reason, the Chelydra, captained by William C Chater, arrived on 17/11/1890, at New Orleans, Louisiana, from Antwerp, with 47-year-old wife Margaret E. Chater and 15-year-old daughter Hilda Chater on board, identified in the passenger manifest as being the captain’s family.  The indication was that they intended to become residents of the United States.  This would explain the apparent absence of this Chater family from subsequent UK censuses.


Meanwhile, back in Leytonstone, in 1900, Helena Maria Chater married Herbert Charles Ashby, and one of their children was Eric Ashby with whom his aunt Hilda was in due course to reside in Belfast.


At some stage, seemingly from 1911 to 1914, the Chaters must have returned to England, if they ever left for any time in the first place.  The whole period from 1882 to 1914 seems significantly undocumented, in a way consistent with the family being abroad.


Father William Charlton Chater died, aged 71, in 1914, in Essex, so that is presumably where the family lived at the time.


By 1925 (probably before) “Miss Chater” was recorded as a chess-player living in Penzance, Cornwall, where chess records place her at least as late at 1939.  Some references place her more specifically in the Newlyn district in the southern part of Penzance.


On 16/09/1942, a 68-year-old Hilda Chater arrived at Liverpool aboard a ship which had come from Suez, via Freetown.  (Freetown is in Sierra Leone, next door to Liberia.  The quick route via Suez Canal with have been an impossible route due to the war.)  The age and name look rather like the chess-player.  This Hilda Chater and some other passengers were represented as missionaries who had previously been resident in Liberia.  They’ll have boarded at Freetown.  This Hilda’s intended address in the United Kingdom was the Convent of Our Lady, Malvern Link, in the north of Great Malvern.   So, was the English chess-player “Miss Chater” for a while a missionary?  The answer seems to be “No.”  There was a Hilda Chater who was born in 1874 at Fordham in Norfolk and died in 1962 at Malvern aged 87, who was more likely to have been the missionary.


At what stage, and where, our Miss Chater re-emerged on the chess scene isn’t immediately clear, but she turned up, and played chess, in Belfast in 1950.  In that year her nephew, Eric Ashby, who had prior to that held the Harrison Chair of Botany at the University of Manchester, became Vice-Chancellor of Queen's University, Belfast, and his aunt Hilda took up residence with him in Belfast, immediately hitting the Belfast chess scene at the age of about 84.


Nephew Eric left Belfast in 1959 to take up a post at Cambridge university, so it was presumably around then that Hilda Chater left Belfast.  Quite were she moved to isn’t clear, but she seems to have ended up in St. Albans.




Hilda Florence Chater died in 1968, at St. Albans, aged 93.




“Miss Chater” was active in Cornish chess in the 1920s and 1930s.  She represented the county in correspondence play and over the board.


She played in the third tournament at the 1925 Scarborough Whit Congress, coming second in her subsection, but finishing 5th-6th= in the play-off for finals placings.


In 1927-28 and 1928-29, she won the Emigrant Cup (premier Cornish individual tournament, though not then explicitly named the Cornish Championship).


She was still active in Cornish chess in 1937-38, representing the county by correspondence an over the board.  She was listed as a member of the Cornwall County Chess Association, though there was then no Penzance (or Penwith) Chess Club affiliated to the county association, and she was presumably as active also in 1938-39.


In 1939 she played in the last pre-war BCF congress, in Bournemouth, and presumably played in earlier BCF congresses.


At what time she resumed competitive chess after the Second World War is unclear, but when in 1950 she went to live in Belfast, she became active in competitive chess.  She was the first woman ever to compete in the Ulster Championship, and was in 1955 (at least) the Ulster Ladies’ Chess Champion.


At the age of 82, she represented Ireland in the 1st Women's Chess Olympiad, at Emmen (Netherlands), in 1957.  By this time she had become widely known as the “Grand Old Lady of Chess".


Hilda Florence Chater was presumably the donor of the solid silver Hilda Chater Plate (for the Ulster Individual Championship?).





Copyright © 2015 Stephen John Mann

Census information is copyright of The National Archive, see UK Census Information

Last Updated