Yorkshire Chess History
Robert Sayle Corlett
Identity of the Chess-Player
The surname “Corlett” seems to originate in the Isle of Man, but there were a number of that name also in Liverpool, first footfall for islanders migrating to the mainland. “R. S. Corlett” was said to be the oldest participant in the NCCU Championship at Blackpool in 1913, so had to be born before 01/01/1859 (Dawbarn’s D.O.B.) “R. S. Corlett” was quite a common name, typically with Richard, Robert or Reginald for the first element, and Samuel, Sayle, Sidney or Stuart as the second. “Sayle” was a matrilineal maiden name which got embedded in names for some generations.
Fortunately, the British Chess Magazine of 1924, on page 216, gave a notice of his death (not seen in full), quoting the name “R. Sayle Corlett”, which is perhaps mistakenly treating “Sayle Corlett” as an unhyphenated double-barrelled surname. Less likely seems the possibility that he was known by “Sayle” as a forename in preference to “Robert” (or “Bob”).
Robert Sayle Corlett was a son of Robert Corlett (born 1825/26, Lezayre, IoM) and Sarah Ann Corlett (neé Howe, 1825/26, Whitehaven, Cumberland, nearest mainland port to IoM). This couple had at least the following children:
Robert Sayle Corlett was born at Lezayre, 2 miles west of, and inland from, the coastal town of Ramsey, and he was baptised on 07/01/1850, at St. Jude, about 2 miles south of Andreas, Isle of Man. This suggests he may have been born in (late) 1849.
The 1851 census found three generations of Corletts living at Craig, in the vicinity of Sulby, 2 miles south of St. Jude’s. There were Robert Sayle Corlett’s paternal grandparents, Robert Corlett, senior (born 1789/90, Lezayre), a farmer of 120 acres, and Mary Corlett (born 1893/94, Douglas, IoM); there were three Lezayre-born children of this couple, 35-year-old Robert Corlett, junior (R. S. Corlett’s father), unmarried 19-year-old John Corlett, and unmarried 17-year-old Eliza Corlett; and there were Sarah Ann Corlett (R.S. Corlett’s mother), and 1-year-old Robert S. Corlett himself. There were two other grandchildren of Robert Corlett senior, 8-year-old Oscar Kissock Corlett and 5-year-old Catharine Corlett. These latter two were apparently not Robert Sayle Corlett’s siblings. There was also a maid servant, 18-year-old Ellinor Corlett – presumably a relative of some sort.
Grandfather Robert Corlett senior died during the next ten years. Sarah Ann Corlett in 1854.
The 1861 census found widower Robert Corlett junior farming 150 acres, employing 5 labourers, and living at East Craige (the “e” is probably spurious), which may well have been his father’s farm. With him lived the above three children (all scholars), his widowed 67-year-old mother Mary Corlett who was an annuitant, his 36-year-old widowed older sister Judith Strickett, and two nieces, 16-year-old Catharine S. Kissock and 11-year-old Sarah S. Strickett (presumably sister Judith’s daughter).
Robert Corlett junior re-married during the next twenty years.
The Corletts are largely elusive in the 1871 census, but it is recorded that Robert Sayle Corlett took up employment in Manchester as a youth, and chess records find him in Manchester in 1871. Accordingly, the 1871 census records Isle of Man-born “R. S. Corlett” as a clerk boarding at 29 Avon Street (or something similar), Chorlton-on-Medlock, Manchester, which closely fits the chess-player.
While living in Manchester he became ill and returned to the Isle of Man, and was confined to bed for ten years.
The adult Robert Sayle Corlett was reportedly 6 feet 2 inches tall and weighed well over 19 stone. Regarding his physical, there was a story of him being attacked by a bull near his home in Andreas, Isle of Man, and him wrestling the bull to the ground! His huge frame and large hands were noted by Joseph Algernon Woollard when they met over the board in a county match, which will have been the match on 18/03/1911. It was after the dinner at this match that the Lancashire CA president, Liverpudlian Daniel Powell, narrated the tale regarding the bull.
The 1881 census found Robert Corlett junior, a farmer now of 244 acres, still living at Craig, with second wife Jane Corlett, his three children by his first wife, and a 9-year-old daughter Anne C. Corlett. There was also a servant. That Anne was not shown as a step-daughter of the head of the household rather implies Robert’s marriage to his second wife was from 1861 to 1871. 31-year-old Robert S. Corlett was simply a farmer’s son. Whether than implies he did work on the farm is unclear. This must have a little before or soon after his emergence from confinement to bed for ten years.
The 1891 census found a reduced Corlett household at “The Craige” (now with its terminal “e” again), consisting of Robert Corlett junior, wife Jane Corlett, son Robert S. Corlett and daughter Henrietta Corlett. (whose age was given incorrectly as 46 rather than 36).
The Isle of Man Times in the late 1890s often carried an advert for the services of “R. S. Corlett” as a painter and decorator, but this was Reginald Stuart Corlett.
The 1901 census found a 50-year-old grain merchant called “Robert S. Corlett” living as a boarder in the household of a 48-year-old Thomas Corlett, (who was employed as a miller), at Elder Cottage, Bowring(?) Road, Lezayre, IoM. This appears to be our man living with his brother. Though our man was now a corn merchant, he evidently retained (or later acquired) ownership of the family farm.
In 1903 he became a member of the House of Keys (the Manx parliament).
On 21/01/1906, 56-year-old Robert Sayle Corlett married Catherine Ann Teare (born 1870/71, Bride, IoM), daughter of Daniel Teare, at Bride, the northernmost village of the Isle of Man. The bride was 21 years younger than the groom.
In the context of the 1908 NCCU v Scotland match he was described as “R. S. Corlett, Liverpool, Champion o the Isle of Man”. In 1910 he was recorded as being of Liverpool, meaning either that he was a member of Liverpool chess cub, or that he lived in Liverpool. Whether he moved from the Isle of Man to Liverpool, or oscillated between the two, is unclear. It’s difficult to believe he would leave a tranquil rural locality with four-horned Loaghtan sheep in the fields for the hustle and bustle of Liverpool. Perhaps he took trips to Liverpool, and frequented the chess club there on such trips.
The 1911 census found 61-year-old landowner, farmer and corn merchant Robert Sayle Corlett living with wife Catherine Anne Corlett, 57-year-old unmarried sister Henrietta, and a servant, at The Craige (and our man spelt it himself with the final “e”), Sulby, IoM. Maybe a house called “The Craige” was in a locality called “Craig”. This was the family “seat”.
Chess-player Robert Sayle Corlett, who at the time was resident at Andreas, Isle of Man, died in January 1924, aged 74. The death was noted in the Ramsey Courier of 11/01/1924.
After his death it was said that he taught himself chess while in his sickbed, roughly from 1872 to 1882. This appears misleading as he evidently was playing chess in Manchester, before his 10-year confinement to bed back home.
“R. S. Corlett” was one of the ten opponents of Joseph Henry Blackburne in a simultaneous display which the latter gave in the dining-room of the Clarence Hotel, Manchester, on 23/10/1871 (or 30/10/1871), under the auspices of the Manchester chess club. Blackburne won 7 games and drew 3. R. S. Corlett lost in 26 moves.
Thus it would appear he probably improved his chess while in his sickbed. This would ideally have required at least one sparring partner, which may have been younger cousin Walter John Corlett.
By 1884, he was out of bed and playing in a handicap chess tournament played over a number of months in the Isle of Man, probably at a chess club in Douglas. “R. S. Corlett” is listed in the Isle of Man Times of 05/01/1884 as one of the recent additions to the tournament, he being placed in class 1. At this point he had played 7 games, winning 6 and losing 1. At this point two players had already played 10 games, and one had played as many as 15 games, that being class 2a player “W. Corlett”, who it is safe to assume was Walter John Corlett.
R S Corlett finished second to his cousin in the 1885-86 Douglas handicap tournament.
R S Corlett played in the 1908 NCCU v Scotland match.
“R. S. Corlett (Liverpool)” finished fourth out of seven in the Northern Counties Chess Union’s individual championship of 1913, in Blackpool. He lost to F. D. Yates (to be expected); he drew with reigning Yorkshire Champion H. A. Burton (commendable); he drew with C. Y. C. Dawbarn (commendable) and beat his other three opponents.
Copyright © 2017 Stephen John Mann
Census information is copyright of The National Archive, see UK Census Information