Yorkshire Chess History
Identity of the Chess-Player
Chess-players called “R. Gregson” or more specifically “Robert Gregson” pop up first in Manchester, then in Leeds and then in Bradford. The ubiquity of the name Robert Gregson in the Manchester area means without further information the Manchester player would not be easily identified. (At least five people called Robert Gregson are buried in Tonge Cemetery alone.) However, there is one Robert Gregson whose appearances in successive censuses exactly match the appearances of the chess-players, making it clear the chess-related appearances are of this single Robert Gregson.
According to a Gregson family tree (showing names and birth/death years), in the possession of Philip J Gregson, great-great-grandson of the William Shepherd Gregson mentioned in the table below, the parents of Robert Gregson were William Gregson (born 1782; baptised 14/07/1782, Bishop Burton; died 1862) and Hannah Gregson (née Shepherd, born ?, died 1850 in Oldham area) who had the following children:
One source represents John as “Jonathan”, but this seems a misinterpretation of “Jno.”
Father William Gregson had been born in the Bishop Burton area of East Yorkshire, not far from Beverley, north of Hull, but baptism records show the family had moved to Hull by the time he started a family. The family then moved to Manchester at some time from 1822 to 1825.
The 1841 census a record of the parents and children William, Jane, Hannah and Robert living in Moreton Street, Manchester. Subsequent censuses show Robert to have been born in Manchester, but identifying the appropriate birth record from among the various possible candidates is not possible without chess-sourced information on the subject.
Robert is difficult to pin down in the 1851 census, and people of that name seem remarkably few in the census of that year.
Robert Gregson married Mary Ann Cockbain in 1855, the marriage being registered in the third quarter at Chorlton (Manchester). They went on to have one child, Mary Ann Collier Gregson, born 1858, at Tonge, Middleton (birth registered in third quarter at Oldham).
The next certain census sighting is in that of 1861, where 36-year-old Robert Gregson appears as a master tool-maker, and iron foundry master, employing 55 men and seven boys, living at Mills Hill, Tonge, in the parish of St Michael. Mills Hill appears to be in Chadderton, to the west of Oldham, now in Greater Manchester. “Tonge Hall” is in Middleton slightly further to the west, as is St Michael’s church. (This was thus not the Tonge in Bolton.) He is found living with “36”-year-old (really 30) Manchester-born wife, Mary Ann Gregson, 2-year-old Tonge-born daughter Mary Ann Collier Gregson, a live-in nurse and a domestic servant. They were receiving visitors Henry Cockbain and Mary Elizabeth Cockbain (née Moxon, married Oldham, 1858).
The 1861 census also found sister Jane as a teacher at Birkdale, in the Ormskirk district of Lancashire, with sister “Anne” (though for various reasons this seems to be Hannah, father William, some nephews and nieces (some of them pupils), and unrelated pupils, suggesting the sisters were running a private boarding school in their home.
The 1871 census found 46-year-old Robert Gregson, his 40-year-old wife, and 12-year-old daughter (now a scholar) still living at Mills Hill, Tonge, now with just one domestic servant. Robert was in the same line of business except that brass now featured in his foundry.
At some time from 1871 to 1877 (on the basis of chess records), the family moved to Leeds.
Meanwhile, the 1876 Manchester directory listed William S. Gregson and James S. Gregson as commission agents at 71 Spear Street, Manchester; also Henry Gregson, coal dealer, at 1 Leigh Place, Church Street, “West G”; a Thomas Gregson, slater, at 3 Ancoats Hollow, but also a Thomas Gregson, labourer, at 50 Caledon Street, South Street; and four different people called John Gregson – but no Robert Gregson.
Kelly’s West Riding directory dated 1881 listed:
Gregson Robert, 16 Spencer terrace, Louis street, New Leeds.
The 1881 census found 56-year-old Robert Gregson, his 50-year-old wife, his 22-year-old daughter, a boarder and a domestic servant living at 16 Spencer Terrace, Louis Street, Potternewton, Leeds, though nearer what is now the Sheepscar area than “Potternewton” might suggest. Robert was now a coal merchant, while daughter Mary Ann C. Gregson was a high school teacher.
At some time from 1884 (on the basis of chess records) to 1887, Robet Gregson and family moved to Bradford.
The 1887 Bradford Post Office directory listed Robert Gregson as a coal merchant (cf Harry in 1876) operating from the Great Northern coal depot in Manchester Road, Bradford, and living at 14 Cunliffe Terrace, Manningham, Bradford.
The Gregson family is not immediately obvious in the 1891 census, but the 1891 Bradford Post Office directory listed Robert Gregson, coal merchant, working from the Great Northern coal depot, and residing at “Penrhyn”, Emm Lane, Bradford
The 1901 census found 76-year-old Robert and his 70-year-old wife now living in Bradford without their daughter, but with unmarried Manchester-born 57-year-old niece Hannah Gregson, and two servants, one a cook and the other a seamstress. Robert was still a coal merchant.
Robert Gregson died in Bradford on 07/06/1902, and wife Mary Ann Gregson died a week later on 14/06/1902. Their daughter was executor of both their wills.
An “R Gregson” attended the 1852 meeting of the original Yorkshire Chess Association, in Hull, and it’s probable that this was Mancunian Robert Gregson visiting along with more-notable Manchester players. By 1864 or earlier he was a member of Manchester Chess Club and remained so, it seems, until some point in the mid-1870s.
R Gregson of Leeds attended the WYCA meetings of 1878 and 1884. “N” Gregson of Leeds attended the WYCA meeting of 1879, which was presumably him. “Gregson” of Bradford attended the WYCA meeting of 1889, this also presumably being him.
Copyright © 2017 Stephen John Mann
Census information is copyright of The National Archive, see UK Census Information