Yorkshire Chess History
Howard Lawton’s family were rooted in Sheffield. His paternal grandparents were George Lawton (born 1794/95, Sheffield) and his wife Frances (born 1796/97, Wadsley, then adjacent to Sheffield, now part of it). George and Frances had at least the following five children, all Sheffield-born:
Of these, Henry Lawton was destined to be the father of Howard Lawton, the chess problemist. The 1841 census found parents and five children living at Allen Street (probably number 183, though no numbers were given), in the Netherthorpe area of Sheffield. Father George’s occupation was given as “Ind.”, seemingly meaning of independent means, which seems a little improbable; he had apparently been a bricklayer. Charles was a razor manufacturer’s apprentice. Not far away lived 20-year-old Samuel Lawton, a journeyman razor maker, who may have been another member of the same family.
The 1851 census found the Lawtons still at Allen Street, but more specifically at 183 Allen Street. Father George was now blind, and described as formerly a bricklayer. Charles was a razor-maker, Sarah was a dressmaker, Henry was a grocer’s assistant, and Harriet was a scholar.
Around 1858, Henry Lawton (Howard Lawton’s father) married Sarah, and the couple had at least the following seven children, all Sheffield-born:
The 1861 census found the parents and the first child, Reginald, with one domestic servant, living over/behind a grocer’s shop at 44 Edward Street, still in the Netherthorpe area of Sheffield, father Henry being described as a grocer. J. S. C. Morris’s Business Directory of Sheffield and Rotherham listed, under “Grocers”, Henry Lawton, 44 “New Edward Street”, Sheffield.
The family had moved to 44 Brocco Street, Sheffield, still in Netherthorpe, by the time of the 1871 census, when the family had expanded to five children, as well as including a domestic servant and a shop boy.
By the time of the 1881 census the family had left Netherthorpe and moved to the Heeley area of Sheffield, to 122 Albert Road. The family now included Percival. No servant was now listed. Father Henry had retired from the grocery business, but eldest son Reginald was a grocer’s assistant and in later years was to have his own grocery business. John was a wood-carver. Sarah was a mother’s domestic maid. Ernest and Percival were scholars.
Howard Lawton was born on 02/07/1881.
Howard may not have had clear memories of his father, Henry Lawton, as the latter died within the first ten years of Howard’s life. Kelly’s Directory of Sheffield, Rotherham and Neighbourhood, 1883, listed Henry Lawton still at 122 Albert Road, but by the 1890 directory that address had a new occupant, and in the 1891 census his wife Sarah Lawton was listed as a widow. There was a Henry Lawton who died at age 49 in the Wirral registration district; this is the only death registration apparently matching Howard’s father.
In 1888, Howard’s older sister Sara Elizabeth Lawton had married William Albert Hobson (born 1868/69, Sheffield), a paviour by occupation, the marriage being registered in the third quarter of 1888. By 1891 the couple were living at 59 Hustler Street, Bradford, with one-year-old son Reginald F. Hobson. The 1891 census found Sarah’s youngest brother, Howard, and their 51-year-old widowed mother, Sarah, who was living on her own means, residing in the Hobson household in Bradford. Howard was 9 years old and was a scholar.
At some time from 1891 to 1898, Howard Lawton’s mother, Mrs. Sarah Lawton, had returned to Sheffield, as White’s General & Commercial Directory of Sheffield, Rotherham &c, 1898, listed Mrs. Sarah Lawton (by inference now a widow), living at 91 South View Road, in the Heeley/Sharrow area of Sheffield. Howard Lawton was in all probability living at the same address.
The 1901 census found them both living at 91 South View Crescent. Mother Sarah was still described as living on her own means. Howard was now described as a hairdresser.
In 1906, Howard Lawton married Hannah Margaret Smith (born 06/07/1885, Sheffield). Their marriage was registered in the fourth quarter of 1906. By 1911, after four years of marriage, the couple had had two children, though only one survived, namely Edna Margaret Lawton (born 06/03/1909, Sheffield). The child dying at birth or in early childhood may have been Arthur Lawton whose birth was registered at Sheffield in the third quarter of 1907, and whose death aged zero was registered in the first quarter of 1908. There were more children after the 1911 census (wherein counts of births and deaths of children in a marriage were collected). Another daughter, Dorothy M Lawton was born on 23/10/1912; her birth was registerd in Doncaster registration district, which is consistant with the family living at the time in Bolton-upon-Derne. Subsequently a son must have been born as, in 1942, he was reported as having a son and three daughters. He was survived by four children .
Notes made by the late Paul Valois regarding the chess column in the Sheffield Guardian helpfully record a number of Howard Lawton’s addresses, and when the column started on 26/02/1909 his address was given as 625 Chesterfield Road, Woodseats, Sheffield, which was in fact the address of George Batch, hairdresser. This suggests Howard Lawton was employed as a hairdresser by George Batch, and that either Howard Lawton and his wife lived over or behind George Batch’s business premises, or else he merely found it convenient to use his work address for receiving chess communications.
The chess article in the Sheffield Guardian dated 25/02/1910 reported its editor as having moved to 20 Park Road, Wath-upon-Dearne, to the north of Rotherham, while that dated 25/03/1910 reported his as having moved to West Street, Wath-upon-Dearne. Within a year he had moved again.
The hairdresser’s business must have been doing well, as chess article in the Sheffield Guardian of 24/06/1910, Howard Lawton’s last as chess editor, gave a farewell message referring to “extreme pressure of business and an unexpected promotion in the Chess World”.
The 1911 census found him living with 71-year-old mother Sarah at 106 Avenue Road, Wath-upon-Dearne. His was still described as a hairdresser by occupation. His wife, Hannah Margaret Lawton, and daughter, Edna Margaret Lawton, were listed in the census at Hannah’s parent’s home at 53 Bromwich Road, Woodseats, Sheffield. Four of Hannah’s younger siblings were still living with their parents. Hannah and Edna were not listed as visitors, but as daughter and granddaughter, but they were probably merely “visiting”. (The census form failed to provide well for clarity when relatives were visiting as opposed to resident.)
Publicly available census information runs out after 1911. We know Howard Lawton was generally regarded as from Sheffield, and we know he returned there at some stage. How long he continued in the occupation of hairdresser is unclear.
One of his chess problems published in 1912 described him as being from Bolton-on-Dearne, roughly 4 miles to the NE of Wath-upon-Dearne. This will have been around the time of the birth of younger daughter Dorothy. The first number in Bill Batley’s chess column in the Yorkshire Telegraph & Star (at that time merely a problem, with no news) the problem given was one of Howard Lawton’s, and he was described as “of Bolton-on-Dearne.
Howard Lawton’s mother, Sarah Lawton, lived to the age of 76, her death being registered in the first quarter of 1917, at Ecclesall Bierlow, Sheffield. That suggests Howard Lawton had returned to Sheffield by 1917, or else mother Sarah had been living latterly with another of her children, such as eldest son George Frederick Lawton.
Non-digital searches of directories of Sheffield offer little easily extracted information on Howard Lawton for the period 1912 to 1936. He seems not to be listed in alphabetical sections, which would be explained if were an employee rather than an employer, and lived with a sibling or in rented rooms etc. He seems not to be listed under “Hairdressers” in the commercial sections, which would be explained by him being employed as a hairdresser rather than running his own hairdresser’s business, or of course because he had given up hairdressing. He could have been working for his brother in his grocery business.
It becomes apparent that at some time Howard Lawton gave up working as a hairdresser and became an attendant at colliery baths. Which colliery is difficult to work out, as there were a number of small collieries in and around Sheffield, but it would appear to have been in commuting distance from both Greystones and Greenhill – or else there were two or more collieries involved. The Millhouses area is roughly halfway between Greystones and Greenhill, so the coal and ganister mine at Hutcliffe Wood, owned by Pickford, Holland & Co. Ltd. seems a possible place of Howard Lawton’s work as a bath attendant - he later lived at Hutcliffe Wood Road - but production there may have ceased after 1934. Another candidate mine is the ganister and coal mine at Dore, owned by J. W. & E. J. Thorpe from 1940 to 1945. There was also a colliery (some buildings still standing) at Handsworth, where Howard later lived.
An article about his composing career, in the Yorkshire Telegraph & Star of 25/07/1936, placed his residence at that time in the Handsworth area of Sheffield. He appears to have moved to the Handsworth by 1934, as he played chess for Handsworth Working Men’s Club in 1934-35 and 1935-36. His occupation at this stage is unclear.
Kelly’s Sheffield & Rotherham directory of 1937 listed Howard Lawton, bath attendant, living at 126 Blair Athol Road, in the Greystones area of Sheffield. This proves to have been our man as an article about him in 1958 reported he had been a bath attendant at a colliery, and later bath-attendant references refer definitely to our man.
Howard Lawton is elusive in Kelly’s 1938 directory, being listed neither at Blair Athol Road nor the following Allenby Drive address. He probably moved to the new address in 1937/38.
Kelly’s 1939 and 1940 directories listed Howard Lawton “official bath attendant” at 30 Allenby Drive, in the Greenhill district of Sheffield. The 1939 Register confirmed Howard was a “colliery bath attendant”, living with his wife Hannah Margaret, and daughters Edna Margaret Lawton and Dorothy M. Lawton at 30 Allenby Drive.
Kelly’s directories from 1941 to 1948 didn’t list Howard Lawton either at 30 Allenby Drive or the later-mentioned Hutcliffe Wood Road address. They listed “H. Lawton” at 7 Cruise Road, in the Ranmoor area of Sheffield, but Burgess Rolls show this to have been one Henry Laughton.
Sheffield Burgess Rolls for May 1945 through to 1964-65 list Howard Lawton living at 10 Hutcliffe Wood Road, in the Millhouses area of Sheffield. There seem to have been two properties, no. 10, and no. 10a which sometimes was differentiated as “10 back”. Up to about 1960, E. C. Bell, bakers, was listed in directories at 10a; thereafter members of the Lawton family seem to have occupied both 10 and 10a between them. At the start the Lawton household included Howard, wife Hannah, and daughters Edna and Dorothy, but in the early 1950s, Edna M. Lawton moved out and set up on her own.
Kelly’s directories over this period didn’t reflect the arrival of the Lawtons at Hutcliffe Wood Road until, somewhat belatedly, the 1951 edition, but then listed them there up to the 1963 edition.
The 1965-66 Burgess Roll, reflecting the status quo in late 1964, reveals that the Lawton family had left 10/10a Hutcliffe Wood Road, though where they’d gone is unclear. Kelly’s 1965 directory gave a new occupant. Where Howard Lawton had gone to is not evident, but perhaps declining health had perhaps caused him to move. Daughter Edna had been living at 16 the Meadway, Dore, Sheffield, but she disappeared from that address around the time of Howard’s death.
Howard Lawton died, aged 84, on 03/01/1966, at Sheffield. He left a wife and four children. There appears to have been no death notice in the Sheffield Daily Telegraph, though one appeared in The Problemist of March 1966.
The death of wife Hannah Margaret Lawton was registered in the third quarter of 1972, at Sheffield.
Daughter Edna Margaret Lawton lived to the age of 70, dying in 1979, the death being registered in the fourth quarter of that year at Ecclesall Bierlow, Sheffield. Daughter Edna M Lawton seems to have died in the 1990s.
Howard Lawton was taught chess by his mother, and she it was who suggested his best chess talents lay in the area of problems. He was, indeed, not very noticeable as a player of chess.
He reportedly played for a while for Woodseats Chess Club in Sheffield, which was perhaps prior to the First World War, or shortly after. He played for Handsworth Working Men’s club in 1933-34, 1934-35 and 1935-36, but not thereafter.
Later, in the 1930’s, he was recorded playing in matches for Handsworth Working Men’s Club, which entered the Sheffield league for the first time in 1933-34, playing in the Weston Trophy competition (division 2) which they won in 1935-36, then playing for the season 1936-37, in the Davy Trophy (division1) before dropping back into division 2, where they played for the next two season before World War Two interrupted things. Club secretary in 1933 was J. Butler of 14 Retford Road, Handsworth (i.e. not Howard Lawton). Handsworth did not restart in time for the first post-war season of 1944-45, but then re-entered the league (dropping the “WMC” element of its name) playing for three seasons in the Weston Trophy, then in 1948-49 in the Batley-Meek Memorial Trophy competition (division 3), after which they dropped out of the league.
“H. Lawton” appeared on board 1 in Handsworth WMC’s first match, at home to Manor Social on 18/10/1933, losing to W. Spooner. Howard Lawton was placed one board 1 perhaps because of his reputation as a problemist. Thereafter he seemingly found a more appropriate position in the board order. In the second match, at home to Tinsley WMC on 02/11/1933, he beat W. Hargate on board 4. In the third match, at home (yet again) to Tramways on 08/11/1933, he beat near-namesake H. H. Lawton on board 5. In the fourth match, away to Tramways on 15/10/1933, he lost to C. Whiteley on board 3. Handsworth finished the season in 4th place out of nine teams (excluding Rotherham, who played 3, lost 3, then withdrew), having played 16 matches.
He started composing problems in 1904 . His first-published problem first appeared in the Family Herald of 17/02/1904 [2, 1]. His second-published problem appeared on 26/03/1904, and was the third problem published in Bill Batley’s chess column, which appeared at the time in the Sheffield Weekly News .
For a short time, from 26/02/1909 to 24/06/1910, he edited a chess column in the Sheffield Guardian. In the article of 24/06/1910, he gave notice that M. Easthope of 18 Cresswell Road, Darnall, would be taking over. His farewell message in his last article, said he’d sent best work (problems) to the Sheffield Guardian. It also attributed his having to give up the editorship, in part, to “promotion in the chess world”. What was this new position?
Howard Lawton became a prominent chess-problem composer. Many of his problems were published in the chess column conducted by Bill Batley in the Yorkshire Telegraph and Star prior to the Second World War. The 100th contributed by Howard Lawton to this column appeared on 25th July 1936.
His problems were published in various publications around the world. The publication dates of his problems contained in Brian Stephenson’s on-line chess problem database range from 1907 to 1960, which equates to Howard Lawton being aged 26 to 79.
1 Obituary in The Problemist, March 1966.
2 Yorkshire Telegraph & Star (Sheffield), 17/02/1934
Copyright © 2013, 2015, 2016 Stephen John Mann
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