Yorkshire Chess History
John Eric Littlewood
John Littlewood was one of four chess-playing Sheffield-born brothers.
John Eric Littlewood was the fourth child and second son of Alfred Edward Littlewood and Ida Littlewood, née Wheeldon, who had eleven children in all. Where the family lived prior to 1937 is unclear, but from about that date they lived in a newly-built left-hand semi-detached council property, 222 Eastern Avenue, Sheffield. For more on the family background, his parents and siblings see The Littlewoods of Sheffield.)
John attended Nether Edge Grammar School for Boys, on Union Road, Sheffield, as did at least one of his younger brothers, though not Michael. (In 1958, some time after he’d left, the school was moved a considerable distance, to Hastings Road, being at the same time re-named Abbeydale Grammar School for Boys.)
From Nether Edge he went to Sheffield University whence he graduated in 1952 with a Class III Honours BA in French (1). He then did national service, which for him involved teaching basic adult literacy to army personnel, foreshadowing in some ways his future career as a schoolteacher. John’s marriage to Jean M. Hadwick was registered at Sheffield in the third quarter of 1953 or 1954.
John was awarded a Diploma in Education by Sheffield University in 1955 (1).
He secured a teaching post at Skegness Grammar School in Lincolnshire, where he taught modern languages and maths over the period 1955 to 1967 (2). He also supervised a school chess team, of course (2). It was while he was living in Lincolnshire that six of his seven children were born. The couple had in all seven children:
Paul E. Littlewood became well-known as a chess-player in his turn.
John later moved to Lancashire, living latterly at Tawd Road, Skelmersdale.
In later life John had a heart by-pass operation.
Besides playing chess he also reportedly was a keen singer and enjoyed poetry (2).
I saw John at a Yorkshire-Lancashire county match and as he analysed his game from the match I told him Mike’s son had expressed sadness at having lost contact with his uncle John. John told me to tell his nephew to contact him, if I had the chance, adding as a postscript “If I live that long.” He thus seemed to think his time was running out.
“J. E. Littlewood” disappeared finally disappeared from the team and competition-entrant lists on 16/09/2009.
He learnt to play chess at the age of 13 (2).
In 1959 he played in the British Championship in York. This was the second year of Jonathan Penrose’s numerous victories in the British Championship. John beat P. S Milner-Barry, Hilton, Mardle, R. B. Edwards, R. G. Wade, drew with Dr. Fazekas, A. M. Hallmark, D. B. Pritchard and M. J. Haygarth, but lost to Dr. Aitken and H. Golombek, thus scoring 7 out of 11.
He played in the Hastings tournament of 1960-61, without achieving anything too remarkable.
He then played in the Hastings tournament of 1961-62, and looked like beating Mikhail Botvinnik, but lost in the end. He did, however, beat the American Arthur Bisguier (rhymes with “misfire”) in 23 moves with Black.
He played in the Olympiad of 1962, as England’s board 4, scoring 6 wins, no draws and 7 losses.
He played in the British Championship at Whitby in 1964, but that turned into a competition between brother Norman and Mike Haygarth, the latter winning the title in the end.
He played in the Olympiad of 1972, as England’s 2nd reserve, scoring 3 wins, 4 draws and no losses.
His mother once told me she thought John and (perhaps especially) Norman might have been able to play in more Olympiads had it not been for financial limitations. Participants largely had to find their own funding for the trip in those days.
John once played in the Sheffield University Chess Congress. That would have been in the 1970s. On his way home, his car broke down on the way into town, but he got it started again with the help of a push from Jan Suto (later of Hull) and myself.
He was for a short while BCF Director for Junior Chess.
As late as 2006 he became British Senior Champion, and tied for that title in 2008. In 2009 he was apparently the oldest player to complete in the 2009 British Championship.
Eldest son Paul E. Littlewood won the British Championship, which his father and uncles hadn’t managed, in 1981.
(1) The University of Sheffield List of Graduates, Diplomates and Associates to 1962.
(2) Obituary, Skegness Standard, Tuesday 29/09/2009.
Copyright © 2013 Stephen John Mann
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