Yorkshire Chess History



William Henry John Sparkes











Made in Yorkshire



Sheffield Sub-Site



20‑26/02/1871, Crowcombe, Somerset (or Otterton, Devon)



1935, Sheffield



As early as1893, “H. Sparkes” played in the Sheffield league for St. Peter’s Liberals.  Prior to 1903-04, the Sheffield Woodhouse Cup team featured “H. Sparkes”, but Sheffield’s first Woodhouse match of 1903-04 featured “W. H. J. Sparkes” instead.  The two never played in the same match, and appear to be the same person.  Fairly soon he became commonly referred to as merely “W. H. Sparkes”.  It’s possible the earlier “H. Sparkes” was someone such as Harry Sparkes of Crawshaw and Sparkes, mineral water manufacturers (mentioned below), but it seems more likely William Henry John Sparkes was known usually as “Henry” rather than “William”, and that in was only in time that team captains became aware of his full set of initials.


Parents and Birth


The parents of William Henry Sparkes were William Sparkes (born 1846/47, Upton Pyne, Devon, 3 miles N of Exeter, over Cowley Bridge, and about half way to Crediton) and Sarah Sparkes (née Small, 1846/47, in or near Harpford, Devon, 3 miles NW of Sidmouth, in the broader locality known as Southerton).


This couple had at least the following eight children:


Kate F J Sparkes

born 1869/70, Crowcombe, Somerset

William Henry John Sparkes

born Feb 1870, Crowcombe, Somerset

Albert E Sparkes

born 1872/73, Crowcombe, Somerset

Alice Maud Sparkes

born 1874/75, Crowcombe, Somerset

Beatrice M Sparkes

born 1875/76, Crowcombe, Somerset

Francis E Sparkes

born 1877/78, Wheathouses/Colehill*, Cumberland

Wallis D Sparkes

born 1881/82, Bradford, Yorkshire

Lilian G Sparkes

born 1883/84, “Birmingham, Yorkshire”* [?!]

* identity of birthplace far from clear


William Henry John Sparkes was born during the week 20th.to 26th February 1871.  His place of birth is generally given as Crowcombe, Somerset, at the foot of the Quantock Hills, 5 miles SE of Williton, where the birth was registered, 6 miles SE of coastal Watchet, and 13 miles SE of the better-known seaside resort of Minehead.


The 1871 census found 5-week-old William, and his mother Sarah visiting Sarah’s parents, John Small (born 1817/18, Ottery St. Mary, Devon) and Frances Small (born 1818/19, Otterton, Devon) at Otterton.  The visitors’ surname was spelt without its “e”.  More enigmatically, baby William’s place of birth was given as Otterton, as though the birth had taken place in his grandparents’ home.  Thereafter censuses gave his place of birth as Crowcombe, which was evidently the family’s home village.  Sarah Sparkes’ husband’s occupation was cited as that of draper.


The 1871 census meanwhile listed the baby’s father, William Sparkes (listed with his “e”), back at home in Crowcombe village.  With him, as a visitor, was his wife’s sister Elizabeth (born 1848/49, Harpford, Devon).  Father William was described as a tailor and grocer.  Tailoring was presumably his primary occupation.


The apparent temporary exchange of residence between the sisters Sarah Sparkes and Elizabeth Small rather suggests that Sarah’s stay at Otterton may have been relatively long, and had perhaps been specifically arranged so she could have the baby at her parent’s home, with mother to help, and that sister Elizabeth went to Crowcombe to look after William Sparkes during his wife’s protracted absence.  Thus William Henry John Sparkes was perhaps really born at Otterton, Devon, rather than the generally quoted Crowcombe, Somerset.


Non-Chess Life


At some time from 1871 to 1878, father William Sparkes changed his occupation from that of tailor and grocer to that of railway porter and tailor.  The railway then, it seems, both literally and metaphorically took him and his family around the country.


Around 1877/78 the family seems to have been in Cumberland.


By 1881 they were in Bradford in the West Riding of Yorkshire.  Thus the 1881 census found William and Sarah Sparkes, albeit bereft of their “e”, living at 27 Dallam Street, Bradford, with the oldest six of the above eight children.  Father William was by occupation a railway porter and tailor, while eldest daughter Katie was a wool-spinner.


The eldest child’s place of birth given in the 1881 census, “Birmingham, Yorkshire”, suggests the family may have moved to the Midlands for a while, or else “Birmingham” represented somewhere else in Yorkshire.


At some time from 1882 to 1891, father William Sparkes died.


By 1891 the Sparkes family had arrived in Sheffield.  The census found widowed Sarah Sparkes living with the eight children at 157 Edmund Road, Sheffield.  Sarah herself was not in employment, but five of the children where.  Kate was a cabinet case liner, 20-year-old William an apprentice engraver, Albert an apprentice printer, Alice a pupil teacher, and Francis an errand boy.  Wallis and Lilian were scholars.  Beatrice presumably helped her mother in the home.


The marriage of William Henry J Sparkes to Lucy Maria Lee (born 1869/70, Sheffield) was registered in the third quarter of 1896, at Sheffield.  The couple had at least the following three children (any others being born after the 1911 census), all born in Sheffield:


Edith Ivy Doris Turton Sparkes

born 1896/97

Maud Anna Winston Sparkes

born 1899/00

Geoffrey Sparkes

born 1902/03


White’s directory of Sheffield dated 1901 listed William Henry John Sparkes as an engraver with his business premises at West Street Lane, Sheffield, living at 21 Wellfield Road, Sheffield.  His mother, Mrs. Sarah Sparkes was listed as living at 37 Cliffe Field Road, Meersbrook Bank, Sheffield.


It seems working on his own account as an engraver might not have been as remunerative as he would like, as a change in occupation is implied by the 1901 census which listed him as a print compositor living with his wife and first two children at 21 Wellfield Road, Sheffield.


White’s directory of Sheffield dated 1902 listed our man still at 21 Wellfield Road, but without citing his occupation.  It would appear Sarah Sparkes may have died around 1901/02 as Miss Alice Maud Sparkes, her eldest daughter, was now listed at 37 Cliff Field Road.  Also listed in the same directory were Harry Sparkes of Sparkes and Fordham, engravers, living at 25 Wellfield Road.  This Harry seems like a relative of our man in view of the coincidence of occupation and address.  Also listed was a Henry Sparkes of Crawshaw and Sparkes, mineral water manufacturers, with business premises and home at 658 Abbeydale Road.


White’s 1903 directory showed Sparkes and Fordham had moved to 27 Chester Lane, Sheffield.


White’s 1905 directory lacked reference to Alice Maud Sparkes, so perhaps she’d married.  On the other hand Miss Beatrice Sparkes, presumably the sister, who may previously have been living with Alice, was now listed at 47 Gloucester Street, Sheffield.  Sight of William Henry John Sparkes in the directories now gets lost, as 21 Wellfield Road had no occupant listed.  He may by now have been an employed person living in lodgings of some sort, and hence not listed in the directories.


The 1911 census found William Henry John Sparkes living with his wife and three children at 1 Woodhouse Road, Intake, Sheffield.  He was describes as a turner’s labourer.


During the next 17 years the Sparkes moved to 143 Upper Allen Road, and it was here that, in July 1928, wife Lucy Maria Sparkes died.  She was buried at City Road Cemetery, Sheffield, on 17/07/1928.




William Henry John Sparkes died in December 1936, at 12 Herries Road, Sheffield.  He was buried with his wife at Sheffield City Road Cemetery on 01/01/1937.  Neither the Morning Telegraph nor the Yorkshire Telegraph & Star seem to have carried a report of his death at the time.


At the Sheffield-Huddersfield match on 11/01/1936, the players observed a silence in memory of both W. H. Sparkes, and Edward Spencer, both of whom had died recently.


W. H J. Sparkes’s widowed mother-in-law, Anna Maria Lee, who may earlier have lived with the Sparkes family, died at Shrewsbury Hospital, Norfolk Road, Sheffield, and was buried on 12/02/1937 in the save grave.


The grave is one of a row which are totally unmarked, and may be “poor” graves of some sort, as this one seems to have had some wholly unrelated earlier occupants.




As “H. Sparkes” he was a regular player for St. Peter’s Liberals in the Sheffield league, from its commencement in 1893-94 season, and played for the same club after it had been reinvented as Arundel.  By 1911-12 he was playing for the Park club.


He was playing on relatively modest boards in Sheffield’s Woodhouse Cup team in 1899-00, in time rising up the board order and being the usual board 1 in 1911-12.  He was still playing in the Woodhouse Cup in 1924-25.  By 1933-34 he was no longer playing in Woodhouse Cup matches.


He played for Yorkshire against Cheshire on 23/01/1904, against Lancashire on 28/01/1905, against Lancashire on 24/03/1906, against Lancashire on 26/01/1907, against Cheshire on 18/01/1908, against Lancashire 21/03/1908, and against Lancashire on 27/04/1912.


He clearly improved as time went by, as he won the Bruce Trophy for the Sheffield Championship in 1919, 1925 and 1926.  By winning it third times he won the trophy outright, but generously donated it back to the Sheffield and District Chess Association for perpetual competition.





Copyright © 2013, 2014 Stephen John Mann

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

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