This history has been put together by Edgar Priestley using material gathered from past editions of the ‘Huddersfield Weekly Examiner’, the ‘Huddersfield College Magazine’, and from a previous history of the Club compiled in 1947 by W.Rimmer.
The Huddersfield Chess Club was formed during November 1852. The chief founder was John Watkinson who was elected as the first President. He was also the first honorary secretary as stated in the Huddersfield Examiner of October 1st 1853.
“The Huddersfield Chess Club will commence the ensuing session at the Club Room, Imperial Hotel on Friday next the 17th and will continue meeting every succeeding Friday at 7 o’clock during the season. Annual subscription 10 shillings. The rules of the Club and further information may be had at the Club Room on the nights of the meeting.
John Watkinson (Hon. Sec.)”
There was a comment in the same edition of the local paper by the Editor:-
“The Club has already been joined by nearly all the leading players of the town and new members will have the opportunity of participating with them.”
The Imperial Hotel was situated in Victoria Buildings in New Street close to what is now the Woolworth building. The Club later moved to the Queen’s Hotel in Market Street, where they had a long stay during the 1870’s and 1880’s.
During the first twenty years friendly matches were played by the Club against other clubs in Yorkshire. The first against Bradford was in 1864, when the Huddersfield team was described as the ‘strongest club in West Yorkshire’.
After this period the membership seems to have declined. For example, the winter tournament of 1873 only consisted if four competitors. John Watkinson gave odds of a knight to a Mr. Holliday, and a rook to Messers. E.Dyson and A.Findlayson. Mr. Holliday gave a pawn and two moves to the two weaker players. Each played three games against each competitor, and John Watkinson won with 6 points out of 9 games. The following year showed 8 players arranged into 4 classes, when at the Annual General Meeting there was reported to be a balance in hand, and it is reported that the Club had then met continually every winter for over twenty years – more than could be said for any other chess club in Yorkshire.
The Yorkshire Chess Association had been formed in Leeds in 1841. This was changed to the Northern and Midland Chess Association (Counties) in 1852, and ultimately lead to the formation of the British Chess Association.
In 1856, the West Yorkshire Chess Association was formed by clubs including Leeds, Bradford, Wakefield, Sheffield and Huddersfield to be joined later by Halifax and Dewsbury. The Annual General Meetings were held in rotation in the towns. It was held at the Queen’s Hotel, Huddersfield in 1874, John Watkinson was elected President for the year. A match was played between Leeds and Wakefield and three tournaments for individuals took place.
John Watkinson was the dominating personality of the first fifty years. He was the leading player in Yorkshire for most of this period, winning numerous tournaments. In 1872 he began to edit a chess column in the Huddersfield College Magazine. The fame of this expanding column spread world-wide in a short time, until by 1880 it was agreed that it should have a separate existence as an independent chess organ – Editor John Watkinson, annual subscription 6s. Post free. This now became the ‘British Chess Magazine’.
John Watkinson was President of the Huddersfield Chess Club for most of the first fifty years and again to celebrate the 60th and 70th anniversaries.
A member of this period who was famous in another field was Walter Parratt. In 1873, he was captain and top board for Oxford University. He was knighted in 1892, and made ‘Master of the King’s Musik’ by George V. He is described on the plaque in Castlegate as ‘an outstanding organist of his day’. He was challenged to play the organ and a game of chess at the same time. It is reported that ‘his musical performance of Bach’s G minor fugue was impeccable, and he also won the game of chess’.
Edwin Woodhouse was a member up to 1872 when he left the district to live in Leeds. In 1884, he presented the cup, which is still competed for today, to the West Yorkshire Chess Association for their newly formed league competition. (A competition for a second league was stated in 1914, when Mr.I.M.Brown of Bradford presented a shield for annual competition).
The Second Fifty Years
Two recurring problems for the Club during this period were the financial position and the search for suitable premises. The ‘minutes’ of this time are dominated by these two subjects.
There was a great reluctance to increase subscriptions, the many deficits being met by voluntary donations.
By 1903, the Club was back at the Imperial Hotel and following another sojourn at the Queen’s they proceeded to rotate round a number of town centre cafes, namely Robinson’s, Whiteley’s, the YMCA, the Oxford, and the Lion, up to the Second World War.
In 1902, John Watkinson was President for the 50th anniversary celebration, and the members presented him with a silver rose-bowl.
The secretary at this time was Leonard Denham, who was the club champion on four occasions, and President twice (Presidents now normally held office for one year only) in 1909-10 and 1945-46 (the later being his 54th year of continuous membership).
The next secretary, who also combined the office of treasurer, was James A. Liversedge, who was a prominent member for the whole of this period.
The oldest ‘minutes’ commence in 1906, when the Club was back at the Queen’s Hotel, and it was during this season that one of the most interesting features was the installation of a Challenge Board, on a system specially devised by the President, Mr.C.F.Lines. (Details of this are available in the archives in the Huddersfield Public Library). There was a total number of 426 games recorded during the season. The total membership was 45, but many were ‘paying’, not all ‘playing’.
On October 24th 1908, Mr.J.E.Blackburne, the celebrated British Master, gave a simultaneous exhibition at Robinson’s café (new headquarters) winning 19, drawing 2, with no losses in 4 hours play.
In 1909, Henry E.Atkins came to Huddersfield to be headmaster of Huddersfield College until 1936. In April 1910 the Club gave a complementary dinner to Atkins to commemorate his winning the British Championship for the fifth year in succession. He was later to complete 7 wins in a row when he retired from the event. He came back to do it again in 1924 and 1925 winning on both occasions making him 9 times champion. He did not enter again until 1937 when he shared third place at the age of 65 entering for the 11th time a quarter of a century after he had originally retired from that competition.
“Tommy” Atkins had a great influence on the Club during this time. He did not enter the Club Championship but his name occurs twice on the Summer Handicap trophy. He played regularly on board one for the Woodhouse Cup team, and over this period 1909-36 he played 176 games, winning 98 and losing only 5.
He also game many talks and simultaneous displays in the Club, and he must have been a great inspiration to all members.
In 1912, John Watkinson had been elected President to commemorate the 6Oth anniversary, and he was again elected in 1922. On this occasion the Club entertained him to a dinner held at the South Parade Masonic Hall, to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Club and John Watkinson's first Presidency. Edwin Woodhouse, then President of the Yorkshire Chess Association, proposed the health of Mr. Watkinson, with whom he had been associated for over 50 years. Mr. Watkinson in his reply said :-
"Our great dramatist has said, 'some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them'. On the present occasion I feel to be in the last position. I at first shrank from the proposed publicity, although I fully appreciated the honour, but the committee kindly modified their first intention, and excused me from making anything like a speech. I must however express my thankfulness to be able to take part in the 7Oth anniversary of the Huddersfield Chess Club, and to be honoured by being elected to the position of President."
He went on to mention the names of several distinguished visitors, "such as my old friend Mr. Woodhouse, who has done so much for chess in Yorkshire; Mr. Woolard, the veteran player and editor; Mr. lviary, who holds a high position in Yorkshire chess; and last but not least, the British Champion Mr. Yates, and the ex-champion Mr. Atkins, who have just returned from their victories -- and defeats -- in international tournaments. I would also include Sir Walter Parratt, Mr. Brown, and Mr. Weir, who I am sure are with us in spirit if not in bodily presence.”
"Another great honour I feel is the projected Chess Congress. I have on former occasions spoken of various matters of chess interest, from Staunton to Morphy, and from Morphy to Steinitz and Lasker; chess with the board, and without the board; of gambits and close openings; and will not go over the ground again. I wonder how many people are alive now, who have heard Jenny Lind sing, how many have seen Alfred Mynn bowl and George Parr bat; how many have seen Howard Staunton and played with Harrwitz and Lowenthal? I have done all three --seventy years ago! Looking back on my life, which has long exceeded the allotted span, and is now Approaching its termination, I will, with your permission bring these desultory remarks to a close with a few personal allusions. My business life has been a happy one - fifty years with one firm, and such a firm! My home life has been a very happy one. My outlook on life has been a wide one, and has given me many pleasures; pleasures of sport. When chairman of the Football Committee it was my duty and pleasure to accompany the team over the county, and I have witnessed many a tough fight from the days of Harry Ruth, Jack Dyson, down to the days of Wrigley and Wagstaffe. Cricket! How many times have I set off with my county ticket and sandwiches in my pocket to Leeds, Bradford or Sheffield to watch our great trio Hirst, Rhodes, and Haigh! Pleasures of travel! I have seen the sun rise on Mont Blanc from an elevation of 8000 feet; I have looked dowm on the plains of Italy from the spires of Milan Cathedral; I have viewed Wales and the Lake District from the summits of Snowdon and Skiddaw. Romantic Scotland, with its Ellen's Isle, its Staffa and Iona. Pleasures of literature -- the three Thomases, Thomas Carlyle, Thomas De Quincy, Thomas Hardy; and the poets Longfellow, Tennyson and Wordsworth. Pleasures of music, which I have enjoyed and enabled my fellow townsfolk to enjoy as well. But there is no pleasure I have enjoyed more than what has brought us together this evening, the game of chess."
The Mayor (Alderman W .Dawson) who proposed the success of the Huddersfield Club, pointed out that chess players were the best behaved class of the community. So much so that in the Corporation houses, chess players were always given preference as the best tenants, because they never moved.
Mr. F.D.Yates, the reigning British Champion gave a simultaneous display winning 15, drawing 5 and losing 1.
At the following A.G.M. Mr. Watkinson presented, a valuable set, of ivory chessmen and a board to the Club. He had won these himself 60 years previously.
During the 1914-18 World War, the Club carried on under the prevailing difficulties, the question of suitable rooms; still proving very troublesome, and accentuated by the 'black out' and travelling restrictions. External competitions were abandoned for the duration.
Immediately after the war there was an upsurge in interest, and it is recorded that in the 1919-20 season, no fewer than 19 members played for the Woodhouse team, 18 played for the I.M.Brown team, and 16 took part for the Watkinson Trophy team.
Mr. J.A.Liversedge resigned as treasurer in 1923, after 16 years continual service.
The A.G.M. in 1935 shows the Club to be in a sound playing position having finished second in both the Woodhouse Cup and the I.M.Brown Shield competitions. In the following season both teams went one better by winning both these competitions, both for the first time ever. A special celebration was held to Commemorate the dual feat. The Woodhouse team was captained from the bottom board by Mr. Jackson Calvert. Other members vere H.E.Atkins, C.G.Wenyon (5 times Club Champion), C.W.Roberts, H.Dransfield, H.Greenwood, C.H.Hinchliff , S.Sheard, H.H.Ware, and the 'youngster' K.Beaumont (who in later years, was the Club Champion 8 times).
On a special meeting held on September 9th 1939, it was unanimously decided to 'carry on' in spite of the outbreak of hostilities in Europe. In view of difficulties of travel, 'black out' regulations etc. all Y.C.A. activities had to be suspended and only friendly matches were arranged.
In November 1944 a special friendly county match, Yorkshire versus Lancashire, took place at the George Hotel, Huddersfield, and the county team included 5 local players.
In September 1945, the Y.C.A. decided to resume the Woodhouse and I.M.Brown competitions. Huddersfield had to find suitable premises, and moved out of the town centre from the Friendly and Trades Club to Waverley House in New North Road. The local Watkinson league was also re-introduced.
The new secretary, James Rushton had a busy time with re-organisations. In this year, 1945-46, there were two extraordinary General Meetings and 7 committee meetings.
In October 1944, on his 9Oth birthday James A. Liversedge was presented with an umbrella and kid gloves by the members. Even at this age he took a keen interest in the Club's A.G.M.s and his annual proposition of the 'vote of thanks to the retiring officers' was an elloquent half hour speech. He was usually supported on these occasions by another old stalwart, Mr. H.Dransfield, a county draughts player, who had successfully taken up chess rather late in life.
At the A.G.M. of May 2nd 1956, James Rushton submitted an 8 page report of the season -- and his resignation. Great difficulty was met in finding a successor. As volunteers were not forthcoming Mr. Liversedge was roused into action and he expressed his surprise and astonishment that no one was ready to step into office, and pointed out in his time he had held the dual office of secretary and treasurer for many years. Eventually Mr. W.Rimmer took up the cudgels and volunteered, in the hope that he would have assistance from the respective team captains.
In January 1947, the county championship match, Yorkshire versus Cheshire was held at Waverley House, and this fixture was a regular bi-annual event in Huddersfield for many following years.
In April 1947, the President, Mr. J.H.Owen (who had been Club treasurer for 12 seasons) died in office -- the first to do so.
In August 1947, the British Championship was held at the Harrogate Congress, and in September Grandmaster E.Znosko-Borovsky gave a simultaneous display at Waverley House. The members put up some stout performances because the event ran into the early hours of the morning!
A financial crisis (a large threatened rent increase) forced the Club to search for new premises yet again. This burden fell largely on the treasurer, Mr.C.H.Hinchliff, a member of the 1936 winning team, who had returned to the district. Eventually a room was obtained at St. Thomas's Club at Longroyd Bridge, and a move was made to there in November 1948. Mr. W.Rimmer resigned as secretary due to ill-health, and E.Priestley took over and continued for the next eight years.
After two years of negotiations with the ‘Huddersfield Examiner’ a chess column was started in the ‘weekly’ edition in January 1952. This has been written by various members of the Club, and continues up to the present time, now appearing in the Wednesday edition. The income derived from these weekly articles has gone directly into the Club funds, and has proved to be a financial lifeline, accounting for roughly half the annual income. Coming just prior to the centenary celebration of 1952-53 it must be pointed out that this was one of the most important achievements in the history of the Club. A band of dedicated members have continued since to maintain the column. The chief organisers up to date have been Edgar Priestley, Paul Bielby, and Tony Pogson, with special mention of other regular contributors at various times, K.Beaumont, A.G.Midgley, H.Boothroyd, M.Hellewell, F.W.Brown, and R.Van Kemenade.
In 1950, The Club started to organise a Junior open Knock-out competition to stimulate interest, and visits to local grammar schools were made on a regular basis by leading members to give talks and simultaneous displays. During the following decade the expansion of junior chess was so great that the running of this Knock-out competition was taken over by the local school's chess association, and the trophy for the competition was donated to them by Kenneth Beaumont.
The Club obtained the services of many talented juniors in these post-war years namely, from Huddersfield College, R.O.Selby, P.R.Bielby, R.Fletcher, G.Sheldrick, R.de L.Holmes, A.Walker and W.Smith; from King James's Grammar School R.A.Lee, J.E.Harrison and T.Pogson; and from Royds Hall Grammar School A.G.Midgley.
The President in 1951-52, was Stanley Littlewood, who had been President of the Huddersfield Chess Association for many years, and had connections with the Lindley Club, and the Huddersfield Industrial Society teams in the Watkinson league. He was also a popular captain of the Huddersfield 2nd team at this time.
The President for the following year, when the Club celebrated its Centenary was Edgar Priestley, who was also responsible for organising the Y.C.A. Easter Congress of 1953 held in the Large Hall at the Technical College, as the main part of the celebration. Nine sections of six players took part, and the Premier section was won by T.K.Hemmingway of Bradford, who finished ahead of the reigning British Champion R.G.Wade.
The leading Huddersfield player at this time was Kenneth Beaumont, the junior from the 1936 team. He captained the Woodhouse Cup team from the top board for a number of years, won the Club Championship for then a record 8 times, and in 1954 succeeded in qualifying for the final stage of 36 players for the British Championship.
The Post-Centenary Years
The Club could still not find a permanent home, despite the easing of the financial situation. New owners at the St. Thomas's Club forced a move, and a sanctuary was offered by the Britannia Work's Social Club at their headquarters in Blacker Road, Birkby. These premises became the home of three chess clubs during the period 1961 to 1968. Bob Ramage was the father figure of Britannia Work's chess, and at one time he was President of both the Huddersfield Club and the Association.
The next enforced move showed the Club moving even further away from the town centre, to share the Lindley Parish Room with the Lindley Chess Club. Our old friend Stanley Littlewood was the major force behind this move, and the stay here lasted until 1980, when an opportunity arose to move back nearer to the town centre, to a room at the Polish Ex-Servicemen's Club in Fitzwilliam Street.
During this period the Club was well served by a succession of long serving treasurers, Horace Walker, Eric Bower and Frank Brown. The office of secretary changed repeatedly, but it should be noted that for a few seasons the Huddersfield Club had the distinction of supplying simultaneously secretaries for the Club, the Huddersfield Association, the Y.C.A. and the N.C.C.U. namely, Harold Beaumont, Harry Wadsworth, Paul Bielby and James Rushton, respectively.
Special mention must be made of the latter. At one stage he captained the first team (although domiciled in Cheshire at the time), became Y.C.A. secretary, and later N.C.C.U. secretary. James Rushton's work following this as N.C.C.U. representative to the B.C.F. eventually lead him to the pinnacle – President of the British Chess Federation.
Paul Bielby was an influential member. His occupation as a teacher gave him a particular interest in junior chess. He also organised the Y.C.A. Congress held in Huddersfield in 1968, just prior to his, departure from the district, and as already mentioned he was responsible for many articles in the ‘Examiner’ column.
As a newcomer to the first team in the late 1960s was David Firth, and he continued to serve the Club well in the Woodhouse Cup, mainly on the top board for over twenty years.
Two outstanding captains of the first team were Herbert Boothroyd and Maurice Helliwell. The latter also contributed many memorable articles to the column as he possessed quite a literature talent. His unique sense of humour made him a ‘character’, he was never at a loss for a witty comment .
The Watkinson teams over this period were successfully captained by Horace Walker, Edgar Priestley, Harry Wadsworth and David Woodhead. The first two of these also had five year spells as President of the Huddersfield Chess Association.
In 1970, a junior member, Miss Gennine Fielding, won the British Girl’s Championship; and Paul Bielby finished in 7th place in the British Championship.
The membership received a massive boost following the great world-wide publicity given to the game of chess by the World Championship Match won by Bobby Fischer against Boris Spassky , ending the Russian domination.
The Club's winter tournaments, were expanded to four sections to accommodate all entrants, and there were regularly over 40 competitors in the Summer Handicap tournament. The membership rose to a peak by 1978 when there were close to 70 members. These included a lively junior contingent, many of whom showed exceptional promise, but only one, Andrew Dearnley, became a long standing member.
At this time the Club ran four teams in the competitions of the local Association which at the peak had 26 local teams entered for the Watkinson Trophy. One successful Club team deserves a special mention -- the Dragons captained by David Woodhead consisted of juniors mainly from the Birdsedge area.
In 1978, the Watkinson Trophy competition was changed to a ‘scratch’ tournament and the Huddersfield Club have been prominent among the winners since that time. This has encouraged all strong players in the area to take part in Watkinson chess.
The ‘Examiner’ trophy and the Challenge Cup (knock-out) have continued on a handicap system.
The general prosperity in chess circles was unfortunately not shared by the Lindley Club. Having an ageing membership they went out of existence in 1976, despite the help of several Huddersfield members who became dual members. Their equipment was passed on to the Huddersfield Club.
The formation of the Huddersfield Polytechnic in the 1970s had a beneficial effect, providing a short term supply of their ‘stronger’ students, and also two lecturers on a more permanent basis. Rudie Van Kemenade captained the first team, whilst Dallas Cliff did the same for the second team.
With the move to the Polish Ex-Servicemen's Club, the membership had eased back to more manageable proportions, mainly following a decline in junior membership. This was due to the exodus of former juniors from the district, and. Replacement being adversely affected by changes in the local education system. The loss of the grammar schools had resulted in the less organisation of chess in schools for the over-15 year-olds. Junior recruits were now mostly in the 8-12 year old group.
Alter an absence of about 15 years, Tony Midgley was welcomed back and he quickly regained his first team place. Rudie Van Kemenade was the leading club player, going on to win the Club Championship for a record number of occasions; although David Firth continued to hold on to the top board in the Woodhouse team, until the return of the strong ex-junior, Matthew Eke.
Tony Pogson, as well as being a leading player, is now the organiser of the ‘Examiner’ column, and has been a mid-week captain. Dallas Cliff had a spell as Club secretary, and he was followed by Eddie Mellor, who also combined with captaincies of a Saturday and a mid-week team.
By this time the four divisions of the Y.C.A. tournaments were organised on a promotion-relegation system. In the 1983-84 season our first team was unfortunately relegated (losing many matches by the smallest margin) to the I.M.Brown Shield competition. However the following season, after an influx of new members, the Club for the first time entered three teams in the Saturday matches.
The first team, under a new captain, Roger Tuddenham. won the Brown Shield, the second team won the Silver Rook, and the third team were runners-up in the Sunderland Cup. This was the first time in Yorkshire records that any club had achieved promotion with three teams in one season.
Since that time, the first team has successfully held its place in the premier section, rarely finishing in the lower half of the table. A loss of playing strength in depth resulted in the suspension of the third team, and the relegation of the second team to the Silver Rook section.
In August 1989, the Club moved to the ‘Rat and Ratchet’, a public house in Chapel Hill.
In October 1991, Samantha Mulligan, aged 12 years, won the British Junior Correspondence Championship.
In the 1991-92 season, the first team were relegated from the Woodhouse Cup, only managing to achieve two draws in the competition. The following season saw them winning the I.M.Brown Shield, and return to the premier division.
In August 1992, saw the Club on the move again, this time to the Huddersfield Royal Infirmary. The room at the rear of the staff canteen has been described as ‘surely the best in which the Club has played in recent years’.
In November 1992, the President Geoff Keeling married Karen Mulligan, the President-Elect. The following year Karen became the first Lady President of the Club.
In the 1993-94 season, the first team finished 3rd in the Woodhouse Cup but in the following year they were relegated finishing bottom.
In March 1995, due to a change in the use of the room, the Club moved to the Lindley Liberal Club.
In the 1995-96 season the first team achieved a 100% record in the I.M.Brown Shield competition and in 1996-97 the second team was promoted to the I.M.Brown but was withdrawn in 1998 due to lack of support only to be re-entered into the Sunderland Trophy competition in the following season.
In 2002, to help celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Club a 3 day congress was organised for the first time since 1968 which attracted 120 entries, 3 of whom were Grandmasters and proved very successful making this an annual event.
In 2005, the first Rapidplay was organised which also proved successful.
Nigel Hepworth has been responsible for organising these events who also launched the Huddersfield Junior Chess Club in 2003. Edgar Priestley assisted in training the juniors which saw Greg Eagleton come through to become Club Champion in 2005.
In 2005, a new team was entered into the struggling Calderdale league which soon got promoted into their first division and in 2008 became champions. Due to the success a second team was entered into their league who also got promotion into their 1st division in 2008. In 2007, a team was entered into the Calderdale's Lightning tournament and won this in both 2007 and 2008.
In the 2007/08 season the Huddesfield Knights finally won the HDCA's scratch league for the first time since 1999 having had to settle for second place behind Netherton for many years.
In 2008, the Huddersfield Daily Examiner finished funding the weekly chess column, due to financial reasons, which had supported the Club for over 50 years. The column continued unfunded for a short time afterwards but soon disappeared.
The Club has been fortunate, throughout its existence, to find a succession of members who have been willing and able to undertake the duties of the various offices. Their efforts have given rise to a thriving Club, with a healthy future.