63. The rise of chess in England
Richard Eales, historian and chess player, considers Philidor as the father of chess in England. Under his influence two chess clubs were founded in London still in the 18th c. The first one in 1770; the devotees gathered in the Salopian Coffee House, Charing Cross. The second one in 1774; assembly point was Parsloe’s Subscription Room, St. James’s Street. The number of members was limited to hundred, as the Paris chessclub. Many of them were noblemen. They did not visit the club because chess was such an interesting game. No, it was the exclusiveness of the club which was important [Eales 1985:117]. Not only is the pattern comparable with the pattern in Paris, also with the situation in the Netherlands; see for this subject also chapter 55. The real chess players, Eales says [1985:118] belonged to the social class of the gentlemen. Gentlemen with intellectual tast, he adds.
After Philidor’s death in 1795 the clubs in Paris and London went downhill. But though chess had become the diversion of an intellectual minority, or the diversion of the people who acted as intellectuals, its social appeal was wider than ever before [Eales 1985:123].
One of Eales’ central propositions is that chess is a game especially intellectuals felt attracted to. This claim is clearly based on his observation that in the 18th c. many French intellectuals played chess. However, the very same intellectuals played draughts too, see chapter 52 and chapter 53, and therefore we do better to assume that the people who played chess were members of the middle-class, comparable with the Netherlands. Eales is emphasizing it: the devotee belonged to the class of the gentlemen [Eales 1985:118], not especially gentlemen with an intellectual taste. In my mind the prejudice from our days that a game of chess demands intellectual capacities can be heard here. Of course, there were chess playing intellectuals. Eales [1985:118-9] mentions some name. Count Brühl, for example, was a diplomat but he built his own astronomical observatory to watch the stars. George Adwood was a mathematician. And lawyer Francis Maseres published books on history, mathematics and other subjects.
The early years of the 19th c. were characteristic by the efforts of chess players to establish a club, but one after another disappeared [Eales 1985:125]. In 1807 London saw the start of a club which did not immediately disintegrate: the London Chess Club not far from the Bank and Royal Exchange. Among the members many men from the financial world and higer educated men; in short: well-to-do middle-class men. Aristocrats were welcome of course, but the real chess players were no longer dependant on them to preserve the club. The London club survived until 1870 [Eales 1985:129-30]. It was no club as in our time. That kind of club rose in the 1870s, established by university students; until 1914 the play level, however, remained very low [Eales 1985:126].
The English aristocracy did not play chess. F.M. Edge, in the years 1858-1895 secretary of the strong American chess players Paul Morphy, who stemmed from a rich family in New Orleans, gave an image of the English aristocrats that looks like that of Dutch well-to-do men: about midday they assemble in a club, read papers and magazines until it is dinner time [Eales 1985:140]. There is a difference: in the first half of the 19th c. the Dutch used chess as a sham to meet.
Outside London there is for the moment little to notice of chess activities. Now and then a club was established, but never for long [Eales 1985:131].
The year 1830 counted one chess club, in London; players did not succeed in the formation of other clubs. Therefore the furore of chess in the years 1830-1850 is remarkable, says Eales. Players accomplished a better organisation and the level of chess books was improved [Eales 1985:132]. Van der Stoep: it is not plausible that a book can contribute to the popularization of a game ‒only the people who are interested in a game or already playing it will buy a book‒ I wonder if the better organization was the key. In our days sporting clubs have a hard time because of the lacking of enough coaches.
Stanley Llewellyn Wood (1894)
Eales [1985:132]: turning point was the match between the Frenchman Louis de Labourdonnais and the Englishman Alexander Mac Donell in Londen 1834, played during the summer and the autumn; 133 games. The Frenchman won: 45+, 37-, 13=. The match aroused much attention, even inspired to two poems. And it led to the establishment of the Westminster chess club, growing to over 300 members [Eales 1985:133].
And the match aroused “public enthousiasm” [Eales 1985:134]. Van der Stoep: my question: with a general public or in the small chess world? Chess players publics all kinds of instruction books, “Bell’s Life in London”, a sports paper weekly published between 1822 and 1886, made room for a chess column. In England, more than in France, the effect of the match is measurable [Eales 1985:125,129].
The result of this and that was that in the 1840s London grew out to chess center number one, chiefly owing to dynamo Howard Staunton [Eales 1985:136]. From 1845 until his death in 1874 he filled, for example, a chess column in “Illustrated London News” and he uniformized the rules of the game [Eales 1985:137]. Also important was the launching of the Staunton chess pieces, a design made by Nathaniel Cook but obtaining Staunton’s name [Eales 1985:137-8]. However, Staunton had a drawback: he was continually involved in quarrels, was for instance responsible for the collaps of the Westminster Chess Club (in 1843).
Since this year 1843 strong foreign chess players travelled to London to learn how to play a better game [Eales 1985:138]. The year 1855 saw the establishment of a national association. Much increase in the big industrial towns as Manchester [Eales 1985:140].
After 1850 a lot of chess clubs were formed, too many to trace. In 1907 the number of chess clubs in Britain and Ireland amounted to 387 [Eales 1985:141].
Between 1850 and 1875 chess clearly became in game for middle class men, says Eales, albeit for a more or less intellectual minority. There was an occupation of some noblemen, but now if he was really captivated in the game. Chess spread to the middle class in the Midlands and in the north. There is a link with an increasing economical growth. It had to do, Eales supposes [1985:139] with the conviction that free time served to be stronger with body and mind in the business of life. It regarded middle-ages men. Among the chess players many clergymen.
Chess was a leisure for the sitting-room or study, but also a pretext to join an association [Eales 1985:140]. Van der Stoep: the Dutchman used chess for the same escape, although he did not play chess at home. The Frenchman E. Esquiros in the 1860s: my fellow-countryman seeks company to spend some cosy social hours, the Englishman should have a target to leave his family [Eales 1985:140].
In London 1862 the first international tournament where each player played a game with every other participant. There were problems to solve. One: the draws. When organized like this, it is impossible to allow two players to play and play until there was a winner. It was solved by the introduction of half a point for a draw. Two: clocks did not yet exist, how to avoid endless games? Thomas Wilson from Manchester invented the chess clock, for the first time used in the London tournament of 1883 [Eales 1985:144-6].
From the 1870s until 1914 there are more and more clubs and tournaments, indications of a sound organization. The same happened with physical sports as football and athletics [Eales 1985:149].
In the period 1900-1914 many international tournaments were organized, often in fashonable resorts with a casino as Monte-Carlo, Oostend, Karlsbad en San Sebastian [Eales 1985:150].
In that time the number of professional players increased. To earn a living they had come in the public eye by playing tournaments so that they got an income from for example a chess column in a paper. Between 1900 and 1914 the size of the prizes did increase [Eales 1985:151].
Charles Meer Webb (c. 1870)