Kingston and Thames Valley Chess Club
An historic account by W. E. Waterton – published in the Malden Clarion in September 1965
Kingston’s Chess Club was established in 1875. Its 90th AGM. will be held in October. Records in club hands go back only as far as a meeting held on 14 October 1914. On that date 51 years ago, the Thames Valley (Teddington) Chess Club and the Kingston-upon-Thames Chess Club amalgamated to form the Thames Valley Chess Club.
At the meeting early in the first world war, locally stationed Territorials were invited to use the club’s rooms at the “Scotch Café”, Kingston Bridge, free of charge. Later on in that war, with depleted membership, the club had a job to keep going. However, it survived and continued with little change until it moved in 1927 to “Ye Olde Post House, wherever that was, remaining there for a couple of years until invited back to its previous quarters which had now become the “Zeeta” Café.
In 1930 the club changed name to the Kingston & Thames Valley Chess Club, the name it still bears today [ie 1965]. Circumstances forced a move from the “Zeeta” café to “Penrhyn House” in 1937 where the club met comfortably until membership was reduced by the second world war. Resultant financial difficulties, coinciding with bombs damaging “Penrhyn House”, the club was precipitated into the drawing room of its president at that time, Dr. T.W. Letchworth “for the duration”.
Actually, the club moved back to “Penrhyn House” the following year, 1941, where it remained until 1947 when accommodation was obtained at Tiffin Boys’ School until 1951. The club then moved to Richmond Road County School, where it met until the renovation of the building in 1964 required a further move, this time to Bonner Hill Road School, the present meeting place.
Five years’ holiday
Both membership and activities have changed over the years: though there are still a couple of members dating from the 1930s, there has been a more marked turnover in membership since the war. In the years between the wars it was customary to print the names of the entire membership on the back of the annual fixture card, and the number stayed at a fairly constant 50, with only one or two members joining or leaving each year.
The club used to meet on Wednesdays and Saturdays (1914-39) each week during the season from October to May; then after world war two, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, until 1952 when it became Tuesdays and Fridays. There were several intense individual club tournaments and a number of matches against other clubs, plus many friendlies to make up the annual programme. Now that the club meets all the year round, the emphasis has gradually moved from the parochial.
The eight or 10 fixtures each year up to the 1930s increased to 18 by 1939. The wartime activities are summed up by the match captain’s apposite remark in the record book: “1939-46. Owing to a German Non-descript butting in, we had a ‘five-year holiday’? The Non-descript lost the move and the game. All the same, it is placed on record that the Kingston Chess Club carried on with all club tournaments, and some matches throughout the war.“
But no surrender
With the formation of the Thames Valley League in 1947, there was an expansion of activities, the match programme swelling from 16 in 1946-47 to a prodigious 48 in the, 1958-59 season. Since then, various changes have brought the number down to a more manageable 30 to 35 each year. The number of individual competitions has been reduced, but the Championship, Rosebowl and Summer handicap tournaments have been maintained.
So, in its 90th year, Kingston Chess Club looks forward to the new season commencing in September. With teams entered in the 1st and 4th divisions of the Thames Valley League and teams in the Surrey Trophy and Alexander Cup competitions (the club has clocks commemorating previous wins in the 1930s), the reduced membership will be hard-pressed to fulfil its traditional obligations.
The club has vacancies for chess players; occasional home players soon develop into match winners once they join a club. Gone are the days when applicants served a probationary term and were then elected for membership with: “one black ball in four to exclude” … all are welcome today. The annual subscription is £1 for an adult member; juniors at the committee’s discretion are admitted free of charge.
Come along – join up
The club meets from 7pm to 10pm each Tuesday and Friday at the Bonner Hill School, except in school holidays. Applicants may like to write to M. Lemon Esq., the membership secretary, at “Kingswood”, Towpath, Shepperton, Middlesex. Or call at the club. Back in the 1920s and 1930s, the club had masters and champions such as R. P. Michell and J.H. Blake among its members, with internationals like Znosko-Borovsky to visit with 25-board simultaneous displays. In recent years we have produced: the Surrey county champion, (1963), D.G.A. Shallcross, from New Malden; Terry Fox, 1963 London boys champion, a Kingston boy; and before him Ken Inwood; with the British Master, L.W. Barden, to provide the strength for simultaneous displays (1962 and 1964).
The facilities and opportunities for chess are far better than they ever were in the old days. The standard of play is stronger than ever: potentially the club could enter something like seven or eight teams in the various inter-club tournaments, which would cater for 50 or 60 active chess players. There are league, county and national events and tournaments open to club members leading to the very zenith of chess aspirations.
Many chess players will not know of these facilities, and many citizens of Malden and Kingston will be interested to learn that a local asset will be celebrating its centenary in 10 years’ time.
The 1975 centenary year and beyond
1) The Leonard Barden Simultaneous Display on January 23rd 1975 was the opening of our year-long celebrations. I prevailed upon a local ward councillor to open the event representing the Borough of Kingston-upon Thames.
2) An annual Juniors’ Chess Congress had been established in Surrey by the Surrey County Chess Association, and the first one took place at Beverley Boys School, New Malden in March 1968, with my wife and I as the local site organisers, and entry form receivers. Tommy Dunne, the S.C.C.A. Junior Organiser having first distributed the entry forms to the various schools. Three of my daughters ran the tuck stall, (they were aged: Lyn nearly 12, Nicola, 9+ and Alison, nearly 7). There were about 90 competitors, three or four sections. John Nunn, 11 at the time, came second in the highest section. Most of the Executive of the S.C.CA. attended and helped with controlling, which was principally in the hands of Paul Durrant and Mr Lancaster. Subsequently, the junior congress was held for many years at Glyn Grammar School Ewell, where Mr Dunne was a master. However, by special request, it was agreed that the County Junior Congress would be a part of Kingston’s centenary and was located for 1975 at Coombe Girls’ School in New Malden. It was sponsored by our chess club, and many members and my family turned out to help set it up.
3) The First Surrey Chess Congress was held at Coombe Girls’ School, with myself as site controller, and my eldest daughter Lyn, a pupil at the school, in support. As you can see I worked in the fact that it was the 900th anniversary of the crowning of King Edward the Martyr, to give it local flavour. We had just on 400 competitors.
4) The Ellam Trophy was a Thames Valley annual event – North of the Thames versus South of the Thames. This was held at the Hotel Antoinette, and we hosted it as one of our centenary features, through the good offices of our president E. Stevenson, who was a personal friend of the proprietor.
5) ln 1964 the Greater London Council was set up, and Kingston and New Malden were merged into G.L.C. Borough 23. This meant that Kingston became its own education authority and we no longer came under Surrey County Council. The latter had always been extremely generous towards artistic/cultural clubs with small memberships and low incomes, but this practice ceased under Kingston and we soon had to move out of Bonner Hill School as we could no longer afford the rent. Fortunately, the Kingston Workmen’s Club and Institute came to our rescue for quite a while, but there were some rather archaic practices there and we had to issue membership cards. We were well received, and very comfortable for some 10 or more years until their new executive decided on changes to the premises, which eventually led to our losing our club-room. We were there during our centenary, and the Barden [simultaneous] display was held there.
6) Later in the summer, an open day was held at one of the borough’s educational colleges; there we set up a stall, and had games against members of the public on a giant chess set made by one of our members, Mr. T.D. Hellings, with a view to gaining publicity. We managed to get involved in the Tiffin Boy’s School fete, where we had chess for anybody, and a consultation blindfold game was played against a Tiffin School team. Our player, Mike Sheehan, lost.
7) In December we visited the Antoinette Hotel for our final act, the centenary dinner. This was followed there by a social evening in which the giant chess board came into play [with a game] called Ladies’ Interference: two opposing sides of chess members played each other, various moves in turn, but when the clock buzzed, a lady, usually a non-chess player, could move anything on the board wherever they wished. There were some very funny moves! There were penalties, but I came to the conclusion the rules were made up on the spur of the moment and were completely arbitrary. It was a rare occasion for members to meet in social circumstances.
8) The item relating to the Kingsnympton Trophy is fairly well explained by the correspondence. This relates to the Third Surrey Congress which was held at the Coombe Girls School, before that congress became identified with Sutton. At this event in 1977, the leader, Gwen Thomas, of the Kingsnympton Youth and Community Centre was helpful when we wished to do our own catering as the previous caterer declined. When asked how the centre should be rewarded, she asked for something special for her cub, rather than something for herself. I suggested she might like a plaque, and encouraged her to ask some of the youngsters to give me some ideas as to how to represent their club. They produced a number of sketches (on the backs of envelopes), depicting the clubhouse among the trees, the estate buildings held aloft between two open hands (quite allegorical), these I think from girls. The boys illustrated their various interests, table-tennis, snooker and darts, which I engraved on the sleeves of the hands. The floating cloud bore the dedication. The metal parts of the buildings are made of bronze, gold plated; the trees and cloud are silver plated nickel.
9) I persuaded a number of our players to visit the youth club for the presentation by our President, E. Stevenson. The press was present and the borough youth officer too. Afterwards, we engaged with the youths in their various games, darts, snooker and table tennis, while Mr Stevenson taught one or two how to play dominoes. We enjoyed the visit, and the leader, Gwen, was delighted, as it is unusual for the youngsters to engage in such pursuits with mature adults. I had hoped we might make it an annual event, but could never get our chaps to do it, though the ambience was extremely civilised.
10) When we lost our accommodation, we had a torrid time, first moved to a rather seedy pub, the Castle, but didn’t buy enough beer, so weren’t there long. Then we had a side room in a theatre in Ashdown Road, but couldn’t get the caretaker to understand the requirements of chess. This was followed by a peripatetic period where we grabbed whatever place we could find available, shunting our equipment about the town in the boots of our various cars, until we managed to become established at the Quaker Hall in Eden Street in the centre of the town. This was very nearly ideal, I have not yet worked out quite how long we were there, but with the “property market” determining higher and higher prices for any sort of rooms of any kind anywhere, we could no longer pay the rent. At £1 a year, for two nights a week, when I joined the club in 1958, subscriptions had risen to £60 for one evening a week, and the difficulty of recruiting new members at that price forced the move to our present abode, the Royal Oak Hotel in New Malden, in December 2002. So far we have been able to increase our membership and have had some previous members return as well as new ones.