Onomatology of Kingston Chess Club

It is salutary to look at past winners of the Surrey Trophy, which include several clubs which no longer exist. Mitcham won the Surrey Trophy eight times between 1969-70 and 1992-93 and then, with the departure of key organisers, quickly folded. Redhill was the dominant Surrey club in the early part of this century but then fell on hard times. Cobham closed after 55 years. Fledgling clubs are the most vulnerable. Nightingale Lane, won the Surrey Trophy in 1902-03 and thereafter do not appear in the annals of chess history. Putney won the league as the first world war broke out in 1914-15 but no longer exist, despite having a large, prosperous catchment area and well-defined geographical identity. The survival of chess clubs is a capricious business. There are three factors which are essential to survive: (a) efficient and dynamic officials who provide leadership (b) a reliable and attractive venue which provides refreshments and (c) community engagement rather than a narrow focus on competitions and trophies.

Onomatology is the history of a name. A name may provide the sole information when other sources are lacking. This is the case with place names which indicate something about place when it was first named.  We do not have much historical information on Kingston Chess Club but we are aware that its name has changed over time.

Formations, mergers and renaming

We may identify three themes in the onomatology of Kingston Chess Club: formations, mergers and renaming. The formation of a chess club can take place more than once. Just one or two well-organised individuals can set up a club and keep it running for decades. When they pass on, the club may be wound up and go into abeyance until, perhaps decades later, another enthusiast appears on the scene who may resurrect a chess club with the same name as its precursor. In this sense, we may regard chess clubs as having a continual identity. Even if clubs were already established in small neighbourhoods such as Twickenham or Teddington, inevitably the larger populated centres such as Kingston would demand their own chess centre.

Clubs comprised a common-interest social group, meeting at least once a week and usually more often. The number of members did not change very much from one year to the next. Before leagues became the dominant mode of play, with the associated grading system, chess was a more leisurely affair. Players did not necessarily use clocks; smoking was profuse; drinking – and sometimes also eating – was part of the package. There were hardly any chess books in English. Occasionally, the club had to move from its venue, in which case the players may, in the case of the major cities, have relocated to another club nearby. The two main reasons for moving were the loss of key organisers and the number of members being insufficient to support the modest financial requirements of the club.

When two clubs merged, the name of the club may have been changed, depending on the relative contribution of the clubs. In 1914, the Thames Valley Chess Club, which was based in Teddington, took over the club based in Kingston upon Thames. It may be that players from Teddington were prepared to play in Kingston if the name of their club could come with them. This arrangement proved satisfactory for 16 years until other factors led the club to rename itself Kingston & Thames Valley Chess Club. This may have been to recognise the previous name of the club, which had been lost in the merger. The club name was finally changed to Kingston Chess Club in 2015.