By the year 1841 Brighton was a rapidly expanding seaside resort with a population of about 46,000. As early as the 1740s, Dr Richard Russell of Lewes had brought many visitors to the town by prescribing bathing and even the drinking of sea water as acure for various health problems. This had led to Brighton becoming known as ‘The Queen of Watering Places’. Brighton’s popularity had been further increased when George, Prince of Wales, made the first of his numerous visits to the town in 1783. He was to bring with him many who represented the fashionable society of the time. This social group was housed in the Marine Pavilion, later rebuilt as the Royal Pavilion. Many other visitors poured into the town when the railway arrived from London in September 1841. Clearly, therefore, this was a good time to set up a chess club.
Interest in chess had been spreading in Britain since the great French player Philidor paid a number of visits to London between 1747 and his death in 1795. In those days chess was often played in coffee houses and taverns, but in 1774 an organised chess club called ‘Parsloe’s’ was formed in St James’s Street, London. For a long time very little competitive chess was played outside London, but in 1817 the first major provincial club was formed in Manchester. Following this a number of chess clubs began to spring up throughout the country.
The first development in Brighton came in the second half of 1841. The Chess Player’s Chronicle Vol.2 (1841), p.176, refers to the fact that the Albion Reading Rooms in Brighton were now supplied with chess sets which could be used on application. At that time the Albion Rooms, situated in the Albion Hotel in the Old Steine, formed the centre of the town’s cultural life.
The first clearly definable chess club to be established in Brighton came into being through the inspiration of Captain Hugh Alexander Kennedy. Born in 1809, Kennedy had served for a while in the Indian Army before retiring as a captain in the 1830s. He moved to Brighton in 1840 and was the main force behind the establishment of the Brighton Chess Club on 1 December 1842. The Brighton Guardian of 30 November 1842 reported:
We are pleased to have it in our power to announce that several townsmen have succeeded in forming a society to be called “The Brighton Chess Club”, than which a more desirable addition to the rational amusements of the town cannot be acquired. It is, we understand, to be under the management of a Council of Seven, and the meetings are to be held in a spacious and commodious room at the New Ship Hotel. The arrangements, we further hear, are in so advanced a stage that the formal opening of the Club will take place tomorrow.
Discussion of Alternative Dates suggested for the Formation of a Chess Club in Brighton
In the British Chess Magazine of November 1944 (p.251) R.N. Coles states that Captain Kennedy formed the Brighton Club in 1840 in a cave in the cliffs subsequently occupied by the Aquarium, remaining its president until 1850. He also quotes the date 1840 in his book Howard Staunton: the English World Chess Champion written with R.D. Keene. The same year is given by R.G. Eales in his book Chess: the History of a Game. The original statement by R.N. Coles is probably based on Kennedy’s book Waifs and Strays (2nd ed., 1876). So let us look carefully at what Kennedy actually says.
Firstly on p.185 of the book he states that he was resident in Brighton from 1840 to 1850. There is no mention of his being president between those dates. In fact we know that the second date is definitely wrong when applied to the length of his presidency. According to the Chess Player’s Chronicle of February 1854 (p.62) and the Illustrated London News of 22 October 1853 Kennedy remained president until 1853.
Secondly on p.186 he states:
The Brighton Chess Club which I had founded in the beginning of the afore-mentioned decade [i.e. 1840-50] was then [italics supplied] in the full swing of a vigorous existence and a favourite arena and lounge of the London players who came to take their ease in Brighton and of provincial amateurs from all parts of England. The club room was simply a hole in the cliff over against the Chain Pier; its site I believe now forms part of the Aquarium.
The key to understanding this passage lies in the simple word ‘then’. In the context of a chapter on ‘Albany Fonblanque as a Chess Player’, originally published in The Westminster Papers and newly included in this second edition of Waifs and Strays, Kennedy is setting before us a picture of the Brighton Chess Club at the period when Fonblanque, an acquaintance of his, used to visit it. He does not put a date on these visits and therefore this passage cannot be used as proof that the hole in the cliff was the first site for the chess club. In fact we know from newspaper evidence of the time (Brighton Gazette of 20 May 1847) that the Brighton Chess Club did not move to the Chain Pier Esplanade until 1847.
A further case for the year 1840 can be constructed from Kennedy’s use of the expression ‘in the beginning of the afore-mentioned decade’. It is entirely plausible, however, that this phrase is being used in a general sense and does not refer to one specific year. We should not forget that Kennedy’s recollections of Fonblanque were written approximately thirty years after the formation of the club, at a time when he was living many miles from Brighton. It is not unreasonable to suppose that he may have forgotten the exact date at which the club started and may not have had access to the records which would have established the truth of the matter.
Further evidence that Brighton did not have a chess club in 1840 is provided by a letter to the Chess Player’s Chronicle Vol.2 (1841), p.31, by a subscriber who was seeking to establish a chess club in the town. The identity of the subscriber is not known (it may have been Kennedy) but we must surely ask why it was necessary to establish a chess club in Brighton if one already existed.
An article by Walter Mead appeared in the Chess Player’s Chronicle of 20 September 1882 and the Brighton Guardian of 4 October 1882 claiming that the Brighton Chess Club was formed in 1855 or 1856. This is clearly wrong as there are numerous references to the club before that date in local newspapers, the Illustrated London News and the Chess Player’s Chronicle. Neither can I find any evidence to suggest that the club was not continuous in the 1850s. It is interesting that in the 1990s, more than 150 years after the formation of the club, we should know more about its origins than those who lived about forty years after the event.
According to the Chess Player’s Chronicle the newly formed Brighton Chess Club got off to a good start. In the March 1843 issue (p.94) it is stated:
The Chess Club recently established at Brighton has commenced with everyprospect of success. The Club Room is at the New Ship Hotel and is open from 2 o’clock PM until midnight; but Members meet particularly on Wednesday and Saturday evening at 8 o’clock; one of the Rules is especially deserving commendation and should be adopted generally by similar Societies throughout the kingdom; it is ‘That Members of the undermentioned Chess Clubs visiting Brighton, be admitted to the club as Honorary Members for one month upon the introduction of any member viz The London, St George’s, Edinburgh, Dublin, Liverpool, Glasgow, Bristol and Nottingham Chess Clubs’.
It is interesting however that an article in the Brighton Gazette of 20 May 1847 (probably written by Kennedy) states that the Brighton Chess Club in its infancy ‘had to contend with considerable discouragement’. It may be that the two accounts are not in fact contradictory. The club probably did start well, but it took a while before the members could settle down to playing in regular premises. We know that by December 1843 the club had left its Ship Street home and that the new season was started at 7 New Road. The new accommodation occupied a prominent position, being situated next to the prestigious Theatre Royal which had been in operation since 1807.
Meanwhile at the end of 1843 a great chess event was taking place in France which was attracting a great deal of publicity in this country. Howard Staunton, considered to be the best player in England, had travelled to Paris to take on Saint-Amant the French Champion in a match for stakes of £100 a side. Such was the interest that a kind of chess fever broke out in this country, and reports of the games were serialised in many different newspapers. As is well known Staunton won the match 11-6, and on his return to Britain he was invited to a celebratory dinner by the members of the Brighton Chess Club. Staunton accepted the invitation and the banquet took place in March 1844 at the Old Ship Hotel.
Before the meal Staunton played three odds games with Capt Kennedy in the club’s rooms. From a report in the Brighton Guardian of 20 March 1844 we learn that the games were watched with great interest and that Staunton’s skill was ‘most conspicuous’. Nevertheless on this occasion Capt Kennedy won two out of the three games although receiving odds of pawn and two moves. The following game was one of Kennedy’s wins:
(1) Capt H.A. Kennedy - H. Staunton
Kennedy also won the following miniature game at Brighton in 1844 (not 1845 as quoted by Irving Chernev in his book The 1000 Best Short Games of Chess):
(2) Capt H.A. Kennedy - Mr B
After winning his match against Saint-Amant, Staunton set out on various tours of the country. Kennedy was a friend of his and in 1845 the two of them travelled down to Gosport to play a match by electric telegraph against a group of experts from London. This is the earliest recorded example of a match of this kind taking place in Britain, though in America Washington and Baltimore played a match by telegraph in 1844.
The 1845 match received national publicity. The first of the two games was won by the London team. The second lasted for about nine hours and ended in a draw:
(3) London (H.T. Buckle, W.D. Evans, G. Perigal, T. Tuckett, G. Walker) - Gosport (Capt H.A. Kennedy, H. Staunton)
In the five years following the banquet of March 1844 Staunton made a number of visits to the Brighton Chess Club, and was elected an Honorary Member. Not surprisingly, with the best player in the world in attendance, the club flourished, attracting the interest of several of the best known and most prosperous figures in the town. Staunton generally came off better in his odds matches with Kennedy and the following well-known game features a brilliant queen sacrifice:
(4) Capt H.A. Kennedy - H. Staunton
In the Chess Player’s Chronicle Vol.6 (1845), p.277, there was published the constitution on which the Brighton Chess Club was based. Staunton often quoted these rules as a model for new clubs who were seeking guidance on the framing of rules. The club was to be run by a Council of Seven consisting of the president, secretary and five other members. The annual subscription was to be one guinea payable in advance and due on 1 September. Special arrangements were to be made for occasional members and visitors. As noted above, members of the London, St George’s, Edinburgh, Dublin, Liverpool, Glasgow, Bristol and Nottingham Chess Clubs could be admitted to the club as Honorary Members for one month. There was also an interesting rule forbidding smoking in the club room. The club was to be open every day except Sundays from 2pm to 11pm. Attendance was especially requested on Wednesday and Saturday evenings. Anyone staying after 11pm was required to forfeit one shilling and an additional shilling for every half hour after that time!
Although Capt Kennedy was almost certainly the strongest player in the club he was not the only opponent whom Staunton engaged in competition. It was already clear that James Washington Hannah, son of a local doctor, was a player of potential. Born in either 1826 or 1827, he was only a teenager when he first played Staunton. There also exist a few games between Staunton and James Turner.
Both Hannah and Turner were usually defeated by Staunton when he gave them the odds of knight. There was, however, the odd reverse as the following two games show:
(5) H. Staunton - J.W. Hannah
(6) H. Staunton - J. Turner
In those far-off times tournament chess was unknown. The first tournament in England did not take place until 1849. This was held at the Divan in London and according to its rules players progressed to the finals by playing a number of matches. The first all-play-all tournament in this country did not take place until 1862. If a player wanted to prove himself, he would challenge an opponent to a match. In 1846 Staunton played a match against Hannah at the odds of knight, winning five, losing two, with one match being drawn. He followed this by giving Capt Kennedy a pawn and two moves start and winning by four games to three. Kennedy himself challenged a German player, G. Weil, to a match in the early part of 1847, the winner being the first to achieve eleven victories. Kennedy was a fairly comfortable winner, the score being eleven wins to five losses in his favour with one game drawn. The Brighton Gazette of 8 April 1847 reported that the match was ‘a source of considerable interest to the numerous body of amateurs of the Royal Game in our marine metropolis’. In fact the following game is rather one sided:
(7) G. Weil - Capt H.A. Kennedy
In the spring of 1847 the membership of the Brighton Chess Club had risen to about forty and the club was looking for more spacious accommodation. Fortunately a very pleasant site was found on the Chain Pier Esplanade. In those days Brighton had only one pier called the Chain Pier, located to the east of the present site of the Palace Pier. The Chain Pier was linked to the Old Steine by an esplanade and it is believed that a tollkeeper stationed close to what is now the Aquarium used to guard the entrance to the esplanade.
I have already mentioned Kennedy’s description of the site of the Brighton Chess Club as ‘a hole in the cliff over against the Chain Pier’. In the Brighton Gazette of 20 May 1847 the chess room was said to be ‘airy and cool in summer and from its position altogether sheltered from the rough northern blasts in winter’. It would appear, however, that in those days this whole stretch of coastline was susceptible to flooding!
The move to the Pier Esplanade was a success and by August 1847 the membership had risen to about fifty. By this time the chess club was well known throughout the country, and an example of its increasing reputation was the disinclination of the Oxford Chess Club to challenge Brighton to a correspondence match when it was seeking opponents from the provincial clubs at the end of 1847. Only the Liverpool, Leeds and Edinburgh Chess Clubs were accorded similar ‘status’.
As the club was pleasantly situated by the seaside it attracted many visitors, particularly during the summer. In his book Waifs and Strays Kennedy describes how he met the great German singer Staudigl on a cliff and took him down to the chess club for a game. As the players became involved in their contest they were suddenly interrupted. The newcomer reminded Staudigl that a crowded audience was waiting for him at the Town Hall!
Research into this story shows that Staudigl visited Brighton in August 1847. Although he was arguably the finest baritone singer of his time he was not in fact the star performer at the concert. Most of the audience had come to hear the young Swedish singer Jenny Lind whose fame was rapidly spreading.
It is unlikely that the messenger arrived at the chess club after the performance had started as the concert opened virtually on time with Staudigl singing in the first act. It is, however, possible that most of the audience had taken their seats before Staudigl was found. We must conclude that these facts do not disprove Kennedy’s story but admit the possibility that he was exaggerating.
As well as casual chessplayers who happened to visit the club while on holiday, many of the London experts paid visits to the premises. Such a person was Henry Buckle, who was to win the first chess tournament played in this country in London in 1849. He was a remarkable man who missed nearly all the normal schooling through ill health, yet taught himself to speak seven languages and produced a well-known work of literature, the History of Civilisation. Buckle won the following odds game on a visit to the Brighton Chess Club in 1848:
(8) Mr Delamain - H.T. Buckle
Capt Kennedy was well known to the London experts who visited the Brighton Chess Club. He himself made frequent visits to the city to play chess and often engaged formidable opponents in the famous Divan chess centre. This London connection plainly raised the prestige of the Brighton Chess Club.
In 1848 we see evidence that Kennedy was experimenting with a defence which seems previously to have been played only in games at odds. He was answering 1.e4 with Nc6 and if White played d4 he then answered e5. Nowadays we know this opening as a variation of the Nimzowitsch Defence, but I wonder how many people know that Kennedy played this defence at least twice in 1848. The following are the games in question:
(9) E. Williams - Capt H.A. Kennedy
(10) J. Turner - Capt H.A. Kennedy
The true originator of the Nimzowitsch Defence may however have been Howard Staunton, for in an odds game played against Kennedy in 1844 (Kennedy was White and received pawn and two moves) the first three moves were 1.e4 2.d4 Nc6 3. Nc3 e5. It is quite possible that Kennedy adapted the idea to ordinary over-the-board play.
In the Brighton Herald of 11 November 1848 there appeared a lengthy article under the heading ‘The Wonderful Chess Player’. The player in question was Daniel Harrwitz from Germany, who had obviously amazed the reporter by a blindfold simultaneous display given at the Brighton Chess Club. This type of exhibition was at the time very rare, though an example seems to have occurred as early as the ninth century.
For the occasion two tables had been placed in different parts of the room and spectators were encouraged to suggest which moves should be played. It was reported that ‘some of the best players in Brighton surrounded each table and many grave discussions took place on the move that should be made …’. Harrwitz had placed himself in a corner with his back to the players and to further reinforce his isolation from the board a group of helpers deliberately stood between him and the players.
One of the two tables resigned after about three and a half hours’ play. The second game lasted for over four hours, and although this match was eventually drawn Harrwitz came close to defeat. The following is the score of the first game, which was won comfortably by the German:
(11) D. Harrwitz - Allies
It is interesting that shortly after Harrwitz’s impressive performance a local phrenologist wrote to the newspaper with his analysis of the German’s achievements. He considered that Harrwitz’s powers could be put down to the size of his head!
Not long after this Harrwitz was back in Brighton, for early in 1849 the club performed the organisation for his match against Horwitz. In all fifteen games were played at the Brighton Chess Club with Harrwitz winning seven, Horwitz six and two matches being drawn. The members of the club were obviously very interested in watching this high class match and also in the fact that Howard Staunton was present. Staunton had stayed in Brighton for a longer period than usual and had played several games at odds with members. Chess was not, however, his only reason for coming to Brighton for in February 1849 he was married at St Nicholas Church. After this visit I can find no record of Staunton visiting the Brighton Chess Club again.
Kennedy continued to play much chess in London and in 1849 he undertook a fourteen game match against the genial old Czech player E. Lowe. Lowe was considered to be past his best but he somewhat surprisingly beat Kennedy by the score of 7½ 6½. Kennedy’s best game was probably the eighth in the series:
(12) Capt H.A. Kennedy - E. Lowe
1850 was the last year of Kennedy’s residence in Brighton. During this year he moved to London, where he played his part in the organisation of the great London International Tournament of 1851. This was the first ever international chess tournament and was scheduled to coincide with the Great Exhibition of Art and Industry which was taking place in Hyde Park. Kennedy was offered a place in the tournament along with some of the most famous players of the time. He made a good start, defeating the German Mayet by two games to nil. This was the first game:
(13) K. Mayet - Capt H.A. Kennedy
In the next round Kennedy was drawn against M. Wyvill MP. The winner was to be the first player to achieve four victories (draws did not count). A close match ensued in which at one time Kennedy was leading by three games to two. In the end, however, he was beaten by four games to three, with one draw. In the play-offs for places Kennedy won 4-0 against J.R. Mucklow before going down 4½ to ½ against J. Szen. His final placing was sixth, which was quite a respectable result in his only tournament venture.
After the London Tournament Kennedy remained President of the Brighton Chess Club for about two more years. In the Chess Player’s Chronicle of 1853 (p.124) it was reported that he was about to fix his residence permanently in Bath. Later in that year the Illustrated London News of 22 October stated that Paul Foskett had taken over the presidency of the club. Kennedy’s departure was also reported in the Chess Player’s Chronicle of February 1854 (p.62) as follows: ‘We believe that the resignation has been postponed for a long time at the earnest request of the Members of the Club which owes its foundation and success almost entirely to the zeal, constant attendance and courtesy of its now late President’.
In the club minutes for either 1858 or 1859 (the relevant document is not specifically dated) both Kennedy and Staunton are listed as Honorary Members. It is doubtful, however, if by that time either player could have had any significant involvement with the Brighton Club. Kennedy in fact became President of the Bath Club and we also know that he was President of the Bristol Athenaeum Club from 1859 to 1866. In addition he discharged the role of Vice-President of the British Chess Association from 1862 to 1866. After making some unsuccessful attempts to organise a West of England Association he died in 1878 at the age of sixty-nine. He was undoubtedly one of the great chess organisers of the last century.
Thus the ‘Staunton/Kennedy era’ came to an end for the Brighton Chess Club. It had been a highly successful era at a time when chess clubs were new and almost experimental ventures. Kennedy’s connections with the City had helped to spread the fame of the local club and it had become one of the most prestigious in the country. It would be hard for Paul Foskett to follow this success.
In the Illustrated London News of 22 October 1853 the new President of the Brighton Chess Club is described as ‘a gentleman admirably adapted by his skill at the game, his knowledge of public business and the urbanity of his manners to promote the welfare of this excellent institution’. Whereas Kennedy had strong involvement with the London chess scene and regularly used the newspapers and periodicals to promote the club, Foskett’s leadership appears to have been in a quieter vein. As a result the club became more localised and attracted less publicity. In the Brighton newspapers we find hardly a mention of the club in the next few years, though an exception was a report that appeared in the Brighton Gazette of 28 September 1854:
Now that the town is so full we dare say that there are amongst our visitors several admirers of the noble pursuit who are not aware that there is a club on the Pier Esplanade exclusively devoted to this game. It is held in an extremely handsome room open from ten in the morning and there is plenty of play from two to six o’clock every afternoon’.
Despite the apparent lack of publicity the club seems to have maintained a good steady membership during the 1850s. This was undoubtedly helped by the fact that the premises were secure. In the club minute book a list of players relating probably to the 1858-9 season reveals a membership of about fifty, including one or two well-known local figures. The Council of Seven still ran the club and there was an orderly framework of rules.
In April 1858 the club received a setback with the sudden death of James Turner at the comparatively early age of 44. There can be no doubt that he was greatly missed in the following years. We know that he was Hon Secretary in 1848, 1856 and 1858 and he may well have filled the post for the whole period from 1848 to 1858 or even longer.
Another important figure in the club’s history was James Hannah. After Kennedy left the club Hannah was probably the strongest player. We know that he eventually moved to London but the exact year is uncertain. In 1857 he played a match against E. Lowe, probably in London, and won by the score of 11 to 6 with 4 draws. In one of the games in which Hannah had the White pieces the opening was 1.e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 e5 6. Ndb5 which is believed to be the first example of the Pelikan Variation of the Sicilian. The match undoubtedly increased Hannah’s reputation, for the Chess Player’s Chronicle of 1859 (p.99) commented as follows on his victory: ‘Mr Hannah previously known as a good player at Brighton at once forced an advance into the ranks of strong metropolitan amateurs.’ Despite his London connections, however, Hannah continued to return to Brighton for the club’s committee meetings.
In 1858 the club considered a move to the Royal Pavilion. A room had become available in the south lobby and a delegation was sent to review the premises. After the visit, however, the membership was strongly opposed to the removal of the club from its existing site and the idea was abandoned. Paul Foskett continued his presidency until the Annual General Meeting of 19 September 1860, when he resigned and was replaced by M. Frewen. He had held the club together after its disappointment at losing Captain Kennedy as its leader, and although the seven years of his presidency had been unspectacular, the club was still basically in good shape when he stepped down.
Deterioration and Decline of the First Brighton Chess Club, 1860 to 1879
In 1862 Hannah had enjoyed the chance of a lifetime. He was given the opportunity to play in the London International Tournament and encountered over the board such well-known players as Anderssen, Paulsen, Blackburne, Steinitz and Lowenthal. Several strong British players were also invited to compete in this first ever all-play-all tournament, and in this company Hannah performed creditably, scoring seven points out of thirteen and finishing in eighth place. Steinitz and Blackburne were at this time relative newcomers to the chess scene and were yet to perform at their best. Only an endgame blunder deprived Hannah of a draw against Steinitz and his great achievement came in the defeat of J.H. Blackburne. The scores of these two games follow.
(14) W. Steinitz - J.W. Hannah
(15) J.W. Hannah - J.H. Blackburne
Following the deaths of Hannah and Turner and the departure of giants like Staunton and Kennedy the club appears to have had no exceptionally strong player in its membership. When, however, in 1864 an invitation was received from the St James’s Club of London to play a friendly consultation game Brighton did not shirk the challenge. In April the St James’s Club came down to the coast and the match took place. It appears that the Brighton Club could have drawn the match but in trying to win managed to lose the game. A return match took place in London about a week later and victory again went to the London club.
The Brighton Club began to have difficulty in paying the rent at the Royal Pavilion. Steps were taken to try to secure alternative premises where the rent would be lower, but these attempts were unsuccessful. The club also decided to approach the Town Council to ask for a reduced rent for the existing accommodation, but again this was unsuccessful. By September 1865 the crisis had passed and an adverse balance of £9 1s 10d had been reduced to £1 4s 7d. It is not known how all the arrears were recovered, but in April 1865 an appeal to members had brought in five guineas. In any case the deficit was still £1 4s 7d in September 1866 when the club again began looking for alternative premises. Early in 1867 a suitable site was found and for the third time the Albion Rooms became the chess centre of the town.
The adverse balance was now changed to a figure that was in the club’s favour and it appears that a good relationship was established with Mr Dubois, the owner of the hotel. There is evidence, however, that all was still not well with the club. According to the club minutes no meetings were held during 1868 and when one was called in February 1869 it was felt necessary to advertise the club by notices and newspaper reports. This decision was probably taken because membership levels had fallen and the club was unsure of its standing following the recent death of Mr Dubois. A year later at a general meeting of the club held on 26 February 1870 it was found that there were only eighteen players on the books and several of these were uncertain whether to continue.
A bleak period evidently followed, for there is not a single reference in the minute book to any committee or general meeting being held in the next three years. In October 1871 we find a discouraging entry by the Hon Secretary, H.C. Malden, stating that Mr Lawrence, the new owner of the hotel, had begged the club to give up its tenancy of the room as no-one ever came to play chess there! Following this there must have been some revival as the Illustrated London News of 2 December 1871 reported:
We have much pleasure in contradicting, upon the best authority, a rumour that the well-known Brighton Chess Club is extinct. So far from being defunct, the old club, under the presidency of D.B. Chapman Esq is in a very flourishing condition. It still meets at the Albion Hotel and for the convenience of visitors, members of the other chess clubs and all known amateurs of the game are permitted to have access to it during their stay in Brighton on payment of a trifling entrance fee.
In April 1873 a general meeting was held at which an offer of a room at the recently built Aquarium was discussed. The terms of the proposal stipulated that members of the chess club should take out annual tickets for the facilities provided by the Aquarium Company (though it is possible that in return rent was requested at a lower rate or not required at all). The offer was accepted and the club elected some new members, including Sir Robert Walpole, a relative of Britain’s first prime minister.
It is, however, clear from the minute book that the club had still not solved its problems. Again we find that there are no records of any meetings held and we are simply left with a list of a few newly enrolled members. The club also probably faced competition from the newly created free chess room in the Public Library in Church Street, of which more will be written in a later section of this history. The Illustrated London News of 23 January 1875 quotes the annual subscription for the Aquarium as one guinea but enthusiasts could play for nothing at the local library.
Early in 1875 a friendly match was held at Littlehampton between the Brighton and Littlehampton Clubs. The West Sussex Gazette of 4 February 1875 reported that Messrs Elderton and Vines of the Littlehampton Club took on two of the best players of the Brighton Club and that Mr Elderton, who had recently been playing some games with Steinitz, won eight of the nine games played for the Littlehampton Club.
After March 1876 no further records of the enrolment of new members appear in the minute book and the Illustrated London News of 22 July 1876 gives a rather depressing description of the club’s premises: ‘There is a chess club at Brighton Aquarium but it consists merely of a “roped arena” on the right hand side of the entrance hall’.
How long after this the club survived is uncertain. It is mentioned in Page’s Directory from 1877 to 1879 but disappears from the 1880 edition. As the information in these directories was compiled up to the November of the previous year we can perhaps infer that the club’s last period of activity was in the 1878-9 season. It is interesting that W.T. Pierce, writing in the Brighton Herald of 1 May 1880, describes the first Brighton Chess Club as for some time past ‘not perhaps exactly extinct but in a state of suspended animation’. The meaning of the phrase ‘in a state of suspended animation’ is not entirely clear. Could it be that some equipment or records survived or that some players still played the odd game amongst themselves? However if there was any activity at all it is likely to have been minimal, for a letter by ‘Chichester’ in the Brighton Herald of 6 March 1880 stated: ‘I now wish to enquire why the Brighton players do not form themselves into a body and register themselves as a Club … NB Brighton without a Chess Club! - Incredible’. It rather looks as though there was no dramatic end to Kennedy’s club - it just faded away…
Other Clubs, Societies, Organisations and Chess Activities, 1849 to 1879
Much of the information I have found is rather vague and fragmentary. The main Brighton Chess Club would appear to have dominated chess proceedings in the town until the late 1870s.
In 1849 the Illustrated London News published a correspondence game betweenShrewsbury School and Brighton College. The score of the game was as follows:
(16) Shrewsbury School - Brighton College
There also appears to be no record of how long the first Brighton Athenaeum Chess Club lasted but according to the Brighton Gazette of 11 November 1857 a new chess club had been formed at the Athenaeum. The newspaper reported that the members intended to meet every Tuesday and Friday evening. Unfortunately there again appears to be no information about the duration of the chess club, but the parent institution is believed to have closed in 1862.
The Pavilion Chess Room (often called the Public or Free Chess Room)
As the room became popular, it may well have drained the membership of the ‘Aquarium’ Club where it was necessary to pay a subscription. Unfortunately, however, some of the youngsters became rather rowdy in the course of their games and it became necessary to station an ex-PC there to maintain order.
Gradually a new generation of chess players began to develop their skills in the public chess room. These players were to be the stars of the future who would play their part in local and county chess for years to come. The original Brighton Chess Club comprised many famous and prosperous local figures, but this new group of chessplayers belonged to no one social class.
In May 1882 the originator of the Public Chess Room, Councillor E. Booth, received a special presentation from local chess players to honour all the work that he had put in for chess in the town. He continued to support chess in Brighton and Sussex by regularly providing refreshments and arranging annual sociable soirées. The Brighton Guardian of 9 December 1885 reported on a soirée provided by Councillor Booth for the members of the Brighton Chess Club. During the evening H.W. Butler gave a blindfold simultaneous for three players and H. Erskine, L. Leuliette and W. Mead took on several players simultaneously with sight of the board. It was, however, a social occasion and it was reported that ‘several vocal selections enhanced the pleasure of the company’.
Initially the free chess room was a great success, but as the years passed by it became less popular. In his column in the Sussex Daily News dated 25 January 1921 H.W. Butler commented:
Mention, however, might be made that the latter town [i.e. Brighton] has since the founding of the public library, been always ‘blessed or cursed’ with a public chess room - blessed because of the daily opportunity it gives to all (without payment) for skittle play, or more correctly speaking time ‘wasting’; cursed because it prevented the foundation of a permanent Brighton chess club, which long ere this would doubtless have made Brighton famous in the chess world … headquarters have always been difficult to obtain especially those that would ensure an all- or every-day meeting. The cost of such an undertaking was never reached simply because many who really could have afforded it met one’s enquiry with the excuse ‘We get our enjoyment for nothing including fire and light: why then should we pay for it?’
It is interesting that this article suggests that the free chess room was still in existence in 1921. It is, however, hard to see it existing side by side with the fourth Brighton Chess Club, which was open for long hours on weekdays from September 1922.
The Minerva Club
In January 1875 a Minerva Chess Club was formed at the Temperance Hotel in Duke Street. W. Bennett was appointed president and W. Branch secretary. The new club soon set in motion a correspondence match with the 35th (Sussex) Regiment. The Minerva Club probably lasted for a few years and is mentioned by H.W. Butler in the Sussex Chess Archives.
An interesting phenomenon was the arrival in Brighton of the automaton called Mephisto in the secondhalf of 1879. Mephisto had been introduced to London chess circles in 1878 and now found a base at 79 King’s Road, Brighton (if this address existed today it would be close to the Brighton Centre). The automaton was opened to the general public on Saturday 23 August and soon proved popular with local chess players. It regularly gave three performances per day, from 11am to 2pm, 3pm to 6pm and 7pm to 10pm. Admission fees were one shilling for adults and sixpence for children, though in the evening session the charge was sixpence for everyone.
According to the Brighton Herald of 30 August 1879 Mephisto was a ‘beautifully made “counterfeit presentment” of the Mephistopheles rendered familiar by the dramatic adaptations of Goethe’s “Faust”. Although the automaton was a caricature of the devil it was not unpleasing in appearance. The slim figure was dressed in red velvet trimmed with black and wore a pink hat with a black border and two magnificant pink feathers. It was seated at an ordinary table containing a chess board and pieces.
There had been chess playing automata before and one might have expected to find a chess player concealed inside it. In the case of Mephisto, however, it was not easy to see where such a player could hide himself. Bradley Ewart writing in Chess: Man vs Machine (1980) puts forward an interesting theory that an operator was concealed in the automaton’s chair. This idea is, however, considered impossible by the Brighton Herald of 30 August 1879 which states:
‘Mephisto’ is seated on an easy chair, the bottom of which is too small to hide a person even of the dimensions of General Tom Thumb, and the figure, though of life-size, cannot conceal the operator, as it is shown to be hollow, even in the act of playing.
An alternative theory is that Mephisto was operated by some form of remote control. The figures on the board were originally supported by spikes (also called ‘springs’) which were thought to provide a clue to the method of operation. Later a change was made, and the new board contained depressions but no spikes. The exact method by which the machine was operated still appears to be in doubt, but according to The Oxford Companion to Chess by David Hooper and Kenneth Whyld (1984) it was guided from another room by ‘electro-mechanical means’. Certainly the controlling power appears to have been close to the board, as Mephisto could play its moves quickly if it wanted to. According to the previously mentioned Brighton Herald article the automaton frequently looked round the audience and smiled. It also nodded assent or gave disapproving signs, depending on whether a good or bad move had been played.
Although the chess players of the time could not penetrate the mystery of Mephisto’s operation, they probably did not believe that a robot had been created. In the Illustrated London News of 6 April 1878 it was stated: ‘A genuine automaton chessplayer is of course an impossibility for no mere mechanical contrivance can ever be made capable of creating and directing the multiform variations incident to a game of chess’. It would have been interesting to have presented the writer with a modern chess computer and to have watched his face!
There has been some speculation as to who actually operated the automaton. During the machine’s earlier career in London it was generally believed that Isidor Gunsberg, who later challenged for the World Championship, was responsible for selecting the moves. The chess historians are, however, less certain as to whether Gunsberg came to Brighton. It is interesting that in the Sussex Chess Archives for 1879 H.W. Butler wrote: ‘The C.P.C. [Chess Player’s Chronicle] of November announced that “Mephisto” had taken up residence at 79 King’s Road, Brighton. It was at this period that the writer was first introduced to Mr Gunsberg’. The mention of Gunsberg immediately following an announcement that the machine had moved to Brighton makes it likely that the two events were connected. We also have the evidence of the standard of play reached by the automaton. It would seem that there was not a great deal of difference in the machine’s performance in London and in Brighton.
Mephisto provided an interesting challenge for the promising young players of the public chess room. It could, however, be defeated, as the following game shows:
(17) Mephisto - F. Edmonds
Mephisto was displayed to the Brighton public for about four months only. There appears to be a doubt as to where it was located during the ensuing period, but in the Illustrated London News of 8 October 1881 it was reported that the automaton was then in London at 48A Regent Circus. Mephisto continued to be exhibited for a few years and is last mentioned as being on show at the Paris Exposition of 1889. Its ultimate fate is unknown.