Dickensonian Chess

Jan 6, 2011, 12:44 PM |

Charles Dickens, Jr. published an informative book about his contemporary London. Among the many entries in his Dictionary of London was one on Chess, informing the reader about not only the current chess scene, but even some history of London chess.

Dictionary of London: an Unconventional Handbook
compiled by Charles Dickens of 26 Wellington Street, London and published by Macmillan & Co., 22 Bond Street, New York (price, 35 cents) in 1879

Chess Clubs. - What maybe termed the coffee-house epoch in the history of chess in England ended in the year 1810 with the establishment of the London Chess Club, where members met for play in a private room in Cornhill. For some sixteen years afterwards it was the only association of the kind in London, and being supported chiefly by City merchants ard members of the Stock Exclange, who played chess in the middle of the day, it was practically closed to amateurs whose occupations or pursuits were not "of the City," or whose only leisure was to be found in the evenings. It had other disadvantages from the ordinary amateur's point of view, not the least of which was that the members comprised a host of experts in the science of chess, giants in whose company the tyro of the period was much more likely to be awed than edified. There was no chess club at the west end of the town at this period, but accommodation for players was provided in numerous coffee-houses, where "Monsieur" and " Herr," who since the first French Revolution have been always with us, dispensed instruction at such charges as their modest requirements suggested. In 1823 a West-end chess club was established, with special rooms, &c, at the Percy Coffee-house in Rathbone-place. The members met for play at seven in the evening, sat down to a hot supper at ten—it was fifty years ago—and broke up at half-past eleven. Murphy, a miniature painter of note at that time, became a member of this club soon after its foundation, and introduced to the members the greatest player of the period— William Lewis. Lewis was then a merchant's clerk, and, after the death of Sarratt, the strongest chess - player in England. He won the admiration of the Percy Chess Club by beating their best players at the odds of a rook. In 1825 the Percy Chess Club was closed, and Lewis opened subscription rooms in St. Martin's - lane, where he was patronised by nearly all the best players in London: Alexander Macdonnell, subsequently the famous rival of La Bourdonnais ; John Cochrane, the most brilliant player that ever appeared in the chess arena; Richard Penn, the author of the quaintest book in the language, " Maxims and Hints for Chess Players and Anglers" (illustrated by Stanfield); Bohn, the bookseller; and Pratt, of Lincoln's-inn, the author of a book on chess, that was described by Professor Allen, of Philadelphia, as a marvellous mixture of " Schoolmaster's English and Johnsonese." These rooms were closed in 1827, through the failure of Lewis. The London Chess Club still prospered; and it was not until the year 1832 that a rival association appeared upon the scene. Early in that year the famous Westminster Chess Club was opened in a room upon the first floor of a coffee-house in Bedford-street, Covent-garden, kept by one Huttman. The new club was immediately successful, and under its auspices was played the celebrated match between Westminster and Paris in 1834. The club was temporarily dissolved in 1835, and was reorganised in the same year, the members meeting in Mr. Ries's drawing-room adjoining the Divan in the Strand, of which establishment that gentleman was the proprietor. Here Howard Staunton, for many years the champion chess-player of England, made his first appearance, and here were played the games in his match with Poyert [Popert - sbc]. In 1840 the Westminster Chess Club was again dissolved—the City Club still prospering—but it was once more revived by Staunton, and the meetings were held in Charles-street, off the Haymarket. Its career was brief, however, and it was finally closed in 1843. In the same year a new chess club at the Westend was formed, at Beattie's Hotel, George-street. Cavendish-square, and was called after the name of the street in which its first meetings were held, the St. George's Chess Club. Beattie's Hotel was closed in the following year, and the St. George's removed to new quarters at the Polytechnic. Here was played the first International Chess Tournament in 1851, and here the club remained until the end of 1854, when it became associated with the Cavendish, a newly-formed club in Regent-street, and soon afterwards moved to the house formerly Crockford's, in St. James's-street, then called the Wellington. In the year 1837 the St. George's removed to its present quarters. Palace-chambers, King-street, St. James's. Meanwhile, in 1852, a club was formed in the city, under the title of the City of London Chess Club, by a few amateurs of little note at the time. This association has since been strengthened by the accession of all the foremost English players, and is now, in point of numbers, and the chess force and public repute of its members, the strongest chess club in the world. In 1866 a chess club, reviving the name of the "Westminster," whose history we have recounted, was formed by a number of influential amateurs, but it ceased to exist as a chess club in 1875, when it was dissolved, and reconstituted under the name of the Junior Portland as a whist club.
     St. George's Chess Club, 1, Palace-chambers, King-street, St. James's. —Annual subscription, town members, £2 2s.; country members, £1 1s. Hon. Sec, J. I. Minchin. Open daily from 12 noon. Established in 1843. The play is almost entirely limited to the afternoons—12 noon to 7 p.m.
     City Of London Chess Club, Mouflet's Hotel, Newgate-street, E. C.—Annual subscription, 10s. 6d. Election by ballot in committee. Open on the evenings of Monday, Wednesday, and Friday in each week throughout the year. Hon. Sec, H. F. Down. The meetings of this club are attended by all the best English chessplayers. Established in 1852.
     The foregoing are the principal chess clubs in London, but there are, besides, several local (or parochial) associations meeting during the months of the spring and winter.
     At the Birkbeck Literary and Scientific Institution, Southampton Buildings, Chancery-lane, there is an evening Chess Class. Charges for members 1s., and for the public 3s.
     Public Chess Rooms.—The Divan, 101, Strand. Open from 12 noon to 11 p.m. Annual subscription, £2 2s. Single admission, including coffee and cigar, 1s.; and free to all persons dining at Simpson's Restaurant. The Divan is a favourite resort of the professional chess-players resident in London, and is visited by every foreign player of eminence whom business or pleasure leads to London.
     Purssell's Restaurant, Cornhill.—Open from noon to 9 p.m. Admission free. An afternoon resort for professional players, and much patronised by city clerks, warehousemen, &c.
     Gatti's,  Adelaide-st, Strand.— Open from noon to midnight. Admission free. Another favourite resort of the professional chessplayers.
     Mephisto's Chess Room, 9, Strand.—Open from 2 to 10 p.m. Admission, is. Mephisto is a mechanical or automaton chessplayer, so called.
     Chess Journals In London.
—Illustrated London News. A chess column every week. First article on chess appeared June 25, 1842.
—The Field. A chess column every week. First article appeared January i, 1853.
— Land and Water. A chess column every week. First article appeared January, 1870.
—Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News. A chess column every week. First article appeared January, 1874.
     Besides the foregoing, the following periodicals devote some portion of their space to chess : English Mechanic, Brief, Ladies' treasury and The Chess Players' Chronicle (Established in 1868).— The Westminster Papers, for upwards of 10 years the principal chess organ in London, ceased to exist in April of this year.