Pillsbury-Bowles, A Living Game

Pillsbury-Bowles, A Living Game

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     Rhoda Annie Bowles was the prime impetus of women's chess in London at the turn of the 20th century. A friend of both Steinitz and Pillsbury, her efforts culminated in the first women's international tournament in 1897. She was also the main founder of the Ladies Chess club of London, possibly the most active women's chess club in history.  The tenacles of Mrs. Bowles' efforts were far reaching. She even inspired the creation of the Women's Chess Club of New York.
    Ada S. Ballin enlisted her to write the chess column for her new illustrated monthly, Womanhood, that premiered in Dec., 1898. This magazine of exceptional quality catered to the more intelligent, informed and independent-minded women of the day. The chess column was, indeed, of high quality. It seems that the magazine ended around 1906. After that, Mrs. Bowles contributed some articles for "The Chess Amateur," which premiered in Oct. 1906.

     Mrs. Rhodes, wife of the prominent chess-player, Henry Lewis Bowles (almost always referred to as simply H.L.Bowles) reported the following event, which took place on November 29, 1902,  in her Womanood chess column, January 1903.






Living Chess

    "A decided success," was the verdict accorded to the living chess performance which took place in the Victoria Gymnasium of the Borough Polytechnic Institute, under the auspices of the chess club which is attached to it. The proceedings commenced with the plaiting of the board by the young men from the Gymnasium, who, under Chief-Instructor Davies, did their part well. Sixteen young fellows, each carrying a roll of linen, eight being white and either red, marched in time to a musical drill and the sight was a novel one to many present.
     Mr. Henry Sinclaire then charmed the audience by his delightful rendering of the "Three Little Songs," by Maud Valerie White. He also gave the "Flower Song" from "Carmen," in which the richness and power of his pure tenor voice had ample play, and he was listened to ith breathless interest. Un fortunately, a delay was caused, as not sufficient time had been allowed for the elaborate dressing and making up on the "living pieces" ; but the interval was filled up by the Rev Dr. Elwyn Lewis, who gave some brilliant pianoforte pieces, and Mr. Henry Sinclair sang the time-honoured encore, "Songs of Araby," in truly artistic style.
     Then, with courtly tread, the Kings and Queens, accompanied by their retinue, entered the hall. First, the two Kings, approaching from the opposite corners of the board, marched to the centre, and, saluting each other, made for their exact squares. The Queens next, their train-bearers being the two Heralds, who dropped their handsome burdens gracefully, as soon as a gracious recognition had been exchanged between the rival Queens, who in stately fashion made obeisance each to her respective King. He, extending his hands to his consort, assisted her to rise and take up her place of honour by his side. Then, in quick order, followed the King's Castles, —of opposite colours—from either side, saluting each other and bowing to their monarch. Then the Queen's Castles, who paid the same tribute to Her Majesty, before taking up their respective places in the line, the Bishops, Knights and sweet little Pawns, following upon the same precedent, and the board in due course was fully "set up."




     I am told that the sight was an exceedingly pleasing one to the eye. White, the King looking truly majestic in his kingly robes, crown and sceptre ; white the elaborate train of rich white satin bordered with ermine, the jeweled tracery of the corsage and robe, together with the dainy crown resting on a white pompadour wig, setting off the deftly touched up cheeks, with their two roguish beauty spots, of the White Queen, were greatly admired. On the Red side the King looked his part to the life, and a more handsome Queen than Her Majesty, who proudly stood by his side, could not be discovered in a day' march. Her train and robe of deep blood-red set off the natural blackness of her mass of hair, which had been dressed aslo in pompadour style. The gorgeous armour of the Knights, the truly ecclesiastic get-up of the Bishops, sweet little Pawns, who were drawn form the day schools of the Institute. The White were girls, their dresses consisting of white kilted skirts, edged with galoon and sleeves entirely o silver, dainty little hats of the same material; while the Red Pawns (boys) looked splendid in their miniature "Beefeater" hats and costumes. The two Heralds had beautiful costumes, and each looked to the manner born, and acted his part splendidly. All the dresses reflect great credit upon Messrs. C. & W. May, of Garrick-street, who supplied them.
     As soon as the game started between the president and vice-president of the club, who were seated at the platform with an ordinary chessboard on a small table, the Heralds announced the moves, one (Mr. Cornwall) calling in a clear and district voice the name of the piece or Pawn —viz., as an example, "White Pawn to King four," "Black" ditto, thus making it quite clear which side had to move ; for who knew but what, before the game had finished, some of us might be half an hour between moves, and one might easily forget whether it was White or Black to move. But although this contingency had been provided, it was not necessary, for so rapidly were the moves made, that scarcely had Mr. Greenwell (the Red Herald) completed the task of seeing that the correct move was made, than, lo an behold! another was announced, and inside one hour one hundred and fifty moves had been made [actually, 129 moves sbc] in this unrehearsed but brilliant game of chess, the full score of which I give below. Had it been previously arranged, it could not have possibly have proved a more attractive one for "living chess," as not only did every "piece" on the board have to move, but a pretty sight was afforded quite at the end. When only a few pieces remained, the White Queen was captured by a Red Castle, and he was promptly punced upon and extinguished by a wee White Pawn, who calmly moved on to the eighth square, and thus restoring to life the Queen, who returned to the tune of "Home Sweet Home," from some clever pianist who had fitted airs to every move made during the play. For instance, when the Red Queen (an American cousin) moved first, it was to the popular "Follow On," from "The Belle of New York" ; when a piece was captured the "Death March" ; but when either King was in check, menaces and claskings were levelled at him until a "cover" was provided. The game came to an end all too soon for the audience, who had followed the moves throughout with great interest. The following in the score:—



     A novel feature was provided for the finish of the programme when a "Living Problem," which had been specially composed for the ocasion, was set up. The audience were invited to solve it, the first correct solution to receive a pocket chessboard. Time allowed, ten minutes. When all the solutions —and thirty— had been sent in, the hat containing the answers was broght to me. The first drawn happened to be correct, the solver, and consequently the recipient of the prize, proving to be the young son of Mr. Gunsberg, the chess master.

by H. N. Pillsbury

     The Rev. Dr. Elwyn Lewis, who so kindly presided a the piano, is known to many as the "Cyclist Bishop," for during the summer months he throws open his beautiful grounds at the Rectory and provides tea for the fatigued and dust wheelmen—and women—who are allowed to stroll about at their heart's content, and are invited to listen to a very short dissertation and an organ recital in the little church before starting on their homeward journey, thus making his guests depart feeling brighter and happier men and women for the break in their journey to Essex and back. Mr. Henry Sinclaire deserved all the praise that was bestowed upon him for so charming the time away with his delightful voice ; and in thanking these two gentlemen for all they did, I also want to thank my co-workers in the organization and management of the whole entertainment. Everyone worked with a will from the start to finish, and it was truly gratifying to feel that is was a success.


The BCM, Jan. 1903 supplemented Rhoda Bowles' reporting with:

     A highly successful exhibition of Living Chess was given at the Borough Road Polytechnic, London, on Saturday, November 29th. The proceedings were started by young men of the gymnasium, who to military drill plaited the board with alternate strips of crimson and white material, the performance being very creditable to Mr. Davis, the gymnasium instructor. While the living pieces were assembling, the audience were entertained by Mr. Sinclair with some excellent songs. This gentleman is a new tenor, possessing a voice remarkable for its purity and power and with a rendering conspicuously artistic. This was followed by the entrance of the living pieces, who advanced one at a time on either side of the board to their respective places, being accompanied by appropriate selections on the pianoforte by Dr. Elwyn Lewis, hon. sec. Kent County Chess Association. The costumes and mounting of the pieces were highly creditable to Messrs. C & W. May, who supervised this part of the arrangements. Particularly conspicuous were the two Queens. Mrs. H. N. Pillsbury represented the Black Queen in crimson velvet and gold, and Mrs. Rhoda A. Bowles the White Queen resplendent in silver and gold. The two Kings, Messrs. Chubb and Purcell, looked as if they had stepped out of the Hampton Court pictures; and the heralds, Messrs. Cornwall and Greenwell, whose duty it was to announce the moves and see to the movement of the pieces on the board, acted their parts to the life; indeed, all the pieces that took part—Bishops, Knights, Rooks, and Pawns—were charmingly complete in every detail, and acted their parts with grace and precision.
    The game was played between Mr. H. N. Pillsbury, the famous American champion, and Mr. H. L. Bowles, president of the B.P.C.C. Contrary to the usual course in such exhibitions, the game was not prearranged, the players having decided that it should be an original game over the board. The sequel shewed their judgment was fully justified, as an extremely lively game resulted, which gave many remarkably pretty situations, and apart from a spectacular point of view, proved to be a notable game of chess, particularly having regard to the rapidity of the play and the conditions under which the game was conducted, the rate of play being about sixty moves per hour for each player.     The proceedings closed with the setting-up of a two-move problem specially composed by Mr. H. N. Pillsbury, and ten minutes were allowed to the audience to find the solution, it being announced that the author of the first correct solution opened would be awarded a pocket chess board as a prize, and the fortunate winner proved to be a young son of Mr. Gunsberg, the chess master.    
     Altogether the Exhibition was a great success, and reflected great credit upon the organizers, who worked very hard, particularly Mrs. Rhoda Bowles, Miss Helen Smith (lady superintendent B.P.), Miss May, and Messrs. Richardson, Chubb, and Moody.