John Brand. Cricketer, Chess Player, and 'Lunatic'.
Lord's Cricket Ground. 1837.

John Brand. Cricketer, Chess Player, and 'Lunatic'.


Some time ago I bought a wonderful book by the historian John Townsend. He was at one time a professional genealogist, now retired,  and that fact stands out in his writings - the quality and scope of his researches is simply astounding. 

I am greatly indebted to him for allowing me to quote some material from his book.

As some of you may know, apart from chess history, I am also interested in cricket history too, so I was fascinated to find out that a name I know from chess, was the same person who's name I had also seen on some old cricket scorecards and reports! Townsend gives a whole chapter on him.

John Brand. May 7th 1791 ( not 1790, as in some cricket sites,) according to Townsend pg 64) - April 20th 1856. ( pg 75 ) Pg.64 also notes that he was born in Woodbridge, Suffolk, and not in Armenia as you will find on the internet - a confusion probably caused by his co - authorship of an English - Armenian dictionary.

Lets do the cricket stuff first, and then get to the chess.

He was not only a member of the most important cricket club in the history of the game - The Marylebone Cricket Club - ( still the administrators of the laws Of Cricket) - he was also  a major player.

He opened the batting for the M.C.C., as well as various other teams.

Back then (200 years ago!) the game was rather different to the one we know today - to say the least!!

As a game it was played on a roughly mown turf pitch - usually in a field used for other purposes. The header picture was the most important cricket ground in the World at the time!!

The game was often the basis for gambling - some of the sums that changed hands were absolutely staggering.

A few of the many pieces of cricket reports etc involving Brand that can be found.

Huntingdon, Bedford and Peterborough Gazette. September 1st 1827.

The Morning Chronicle report on the match included the following.

Morning Advertiser - as dated.

The Morning Post. August 5th, 1829.

Relative to earnings of the time, 1000 guineas was a huge sum - many years earnings for a skilled worker. As I say, there was a lot of money involved in these games.

Brand was certainly confident of his abilities as a cricketer - he even famously involved himself in a 'single wicket' match with his M.C.C. team mate, the acknowledged expert in that particular form of the game, Edward H. Budd.

Although I haven't been able to discover the amount of the stakes in contemporary reports, it would have been an expensive  day for him - he failed to score in either innings, and lost by 68 runs ( not the 100 given by at least one source, unless there was a second match that I can not find, which is unlikely)

Morning Post June 20th 1820.

And so, on to the chess.

A member of the London Chess Club he was regarded as one of the leading English players of the day.

Sadly the recording and publishing of games was rare at the time, and so only a handful of his games exist.

I first came across the name in Edge's 'book

His name comes up a couple of times.

@batgirl has published two excellent articles - with thanks for allowing me to post the links - relating to the earliest examples of Brand's chess that we have.  

Although, in the style of the day, his name is not given in full, it is certain that the games given as against 'Mr. B***d are indeed against Brand, as the fact is mentioned in this book.

The games. Still unable to get the game dates problem sorted! They are from 1820.

The Oxford Encyclopedia of Chess  Games gives 3 games from around the same time against Mouret who operated the automaton. Brand is named directly, and the source is given as the Bodlian archives. I haven't been able to find any further details.

At some point Brand seems to have  played a series of games with John Cochrane

in order to test out a line of the Salvio Gambit now named 'The Cochrane Gambit'

Page 3 of The Philidorian gives this.Assuming this to be correct, then the following games are probably 'Brand - Cochrane. Date unknown.

As one of the leading players of the London Club, Brand was involved - see also the Edge story above - in one of he most famous chess events of the time.

From The Morning Post, May 6th, 1824

The games of the match were eventually published by William Lewis - the title page and introduction  from the U.S. edition.

The second game was decisive in the match. London blundered on move 27, and tried to retrieve the letter from the post office, which wouldn't hand it over. They send a letter of retraction to the Edinburgh committee , who refused to allow them to change the move.

I have also found one problem by Brand - published in Lewis' collection in 1833.

Things ended rather sadly for John Brand - although his financial circumstances meant that things were not as bad as they may otherwise have been.

Townsend - pages 67-75 goes into detail regarding his private affairs, and his appearance before 'The Lunacy Commission'. To quote from page 67-68.  'A writ de lunatico inquirendo , bearing date of 11 August 1830, was issued under the authority of William IV'.......whether John Brand'' is a lunatic or enjoys lucid intervals so that he is not sufficient for the Government of himself his manor messuages lands tenements goods and chattels and if so from what time after what manner and how'' - reference National Archives C211/3 (no.284)
The case received significant coverage in the press of the time, from which I will give just the announcement of the verdict - from The South Eastern Gazette, September 7th, 1830, ( I don't want to push my luck with image rights, etc, even for non-profit use, and having paid for access to the files!!) along with the recommendation to those interested in the full story to buy the Townsend book!!