The Northumberland Chess Association was founded in 1930, and is thus one of the youngest members of the NCCU. Chess in the county has of course a much longer history. Newcastle Chess Club was founded in the early 1840’s – dates are a little hazy – and was for many decades the focus of chess activity, albeit with many changes of name and premises. The formation of the County Association was triggered by the success of our neighbours, Durham, in fielding a county team in NCCU matches containing many Northumberland players. A group of players felt that Northumberland should stand on its own feet within the NCCU, although for some years afterwards, a combined Durham & Northumberland team was maintained.

To inaugurate the Association, its first President, Louis Zollner, the Danish Consul, presented a magnificent trophy – a solid silver Viking – for the County Individual Championship. The photo below, which has recently surfaced from a book of newspaper cuttings, shows the presentation of the Trophy. The Trophy still exists and is currently valued at around £10,000.

Over the last few years, I have been compiling – rather slowly – a record of Northumberland Chess. Just when I think the task is approaching completion a new source of material emerges to shed new light on events and records erased by fire, flood, theft and inertia. I have found it fascinating reading over old records. A century ago the chessplaying public was based on the professional classes, intercounty matches were followed or even interrupted by formal dinners, at the conclusion of which there were speeches and a singsong (a musical soiree!). In the first 30 years of this century the “Newcastle Weekly Chronicle” sponsored a monthly problem solving competition, which received entries from all over the UK and abroad. The paper also sponsored a Handicap Knock-out competition which at its peak attracted upwards of 150 entries from Northumberland, Durham, Westmoreland, Cumberland and Yorkshire. How many games at odds are played today?

In terms of the NCCU County Championships, Northumberland’s team successes have been few. A win in 1948-49, followed by a double win 40 years on in 1989-90 for both the First and Second Team. On the latter occasion, the NCCU Championship Trophy was almost mistaken for an IRA bomb and appropriately disposed of, after our team captain left it beside a bus-stop, after assisting a blind player!

Written by John Wheeler

Northumberland News

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