Prior to 1841 there were no chess organisations beyond the level of local clubs, specifically no county or national organisations. In 1840 the idea of a chess ‘carnival’ which would draw together players from various clubs, players who otherwise would probably not meet over the chess board, was mooted. This came to fruition in Leeds on 18th January 1841 when the success of the event was capped by the formation of the YORKSHIRE CHESS ASSOCIATION in order to make such things a regular event.
The first meeting after the YCA’s inauguration in Leeds was in November 1841 in Wakefield, and thereafter meetings were held annually: 1842 in Halifax, 1843 in Huddersfield, 1844 in Nottingham (in response to an invitation from that town), 1845 in Leeds, 1846 in Wakefield, 1847 in Hull and 1848 also in Hull. The invitation to the YCA to venture outside Yorkshire for its 1844 meeting suggests interest in such an organisation elsewhere in the country might have been developing. That the Yorkshire players were prepared to travel to Nottingham foreshadowed the subsequent expansion of the association.
These annual meetings were in a sense the forerunners of modern weekend congresses, as they involved mainly individual competitions. Often there was also a team match between, say, the host town and a visiting team. One or two nationally or internationally prominent chess masters would be in attendance, and proceedings would culminate in a dinner with speeches and toasts.
No meetings were held from 1849 to 1851, but in 1852 the YCA met again in Hull and decided to expand geographically under the new name NORTHERN AND MIDLAND COUNTIES CHESS ASSOCIATION embracing clubs from Newcastle-upon-Tyne to Birmingham. The N&MCCA met in 1853 in Manchester.
After meetings in Liverpool in 1854 and Leamington in 1855 the N&MCCA met in 1857 back in Manchester. Here the decision was made to make the organisation into a national one under the somewhat bald title of the CHESS ASSOCIATION. At first this national body held meetings roughly annually: 1858 in Birmingham, 1860 in Cambridge and 1861 in Bristol. In common parlance the word ‘British’ came to be added at the start of the CA’s name, so the 1861 meeting decided formally to adopt the commonly used title of BRITISH CHESS ASSOCIATION.
This final change of name was attended by what for many was a far more significant change, as henceforth meetings were held almost solely in London: 1862 and 1866 both in London, 1867 in Dundee (at the invitation of Dundee Chess Club), 1868/9, 1870 and 1872 all in London. This neglect of the ‘provinces’ continued when meetings resumed after a period of inactivity, as the 1885, 1886 and 1887 meetings were all in London. The policy of using venues outside London in alternate years was briefly adopted before the demise of the BCA: Bradford in 1888, London in 1889, Manchester in 1890, and London again in 1891.
The WEST YORKSHIRE CHESS ASSOCIATION and the YORKSHIRE COUNTY CHESS CLUB
The formation in 1852 of the Northern and Midland Counties Chess Association from the first Yorkshire Chess Association had deprived the founding Yorkshire clubs of their own local association so it is not surprising that in April 1856 a replacement organisation was formed, but under a different name – the WEST YORKSHIRE CHESS ASSOCIATION. The limitation to the West Riding of Yorkshire, stretching from Leeds and Bradford in the north to Sheffield in the south, was perhaps partly a pragmatic reflection of the relative difficulty of travel to other parts of the county.
The WYCA met annually throughout the ebb and flow of chess activity in the rest of the country. When the need arose it assumed the role of a county organisation, as for instance when it organised Yorkshire’s team in the first ever county match, when on 20th May 1871 Yorkshire met Lancashire over a nominal twenty boards in Bradford. In this match some games were left unfinished without adjudication while some of the games were never started, but five were won by Yorkshire, four were won by Lancashire and two were drawn.
In the season 1884-85 the first of a series of competitions between teams representing member clubs was held. Alderman Edwin Woodhouse, a former Mayor of Leeds, had offered to put forward a silver cup to be held for one year by the winners. Five clubs entered: Bradford, Dewsbury, Huddersfield, Leeds and Wakefield. In the event both Dewsbury and Huddersfield withdrew leaving three clubs in contention. Bradford beat both Leeds and Wakefield and so became first holders of the Woodhouse Cup, which trophy is still in contention today.
There was a school of thought that there ought to be a chess organisation embracing the whole of Yorkshire. This proved a contentious issue, but the WYCA officers called a meeting of clubs in 1885 and the YORKSHIRE COUNTY CHESS CLUB was thus formed. There was doubt in some peoples’ minds as to whether the WYCA and YCCC were both needed, as they involved essentially the same clubs and drew their officers from the same pool of players, shared common aims and were not in opposition to each other. However, for ten years the two bodies existed side by side.
The first competition for the Woodhouse Cup had not been too successful as regards the number of entries. Accordingly, with the permission of the donor, the 1885 annual meeting decided to open up the competition for the Woodhouse Cup to all clubs in Yorkshire, thus providing a practical focus for a single countywide organisation. Also a competition for clubs too weak for the Woodhouse was introduced since the Bradford Observer had offered a cup for this purpose. The first listed Yorkshire individual championship was that of 1888.
The 2nd YORKSHIRE CHESS ASSOCIATION becomes the COUNTIES CHESS ASSOCIATION
In October 1865 a modest tournament took place in Redcar in the North Riding of Yorkshire. It was decided to form the NORTH YORKSHIRE AND DURHAM CHESS ASSOCIATION and to make the tournament an annual event. Accordingly the NY&DCA met once again in Redcar in 1866, then in York in both 1867 and 1868. At the latter meeting the title YORKSHIRE CHESS ASSOCIATION was adopted. Its officials were invited to the next WYCA meeting where they were advised that the WYCA felt this assumption of a county title to be inappropriate in view of the seniority and activities of the WYCA. This second YCA was short lived since when it met again in York in 1869 it changed its name to the COUNTIES CHESS ASSOCIATION, probably more because of the ambition of its officials than the disquiet expressed by the WYCA! The CCA counted its date of formation as 1865.
The NY&DCA’s founders aimed to cater for the ‘provincial’ player whereas the BCA deferred more to the top players who gravitated, of necessity if they were to meet their peers, towards London. Thus while the BCA met usually in London, the CCA held meetings at various venues around the country: 1870 in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1871 and 1872 in Malvern, 1873 in Clifton, and 1874 in Birmingham. After 1892 both the BCA and CCA ceased functioning.
The third and current YORKSHIRE CHESS ASSOCIATION
In 1896, forty years after the formation of the WYCA and fifty-five years after the formation of the first YCA, the WYCA and the YCCC merged to form the present YORKSHIRE CHESS ASSOCIATION, which inherited the functions and trophies of those two bodies.
The major activity of the YCA, in terms of volume of games played, has always been its team competitions with the Edwin Woodhouse Challenge Cup competition as the premier event. Second teams of Woodhouse clubs were admitted to the minor club competition for the Yorkshire Daily Observer trophy, but this became a problem when from 1909 to 1914 it was won each year by a second team, thus excluding from the honours the ‘minor’ clubs for whom it had been instituted. This was remedied by the introduction in 1914 of a competition for second teams of Woodhouse Cup clubs, for a shield donated by I.M.Brown of Bradford.
In 1913 Leeds won the Woodhouse Cup outright by winning it a third successive time. Fortunately Alderman Woodhouse was good enough to donate a replacement silver trophy of equal size. This second Woodhouse Cup was won outright in 1926 by Sheffield who had won in three successive seasons. On this occasion the day was saved by Leeds who donated back the original cup for competition in perpetuity. The second cup is still in the possession of Sheffield.
The three events – Woodhouse, I.M.Brown and Yorkshire Daily Observer – continued alongside for a while, but entries to the Yorkshire Daily Observer competition for minor clubs in time dwindled to just one team for the 1929-30 season, and from then on the trophy was not contested and was lost. However, from 1959-60 the Woodhouse and I.M.Brown competitions, whose matches were played on separate Saturdays, were supplemented by an I.M.Brown “B” competition with matches on Woodhouse days. For 1960-61 onwards the name Silver Rook Competition was adopted.
Hitherto there had been no promotion and relegation between these competitions, but during the 1970’s the three were made into a ‘league’ structure with promotion and relegation between divisions. In 1978 a fourth division completed the present structure. A.G.Sunderland of Leeds donated a cup for the new division
In yesteryear it was common for trophies to be won outright by a contestant winning it for a second or third time. The first listed Yorkshire individual championship was won by C.G.Bennett in 1888 but the trophy was won outright by James Raynor of Leeds who won the next two years’ competitions. The current individual trophy was introduced for 1923-24. Similarly the Bradford Observer Trophy was won outright by Dewsbury who won it a third time in 1890, but luckily the Yorkshire Daily Observer Challenge Trophy was donated in its stead in time for the following season. The similar fate of the Woodhouse Cup is described above.
Yorkshire and the awakening of The NORTH as a Single Entity
The idea of a North versus South chess match was cherished by both Isaac McIntyre Brown, secretary of the Yorkshire County Chess Club, and Joseph B. Reyner, president of Manchester Chess Club. A challenge was issued and a meeting of Southern players was called on September 3rd 1892 to consider the challenge from the North as well as the formation of a Southern Counties Chess Union. Both items were approved.
The North versus South match over a hundred boards with six reserves on each side was arranged, and took place on January 27th (or 28th) 1893, at Birmingham. The score over the hundred boards was 50-50, but adding in the games between the reserves resulted in the smallest possible victory, 53½-52½, in favour of the South. A return match was played over a hundred and eight boards on April 7th 1894, at the Portman Rooms, London where the South increased its winning margin to 64½-43½.
After the London match the Northern players gathered at the St. Pancras Hotel where I. M. Brown, the North’s main organiser in both matches, suggested the formation of a Northern Counties Chess Union. A resolution that such an organisation was desirable was passed, but there was no immediate progress, partly because Lancashire, as yet lacked a county organisation.
Isaac McIntyre Brown , b. Leeds 13 Aug 1858;
Captain of The North in the North versus South matches;
1st Secretary of NCCU, at which time also Secretary of Yorkshire CA;
Editor British Chess Magazine 1894-1919.
Yorkshire Chess Association in 1999
The depth of chess playing in Yorkshire approaching the Millennium is readily witnessed by the fact that not only is there the strong Yorkshire league which dominates weekends during the chess season, but also eleven local leagues: Bradford, Calderdale, Doncaster, Harrogate, Huddersfield, Hull, Humber, Leeds, Sheffield, Sheffield Works and York.
No one congress dominates the scene in Yorkshire, although York has the greatest number of players. Other major congresses take place at Sheffield, Hull, Scarborough, Doncaster, Bradford and Calderdale. Besides the British Rapidplay taking place at Leeds, Yorkshire is also well-served by other strong rapidplays, of which the strongest are Sheffield and Hull.
Juniors are catered for throughout Yorkshire by junior clubs (Hebden Bridge, Hull, Sheffield, Rotherham and Wakefield) and school leagues ( Bradford, Harrogate, Leeds and Wakefield).
Yorkshire clinched their first NCCU Open Counties Championship this year since 1991, and compounded their success by winning the U175 title as well, a winning double last achieved in 1985. The County appears well set to consolidate its position as one of the leading counties within the NCCU.