A key player in the early development of chess clubs in South Wales was Christopher Rice Mansell Talbot, F.R.S. (b. 10th May, 1803; d. 17th. January, 1890). Chess player, pioneering photographer, landowner, industrialist, Liberal politician and Father of the House of Commons: he was the Member of Parliament for Glamorganshire for nearly sixty years. He inherited immense wealth from the Margam Estates, and invested shrewdly in Great Western Railway stocks. By 1850, daily London newspapers were reaching the Newport Town Hall Subscribers' Reading Room, travelling via Cheltenham, Gloucester and Lydney. During this period, chess was played almost exclusively amongst the clergy and the gentry. There was a distinct class divide up until the First World War, with the Newport Street Directories giving a separate list for the clergy and gentry.
The world’s first International Chess Tournament was planned in London for the year 1851, to be held in conjunction with the Great Industrial Exhibition. Howard Staunton was the main organiser, but C.R.M. Talbot was also on the committee, as a founder member of the exclusive St. George’s Chess Club, which met at 3 Cavendish Square. Such was Talbot’s enthusiasm for the game that he purchased a town house in Cavendish Square. On the organising committee with Talbot were Howard Staunton, Captain Kennedy, Marmaduke Wyvil, M.P., J. Milnes Gaskell, M.P., William Lewis, etc. – a very distinguished group of gentlemen. Talbot described himself as representing the “Chess players of South Wales”. As a subscriber, he volunteered a subscription of £25. Only the Calcutta Chess Club volunteered a higher subscription. With daily reports on the 1851 Tournament reaching the Old Newport Town Hall Subscribers' Reading Room, there was great excitement amongst the chess players. Howard Staunton’s Chess Players Chronicle was delivered to the Reading Room, and members could analyse the games. Imagine the excitement when they analysed this game:
White: Adolf Anderssen
Black: Lionel Kierseritzky
Chess continued to be played casually, until early 1855, when it was decided to Constitute Rules for the Newport and County Chess Club. Charles Lyne was a solicitor with an office at Bank Chambers in the town, and he is very likely to have drafted the Constitution. They may have had plans to play the Bristol and Clifton Club, which was founded around 1839. No records survived from the Old Town Hall, but we have a report in the Monmouthshire Merlin, for 2nd March 1855:
"A Chess Club has been formed at the Commercial Reading Rooms, which from the large number of gentlemen who are partial to the noble game, bids fair to prove a source of gratification and amusement during the Winter hours".
The club Rules were officially Constituted, and that Constitution is with us to this day, but with some necessary amendments for the 21st century.
Colonel Charles Lyne, J.P. was duly elected President, and he became Mayor of the town in the following year, 1856. Two Vice-Presidents were elected, Mr Salter and Mr May. Mr Salter had offices in Clarence Place, and was a Land Assessor for the Inland Revenue. Mr Will was elected honorary secretary and treasurer, and this dual office continued until the death of J.W.F. Greenleaf in 1954. The club met at the Town Hall from 6pm, three nights each week, usually Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. This custom continued to within my lifetime, until the late 1960’s, when the club moved from the Y.M.C.A. to the Dolman Theatre. Today, the old Y.M.C.A. building is in use as the Wetherspoons' “Tom Toya Lewis” public house.
The Monmouthshire Merlin report continued,
"A committee of six gentlemen was appointed to manage the affairs of the society. 25 gentlemen enrolled their names."
The emphasis was on "gentlemen". It was a gentlemen’s club, and the names of any new prospective members had to be seconded by an existing member. Any member of the six man committee could "blackball" a prospective member. By the mid-1890’s, the chess club was the most exclusive society in Newport. You only have to look at the list of Vice-Presidents for that period, which looked like they were taken from Debrett’s “Who's Who”, in Monmouthshire. I have traced another early member, by the name of William Conway, whose obituary appeared in the British Chess Magazine for 1891:
"The South Wales Press has done full justice to the memory of William Conway, of Ponthir, Monmouthshire, but as an old and strong player, he deserves at least passing notice in these pages. Public Work of which he took upon himself a large share, occupied all his time of late years; but there are many players still with us who remember in him one of their strongest but withal most amiable antagonists. Besides holding several church and political Offices, he was a member of many Local Boards, and Provisional Chairman of Monmouthshire County Council. He died on the 5th. February, 1891, aged 71 years."
This obituary was almost certainly written by John Moses, Mayor of Newport in 1877, and the only Mayor to play on top board for our club. William Conway was born in 1820, and was a Druggist based in Pontypool during his early years. He later purchased a Tin-Plate Works in Ponthir, with his brother. John Moses was born in 1829, ten years before the Chartist Riots. He was one of the early members, and eventually became the Club President. Another early member was John Gall, Club Secretary in the 1870’s, and 1880’s. I have other names from the 1880’s, but can only speculate as to whether they were members in the 1850’s and 1860’s. The Newport Solicitor George Frances Colborne was a member from at least 1884, until his last appearance at the club in 1945. The Newport Problemist Alonzo Townsend published in the Huddersfield College Magazine in the 1870’s, and the early editions of the British Chess Magazine during the 1880’s. His problems were also published in the Illustrated London News. The 1881 BCM mentions the Isca Chess Club, which met at the "Ship and Pilot" public house in Pillgwenlly. This public house was popular with Ships Officers. Alonzo Townsend is shown as President, with Joseph Williams as honorary secretary. Blands Chess Club directory also mentions the Isca club in 1882. They claimed to have twenty-five members. Townsend was a member of the gentry, living at Caerau, but Joseph Williams lived in Railway Street, and would not have belonged to the gentry, which indicates a possible split from the Newport Club. John Moses was probably the most illustrious club member, only the second citizen to be honoured with the Freedom of the Town. He was a ships broker, owned steamships, was an iron-ore merchant, and a senior Alderman, and prominent member of the Baptist Church in Commercial Street. He died on 29th December 1915, aged eighty-seven years. His funeral service took place on January 8th 1916. Amongst the mourners, I was surprised to see the name of Ivor Llewellyn Phillips, who now stands as a life member of the club. His father, Edward Phillips, J.P. was a member of the gentry, who lived at Friars Cottage, Waterloo Road. In 1916, Ivor moved to a splendid new home in Edward VII Avenue, and probably married that year. In the late 1950’s I called to Ivor’s home in Waterloo Road (he returned to his parents' home in late life). As a teenager, Ivor would take me to away matches in his car. One can only speculate, but it is likely that Ivor’s father took him to the Newport Club in his youth. To think that Ivor knew John Moses, and many of the other old members. He would have played at the Newport Town Hall, he could have told me so many tales of the old Newport Chess Club.
I conclude with a game played by C.R.M. Talbot in his youth. His enthusiasm for the game helped indirectly to establish the Newport Club in 1855, and many other clubs throughout South Wales. Published in the British Chess Magazine shortly after his death, the game is taken from Howard Staunton’s Chess Players Chronicle, published in 1843. The notes are by the Reverend William Wayte, a contributing editor to the B.C.M. This is coffee house chess, but it does give you an idea of his style of play. Staunton had an irritating habit of giving anonymity to prominent losers.
St. Georges Club, 1843
Black: C.R.M. Talbot, M.P.
|9.||Bf7+||KQ8 (b)||18.||Nc3||Rg8 0 – 1|
(a) 6…, h6 or 6…, g4 are more usual; but we have always thought the text move worth trying for a change, especially by an attacking player.
(b) With excellent judgement, black escapes a snare into which even the great Labourdonnais fell (game 42 of the series with MacDonnell). After 9…, Kf8 10. Bg8 Rg8 11. Bf4 Qg6! 12. Rf1 with strong attack.
(c) And now white is in too great a hurry to recover his piece – castling would have been more prudent, and occurs if we remember right, in a game of Rosenthal’s.
(d) His only move to avoid immediate mate.
(e) If 13. Bd5 then Bd4+ and winning.