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A Shaft of Light on DCCA’s Early History.

Out of the blue, this week, shone a shaft of light on the earliest history of the Devon County Chess Association. It came in the shape of an innocent enquiry from Howard Stead from York, who was sorting out his late father’s belongings when he came across a very nice, boxed Jaques chess set, and was curious as to its origins.

The box

 

The tell-tale label

 

As can be seen, the label gives away most of the story, but perhaps some context is required…

In the beginning, the Devon County Chess Association was founded on September 24th 1901, in a blaze of publicity and enthusiasm, in an effort to formalise and foster inter-club chess throughout the county. Its very first congress was a week-long affair held in Barnfield Hall, Exeter, starting on Monday April 21st. At this time the Association had 212 members belonging to 13 affiliated clubs. They make a strange-sounding list to our 21st century ears: Broadclyst, Dartmouth, Devonport YMCA, Exeter, Hatherleigh, Newton Abbot, Plymouth, Teignmouth, Tiverton YMCA, Torridge, Torquay, Totnes and Winkleigh.

The star attraction throughout the week was the American super-star, Harry Pillsbury, who put on a series of demonstrations of his mental powers; standard simultaneous displays, one match against 14 chessplayers and 5 draughts players, followed by demonstrations of “knights’ tours”.

There were two main sections for Devon players – the Championship Tourney and the Second Tourney. There were 16 entries in this lower section, namely, Miss Hunt and Miss M. Hunt (Barstaple); Miss Pigg (Exeter); Rev. G. P. Blomefield (Bickington); Major Rawlins (Bath); Major Sherwell (Honiton); A. Phillips (Appledore); J. Cottle Green (Exeter); Spencer Cox (Honiton); G. F. Pollard (Totnes); G. W. Cutler (Exeter); H. Taylor (Exeter); F. J. Backhouse (Taunton); L. Illingworth; H. E. Bell and W. H. Gundry (both Exeter).

As we can see, Pollard won the section, dropping only a point in the process, half a point ahead of Illingworth.

George Frederick Pollard was born in 1879 to Frederick (33) and Katherine (25) nee Haig, an Edinburgh Scot. At that time they lived at 1, Richmond Terrace, Everton, and George was christened at St. Saviour’s Church, Everton. His father had been born in Taunton and was listed as a physician. By 1881, the family had moved to 52, Rodney St, Liverpool. The 1901 Census records that the family had moved to 21, St. Nicholas Rd, Streathan in London where the father listed as a “medical practitioner”. But George was not with them as by this time he had qualified as a teacher, and had moved to a hostel attached to Totnes Grammar School, at 36 Fore Street. The housemaster was Charles Rea (37) and George Pollard was his assistant, looking after a collection of 14 & 15 year old boarders.

After this, he rather falls off the radar. There is no evidence that he ever married. There is a death of a George Frederick Pollard recorded in Rotherham in March in 1965 aged 84. It would be easy to conclude that this was our George, but there was another person with the same name and age, but that one was a coal miner and married with several children. I can’t tell which one this death refers to.

Mr. Stead didn’t know his father owned this set or how he came by it. There were both arm chair players, playing en famille but not belonging to any club. So how the set came to end up in York may remain a mystery for some time yet. More work necessary.

Peter Hugh Clarke (1933 – 2014) Obituary now complete.

The noted chess player, organiser and author of chess books, Peter Clarke, died on 11th December in hospital after a long illness, bravely borne. He was 81.

This obituary has been put together from several sources, notably, Keith Jones, Geoff Martin, close family members and my own archives and on-line resources. It will continue to expand as new material comes to hand.

Peter was an only child, born on 18th March 1933 to  Olive Gertrude (nee Ekblom) and Hugh Clarke, who had married the previous year. Olive was of Swedish stock while Hugh’s father was William Ferrier Clarke, born in Linlithgow, near the Firth of Forth opposite Dunfermline. But Hugh and Olive’s roots were firmly in London’s East End, Plaistow, West Ham.

Peter with his father in 1935

He was taught to play chess at the age of 6 by his father, and won the London Boys’ Championship in 1950 and 1951, and the SCCU Boys’ Championship in 1950. At this time he was also playing in the Ilford Congress and playing Correspondence chess for Essex, a form of chess in which he would eventually gain the Grandmaster title. In 1953, now aged 20, he was runner-up to Dr. Fazekas in the Essex Championship, was playing Bd. 2 in the Essex Correspondence team. In the Ilford Congress he was 2nd to P. J. Oakley in the Premier Reserves, where the top section comprised Alexander, Hooper, Wade, Fazekas and Alan Philips, all except Hooper to become British Champions. This was his first appearance at the British Championship at Hastings where he came 18th= on 5/11 points, behind Yanovsky. Perhaps more impressive was leading his Ilford team on Bd. 1 to the National Club Championship that year.

He attended the university on his doorstep, Queen Mary College, in the Mile End Road, where he read for a BSc. Part of London University its alumni include such diverse figures as W. G. Grace, Sir Roy Strong and Lord Robert Winston. But the call for a career in science was nowhere as strong as his love of chess, and that is the road he chose to go down. But first, National Service could not be avoided. He spent part of this 2 year interude  in Bodmin in the Intelligence Corps, training as a Russian linguist and translator, and at the Joint Services School for Linguists. This re-ignited his love for north Cornwall, as he had frequently spent holidays there as a child with his parents.

By 1959 he was a regular writer for the British Chess Magazine, reporting at length on prestigious events and analysing games and openings. He and his great friend, Jonathan Penrose, were the two highest graded players in the UK, the only two in the 1b category. He played in 8 Olympiads between 1954 and 1968, and his and England’s record for those years was as follows:- to have lost only 15 of 96 games played at this level is remarkable.

  Yr venue Pos p w d l %
1 1954 Amsterdam  9th / 26 7 2 2 3 43
2 1956 Moscow  8th / 34 12 7 5 0 80
3 1958 Munich 11th / 36 15 2 10 3 47
4 1960 Leipzig 12th / 40 14 4 7 3 54
5 1962 Varna 14th / 37 15 3 10 2 53
6 1964 Tel-Aviv 18th / 48 12 2 8 2 50
7 1966 Havana 21st / 52 13 2 10 1 54
8 1968 Lugano 16th / 54 8 0 7 1 44
      totals 96 22 59 15  

 

A little seen photo from the Munich Olympiad 1958 - Clarke vs Eliskases: game drawn.

He first came to prominence as a player at the Ilford Club, and while his best performace was at Moscow his playing summit was probably captaining the England team at the 1966 Olympiad in Havana. His record there tells us something of his strengths and weakness as a top player: Played 13: Won 2: Drawn 10: Lost 1. Hartston at the time felt “Clarke’s score on top board is creditable. He is often criticised for his drawish tendencies, but a solid score such as this is a fine achievement against such opposition. It is remarkably difficult to score wins without suffering losses as well, as Lee and Littlewood found to their cost!” It’s easy to forget that his performance at the board must have been affected by (a) playing 13 tiring games (b) being captain for all matches and (c) reporting at length and in great detail for BCM.

This solidity as a player helped him to a splendid record in the British Championship, without ever actually winning the ultimate title, having to be content with being, uniquely, runner-up five times. But he didn’t seem to mind this at all, as he was often edged out by his best friend, Jonathan Penrose. 

During the late 50’s / early 60s Peter had several times dated B. H. Wood’s daughter, Margaret, universally known as Peggy.  They married 6 months later at Holy Trinity Church, Sutton Coldfield, Jonathan Penrose being Peter’s Best Man.  

Peter & Peggy Clarke

It would be easy to think that his book-writing days took over as his playing activities decreased, but this was not the case – he was doing it all at the same time! His reputation as a writer came to equal, if not overtake, that of a player, with titles that were not only highly-regarded at the time of publication, but have stood the test of time.  His subjects included Tal (1961) and Petrosian (1964) two more different players one can cannot imagine. He translated and edited Smyslov’s Best Games (1958) and 100 Soviet Chess Miniatures (1963). First editions of these books published by Bell in their distinctive dustwrappers, can still take pride of place in anyone’s chess library. Another title he worked on was Foldeak’s Chess Olympiads (2nd enlarged ed. 1969).  Two interesting points here: (a) he seemed to hate dustwrappers on books and would quickly get rid of them if they were in any way slightly imperfect,  and (b) in spite of his facility in Russian, constantly translating it into English, none of his daughters ever heard him speak a word of Russian in the house.

After marriage and the birth of their first daughter, Salli, in 1966, he felt the urge to move to the westcountry, and they moved to a small house in Milton Dameral, where a second daughter, Penelope, was born. Peter started a chess club in the village which eventaully reached a membership of over 20, almost unheard of for such a small place.

They then moved to the village of Bush, near Stratton, where in 1977  their 3rd daughter, Susie, was born. He also became British Correspondence Champion that year. In 1979, he found his dream home, called Chapel House, in the hamlet of Shop near Morwenstow. Built c. 1800 it has the appearance of an expansive rectory, with large high-ceilinged rooms. The adjacent farm buildings are Grade II listed. In his 1855 novel Westward Ho! Charles Kingsley borrowed the name Chapel House, but applied it to another house in the story. 

In 1971 the world in general was agog at the prospect of the Fischer-Spassky match, and Britain in particular was on the brink of a chess explosion. An expression of this was the response to his first organised event, the 1st Barnstaple Congress. It had been put on by Clarke and a group of 5 local friends, who called themselves The Hexagon. There were 70 entries, all lumped together in one large Swiss, 22 of whom were graded between 180 – 226. Grandees like Golombek and Wood were joined by young Turks like Botterill, Bellin, Gerald Bennett and Danny Wright. In the event it was won by an almost unknown local schoolboy, Peter Waters, who played none of the above, except Golombek. The following year the entry rocketed to 164, and its continuing success was assured. The Hexagon functioned as a group for about 10 years until Peter suffered a cerebral haemmorrhage in 1983, forcing him to give up such intensive activity. 

For a time, he ran bookstalls at local congresses, notably Paignton, Exeter and Frome and was happy to chat to grassroots players. He found that postal chess was better suited to a slower life-style and he competed at the highest level, winning the Grandmaster title for postal chess, as did his friend, Jonathan Penrose.

After his stroke he had more time for his other interests. Sports he followed included golf, cycling, F1, tennis, darts, snooker, athletics et. al. He collected books, not only on chess, but on his other interests including science, astronomy and philosophy.  His study had floor-to-ceiling shelves on all free walls, all stacked with books.

1996: Peter is playing his old friend and adversary, Dr. Jonathan Penrose in his study at Chapel House. The board is the one presented to him by Fidel Castro at the end of the Havana Olympiad - each team captain received one. Photo courtesy of Keith Jones. Peter's long-time unofficial chauffeur.

He was the most modest of men, with no discernible vanities or conceits, and a most hospitable host when entertaining visitors to his vast collection of chess  books. 

He leaves his wife, Peggy, 3 daughters and 8 grandchildren: Isaac, Reuben, George, Madelaine, Heidi, Gemima, Grace and Frank.

The funeral took place in Poughill Cemetery, near Bude, and was attended by a good number of relatives, local friends and chess acquaintances.

The secular ceremony was led by the Celebrant, Alison Timms. Firstly his mother’s ashes were interred, followed by Peter’s coffin.

Then five of the grandchildren each read out a verse from Peter’s favourite poem, that he had had read to him by his father. Its philosophy is sometimes summarised by the saying “Eat, Drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die”, but there is also an element of the Latin maxim Carpe diem – sieze the day, and in this repect that is exactly what Peter did.

The position of the grave site, overlooking St. Olaf's

Alison Timms leads the graveside ceremony, with Peggy seated, with stick & blanket.

The grandchildren circulated with small baskets containing sprigs of rosemary and flower petals, and those present were invited to drop them onto the coffin.

 

There were a number of written tributes, some read out at the gathering at Morwenstow, other sent later.

The following was sent by Peter’s great friend, Dr. Jonathan Penrose, who was unable to attend due to transport problems, and is probably the one that deserves most attention, as it reveals his own personal slant on Peter’s career. Perhaps the last word should go to him…

In Memoriam: Peter Hugh Clarke 1933 –  2014:  

Peter Clarke was a very good friend of mine for over 60 years. Amazingly, over that long period of time I cannot recall a single cross word between us. We first met in the early 1950s as members of the same chess teams, particularly the Essex county team, but also the London University team for a short period of time. 

In those days (the early to mid 1950s) there seemed to be a comparative paucity of ambitious young chess players in England, so it was our good fortune that we were often selected to play for England in the prestigious chess Olympiads, played in different countries every two years. It was a wonderful experience for both of us. 

I think it was the Olympiad held in Moscow in 1956 which stood out as Peter’s most successful tournament of this kind. The English team reached 8th place overall at the end, a fine performance for its time. Peter’s contribution was a magnificent 79% (scoring 7 wins, 5 draws and no losses). 

The other members of the team including myself thought that the standard of Peter’s play had progressed very well, and that future selection of Peter’s place on the English team was likely to be assured for many years to come.  

In retrospect, it would become clear that Peter’s standard of play had just about reached its peak at this time, and that he performed well back in England in tournaments in 1957 and 1958.  

I was personally impressed by a game he played and won against Alexander in the 1957 British Championship. Hugh Alexander was widely regarded as England’s strongest chess player since the end of the Second World War, and this game was somehow symbolic that a younger generation of players might be beginning to supersede the older ones.  

However, at about this time, Peter also started to display a budding talent for writing books on chess, and eventually wrote some classic works in the genre. This was fine, but I felt that in so doing, he might have made himself less prepared to play chess as aggressively as he had done formerly. As a result, he tended to become more “drawish” in his play, and therefore began to relinquish the chance to win a big chess tournament.  

In later years, Peter began to show a great interest in solving chess problems. This is an area of chess where the supreme subtleties of the game can best be explored. Peter was a good solver and played in a few problem solving competitions, I believe just for fun. 

On personal visits to Chapel House over the years, I remember the great pleasure of discussing with Peter the beauty of some modern and classical chess problems – and such memories in turn will remind me of how much I will miss him in the future. 

Jonathan Penrose