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.
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.