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As we celebrate the bi-centenary of the birth of Charles Darwin, writer of the seminal work “On The Origin Of Species”, it may be a good moment to reflect on the evolution of chess clubs. Like all organisms, they evolve through the years, some thriving while others become extinct. It is many years, for example, since places like Winkleigh and Dawlish had their own clubs. Exeter is a prime example; at the start of the 20th century there were clubs at the Wyvern Barracks Officers’ Mess, the Emmanuel Institute, Sidwell YMCA and the Constitutional Club. Half a century later these had gone, to be succeeded by Exeter School, the Civil Service, St. Loye’s and St. Luke’s Colleges. Fifty more years on the last three of these have vanished, to be replaced by the Met. Office and Isca Juniors.

The oldest club in the South West was Penzance, founded in 1848. In recent years it changed its name to Penwith, and now even this is not listed in the current ECF Yearbook.

The latest casualty is Totnes. It was one of the founding members of the DCCA in 1901 and had played a significant role in Devon chess in the early years of the century, but disbanding in 1926. Before that, members had included J. E. D. Moysey, once described by Mieses as one of the foremost English amateurs, Dr. Allingham, several times Devon Champion and the wonderfully-named J. Darley Dingle, Devon match captain, who died in 1924 while still in that office. Quite why the Totnes club had folded is not clear, as at the time it was Devon’s fourth largest club after Plymouth, Exeter and Torquay.

It was reformed in September 1951 by J. E. ‘Eddy’ Jones, shortly after he became Latin master at the Grammar School, retrieving the old club’s equipment and trophies that had languished for over a quarter century in the vaults of a local bank.

By way of contrast, the neighbouring club of Newton Abbot, that was recently revived by Trefor Thynne, is going from strength to strength, so the last four members of Totnes don’t have far to go.

Extinction for chess clubs, unlike the dinosaurs, is not irrevocable. Often, the key factor is the existence, or lack of, a single key person to breathe life into the corpse.

Last week’s problem was solved by 1.Rg7, not a threat in itself but any Black move will permit a mate.

This position, by Devonian H. Maxwell Prideaux (1857-1925), was taken from a book I recently acquired entitled 777 Chess Miniatures in Three, privately published by E. Wallis in 1908. In the front was a bookplate featuring an elaborate coat of arms above the name Dermot Macgregor Morrah. A little research revealed his dates were 1896–1974 and he was the Arundel Herald of Arms Extraordinary, who wrote books and articles on the Royal family and officiated at the Coronation. A miniature is a problem containing 7 pieces or less. Anyway, White to play and mate in 3 moves.

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