History

A brief history of the chess club, published on the occasion of the Bristol League’s centenary in 2007. Compiled and written by Howard Milbank.

During the Second World War, a number of air-raid wardens in Horfield discovered that they had another interest in common – chess! At first, meetings were held at the home of a Mr. Hill, at 83 Radnor Road, but by the end of the war membership had grown to over 30 and the club moved to the Friends Meeting House in Gloucester Road.

For 15 years or so the club successfully maintained 3 teams and won the League Championship on at least 4 occasions. The outstanding player at Horfield during this period was Mr. Chapman, whilst the running of the club was largely taken care of by the tireless Mr. and Mrs. Dewfall. It is to commemorate their efforts that the trophy for our club championship is so inscribed.

By the mid nineteen fifties Jim Draisey, easily our most long-standing member, was making his mark. He won the newly established Bristol Individual K.O. Tournament twice at that time, and in the same period beat Smyslov (Jim s junior by 3 days) when the World Champion gave a simul in Bristol. Jim was over-the-board and correspondence captains of Gloucestershire for many years – in an era when the county team travelled together by motor coach to away matches.

No account of Horfield Chess Club in the sixties and seventies could exclude mention of club secretary John Webb. He was an extraordinary character, seemingly never so happy as when there was something to complain about. He had an unshakeable distrust of the League Management Committee, based in part upon the admission of such ‘alien’ clubs as Thornbury and Keynsham to the Bristol League. He got very irate about the travelling that this incurred. On the other hand, John was the soul of reliability. Week after week, year after year, he opened up the premises at 300 Gloucester Road. At this time most Horfield players addressed one another as Mister and jackets and ties were normal club attire. John (a chess bachelor I hardly need add) favoured an old, dark suit with nominally white shirt plus tie. It was certainly always the same suit and tie, and the shirt too had a suspiciously unvarying, well-worn appearance.

In 1980, harassment by an unpleasant landlady who had her eye on the clubroom being converted into a flat for herself, and whose most disconcerting trick was to flick the lights off and on just after 10 p.m., precipitated a move to the Montpelier Hotel. This was combined with amalgamation to the recently formed Montpelier Chess Club -bringing an influx of strong players to the A team and an immediate return to Division 1. Alex Easton, one of our top players ever since, won the Bristol Individual K.O. in the same year.

The club s stay in Montpelier was short-lived. After only one season a new landlord hoisted the rent to an impossible level and, in time pressure, we were fortunate to be offered the use of an upstairs room at 8 Maurice Road, overlooking St Andrews Park and owned by some friends of Alan Williams. We played on home-made trestle tables and sat on folding canvas chairs. The rent comprised a bottle of wine per week.

By the following (1982) season we had been able to locate more spacious, even grand accommodation at 31, Redland Grove. Play was conducted beneath a huge cut-glass chandelier in a room that was used at other times for dancing classes. Occasionally a dignified, white haired, old gentleman would arrive by taxi for a casual game or two. He turned out to be the father of rock star Mark Knoffler.

Sadly, our tenure was to last only two full seasons and for the third time in five years we found ourselves examining upstairs rooms in pubs, community halls and church annexes for a suitable new home. The search brought us, in the autumn of 1984, to the convenient two room suite adjacent to Redland Park Church which we have enjoyed ever since. The short-lived Horfield and Montpelier Chess Club now became Horfield and Redland C.C.

On Tuesday December 1st 1992 the club exactly celebrated its 50th anniversary by taking on Bristol s only home grown grandmaster: Stuart Conquest. (Although obviously not in the best of health, the GM lost only to Phil Nendick and conceded 4 draws in a five hour marathon over 29 boards.)

The passing of our next decade was marked by another masterly demonstration, this time by local champion Chris Beaumont. Playing under blindfold conditions and with occasional noisy interruptions from elsewhere in the building, he (as I now recall) cheerfully saw off a dozen opponents.

During the past twenty five years all three of the club s teams have performed well but we made our biggest impression at the turn of the century, winning the League K.O. in 1998 and 2000 and the Championship in 1999 and 2001. Nick Jakubovics was top board at that time (giving way to David Moskovich occasionally) and he was backed up by those great Horfield warriors, Messrs Dilleigh and Easton.

Horfield members have continued to contribute to the operation of the League, most notably John Richards (who also did so much for the Bristol 4NCL team) and Alan Williams. And that reminds me of Ivor Apsey, A team captain when I joined the club in the early seventies. He had done sterling work on the League Management Committee in preceding years. He was also an ingenious mechanic. In an attempt to boost post-war circulation, the Evening Post gave away clocks to new subscribers. Ivor acquired two of these and constructed a unique chess clock in a fine wooden case. Many years later after Ivor s death we traded this heirloom for eight East German Garde clocks which were offered to us by the (then) Hannoverian historian and chess enthusiast, Frank Palm.

It must be added that the club has also declined in some important respects over the past quarter century. Our membership has reduced, making the maintenance of three league teams (and the club s economic viability) more difficult. The days when the same six players turned out for virtually all of a team s matches are long past, and filling essential club offices has become next to impossible. Furthermore, club play is now a fading memory and the trophies for internal club tournaments haven t been inscribed for years. (We are also conscious that in only offering team chess in the higher divisions of the League we are doing nothing to bring on novices or most youngsters.) That these characteristics aren t confined to Horfield and Redland is no consolation.

All this can sometimes feel like the slow death of traditional, over-the-board club chess. (Thinking of the musical parallel, I d call it Live Chess .) Sustaining live chess in the face of the Internet, and different work/leisure patterns might be the greatest challenge local clubs face as the League moves into its second century.

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