Hampshire County Chess - First two matches

Updated: Jun 21

Hampshire County Chess 1887 & 1889

This article is to document the first two county chess matches played by Hampshire; these friendlies were before the official Hampshire Chess Association was formed. Several resources have been sourced, as cited at the end of the document. The two main sources I would like to mention though are Anthony Fulton and his excellent new book (2022) "The Southern Counties Chess Union - a retrospective". As well as detailing a huge amount of information on Hampshire Chess, this covers all the counties who have played in the SCCU, their history, performance etc. I would recommend this book, either in physical or kindle format. In addition, Brian Denman sent the details of the first 1887 match, as well as background information on the match and chess in general from this period, which I have included.

The Hampshire Chess Association was formed in 1890 under the instigation of Joseph Blake of Southampton Chess Club. Before the official formation Hampshire played two friendly matches against Sussex. Once created several friendlies continued to be played, with Sussex and Surrey being the most frequent opponents. Wiltshire as a close county were also played twice. In 1893 the first official matches were played with the creation of the counties' championship of the SCCU where Hampshire played in the South East section. Their league opponents would be Surrey, Sussex and Kent although the 3rd match was often not played if the competition had already been won.

The Sussex Chess Association was established in 1882 and for this reason would have been keen to play matches against other counties and a friendly was agreed to be played between the two counties on the 21st of May 1887 at Portsmouth. It was probably a shock to Sussex when Hampshire won the match, as Sussex were already playing annual matches and had an organisation in place to help with selection. But being played in Portsmouth would have favoured Hampshire, as they would have the easier task in player selection as less traveling would have been required.

Hampshire v Sussex 20 April 1889 Hampshire Independent
Source: Hampshire v Sussex 20 April 1889 Hampshire Independent

1887 Hampshire County Match

The first ever Hampshire match took place on the 21st May 1887 at Portsmouth. You will see that some players played one game whilst others played two. In total there were 56 games played by the 30 players teams, with only a handful of players only playing one game. As per Brian Denman playing two games was a common feature of the time:

"The first mechanical chess clocks had come in at the London International Tournament of 1883 and four years later there were probably few about. The arrival of clocks might have slowed down play, because in 1887 several players were able to complete two games before the end of play! The early Sussex v Hampshire county matches seem to have been played at Portsmouth and Chichester, but it would have been difficult for Hastings players to get back the same day with the train service as it was. Sussex scored 26 points and Hampshire 30 points. In the early days of county matches there was no strict board order and the two captains arranged suitable opponents for their players. Here I have adopted the board order given in the Horsham Petworth Midhurst and Steyning Express of 24.5.1887, which seems accurate."

Hampshire v Sussex County Chess Match 1887
Hampshire v Sussex 21/5/1887 - Friendly

Hampshire Team - 1887

The Hampshire team were led by Joseph Blake who as mentioned formed the Hampshire Chess Association 3 years after this first match in 1890. At this time he would have been 27 and was already established as the leading English Correspondence player and a strong OTB player. He would play County Chess for Hampshire from 1887 to 1932 twice on board two and the other games on board one. In approximate 90 games he scored almost 80%. His peak strength according to EDO ratings would have been in the low 2400's, indicating that he was at approximately International Master level. Please do look at the article on the British Chess News website or Wikipedia for more information on him.

Blake who was the Southampton Chess Club Secretary was joined by 11 other Southampton club members, whilst Portsmouth fielded 6, Bournemouth also 6, Havant 3 and Bishop's Waltham, Alton and Petersfield 1 each.

Sussex Team - 1887

The Sussex team were led by William Vernon Wilson (approx. 2300 strength) of Brighton (also see Yorkshire Chess History), who was unsuccessful in his game against Blake. But his Brighton colleagues of which there were 6 were far more successful, scoring 7 points from 12 games.

Chichester also fielded 7 players, which is not surprising due to the proximity to Portsmouth, Petworth 6, Storrington 2 and a number of other clubs 1 player each. In the 1889 match there were no Chichester players, but I do not know the reason for this?

Match Result - 1887

I was unable to find much more on the 1887 match, but the 1889 match did have more detail and also touched on the 1887 match. This is from the Hampshire Independent:

A meeting in May (1887), between teams of 30 a side, representing these counties, resulted in favour of Hants by 30 to 26; but it was admitted that the Sussex team on that occasion was not a fully representative one, being drawn almost entirely from the western division of the county.

Therefore it was to be expected that for the next match Sussex would have a stronger team, as they would hopefully be involving players from the eastern side of the county as well.

1889 Hampshire County Match

It took until 1889 when a return match was held. As Hampshire did not have an organisation I presume that discussions were held with Southampton Chess Club, being the major team in the South at this time?

The Hampshire Independent article added a lot more detail on this match:

Negotiations for a return match in 1888 failed; but this year the executives of the Sussex Chess Association offered to again visit Portsmouth, on condition that the teams should be limited to 15 a-side. This stipulation was accepted by the Secretary of the Southampton Chess Club, acting for the Hants players, who have not yet an Association; and Saturday's match was the outcome.
The Sussex team, comprising as it did the pick of the powerful Brighton Club, and two leading Hastings players in addition, was in strong contrast to the team put forward in 1887; on the other hand, the improvement of this year's Hants team over that of two years ago was scarcely perceptible, the Secretary to obtain the services of several gentlemen qualified for high positions in the order of strength. Play commenced just after 3pm a reserve player present on the Sussex side, a Portsmouth opponent was found for him, thus making teams of 16. The Sussex Secretary was strongly desirous of limiting the match to a single game between each pair of opponents; but, in deference to the fact that the Hants players were almost unanimous in favour of two games, it was finally agreed to count a second game played on any board where the first was finished by 4.30pm. This did not prove a very satisfactory arrangement, as it will be seen that only five of the 16 pairs were able to avail themselves of it.
As single game matches are rapidly becoming general in the most important contests it is certain that in such matches as that of Saturday time must always preclude a second game being played at all the boards, and as the playing one game at one board and two at others introduces an element of unfairness, is well worth the consideration of the Hampshire players whether their wisest count on a future occasion of the like importance will not be to accept the single-game match - a course which need not preclude two games all around in local contests where play is of a more rapid character. On Saturday the first victory was scored by Mr. Curtis for Hants, but the advantage was only momentary, as soon after 4:30 the score stood at Sussex 6, Hants 2. From that point the adverse majority was steadily reduced until soon after 6 p.m., when it stood at one game only; five games which were then unfinished fell to each side in equal proportions, leaving Sussex with a merely nominal victory.
An analysis of the score shows that if only the games constituting the first round were counted the result of the match would have been exactly reversed, and that the result actually arrived at was dependent upon the very imperfect second round - a strong point in favour of the contention that a round which is not known beforehand cannot possibly be entirely played out should not commenced. The Portsmouth players contributed to the Hants score in the largest proportion; but in comparing their performance with that of the Southampton representatives it may fairly be pointed out that while the latter were pitted against three of the five strongest opponents, three of the Portsmouth players were at the the last five boards. The thanks of both teams are due the members of the Portsmouth Young Men's Christian Association Chess Club, who kindly obtained the use of the Lecture Hall of that Institution for the match, and gave the players on both sides a very hospitable welcome. The formation of a Hampshire County Chess Association was strongly urged by the Sussex players, the practice of chess in their own county having been considerably furthered and benefited by organisation Surrey and Kent also possess similar associations, whilst it is proposed to start one for Wilts next season.
Hampshire is in no lack of fairly strong and enthusiastic amateur chess players, and there appears to be no reason why it should lag behind all its neighbours in this respect. It remains for the leading chess clubs of the county to agree which of then, should, with the cooperation of the others, take the initiative in the matter.
Hampshire v Sussex County Chess Match 1889
Hampshire v Sussex 20/4/1889 - Friendly

Hampshire Team - 1889

With 16 players rather than the 30 in 1887 this meant that this was more representative of recent county matches. Although as per the Hampshire Independent article with some players playing one game and some two this made for a rather different format to current times. This was obviously a format which was on its last legs though, although it was more usual at club level, where faster matches were generally played.

Hampshire were again led by Joseph Blake who as per 1887 only played the one game, this time against W Andrews with WV Wilson now on board two (see my comments on Match Result 1889).

This time Portsmouth Chess Club had 5 players, Southampton 4, Bournemouth 2, Isle of Wight 2, and Romsey, Havant and Bishop's Waltham 1 each. The Isle of Wight already had a County Association (or association of clubs - Anthony Fulton - "The Southern Counties Chess Union - a retrospective") formed in 1888, but it certainly made sense for them to be included in a Hampshire County team.

In total 11 of the Hampshire players that played in 1887 were in the chosen 16 in 1889, although there was a bit of board order movement. GR Sloper and T Crasweller moved from board 7 and 9 to board 3 and 4 respectively. Whilst Dr C Hemming and S Solomons dropped from 3 and 4 to board 8 and 11.

A number of the players from the 1889 match continued to represent Hampshire, with some playing until the early 1930's. 3 players playing over 50 games in total (I have counted both matches if they played 2 on the day). Remember also that there were a lot less county matches annually at this time and playing more than 50 times for the county was some feat; especially with the first World War being in this period, when no county chess was played.

Looking at the Hampshire players in the 1889 team, I think Hampshire selected wisely from the ones available, as without grading it would have been a difficult task. I am sure than more than 16 players wished to play in this match.

Table details the total number of times the players from the 1889 match played for the Hampshire County team.

Hampshire Players from 1889 Match
Hampshire Players from 1889 Match

Note - (1) Total average board affected by Blake's 90 games on board one / two.

Note - (2) Some of these players may have played more games, as I am still double checking names in the data.

Sussex Team - 1889

Sussex leaned heavily on the very strong Brighton club, with 10 of the 16 players from this club, including the top 5 boards. Hastings were the only club represented in 1889 who did not have anyone in the 1887 team, with 2 players (which I presume is the eastern contingent referred to in the Hampshire Independent article). Lewes, Eastbourne, Storrington and Petworth all had 1 player in the team (mainly on the bottom boards). Chichester who had 7 players in 1887 were not represented in 1889.

Update from Brian Denman on Chichester CC:

The Chichester CC may have been in decline by 1889. The sudden death of Sgt Major McArthur in 1888 had an effect on George Downer, who missed his regular playing partner.

You can understand that the eastern side of Sussex was not that represented as Hastings is 84 miles from Portsmouth and even now it would take approx. 2 and a half hours by car and more than 3 by train.

To also determine the strength of the Sussex players I have calculated the performance against Hampshire for the players from the 1889 match. Some only played in this match, but a number would continue to play against Hampshire for many years. For example HW Butler and F Brook both played until 1913.

Below is the number of games played, points scored and average board order played on against Hampshire for the Sussex players who participated in the 1889 match.

Sussex Chess Players performance against Hampshire
Sussex Chess Players performance against Hampshire

Match Result - 1889

Now this match was stated as a friendly, but it does seem that Sussex were smarting from their previous loss. They were including players from the whole of Sussex but with 10 players from the strong Brighton team they were ensuring this club was at the forefront. In addition, Sussex were very keen to only have one game per person, rather than the two games, and one reason maybe that they thought this would favour them?

As per the Hampshire Independent's analysis if this argument went their way they would have lost the match and for this reason it seems they were fortunate to lose this battle, allowing them to win the larger one!

I mentioned in the Hampshire Team Analysis that Hampshire's top board was JH Blake against WR Andrews, whilst board two was Hampshire's F. Budden against Sussex's 1887 board one WV Wilson (Wilson won both games). With Blake beating Wilson in 1887 I was curious on why Wilson was not playing on board one, as he was much stronger than Andrews ....

Was this a bit of board order shuffling, to avoid Hampshire's best player, or some sort of brinkmanship? In fact looking at the future matches between the counties I would say that Andrews was significantly weaker than a number of the other Sussex players.

  • WR Andrews - approx. 1750 average bd 5

  • JH Blake - approx. 2400 average bd 1

  • WV Wilson - approx. 2300 average bd 1

  • F Budden - average bd 4 (not in EDO, but drew and lost to GR Downer in 1887 who was estimated as 2150)

But my concerns do not seem to be valid (and the EDO is only a rough estimate from a few results). From the 1889 Hastings and St Leonards Observer is states that WR Andrews was the Sussex Chess Champion in 1889 by tie-break from H Erskine (who played on board 4). Often County Champions have the right to play on board one and this is probably the reason for the board order? The championship was concluded in March 1889, before the County Match.

Sussex Chess Championship 1889 Hastings and St Leonards Observer
Source: Sussex Chess Championship 1889 Hastings and St Leonards Observer

In fact, there was more detail in the Brighton Herald which indicates that his Sussex Championship title win was a surprise, but obviously well deserved.

Sussex County Chess 1889 Brighton Herald March 1889
Source: Brighton Herald March 1889

Update from Brian Denman on WR Andrews which confirms that the county champion would usually play on board one and that his strength was not greatly weaker than Wilson.

WR Andrews was, as you say, the county champion, and in Sussex that person usually played on board one the next season. Andrews was not greatly weaker than Wilson, though the latter was clearly the best player in the county at the time. Andrews also won the county championship in 1924.

The 1889 Hampshire - Sussex match was certainly close, going back and forth and either side could have come out on top; but in the end Sussex narrowly won by 1 point, thus getting their revenge from the 1897 match.

In fact the Hampshire vs Sussex Chess matches continued to be close for the rest of the 19th Century, be they a "friendly" or the Shannon competition in the South-East section of the SCCU. This was not known as the Shannon competition at this time, but I have left as this as once renamed it was for all intents and purposes the same competition. But as per Anthony Fulton - "The Southern Counties Chess Union - a retrospective" and Brian Denman update below this would have been known as the counties' championship of the SCCU:

At the time it appears that there was not a trophy for the counties' championship of the SCCU. The Shannon Trophy first came in for the 1934-35 season. Anne Muriel Shannon (nee Kerr) seems to have been a lively lady, who had mountaineering and croquet among her hobbies.

The total results in this period were Hampshire with 5 wins, Sussex 4 wins and 2 draws. Two evenly matched counties in this period.

Hampshire Sussex Chess Results 19th Century
Hampshire Sussex Chess Results 19th Century


Again many thanks for Brian Denman who has supplied 4 games from the match which were published in the Southern Weekly News 27th April 1889. Wins by Sussex's Wilson, Butler and Taunton and a draw in the Mead vs Kenny.

Play through the 4 games here


Acknowledgements and sources:

60 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All