Isle of Wight - Early Chess Matches - Part 1

Updated: Jul 16

Isle of Wight - Chess Matches 1888 to 1909

In the early days of Hampshire Chess a number of chess matches took place between the Isle of Wight Association and other clubs. The majority of these were against the Portsmouth and Southampton Chess Clubs. As well as these local matches they also played two telephone matches against the Norfolk Chess Association. This is this first part of the article and covers the matches from 15th August 1888 to 8th July 1891.

I am sure they played more matches than the ones I have detailed, but these are the matches I am aware of, and they also give an indication of the chess strength of the Island. A number of the players who played for the Isle of Wight also played for Hampshire and I will analyse their performance from the results I have.

A common theme at this time is trying to determine the names of the players, as the results sometimes supplied just the surname and often the spelling of the names is inconsistent. This is made more difficult when some players are probably from the same family. I have had this issues with Hewitt, Hewett and Caws to name a few. There will be mistakes, but you do end up going around in circles and I don't want to just quote the name in the newspapers.

As well as the matches I noticed a few other interesting items related to chess on the Island and I will include these in the final part.

Isle of Wight County Association

The Isle of Wight had a County Chess Association prior to Hampshire and this was formed in 1888. It seems that this may have been instigated by a letter in December 1887 (or in response to previous correspondence) to the Isle of Wight County Press and South of England Reporter from E Hepple Hall.

The letter mentions several of the Island players, including a number who would go on to play for Hampshire such as Francis Albert Joyce, who would play more than 40 times from 1889 to 1936.

Proposed Isle of Wight Chess Association
Proposed Isle of Wight Chess Association - Source Isle of Wight County Press and South of England Reporter 17 Dec 1887

It seems this letter helped pave the way for the creation of the Chess Association as the Isle of Wight County Press and South of England Reporter for the 20th October 1888 details its creation. The article includes many benefits the Association will bring such as arranging matches and tournaments. Although I am not sure how the creation would remove forms of jealousy which might have existed in the past!

Of additional interest is that it was proposed that Lord Tennyson, who was the Poet Laureate for the majority of Queen Victoria's reign would be asked to be the the Association's President. As to if he accepted this invitation or not it is not clear but I presume this was an honorary position as he would have been almost 80 and probably not living on the island at this time.

IOW Chess Association
IOW Chess Association - Source Isle of Wight County Press and South of England Reporter

Looking at the press cuttings prior to 1890 it seems that Chess Tournaments had been played on the Island for a number of years and this would have helped with team selection, when the first matches were proposed. Two of the Island strongest players also played in the 1889 Hampshire County Match against Sussex, Dr H de Fonmartin on board 7 and JE Erskine on board 9 respectively. It did not take long for the Island to have their first match, with two matches played against Southampton Chess Club in August and September 1888.

Isle of Wight - Southampton Chess Club August 15th 1888

A challenging first match against the strong Southampton Chess Club which included a number of players who would play on the high boards for Hampshire. Despite Southampton winning 15 to 9 I would say this was a good showing by the Island. Two wins by WH Gray and a win and draw by JS Flower were the highlights for the Isle of Wight.

The Hampshire Independent were in agreement as reported on the 18th August 1888 which also confirms that this was the first match between the Isle of Wight and the Southampton Chess Club.

On Wednesday last, at Cowes, a match was played by the Southampton Chess Club against the chess players of the Isle of Wight. No previous encounter between those sides has taken place, efforts made in previous years to get together an Island team for the purpose not having been successful. To the Ryde Chess club and its secretary is due the credit of overcoming that difficulty on the present occasion. The games were for the most part very evenly contested, and it was not till twenty of them were concluded that it was apparent which side would win; but the last four games to be finished all fell to Southampton, giving them the victory by a majority of six. Source: Hampshire Independent

As was seen in the early Hampshire matches playing two games was a common occurrence at this time. It was not always the case that both games could be played, but in this instance this was achieved.

Isle of Wight - Southampton Chess Club September 26th 1888

The second match was only one month later. The Isle of Wight strengthened their team with JE Erskine playing on board one. Mr Erskine was one of the best players on the Island at this time and as stated he played against Sussex in three of the early Hampshire friendly matches. He managed to beat JH Blake in one of their two games which were reported as stubbornly contested in the Isle of Wight Observer.

Isle of Wight - Southampton Chess Club
Isle of Wight - Southampton Chess Club. Source: Isle of Wight Observer Sept 1888

As to the match, despite board one being shared the final result was the same as the first match with a 15 - 9 win for Southampton. Gray again won both his games for the Isle of Wight, as did Flower. But Sloper, Kenny, George, Bowyer and Talbot achieved the same whitewash for Southampton.

Isle of Wight - Portsmouth Chess Club April 1890

We next see the Isle of Wight playing against the Portsmouth Chess Club. The IOW player Dr H de Fonmartin who played against Southampton actually played for Portsmouth in this match, so he may well have been a factor in helping the match take place?

Their first match was in April 1890 when the Portsmouth Chess Club travelled to Ryde to play against the Isle of Wight Chess Association. The match was played with 13 players per team, but all bar Erskine vs Clayton managed to play two games in the allocated time.

The 2nd game in the Osborn vs Jenkins match was adjudicated, with the result unknown but this would not have affected the final result, with the Isle of Wight narrowly beating Portsmouth Chess Club 13 to 11 with that one game to be adjudicated.

Isle of Wight - Portsmouth Chess Association October 1890

It was six months later that a return match was played, again at Ryde. There were 11 players per team this time and Portsmouth came out on top winning 13 to 7 from the 20 games played. The Portsmouth team were certainly stronger for this match as they included Lieutenant Chepmell on board one, who was a London player based in Gosport. He also played on board two for Hampshire in the friendly matches against Sussex from 1891 to 1894. Although the article states this as Portsmouth Chess Club, I would say this was really a combination of Portsmouth Chess clubs, as Lieutenant Chepmell played for Gosport.

Taking a move away from the match I was curious about Lieutenant Claude Herries Chepmell who was an interesting person, as can be seen from this snippet from the 1896 Hampshire Telegraph. He played in the 1885 Varsity Chess Match on bottom board (although see the Britbase article which queries why he was playing on bottom board), winning one game and drawing the other. Britbase has more details on him, describing him as "a strong attacking player" which is well worth a read.

Lieut Claude Herries Chepmell Chess
Lieut Claude Herries Chepmell. Source: Hampshire Telegraph 4 April 1896

The previously mentioned Varsity match, shows Chepmell's attacking style, sacrificing the exchange to get at White's King. Source: Britbase / BCM 1885. A very impressive game.

Returning to the IOW - Portsmouth match Lieutenant Chepmell was too strong for HW Daws on board one winning both games and it looks like Portsmouth strength in depth was also too much for the IOW, scoring almost double the points.

FA Joyce now playing on board two won and lost a game against T Crassweller, another player who played for Hampshire a number of times in the following 16 years, normally on the top 5 boards. This 13 - 7 win meant the match scores at this stage were one win each for IOW and Portsmouth.

Isle of Wight - Portsmouth Chess Club July 8th 1891

The third match against Portsmouth was in in July 1891 and proved a completely different result with the IOW scoring a crushing 17 - 2 win. Eight of the Portsmouth players had travelling difficulties and did not arrive at the match. Although a number of the stronger IOW players stood down the result was never in doubt. The final score was recorded as 13 - 2 in some places, but I have included the defaults to Osborne and Perkins as per the Newspaper result and therefore 17 - 2.

IOW Chess Association - Portsmouth Chess Club Match July 1891
IOW Chess Association - Portsmouth Chess Club Match July 1891: Source - Portsmouth Evening News

A number of players for the IOW had played in previous matches and you get a feel of the strongest / regular players, with Erskine, Daws, Joyce, Osborn, JL Way, Gribble being among these.


The next article will cover more matches by the Isle of Wight, including at least one of their two telephone matches against the Norfolk Chess Association. Please feel free to contact me through the comments or by email with regards to any questions / corrections.


Acknowledgements and sources:

  • Isle of Wight County Press and South of England Reporter

  • Isle of Wight Observer

  • Hampshire Independent

  • Hampshire Telegraph

  • Portsmouth News

  • Britbase

  • The British Newspaper Archive

  • BCM

  • EDO