Isle of Wight - Early Chess Matches - Part 2

Updated: Jul 16

Isle of Wight - Chess Matches 1891 to 1909

We left Part 1 with the Isle of Wight crushing Portsmouth Chess club 17 - 2 and it was only three weeks later that the IOW again tackled the (much stronger) Southampton Chess Club, who they had not played since 1889.

Isle of Wight - Southampton Chess Club July 29th 1891

Southampton Chess club travelled to Cowes and ten players per team played two games against the same opponent. Although Southampton won by 12 points to 8 this was a better result than the 1888 matches by the Island. There was also a match in 1889 but I am unable to find any information on this, apart from the report for this match which mentions that Southampton had won.

The Southampton team had a number of strong players including JH Blake, FJH Elwell, WC Kenny, all who played on the top boards for Hampshire in this period. In fact it was on these top boards where Southampton won the match, as IOW only managed two draws from the 8 games, on boards 1 through 4. It would seem that the strength in depth for the IOW was better, as they scored six and a half points on the bottom 4 boards. Revd Barry Cole and GI Gribble won both their games, whilst WH Gray again scored well with a win and a draw.

Isle of Wight - Southampton Chess Club Sept 14th 1892

The Isle of Wight took on Southampton Chess Club again the following year, using the same format of 10 players playing 2 games against the same opponent. Southampton again fielded a very strong team, especially on the top boards. Isle of Wight swapped a few players around, but only managed to score 1 point from the 6 games played on the top 3 boards. None of the IOW players managed to win both games this time, but points were picked up by a number of players and HD Osborn won his mini match with a win and a draw.

Southampton also defaulted bottom board, although this only counted as the one point for the Island which meant the final result was a 13 to 7 win for Southampton Chess club.

Also note that there was a internal Isle of Wight match in 1893 between Newport and the rest of the Island. This does not really fit into the IOW Association matches, but I think worth including as it would seem that Newport were the prominent club on the Island. Newport won the match by 6 points to 4. Unlike the other matches, this was just a single game for each player. A number of the players in the match were present in the matches against the Southampton and Portsmouth Chess clubs.

Newport vs Isle of Wight Chess Match June 1893
Newport vs Isle of Wight Chess Match June 1893: Source Isle of Wight County Press and South of England Reporter

Isle of Wight - Southampton Chess Club Aug 30th 1894

The next match i have located was from 1894 and this was the closest result so far with Southampton winning 9 to 6. Southampton JH Blake stood out for this match (Source: Isle of Wight Observer - Saturday 08 September 1894), but Southampton still had a number of strong players on the top boards.

The match was also different in that only half the players managed to play two games this time. Looking at the previous matches I would say that the IOW had a number of players who were about the same strength. I have come to this conclusion as the players on the top board(s) varied each year. This time it was JS Flower on board 1, who had previously played on boards 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9. For board 1 and 2 Southampton were incredibly strong in a number of the previous matches and it may have been that the IOW had decided to share the pain as to who played on these boards? It may also be that the top board was for the current champion - see Isle of Wight Tournaments.

JE Erskine and Dr H de Fonmartin were players who had both previosuly won for the IOW against Southampton on board one or two in previous years, but neither of these players were playing in this match. Only 1 game was won by the Island from the 5 games played on the top 3 boards and this was probably the turning factor in the match.

Isle of Wight - Southampton Chess Club July 29th 1897

There may have been matches in 1895 and 1896 as it is indicated often that this was an annual encounter, but the next result I have is from 1897. In this match 15 players played 22 games between them. I had mentioned that due to Southampton's strength on the top boards that a match with more players may have helped the IOW. But this was not the case in this instance, as Southampton won easily 14½ to 7½.

JE Erskine was playing on the lowly board 6 this time and won both his games and GI Gribble who had won the annual IOW tournament in 1893 drew on board 2 against future five times Hampshire Individual Champion winner FJH Elwell (period 1930 to 1937). Francis Elwell would have been 60 when he won the first Hampshire Individual Championship and you wonder how many he would have won if this started earlier?

Apology Required! Vehement Vituperation!

In relation to Mr Gribble it seems that not all is well with the chess players on the Island. I located the following letter from Mr SD Caws to the Isle of Wight County Press. This letter states that Mr Gribble is demanding an apology from Mr Hewett (does not say which one, but I presume WH Hewett), on the grounds of another letter Mr SD Caws had supposedly written. This did not go down well with Mr Caws as can be seen from this letter.

This all seems to be related to the number of members that were brought to a chess match. From my experience it does look that chess differences which we have today, were still the same in the late 19th century. As these players all played for the Isle of Wight, sometimes next to each other I hope they ended up on speaking terms following this exchange. Still it is not often you see the term Vehement Vituperation in an exchange!

Letter from SD Caws
Letter from SD Caws. Source: Isle of Wight County Press on the 14th January 1899.

Isle of Wight Chess Tournaments

On a more positive note there was an annual Isle of Wight tournament which was played from March to June and in 1898 is was stated that the aim was to play two games every three weeks.

In the 1897 contest on June 5th HS Hewett was leading GI Gribble and Mr EB Cole with 13½ points. By the following week HS Hewett was declared the winner with 13 wins, 1 loss and 3 draws with Mr Cole in 2nd place. The article also confirms that HS Hewett was only 18 at the time and was the son of WH Hewett, who did not perform as well with 5 wins (I think the table is a bit misleading, as draws may have been added to the lost column?)

What can be seen is that this was an active tournament, with many of the top players on the Island contesting, as you would have seen them participating in the matches against Southampton and Portsmouth.

Hover over the picture or open in full for additional information.

Source: Isle of Wight County Press and South of England Reporter

This seems a good place to leave part 2. Part 3 will look at the infamous telephone matches against Norfolk, as well as other matches against Southampton and Portsmouth.


Acknowledgements and sources:

  • Isle of Wight County Press and South of England Reporter

  • Isle of Wight Observer

  • The British Newspaper Archive