My article on the court case between A E Nield and the Hastings CC (2005) was based on the reports that appeared in the Hastings and St Leonards Observer. Recently I have seen the club minutes, which shed new light on the events.
The records of the ancestry.co.uk website indicate that Nield was born in the Edmonton Registration District of Middlesex in the January quarter of 1893. His first Christian name seems to have been Allan, though later the spelling ‘Alan’ seems to have been widely used. He was only 19 when he set sail for Sydney and he eventually arrived in Western Australia early in 1913. In August 1915 he enlisted with the Australian Imperial Forces and saw service in Egypt and France. However, the experience caused him to have a nervous breakdown and by early 1917 he was back in Australia. He moved to Sydney in June 1918.
The court case mentioned the club’s committee meetings of 26th March and 10th May 1955. At the first of these meetings concern was expressed that Mr Nield had quoted a London address, but was attending the club on a daily basis. He was paying ten shillings subscription as a country member instead of the usual amount of thirty shillings for full membership. He had already paid ten shillings for his current subscription, which took him up to the end of August, but the club felt that he should pay the extra twenty shillings as a matter of urgency. It is clear that this annoyed Mr Nield and that he replied in a manner which the committee found insulting. Unfortunately we do not seem to possess any of the correspondence, but the committee clearly felt that it could not tolerate this and at the meeting of 10th May decided to give Mr Nield seven days to apologise or be expelled from the club.
After this letters from Mr Nield’s solicitors were discussed at committee meetings on 18th June and 16th September 1955, but the club maintained its firm stance. At a meeting of 11th November 1955 the subject was raised as to whether to ban Mr Nield from the Christmas Congress. However, it transpired that Major E H Flear and the president, Percy Morren, had already accepted his entrance fee.
Not long before the Congress was due to start the club received a letter from Mr Nield’s solicitors saying that proceedings against the club were being commenced. The committee was forced to seek legal advice and this cast doubt on the club’s decision to exclude Mr Nield. The case had been weakened by the fact that he had already paid his ten shillings subscription as a country member. However, despite this advice from the local solicitors the club decided that there would be no going back.
After this nothing further was heard about the Nield case for some time and the committee probably breathed a sigh of relief. However, at a committee meeting of 30th May 1957 it was reported that a summons had been issued by Mr Nield’s solicitors and a decision was taken by the club to defend the action.
In my earlier article I expressed the view that the club did not suffer too much from the court case. However, that viewpoint was clearly wrong. After the case was lost, a committee meeting was held on 15th July 1957 and an opinion was expressed that the legal expenses should be passed on to the members. However, the club’s solicitors felt that this was unwise. Messrs Morren, Angel and Kennett had been specifically named in the action against the club and the solicitors’ view was that the assent of every member of the club would be required to pass the costs of the action on to the members.
The county court costs came to £151.15s 3d. and as a result the president of the club ordered a cheque to be drawn on his own account – the amount that Messrs Kennett and Angel would have to pay would be decided later. It was felt that the extra cost of employing solicitors and Defence counsel should be passed on to the club. A general meeting of the club was held on 14th August 1957, which approved an increase in subscriptions with only one person disagreeing. At a committee meeting on the same day Major Flear proposed that an appeal should be made to all club members to meet the expenses of the court action. Altogether the total costs came to £360 16s 2d and Major Flear’s fund raised £209 7s 2d. However, what is not so clear is whether all the costs were paid by the club. At a committee meeting of 26th November 1957 Frank Rhoden proposed that £150 should be withdrawn from club money in the Hastings and East Sussex Building Society. This may have been to recover the money previously offered by the club president.
By the time of the next AGM of the club held on 25th October 1958 the secretary was able to announce that the club finances now had a healthy appearance. It is hardly surprising that Nield resigned from the club after the court action as it is doubtful that anyone would have been willing to give him a game. He continued to play in congresses until at least 1967. Unfortunately the ancestry.co.uk website does not give a date for his death, which suggests that he may by that time have left England.
Nield v Hastings CC, 1957
By Brian Denman
The subject in question might seem to be a little controversial, but it happened nearly 50 years ago and was not a court case of major significance. There should not therefore be any significant repercussions. It is interesting in that it gives an insight into the chess club in the late 1950s.
Firstly some information on Nield. He was born Alan Edgar Nield in London in the 1890s. In 1918 he won the Western Australia Championship and in 1919 the championship of New South Wales. After a retirement from chess he returned to finish 9th in the 1932-33 Australian Championship and 7th in the 1938-39 championship. Holding the Sydney LL.B degree, he was called to the Bar in 1924, but had himself disbarred and was admitted as a solicitor in 1933. His other professions were as a certified public accountant, auditor and company secretary. One can see that the Hastings CC committee were up against a formidable opponent in the legal case. In about 1947 Nield crossed to New Zealand and in 1949 he won the championship of that country.
The case began on 25 June 1957 with Nield of Harold House, Mews Road, St Leonards claiming damages because of his expulsion from the Hastings CC. The action was against P J Morren, A A Angel and William Kennett on their own behalf and on behalf of all other members of the committee. The charge alleged conspiracy and the inducing of a breach of contract. Nield said that he was seeking a declaration to clear his name.
Mr P Goodenday, representing A E Nield, said that nothing in this case was intended to cast the slightest reflection on the high standing and reputation of the Hastings CC. Mr Nield was a retired solicitor who formerly practised in New South Wales. He left Australia in 1947 and for a short time lived in New Zealand. He had come to England in 1949 intending to stay for a short time. However, he had remained here ever since, though he had never had any settled address. His practice was to stay in Hastings for a few months in the winter and to travel round the country for the rest of the year. Early in 1951 he joined the Hastings CC. He was invited by A A Rider and V Rush to join as a country member – they said that he was eligible. While in Hastings, he had made full use of the amenities of the club, though he never played in any club tournament.
The last subscription that he paid took him up to 31 August 1955, but on 28 March of that year the club through its secretary wrote to say that for some time the members of the committee had considered that this very extensive use of the facilities justified them in considering that he should pay the full fee of 30 shillings. This view had been unanimously confirmed at their meeting of 26 March. The letter asked him for the balance of 20 shillings for the current season and for his address in Hastings and St Leonards.
Mr Nield took the view that this was an unjustified demand. He replied in ‘somewhat round terms’ and stated that a personal approach would have resulted in ‘a ready and amicable agreement’. Later he wrote that the letter could be regarded as ‘a form of thinly disguised blackmail’. The conflict was one of coercion on the one hand, which would be resisted, and a request on the other hand, which would receive all the consideration that it deserved.
On 10 May the club passed a motion proposed by the Rev. H M Blackett and seconded by Major E H Flear that, in view of Mr Nield’s refusal to accept the ruling of the committee, rule seven (under which a member could be expelled) would apply, unless an apology was submitted to the club within seven days together with consent to pay full membership.
Counsel said that this resolution was purported to have been conveyed to Mr Nield in a letter which did not contain a proper representation of the resolution. In the letter it was stated that the committee ‘intensely resented’ the tone of Mr Nield’s letters. A notice was placed on the board saying that by order of the committee A E Nield was no longer a member of the club.
Counsel said that Mr Nield was not out to make money from the case. If he recovered damages, he would offer them to the club, apart from costs.
Mr Nield said that if he had been asked ‘as a matter of grace’ to pay the increased subscription, he would not have raised the slightest objection.
On May 24th Mr Nield visited the club. Mr Kennett showed him the notice of expulsion and then pinned it up. He ordered Mr Nield out of the club at a time when Mr Angel and about six other people were there. Mr Nield asked Mr Kennett if he intended to eject him forcibly. The answer was in the negative and Mr Nield finished his game and then went to his solicitor’s office.
Mr Nield visited the club several times afterwards, not to play chess but to observe the notice. After 24 May refreshments were no longer available to him. The housekeeper (N.B. probably Doris Robinson) said that she had been instructed by Mr Kennett not to serve him. On 21 June he saw that the notice had been removed.
Asked if he had noticed any change in the attittude of the members towards him, Mr Nield said that he had met several members in the street who looked at him askance like a leper.
He started procedings on 24 April this year. the reason for the delay was that he wanted to avoid litigation because of the club. Also a member had approached him, asking him to stay his hand pending an attempt to bring about a reconciliation.
Mr Nield said that he had stayed at Harold House since 1950 and left clothes there when he went away. He said that he made sure he was not in the town more than six months continuously so as not to transgress the terms of his membership. He understood that this was Mr Rider’s definition of a country member.
Later he said that he thought that there were ulterior motives behind the committee’s decision to expel him and that they were motivated by malice against him personally. He said that he thought that Messrs Morren, Angel and Kennett were the ring leaders. He agreed that the committee might have been offended at one of his letters. He said that he wanted a declaration to clear his name.
Major E H Flear said that he had been a member of the club since May 1950 and a member of the committee from September of that year. He admitted that there had been a verbal agreement with Mr Rider, but it became self-evident that in no sense of the word could Mr Nield be regarded as a country member. Later Major Flear said that Mr Nield had insulted the officers of the club and this insult could not be suffered with impunity. The judge asked if it would not have been a good idea to have arranged for Mr Nield to meet the committee. Major Flear replied that they had tried everything they could to settle things. The judge said that he did not remember any invitation to the Plaintiff to meet the committee.
Mr Morren said that he had never at any time conspired with Messrs Angel or Kennett or anyone else to injure Mr Nield or to induce any breach of contract. He had not borne any animosity towards Mr Nield. In fact he felt sorry for him. He said: ‘It is a great disaster for the club and the town that this matter should have to be aired in public.’ He mentioned that the greater amount of the discussion in committee was over the insulting of the club officials. The letter could have more clearly explained the real reason why the action was taken.
[ N.B in the Hastings and St Leonards Observer of 29.6.1957 from which the above account has been taken the judge’s comments are placed before the procedings of the day. It seems more likely that he made the comments at the end of the day – please see the section that follows.]
Judge B Dutton Briant QC said that rancour seemed to have crept into the correspondence between the parties. Neither party seemed to have shown quite the consideration that might have been expected in a club of this standing. The judge told P J Morren that it would be very wise of him and his legal officers to get together and dispose of this matter without a decision having to be made by the Court. If they could not reach such a decision, the judge would give a verdict. He added that all the right was not necessarily on one side or the other. There were a number of consultations but the newspaper was told that no agreement had been reached.
The Hastings and St Leoanrds Observer of 13.7.1957 reported on the conclusion of the case which had been resumed on July 8th. The Rev H M Blackett spoke at the hearing. He said that he had been a member of the club since the end of 1952 and added that he had been on quite friendly terms with Mr Nield. he had been present at the meeting of 26 March 1955 when the subject of Mr Nield’s subscrijption had first been raised. The committee was surprised to learn that he had only been paying ten shillings subscription all this time and there were some of those present who were under the impression that he was at the club for the greater part of the year. The tone of Mr Nield’s letter had, he admitted, taken him by surprise. The committee felt that no decent member of the club would allow such things to be said about well trusted and respected oficials. The Rev. Blackett admitted that it was out of intense resentment that they had decided to operate. (NB Rev Blackett was apparently a witness for the Defence but here he inadvertently seems to help the case for the Plaintiff).
A A Angel said that he had expressed doubts to Mr Nield about the subscription of ten shillings, when the latter had offered that amount for the 1954-55 season. Mr Nield had said that he was a country member with an address in London.
Mr Angel (whose Christian names are given in the newspaper as Alfred Aubrey) said that at the committee meeting of 10 May the matter of Mr Nield’s subscription was not discussed for very long, for about a quarter of an hour. He added: ‘It seemed to be a mountain out of a mole hill. Many of us could not be bothered by all this rigmarole.’ (N.B. Oh dear, what a lethargic piece of evidence!)
Mr Salkeld Green, cross-examining, queried that a member was being expelled form the club and they could not be bothered with it.
Mr Angel replied: ‘With the correspondence. We could not be bothered with it at all.’ (N.B. this seems to compound the mistake)
W Kennett said that there were twelve out of eighteen members present at the committee meeting of 10 May. The discussion about Mr Nield took about one hour and he thought that Mr Angel’s recollection was wrong. Mr Kennett said that the matter really started in December 1954 with Mr Angel’s discussion with Mr Nield, though the issue was not considered at a meeting before that of 26 March. The original proposal for expulsion had been made by the late R C Griffith.
Mr Kennett admitted that he had set out the resolution incorrectly in his letter to Mr Nield. He said that Mr Nield had not been expelled solely becaused of his letters – that was one reason, the other was that Mr Nield had not paid what he should have paid.
Mr Kennett’s voice had risen and, when asked by Mr Salkeld Green if he was still resentful about the case, he said that he had reason to be, as Mr Nield had written a letter to personal friends of theirs accusing him of being a liar (N.B. Mr Green seems to have done a good job in winding up Mr Kennett and thus suggesting that he had acted out of malice). Mr Salkeld Green said about Mr Kennett: ‘If ever a man was as full of malice as an egg is full of meat, there is that man.’ As regards the committee, Mr Salkeld Green said that their attitude seemed to be: ‘We are the high gods of this place. If you say anything against us, out you go.’
P J Morren, W Kennett and A A Angel were held by the judge to have conspired against A E Nield and to have induced a breach of contract. The judge awarded Nield £10 in damages, with costs, and said that the notice in the club was ‘completely null’ – Nield was still a member. The judge added that he thought that the committee had been actuated by resentment and anger in passing the expulsion resolution. He did not propose to award substantial damages, as Mr Nield had said that the real reason for bringing the action was to clear his name and had also proposed to pay back to the club any damages that were awarded, less costs. The judge stated that if the club had wanted to expel Mr Nield they should have provided him with notice that the matter was being considered and given him the chance to present his case in person. He is sorry to say that the committee had not made a good impression on him.
[N.B. in my opinion Nield was lucky to win this case. The Hastings CC committee handled the expulsion poorly and were exploited in court by skilful lawyers. However, I suspect that the real problem for the club was Nield and not the committee. The fallout from the case does not seem to have been severe and there does
not appear to have been a fall in membership. It may be that the townspeople largely regarded this as an internal matter.]