Post by Brian J Denman on Jun 30, 2013 at 11:10am
The chess column of Edward Ackroyd
Most chess columns are mild affairs, but there are some exceptions to the rules. One of these was Edward Ackroyd’s column in the Hastings and St Leonards Observer. The columnist did a great deal of work for the club in helping to organise congresses and, as he stood up for the interests of the club in his articles, he was popular for much of the time. However, his somewhat abrasive style of writing sometimes led him into conflict and those who were outside the club did not always appreciate his sense of humour.
Edward James Ackroyd was born in Mauritius in 1884. His mother came from the island while his father was a judge who had been born in Australia. Ackroyd, who had been a produce broker since about 1901, was widely travelled and had visited South Africa, the Philippines, Java and the Federated Malay States. He came to live in England in about 1912 and was married at Brompton in London two years later to Ethel Harriet Armstrong. When World War 1 broke out, he tried to enlist with the British Army in 1914 and 1915 but was rejected because of an injured knee. Not to be deterred, he bravely joined the Foreign Legion in France and was decorated with the croix de guerre. After 22 months with the French army he was accepted to serve in the Royal Fusiliers in January 1918. Here he was described as follows: “A lion-hearted Cadet and keeps everybody amused”. He was also considered to have leadership potential and in September 1918 he returned to France as a lieutenant in the Intelligence Corps of the Suffolk Regiment. The war was now nearly over, but it is likely that he endured a horrific experience as he came to suffer from exhaustive psychosis (N.B. this is the term often used for shell-shock). After a period of recuperation at Latchmere House, Ham Common, Richmond, he was declared to be permanently unfit for service and received a 40% disability pension, which was later increased to 100%.
He was a spectator at the 1919 Hastings Victory Tournament and at the club’s committee meeting of 4.11.1920 he was elected as a member. He was also a member of the Bexhill Chess Club in that season. The H and St L Obs of 30.7.1921 commented on his extensive knowledge of foreign languages and literature. It added: “He has a remarkable command of English, and delights his audience with his apt and piquant phrases.”
In July 1921 a regular chess column was instituted in the Hastings newspaper. The writer used the pseudonym of “Ruy” and his identity is not known, but he was soon in difficulties. Trying perhaps to be too clever, he quoted Shakespeare’s Hamlet when referring to a defeat for Hastings against the Christ Church Club in Brighton. The allusion was unfortunate and Henry Butler, who wrote the Brighton chess column, accused the Hastings writer of suggesting that Brighton had won by trickery. At this point “Ruy” resigned his position and Edward Ackroyd took over the column. He decided that the conditions for the article must be changed and in the H and St L Obs of 29.9.1923 he stated that he “freed “Chess Notes” from the withering and shackling influence of being written by an official, thus restoring to its contents that liberty and freedom enjoyed by other amateurs when writing on other topics in this paper.” I am going to look at some of the topics, which arose in the period from August 1921 to April 1924 when he was in charge of the column.
Relations with Brighton chess players
For most of the 1920s there was a chess column in both Brighton and Hastings newspapers. The Brighton column was written by Henry Butler (1858-1935). He had been one of the founder members of the Sussex Chess Association in 1882 and was an expert in all matters regarding chess in the county. He was known as ‘Chess Crusader’, because of his ‘crusades’ into the heart of Sussex to develop new chess clubs. He was Mr Sussex Chess and one would not have expected his word to be challenged – at least not until Ackroyd came along!
The two players were soon locked in an argument. Rev E Griffiths from Lewes complained because Ackroyd had published the score of a loss of his and Butler took the side of Griffiths. Ackroyd responded (H and St L Obs of 10.9.1921) by criticising both Rev Griffiths and Butler and referred to the ‘venom’ that sometimes occurred in the latter’s articles, which he derided by calling them ‘Yahoo’s Chess Notes’. He further stirred matters up by publishing a game that Butler had lost and criticising his play as feeble (though he admitted that he usually had a trenchant style). Another attack on Butler followed in the H and St L Obs of 8.10.1921. The last major tournament in Brighton had been in 1904 and it was an event that Butler recalled with pride. However, Ackroyd made fun of ‘Crusader’s’ reminiscences by stating:” The writer of “Sussex Chess Notes” bemoans the present decadent days of the Sussex Chess Association and extols its past glories when Max Lopez Zingboom (N.B. this is a fictional name, but might be a subtle reference to Butler who was had been the secretary of the Sussex Chess Association for a number of years, though not in 1904) was its energetic secretary. Ah, those were the days! How well we remember all those gatherings that electrified the chess world and made Sussex the envy of every county. The older inhabitants will recall that memorable gathering at the Brighton Aquarium, when the enthusiasm for chess ran so high that it was communicated to an adjacent Octopus, who announced mate to a neighbouring giant boiled lobster in eight moves, one move for each tentacle. And who will ever forget the delight of all when it was suggested that Max Lopez Zingboom be thrown to the sea lions for breakfast and the indignant protests of the keeper who was responsible for their feeding.” In another article (H and St L Obs of 25.2.1922) Ackroyd describes ‘Crusader’ as mounting his Pogo-stick and falling off.
Ackroyd’s most controversial article was published in the H and St L Obs of 6.5.1922. He wrote: “The Hastings and St. Leonards Chess Club is successful because so far they have not a Semitic amongst their members. Mr. Prime Minister please follow suit or get out! Brighton has become Jerusalem No 2 with the Turks outnumbered!” This is blatant racism and nowadays might have landed him in court.
As time passed, there is evidence that Ackroyd and Butler surprisingly became good friends. They both liked encouraging young players and Butler respected Ackroyd’s appetite for work. The latter was heavily involved in the running of the Christmas congresses as well as the Boy’s Congress held about Easter. He also arranged the publication of yearbooks for the county. When he left the county in 1924, Butler congratulated his friend on the masterly way that he had administered the Boy’s Congress and added that he wished Brighton had so widely a thinking man in the cause of the game (Sussex Daily News of 30.4.1924).
Relations with Capablanca, BCF, BCM and the Kent Chess Association
The charming young Cuban world champion, Jose Capablanca, was the darling of the chess world, but he was regarded as greedy by Ackroyd. The columnist referred to him as the great ‘Panjandrum’, a term which seems to have first been used by the playwright Samuel Foote (1720-77). The word has become part of the English language with the rather unflattering meaning of a person who thinks that he is important. Capablanca became friendly with Edward Tinsley, the chess correspondent of The Times, and Ackroyd referred to them as the ‘Panjandrum Twins’ (H and St L Obs of 22.7.1922). Capablanca could feel assured of a good press in The Times, but Ackroyd felt that the World Champion charged too much to give simultaneous displays. In reply to a letter by Tinsley attempting to justify Capablanca’s fee of £20 for a simul, Ackroyd wrote (H and St L Obs of 29.7.1922): “Well, we in Hastings prefer to go without, as one player remarked, “If it is a question of my giving one penny to have him down, I prefer to throw away two-pence for him to keep away!””
In 1922 the British Chess Federation arranged an international tournament in London and Edward Tinsley and Samuel Holloway were involved in the planning. Several strong masters competed in the main event including Capablanca. Ackroyd made a number of criticisms of the cost for the venture and in the end it made a substantial loss. The tournament was followed soon afterwards by a quadrangular Hastings tournament, but Ackroyd was unable to persuade the Cuban and the former world champion, Emanuel Lasker, to take part. It seems that the prize money was not large enough and Ackroyd wrote (H and St L Obs of 14.10.1922) : “Having had dealings with both these gentlemen we must admit that neither of them has impressed us very much.”
Meanwhile Ackroyd found himself being criticised. In the H and St L Obs of 20.5.1922 he writes: “Our notes, so we are told, contain a trifle too much ozone! Well, it is not our intention to put them in corsets, this being an age of décolleté and short skirts.” Then later in the H and St L Obs of 26.8.1922 he admitted that the secretary of the British Chess Federation, Leonard Rees, had stated that the Hastings Chess Club was “getting itself into rather bad odour”. Ackroyd’s response was to refer to Rees’s ‘pompous pontifical’ manner and to attack the Federation, which he maintained was in a ‘shockingly malodorous condition’. An argument also developed with the editor of the British Chess Magazine, Richard Griffith. The club moved to 7 Carlisle Parade in June 1922, but Griffith complained that he had not received an account of the opening ceremonies. Ackroyd replied as follows (H and St L Obs of 8.7.1922):”If he likes to bury his head in the sand like an ostrich, in this instance, instead of using scissors and paste, as he usually does, this is his own look out! We do not think, with due respect to the Editor, that the B.C.M. is important enough or its editor sufficiently courteous for us to go out of our way to take any trouble in giving him information!”
In 1923 Messrs Tinsley and Holloway plus Rufus Stevenson organised a congress at Margate. Just as Ackroyd had criticised the London tournament of 1922, so he attacked the organisation of this new congress. His reasons were different this time. A large tournament had been arranged at Liverpool and Hastings had shelved plans to organise a significant event of their own over Easter to avoid a clash of dates. When, however, Ackroyd discovered that the Kent Chess Association also intended to run a tournament over Easter, he not only criticised the Kent organisers in his articles for a clash of dates, but went so far as to write to the Town Clerk of Margate to raise his objections to this. It seems clear that this made the officials of the Kent Chess Association furious and a written letter of complaint was sent to the Hastings Chess Club (the letter also deplored the attacks made publicly by Ackroyd on its officials) . The matter was discussed at the club’s committee meeting of 5.3.1923 and Ackroyd was asked to leave the room. The committee decided that the club secretary should state in his reply that the club should remain neutral in this matter and that it would be unreasonable and difficult to hamper the press correspondent in the expression of his views. The Kent Chess Association responded by asking for specific answers and their reply was discussed at the club’s committee meeting of 26.3.1923. This was clearly a difficult meeting and the secretary, Mr S H Bishop, resigned. It appears that his reasons for leaving the job have been crossed out in the club’s minutes, but these seem to say that he objected to Mr Ackroyd’s intrusion into his affairs and the friction between the two officials. Nevertheless the club decided to tell the Kent Chess Association that the committee were completely unaware of the letter to the Town Clerk of Margate and they did not feel that they were called upon to express an opinion on it.
The argument between Ackroyd and the Kent officials also affected a triangular competition between Hastings and East and West Kent, which had been planned for some time. Because of Ackroyd’s annoyance at the Kent organisers he said that he hoped this competition would fall through ‘until our neighbours’ committee returns to less bosslike methods’(H and St L Obs of 17.2.1923). In fact that was exactly what did happen and the Kent Chess Association cited Ackroyd’s hostility as the reason for this. Club members therefore who were looking forward to this match were denied the opportunity to play in it. For a time the articles in the Hastings newspaper became milder, but it is uncertain whether there was a large fallout from the Kent complaint. At a club committee meeting of 1.5.1923 the president gave Ackroyd power to choose an assistant press correspondent, but this seems to have been because he was likely to be away from Hastings on occasions.
The Sussex team
Ackroyd was a strong player and it was not long before he got into the county team. He could not refrain, however, from giving his opinion about the board order (H and St L Obs of 26.11.1921): “…the order of play was conceived on the principle of age and bad play; the older the player, the higher he was played, or the worse his past performances the more surely would he gravitate towards the Sussex champion. Like flies in amber one wonders how the deuce some of them got there!” In the period that followed some of the younger players did make it into the team.
This was an American temperance movement of which William Eugene ‘Pussyfoot’ Johnson (1862 – 1945) was the leader. Ackroyd makes a few scattered references to this movement probably in jest. In the H and St L Obs of 8.4.1922 he states that Mr Hore’s opponent resigned and took refuge in the Pussyfoot Tabernacle across the road (N.B. this is unlikely to be true). Another reference to the Pussyfoots occurs in the H and St L Obs of 1.7.1922. The majority of Hastings players had travelled to an away match by char-a-banc and on the way back it came on to rain. Ackroyd described the journey as “memorable for its being dry there and for the wet which accompanied us back! A pussyfoot performance which would have gladdened the one-eyed Johnson!” The meaning of this is not exactly clear, though it may indicate that there was no alcoholic beverage drunk on the vehicle and the players got wet from rain on the way back (N.B. the char-a-bancs that were popular at this time were often open at the top). Did Ackroyd enjoy a pint? There is no clear evidence for this, but in the H and St L Obs of 8.4.1922 he describes his game against the Thornton Heath and Norbury Chess Club as follows: “Mr E.J. Ackroyd on board four playing as if he were a pawn up instead of a piece down, looked, played and fell like Humpty- Dumpty, an ambulance…having been procured he was sewn up again..’ This is clearly an exaggerated pen-picture, but is there a suggestion that he had had too much to drink? I would also like to mention his article in the H and St L Obs of 14.10.1922 where he states that a trophy is a fairly useless thing unless suitably filled.
The chess kitten
In the H and St L Obs of 8.9.1923 Ackroyd mentions a ‘playful young chess kitten’ at the Hastings Chess Club. It is uncertain to which young lady he is referring, but I wonder if his wife would have approved of this style of writing!
A non-chess player’s visit to Brighton
Ackroyd describes the visit of a non-chess player to Brighton in the H and St L Obs of 8.7.1922. It seems possible that the non-chess player is a fictional character and Ackroyd is trying to imagine how a group of chess players would appear to someone who did not play the game. On the journey there the chess players are described as possessing a remoteness. Sallies of wit only received a kindly tolerance and when the match started, the silence was broken only by the ticking of the clocks. At first the various players seemed like so many thinking-machines, but in the later stages their individuality reasserted itself. Most of the players smoked incessantly but absent-mindedly allowed cigarette ash to fall on their trousers. On the way back it was very dull ‘like a temperance demonstration in the United States’ (c.f. the section on Pussyfoots).
Ackroyd moved to London in 1924. It was not very long before he suffered further mental problems and in January 1926 he entered Hellingly Hospital. Most of the rest of his life was spent in mental institutions and he suffered from auditory hallucinations and delusions of wealth, and could be impudent to fellow patients. As well as having a second period in Latchmere Hospital, he was a patient at Grove Road Hospital, Richmond, Brookwood Mental Hospital, Woking, Surrey County Mental Hospital, Woking, and St Andrews Hospital, Northampton. Finally in June 1935 he entered the asylum at the Old Manor, Salisbury, where he died in 1939 at the age of 54. Sadly his son Alistair’s only recollections of his father were of visiting him in these grim places.
Ackroyd was one of the strongest players at the Hastings Chess Club and I enclose three of his games:
Znosko-Borovsky,EA – Ackroyd,EJ [B13]
Simul at Hastings CC, 04.1921
1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 cxd5 4.Nf3 Bf5 5.Bd3 Bxd3 6.Qxd3 Nf6 7.0–0 Nc6 8.Ne5 Qb6 9.c3 e6 10.Nd2 Bd6 11.Ndf3 0–0 12.Bg5 Qc7 13.Bxf6 gxf6 14.Ng4 f5 15.Nf6+ Kg7 16.Nh5+ Kh8 17.Rfe1 Rg8 18.Ng3 Rg4 19.Nf1 Rag8 20.g3 h5 21.Ne3 R4g7 22.Ng2 Ne7 23.Re2 f4 24.Ne5 f6 25.Nf3 e5 26.dxe5 fxe5 27.Rae1 e4 28.Qd4 fxg3 29.Nfh4 gxf2+ 30.Rxf2 Bc5 31.Qf6 Bxf2+ 32.Kxf2 Qb6+ 33.Qxb6 axb6 34.h3 Nf5 35.Nxf5 Rxg2+ 36.Ke3 Rg1 37.Rxg1 Rxg1 38.Kd4 Rd1+ 39.Ke3 Rd3+ 40.Kf4 Rf3+ 41.Kg5 Rxf5+ Source: Hastings and St Leonards Observer of 6.8.1921. 0–1
Dobell,HE – Ackroyd,EJ [B18]
Hastings CC Bradley Martin Cup, 1922
1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Bf5 5.Ng3 Bg6 6.c3 Nf6 7.Qb3 Qb6 8.Nf3 Nbd7 9.Bc4 e6 10.0–0 Bd6 11.Re1 Qc7 12.Bd2 0–0–0 13.a4 h5 14.Bg5 Bf4 15.Bh4 Bh7 16.Ng5 Bxg5 17.Bxg5 h4 18.Ne2 Ng4 19.Bf4 Qb6 20.Qa3 e5 21.a5 Qc7 22.dxe5 g5 23.Bxg5 Rdg8 24.Bxh4 Bd3 25.Bxd3 Rxh4 26.Ng3 Ndxe5 27.Bf5+ Kb8 28.Qc5 f6 29.Rad1 Nxh2 30.Re3 Rgh8 31.Rd4 Nhg4 32.Bxg4 Nxg4 33.Re7 Rh1+ Source: Hastings and St Leonards Observer of 18.11.1922. 0–1
Drewitt,JAJ – Ackroyd,EJ [B12]
Hastings CC Bradley Martin Cup, 1922
1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 Bf5 4.g4 Be4 5.f3 Bg6 6.e6 Qd6 7.exf7+ Bxf7 8.Qe2 Nd7 9.f4 Ngf6 10.Nc3 h6 11.Be3 g6 12.0–0–0 b5 13.Bg2 Nb6 14.Nb1 Nc4 15.h3 Ne4 16.b3 Nc3 Source: Hastings and St Leonards Observer of 4.11.1922. For Black’s 14th move the score either gives N-R4 or N-B4 (the print is difficult to read), but it seems likely that N-B5 (Nc4) was played. 0–1
I should like to thank Susan and Anthony Ackroyd for their great help in compiling this article. I am also grateful to Chris Ravilious for his interpretation of the Ackroyd articles about fifteen years ago.
Brian Denman 30.6.2013.