George Marshall Norman

George Marshall Norman

Winner of the club championship 7 times in 1920, 21, 22, 25, 26, 27, 1928.

G M Norman

By Brian Denman

He was born George Marshall Norman on 15.2.1880 in Brighton. He was educated at Brighton Grammar School and Brighton Technical College, winning a scholarship to the Imperial College of Science at London University. He spent five years at university where he seems to have studied chemistry. He obtained a B. Sc. and about 1905 went to Bury as head of the Pure and Applied Chemistry departments in the Technical School.

The Hastings and St Leonards Observer of 12.10.1929 mentions that one morning in the late 1890s Norman strolled into the Public Chess Room in Brighton for a cup of coffee and was challenged to a game. [N.B. There was a public chess room in Brighton from 1873 to about 1921.] He accepted the offer but lost several games in succession against a strong local player, R E Lean. He was somewhat peeved at this, but out of the interest created bought a chess book on the way home. It was not very long before he began to reveal his potential. He is on record as playing for both the Brighton CC and Brighton YMCA CC in the early years of the new century (N.B. presumably most of his chess in Brighton at this time was played when at university in London). In 1902 he made his county debut and in the 1902-3 season he played on board 111 for the South against the North in a correspondence match.

In this early period he manifested an interest in both composing and solving chess problems. Nowadays the composition of chess problems takes rather a back seat to playing, but in the 19th century in particular chess columns quite often had their own problem section. Norman was not only gifted at chess puzzles. According to the Hastings and St Leonards Observer of 9.7.1966 he had a lightning sense of solution for any kind of puzzles, whether mathematical or otherwise.The BBC once had a programme called ‘Puzzle Corner’ and Norman was invited to join the resident panel of experts.

After taking up his job in Lancashire, he played many times for that county and though he did not win the county championship, he was strong enough to get into a final. It would obviously have meant very lengthy journeys for him if he had continued to play for Sussex in over-the-board matches, but he is on record as playing some correspondence chess for his home county in this period.

In 1915 after the war had started, he joined the Royal Engineers and went to France. He was awarded the 1914-15 Star medal. Later in the war he returned to England with the rank of captain and joined the Army Ordnance Department as an inspecting officer in charge of ammunition and explosives in the Eastern Region. He was stationed at Chatham and his duties included dealing with unexploded German bombs found in the region.

When the war finished, he returned to Bury for a short time. In 1919, however, he was appointed Headmaster of the Municipal School of Science in Hastings. He soon joined the Hastings CC and entered into a very successful period in his chess career. As well as winning the club championship seven times in nine years in the 1920s, he became Sussex champion in 1923, 1928, 1930 and 1931, and competed in eight Hastings Premier tournaments on the trot from 1921. Later he also took part in the 1934-35 Premier event. The Hastings Premier was a prestigious tournament and Norman came to play several overseas masters including world champions Capablanca, Alekhine, Euwe, and Botvinnik. His best score in terms of points came in the 1922-23 event when he scored 5/8, but the Premier tournament could vary in standard from year to year partly depending on when the strongest players took part. One player who could not have liked playing against Norman was Frederick Yates. Yates won the British Championship six times between 1913 and 1931, but often struggled against the Hastings player.

Norman was very well regarded within the Hastings CC and in the Hastings and St Leonards Observer of 14.1.1922 it is stated that he was ‘deservedly popular amongst all the members of the Hastings Club, combining a modest, almost shy disposition, with rare charm…’ He was for many years the match captain of both the Hastings CC and the Sussex team.

In about 1923 he was appointed as the Borough Analyst for Hastings. This was the same post that Horace Cheshire had occupied for many years.

He gave a number of simultaneous displays at the Hastings CC and to juniors at the Boy’s Congress. In 1925 he gave a 12 board simul at Hailsham. The Hastings and St Leonards Observer of 12.10.1929 even went so far as to state that he could play 12 players blindfold, though I have not seen any evidence of his carrying out this type of simultaneous.

In 1936 and 1937 he was a member of a team of local government workers in Hastings which entered the Pullinger Cup. Laurie Glyde was also in the same team.

In 1944 he retired from his job as headmaster of the local school of science and the Hastings and St Leonards Observer of 22.7.1944 mentioned that very valuable work had been accomplished despite the fact that the premises lacked the necessary accommodation. Norman looked forward now to playing a more active role in chess. By 1950, however, he had moved to Sutton where he joined the Sutton and Cheam CC. In about 1955 he moved to Kensington. He joined the West London CC, but still made some appearances for the Sutton club. He continued to play regularly for Sussex and sometimes for Hastings. When he left Hastings, he had been appointed as a vice-president. One legacy that he left to the club was the Norman Cup. Originally this was the trophy for the ladies’ championship of the club, but later it seems to have been used in a different role. I do not know if the cup still exists.

In 1962 he was rewarded with the greatest honour that the Sussex Chess Association can bestow viz. he was appointed as an Hon. Life Vice-President. Only a handful of chess players have received this distinction. A year later the Worthing Gazette made him the newspaper’s chess sportsman of the year because he made the long journey to Birmingham to play for the county (he was now 83 years of age).

His last appearances for the county were made in 1966, 63 years after he made his debut. Such a span of years for a Sussex county player has not been achieved by anyone else. There are at present two Sussex players who have been representing the county since 1958, but they still have another 16 years to go to equal Norman’s record. He died on 27.6.1966 in London at the age of 86. After he died, the Worthing Gazette introduced the Norman Award which was given annually to the player gaining the best score for Sussex in a season in the SCCU Championship (top 20 boards).

A good number of his games still survive and many of these are against some very strong players.

Est. 1882