Percy J. Morren

Club President from 1947-1963.

Percy J. Morren

By Brian Denman

A Londoner by birth, he came to Hastings in 1923, in which year he became a director of the original Ingersoll Watch Company. Together with Mr E S Daniells he founded the more recent company in 1930 and retired as its chairman in January 1958.

In November 1938 he became a member of Hastings Town Council and served on it until November 1946. During the latter part of that period he was chairman of the Entertainments’ Committee.

In the Hastings and St Leonards Observer of 8.1.1944 it was reported that during the Christmas holiday his interest in chess had been revived. It was stated that he had not done much in that direction for 20 years.

At the 1944 AGM of the Hastings CC he became a vice-president and, when A F Kidney could not attend chess functions, he seems to have generally been asked to fulfil the president’s duties. Kidney, in fact, suggested Morren for the president’s position when he stepped down in 1947 and the latter took up the post.

Morren presided over many changes. The club moved to Pelton House in 1954: the Congress transferred to the Sun Lounge in that same year; the Boy’s Congress ceased being held in Hastings after 1953; television cameras came to the Congress for the first time in 1949. Despite periodic difficulties the Congress continued to be popular. The Sun Lounge seems to have been rather a precarious venue and the Hastings and St Leonards Observer of 31.12.1955 reports that only prompt action by the management in erecting shutters prevented the possible breaking of windows and flooding of the accommodation. Sandbags were also made ready and with the shutters up play continued in artificial light although there was bright sunshine outside. In the 1962-63 Congress another hazard presented itself viz. snow, but play continued.

Morren, himself, could be quite tough and he was not afraid to speak his mind when he felt it necessary. At the prizegiving for the Boy’s Congress of 1952 he welcomed the Mayor and Mayoress, but then stated that he was a little disappointed with the Corporation. He proceded to outline the financial case against the Council to which the Mayor replied by suggesting that the chess club had not made its case properly. One would not really have expected this kind of debate at a prizegiving for juniors!

Another occasion on which he felt it right to express his opinion came at the prizegiving for the 1956-57 Congress. A newspaper seems to have stated that the tournament director, Frank Rhoden, had claimed to have built up the Congress from nothing in four years. Rhoden in fact denied saying this and Morren chose to refer to the Congress organisers of the past declaring that Hastings had had a long procession of very important and hard-working people.

Rhoden had managed to attract Russian grandmasters to the congress and Morren invited the Russian ambassador J Malik to open the 1955-56 Congress. Morren even persuaded Malik to visit his firm’s factory in South Wales and an exchange of visits between groups of English and Russian watchmakers followed.

Early in 1954 Morren found that he had a problem with the Spanish Chess Federation. Rhoden admitted that he had cancelled the invitation of the Spanish master, Roman Bordell when the Russians had decided to play at Hastings. The Hastings and St Leonards Observer of 23.1.1954 reported a statement allegedly made by a Russian that the Russians would not participate in tournaments in which there were ‘Fascist entrants’. The Spanish Chess Federation went so far as to break off relations with the British Chess Federation but according to the Sussex Daily News of 8.2.1954 G Wheatcroft, the president of the BCF, maintained that his organisation had nothing to do with the cancellation of Bordell’s invitation. The article also reported that Morren wrote to the Spanish Chess Federation expressing ‘profound regret’ that there should have been cause for misunderstanding. He stated that certain terms had been offered to Bordell, but his acceptance was not received before the ten players in the section were completed. The article also stated that at no time was the Congress Committee concerned as to whether the Rusians would play against Bordell.

Morren is particularly remembered for the annual matches between Hastings and London Transport. These started in 1951 and Morren used to arrange for the Hastings players and those of the visitors to have lunch at his own expense. The Hastings and St Leonards Observer of 5.9.1953 reported that for last Sunday’s match the London team selected 30 chess players from 15 garages and they travelled to Hastings in their bright red buses. Ten reserves and more than two hundred supporters accompanied them. The last of the regular matches took place in September 1963. Morren was too ill to attend the match and the meal, but he asked for the bill to be sent to him. After his death the matches ceased for a while, but they were restored in 1968 and continued for a short while. One imagines, however, that the annual lunch was dispensed with.

Morren, himself, only seems to have made occasional appearances for the club side. He does not appear to have been a strong player but he apparently had an opening system of his own which he seems to have called the Rock-a-Nore Opening. No one seems to have actually copied down the moves in this opening system, but at the 1951-52 Congress Rhoden played a couple of games against Lord Brabazon, who had opened the event, and completely baffled him in the second game with this opening. Morren sometimes played on board one (N.B. presumably a ceremonial position) in the London Transport matches and in the 1962 game completed a win with the Rock-a-Nore Opening. In the 1961 game he was opposed by Mrs Mary Robey, a London ‘clippie’, who was the first female player to turn out for the London Transport team. He won his game, though it does not seem to have been reported whether he played his special opening against her.

In the Hastings and St Leonards Observer of 20.8.1960 it is reported that in the top room of the Hastings CC there is a print of what must be the rarest photograph in the world of chess – Lowenthal and Morphy sitting at a tiny chess table contemplating the pieces. The year was 1858. Morren presented the print to the club after it was discovered by Bruce Hayden.

Morren’s death came after a short illness. He passed away on 21st September 1963 at the age of 79. Many were his achievements outside chess. He was a Freeman of the City of London. In Hastings he became president of the Rosemount Bowling Club and vice-president of the St Leonards Bowling Club. He also became president of the Sussex Bowling Association.

He was a great supporter of amateur football and was president of the Hastings and District Amateur Football Association from 1954 till his death. At one time he was also president of the Hastings and St Leonards Swimming Club.

From 1935 he became a member of the Friends of the Buchanan Hospital organisation. He became its first president in June 1956 and towards the end of August 1963 presided at the opening of the annual garden fete. He joined the Board of Management of the Buchanan Hospital in 1943 and became the first chairman of the House Committee under the National Service in 1948.

He took a very great interest in the Competitive Musical Festival and was the chairman of its Executive Committee for a number of years.

He was also a Rotarian, a governor of Hastings GS and a vice-president of the RSPCA.

He was a worshipper at St Mary Magdalen Church and had been a member of the choir for some years.

His obituary is reported in the Hastings and St Leonards Observer of 28.9.1963, where there is a photograph of him.

Est. 1882