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Flack History 

 

Introduction

Long before Volume I of Rodney James' A History of the Insurance Chess Club appeared in our Centenary Year, 1993, a previous History had been written by P.W. Flack. Indeed, Rodney James relied upon this earlier work for much of his research on the early years of the Club for his own history.

Flack's History was written in 1939 but was never published owing to the outbreak of the second World War. We have his typewritten manuscript of the work, with his hand-written corrections, and it is somewhat chilling, at the end of the chapter entitled "The Great War" (meaning 1914-1918), to read in Flack's own handwriting the following note:

"As we write these notes, a new Great War has commenced. Poland has been suddenly and savagely attacked; a British ultimatum has been handed to the German Government and a British Army has been landed in France!"

Flack's History was not so much a chronological record of the Club's life in the James' mould, but is entitled "The Insurance Chess Club: Historical and Other Notes". It is a collection of chapters and sections dealing with various aspects of the Club and times through which it lived. There are sections entitled Early Days, General Notes (subtitles: Club Subscriptions and Hours of Play), Manners and Customs, Vice Presidents, Vicissitudes, The Great War, Lady Membership, etc., and a number of paragraphs on various key figures up to that time.

P.W. Flack was one of the original members, so in this manuscript we have retained a contact with the Club's very beginning; when we read the section entitled "Manners and Customs", we have the word of one who was there.

In this page of the Club Website, we are publishing extracts from Flack's History; it is sufficiently different from Rodney James' treatment of the subject, in that it covers various aspects of the Club's life besides a record of its chronology, that full publication may well be merited.

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 Flack's History (1939) - Index

 The Blackburne Blindfold Simultaneous

 Manners and Customs

 Lady Membership

 Oxford, Cambridge and Hastings

 E Burford Morrison

 George Glover

 Mr. A. Walters

 Mr. L.A. Durham

 Mr. G.H. Wilmot

 Mr. G.W. Richmond

 Some Reminiscences

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The Blackburne Blindfold Simultaneous - 20th March 1893

Eight members of the Club were chosen to play in this match, namely, Messrs. G. Glover (Guardian), C.M. Roberts (Sun), L.A. Ryan (Scottish Widows), P.W. Flack (Royal), S.B. Baxter (Law Fire), R.L. Brinkworth (Commercial Union), A.G. Allen (Standard) and W.J. Jones (Hand in Hand).

Mr. Blackburne's game against the writer was said by one of the press reports to be the gem of the evening, the brilliancy being of course provided entirely by the champion, who, at the finish of this game, very rapidly announced mates in varying numbers of moves; and he sang out the various replies he would make, according to his opponent's three or four possible lines of play. We had never before seen a blindfold simultaneous display, and we marvelled how such things could be. In connection with this display, it may be mentioned that a great many years later a note in an insurance paper stated that at that time, Mr. G. Glover was the only surviving member of the team which played against Mr. Blackburne in 1893. I believe a subsequent note in the paper indicated that the writer of these notes was not quite so dead as had been supposed.

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Manners and Customs

The Club Room 45 or 46 years ago [ie 1893-4], when the members were in full session, presented a somewhat different aspect from that which it bears today. For one thing, there were among the senior members, many, we think most, adorned either with beard, whiskers or moustache, often all three, although certainly the clean shaving vogue had commenced and was in fact already popular among the younger section. It seemed almost that at that time it was supposed that a clean shaven face would not inspire either in the office executive, or in the general public that confidence, which was readily given to one well provided with beard and whiskers. Some of the more old-fashioned clients would not think of discussing their business arrangements with one whom they described as "a beardless boy". We think, indeed, that we did hear it asserted by some irreverent cynics among the younger set that certain of their superiors owed their advancement entirely to their abundant profusion of hirsute adornment. Most of the members at that date wore morning or frock coat, with silk hats: coloured shirts in the City were almost unknown. The style of speech and manners was also rather more formal than now. In the mid-[eighteen]-nineties it was very customary to wear a flower in the button hole, and for a time violets were much in fashion in London.

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Lady Membership

In 1930 there was passed a resolution that might have been epoch making, but which has hitherto been practically without result. This was to the effect that ladies were eligible for membership of the Club. It may be that this is not sufficiently well known among the staffs of the Offices and Brokers. Perhaps another reason for the ladies having so far failed to invade the sacred precincts may be that after the day's exertions they do not feel that chess is the ideal form of recreation. Still it seems difficult to understand, seeing that the practice of the game has undoubtedly increased on the part of ladies why, among the large number now engaged in the Insurance world, should there not be a great many who would seek in the playing of the game a congenial exercise! Perhaps those who play, prefer to do so at local clubs near home. But we are inclined to think that if a beginning could be made by a few enthusiastic friends joining the Insurance Chess Club at the same time, they would prove to be the pioneers of a quite considerable invasion. It is not uncommon to hear of Office representatives lamenting that they find so few chess players within their sphere of influence, or at all events, so few who are willing to play in matches at the Club. Well, here is a field that might enable the representatives more easily to make up their teams, and to enter more teams, in the Inter-Office Competition. Enquiries would be well worth making.

It is interesting to recall that in 1910 the question of lady membership was raised, but after some discussion was negatived. It is rather amusing that one of the reasons for this appears to have been that it was thought the Management of some of the Offices did not consider it advisable to encourage intercourse, outside the office, between the ladies and gentlemen on their staffs. But that was four years before the Great War had come to upset prevalent ideas and traditions. Perhaps also the militant suffragette movement then in very active operation, may have influenced both the Office Managements and the committee. Or would it have been that the married members of the Club feared that, when arriving home late, their excuse of having been engaged in an arduous game followed by a long technical argument with another member, might be even less readily accepted than before? It should be mentioned, however, that in 1910 it was ruled that though ladies could not be members of the Club, the teams in the Inter-Office Competition might, if desired, include them. The idea, however, does not seem to have been strongly encouraged, and so far as we know, the opportunities afforded were not utilised.

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Oxford and Cambridge Universities and Hastings Chess Club

Over a long period of time the Insurance Chess Club has once a year sent a visiting team to each of the Universities, and to Hastings, for a trial of strength in matches, and we hope this feature will be long continued. The teams are received by the hosts in a most friendly and hospitable manner, and the journeys out and home, with the chess match in between, form very pleasant trips. Sometimes two or three of the team have made the occasion an opportunity for renewing their acquaintance with the neighbourhood, travelling down a day or so in advance, or remaining a day or two after the match. We recall visits to Cambridge some years ago. We caught an early train, partaking of refreshments on board; meeting at Cambridge one or two other members, we spent a most agreeable few hours looking round the Colleges and visiting the fine museum. The Hon. Secretary, Mr. Durham, who was in charge of the team, looked after our welfare in the most fatherly manner; took our tickets for us, put us in a comfortable seat, and conducted us about town by the shortest and best route; saw that we had enough to eat and drink. but not so much as might incapacitate us for the match; congratulated us when we won, sympathised with us when we lost; and brought us safely home after a tiring but happy day.

It is, of course, hardly possible for the Club to collect up its best team for a far away match, as some are sure to find themselves unable to go, but it speaks well for the esprit de corps of members, that at all events a fairly representative team is gathered. Considering the strength of the opposition in these cases, and especially in the case of the famous Hastings Club, the results on the whole are as good as could be expected. As regards the Universities, we have often wondered how such young players contrive to acquire such excellent skill and chess sense. They do seem to have old heads on young shoulders.

The Oxford and Cambridge men, when in London for their Annual ”Chess Week•, usually include in their itinerary a return visit to the Insurance Club, which on such occasions generally has the pleasure of meeting also a sprinkling of former members of the Universities. This event always affords a most agreeable evening for the Insurance men, and we trust, also to the visitors. Shortly before the time arranged for the match, a sound can be heard as of a mighty host coming up the stairs, followed immediately by the entry of enthusiastic players. We remember the late Mr. Yates (who often held the British Championship) was sometimes present to adjudicate unfinished games. He had usually taken a stroll round the room before the call of time, and no doubt had taken good stock of the positions on the boards at which it seemed likely he would be called upon to give judgement; he was therefore able the more speedily to announce his decisions.

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E Burford Morrison

Mr Burford Morrison, of the "Sun", has been very closely connected with the Club since its inception. He took the Chair at the preliminary Committee meeting on the 6th March, 1893, at the head office of the "Guardian", acted as chairman of the Committee for nearly 40 years until his retirement in 1932. He proposed to retire in 1925, but eventually yielded to the strong protests against this, and consented to continue. He was an ideal Chairman, dignified and impressive, and always kept the members to the matter in hand. We can see him now, with the mind's eye, rapping on the table when he saw two gentlemen conversing between themselves, and rapping still more sharply when they did not immediately leave off. Owing to our having been out of town, we had not heard of his final resignation, but arriving at the Club rooms at the Old Bell one afternoon, we found the large room too full to enter, and an overflow meeting outside. We joined the latter, and, making enquiry heard that a presentation had just been made to Mr. Morrison, and that the retiring chairman was at that moment returning thanks. Being on the extreme edge of the crowd, we were unable to hear distinctly, but that his speech was excellent was evidenced by the repeated cheering, and the frequent bursts of laughter testified to its witty and genial character. We believe it was his invariable practice when attending Committee meetings, to arrive at the rendezvous in good time, and to enter the room about three minutes before the appointed hour, so that he could open the proceedings as the clock struck. At the General Meeting in 1925, Mr. Sketch, a vice-president, who took the chair, referred to Mr. Morrison's excellent work on the Committee, but mentioned that he himself was better acquainted with him in the golfing world. It is interesting to recall also that at a smoking concert held on the 13th April, 1899, at Crosby Hall, Mr. Morrison gave a recitation entitled "The Schoolboy's Letter". He was elected as honorary life member of the Club in 1933.

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George Glover

With the death of Mr. Glover, of the "Guardian" in 1933, the Club lost a very valuable and popular member, who had been associated with it from its earliest days. A good chess player, he regularly took part in the Club matches and tournaments with considerable success. He was always ready, whenever possible, to accompany the team to the more distant matches with Oxford and Cambridge Universities and the Hastings Club. On these occasions he was a very pleasant and entertaining companion, and his courtesy, appearance, and bearing, brought credit to the Club. He was always able and willing to say a few well-chosen words whenever the occasion required it. He was one of the team of eight chosen to represent the Club on its opening night, 20th March, 1893, when Mr. J.H. Blackburne gave a simultaneous display. He was unsparing in his devotion to the Club's interests and acted as Steward, Match Captain and during the difficult period from 1914-1923 as honorary Secretary. he also served as a Committee-man. If we were asked to describe him in a few words, we would say he was a "gentleman of the old school".

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Mr. A. Walters

Here is one who cannot be omitted from any history of the activities and progress of the Club.

He held executive office from 1909 until shortly before he died in 1937; twenty-eight years, and this in itself constitutes a record. Joining the Club in 1907, he became Tournament Secretary in 1909, combining in 1913 this office with the Match Captaincy, which latter he held until 1929. In the latter year he found that the distance at which he lived from London, and perhaps also advancing years, prevented his fulfilling his duties in the highly efficient manner which alone would content him. He was not a man who could feel satisfied to give a partial or makeshift service, and he therefore resigned the Match Captaincy, but continued to do useful work as an Assistant Secretary. But a mere enumeration of offices and dates conveys no very adequate idea of the real value of the support which he so consistently and continuously gave to the Club. A chess player of no mean ability, he took a successful and most useful part both in the Club matches and in the Tournaments, winning several prizes, one of which was for playing, with a good percentage of success, the largest number of games in the continuous Tournament.

An able man of affairs, and of a most kindly disposition, his counsel and help at all times, but especially in difficult circumstances, were greatly appreciated. He was, by unanimous election, an honorary life member, and a presentation was made him in 1929. When he died in 1937 it was fully recognised that no one individual of his generation had been a better friend of the Club than he.

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Mr. L.A. Durham

One day in 1929 the General Committee experienced a sinking feeling when it was learned that Mr. Durham was resigning as Hon. Secretary. The Club had come to rely so much upon his ability and judgement, and the present organisation and activities of the Club are so largely due to his initiative. In his days the Handicap Tournament was replaced by the present system of open tournaments. The Inter-Office Sub-Committee was formed. The number of boards in the first division was made eight instead of six, and the membership of the Club was considerably increased.

Happily Mr. Durham still gives to the Club, as a member of the Committee, his valuable inspiration and counsel.

To his personal Chess achievements many references will be found elsewhere in these notes.

 

Mr. G.H. Wilmot

Mr. Wilmot has been Match Captain since 1929, and has filled that important office with great ability and success. It has recently been arranged that he shall also act as Chairman of the Inter-Office Sub-Committee. A good chess player, with a very quick grasp of positions, he plays with success in the Club and Inter-Office matches. If anyone can get the best teams to the matches, surely it is Mr. Wilmot.

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Mr. G.W. Richmond

These notes would be very incomplete if they did not include some items of the Chess record of Mr. Richmond, one of the Club's most eminent members. He joined in its early days and has been a consistent supporter throughout. He became a member of the Committee in 1921, and in 1933 was unanimously elected Chairman, which position he still holds.

His Chess successes will appear the more noteworthy when it is remembered that he has been continuously and closely engaged in his professional duties, so that the time he could devote to Chess was necessarily very limited, and his achievements have been accomplished in his leisure. He took part in, and won, three times, the Club Competition, and in the odds tournament he naturally had to be graded in a class by himself, starting minus 20 per cent with Class A.

Mr. Richmond won the British Chess Federation Open Tournament at Hastings in 1904 against opposition which included, in addition to the leading County players, the German master, Leonhardt, and the Dutch master, R. Loman. He played three times for Great Britain in the Cable matches against U.S.A. He was many times asked to play, but often had not the leisure. He won the Scottish Championship in 1910.

He some years played for the Club in the League matches. We have unfortunately but meagre records of his scores, but we know that in the season, 1903/4, he won nine points our of eleven, with no losses. In the same season he won all his games in the Handicap Tournament. He occasionally gave at the Club rooms lectures and simultaneous displays.

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Some Reminiscences

We noticed a few years ago a curious incident in the course of one of the most important matches. At one of the Boards the Insurance representative was seen sitting for some time alone, pondering the position. The Match Captain, Mr. Wilmot, concluding the game was over, came up to ask what was the result. The member answered that he was awaiting the reply to his move, but that his opponent had left his seat twenty minutes before, without making any explanation or saying anything at all, and that he had not returned. Mr. Wilmot, mystified by this, and perhaps fearing that the opposition player might have committed suicide, or taken some other desperate course, thought he had better institute a search. He presently discovered him, not only in apparently good spirits, but even looking quite self-satisfied. In reply to the Captain's enquiry as to why he was not proceeding with the game, he answered quite airily, "Oh, I have finished with it; my opponent lost on time". The Match Captain, astonished, returned to the Board, and, carefully investigating the matter, found that the twenty-fourth move had, in fact, been made within the hour. An examination of the opponent's score-sheet showed that he had accidentally omitted to note in the earlier part of the game, a move on each side. This had led him into the mistake of supposing the Insurance member to be still considering his twenty-fourth move after the expiration of the hour, whereas he was, of course, meditating his twenty-fifth. Not wishing to take advantage of the error, Mr. Wilmot again went in search of the opponent, who was rather youthful, and enlightened him as to the actual situation, arranging for the game to proceed. It is to be hoped that this kindly treatment afforded a needed lesson in Chess ethics and good feeling, and that the tactful handling of the difficulty was appreciated.

Another incident. We call to mind a Club match game in which one of the opposing team positively declined to make a move. Clocks, of course, were not being used. It had been arranged that play should cease at nine o'clock. At a quarter past eight, the Insurance member, who had the white pieces, made a move, and the position was somewhat complicated. After his opponent had given twenty minutes to consideration, White ventured the remark, "Will you not make a move, Sir?". Black shrugged his shoulders, waved his arms, and at last said, "I do not know what to play". After another ten minutes had passed, he remarked, "I cannot move - I would rather leave it to the adjudicator", and from this attitude he would not budge. Presently the two Captains arrived in due course at the Board and studied the situation. There were many pieces still on, and, the time being late, the position was sent for adjudication. Under the tiresome circumstances, it was no doubt satisfactory that the decision was given in favour of the Insurance side, but even after that, the disappointed procrastinator paid a special visit to the Adjudicator and strongly protested. Quite a prolonged argument took place, and although it was demonstrated to him that he must lose in every variation, we doubt whether, even at the finish he was entirely convinced.

Mr. L.A. Durham tells us the following in his own words:-

"In the away matches there seemed to be two distinct elements in the team. There was the "bridge" school and the "beer and skittles" school. As their nomenclature would suggest, after the more serious part of the weekend's activities had been fulfilled, to wit, the Chess match, there was a sharp cleavage in the ranks. The more mature element in the side would congregate at the Hotel, and, after dinner, would settle down to a sedate game of bridge until the early hours; the less responsible spirits in the team, however, would roam about and test comparison of the respective brews at the local Inns.

"The writer well remembers a certain week-end at Hastings when, at a very late hour, the two schools of thought confronted each other, somewhat hilariously, and to the evident trepidation of the management, in the resplendent reception hall of the Eversfield Hotel, Hastings, the one replete with bridge and whisky and the other .... 'and so to bed'."