IN THE BEGINNING

Contemporary chess players may imagine that there were no organised chess activities in Birmingham prior to the formation of The League in 1897. This is far from the truth however. Alan Brookes in his publication ' The First 75 Years ' discovered an obituary to Philidor in the Birmingham Gazette of the 7th of September 1795 where it stated that this famous player had been a member of the celebrated Chess Club since 1765, suggesting that the club, whose name was not given had been in existence for some time already, even at this early date! The Birmingham (Midland Institute) Chess Club was formed in 1851 and apparently in the period leading up to the turn of the century the number of clubs rose to 40! Whilst during this period there were no league activities chess enthusiasts took part in internal club competitions, informal inter-club matches and matches between cities. Matches were played by Birmingham against for example Glasgow, Edinburgh, Manchester, and London.  Organised county matches were being run and there were also a number of regular congresses and national tournaments in existence. There were many visits by international masters and lesser players, who provided simultaneous displays, talks etc. The local press gave far more space to chess than it does today. The Birmingham Daily Post had a column every day of the week and there was also coverage in The Birmingham Daily Gazette, The Birmingham Daily Mail and the Weekly Mercury. From The Birmingham Daily Post Aug 23 1858 we learn of the visit to England by Paul Morphy and his attempts to stage a match with Staunton. Whilst he was attempting this he was playing matches against others, including a 26 game match against a Mr. Barnes of The St. George's Club, which resulted in 19 wins to Morphy and 7 to Barnes, indicating that the local talent was considerable, even then. The issue of the following day reported the start of the Annual Congress of The British Chess Association in the library and board room of Queen's College. The Championship appeared to be a 16 player knockout and seemed to over run the time allotted. (Did this pre-date the use of clocks?)   Reference is made to The 1st Cambridge v Oxford Chess Match in The Birmingham Daily Mail of Saturday 23rd March 1873 apparently won by Oxford by 9 games to 3. The Weekly Mercury of October 2nd 1897 is of particular interest. The following quote gives a hint of events leading up to the formation of The League, "Following the successful visit of Herr Lasker to Birmingham in March last, and, we understand, as the direct outcome of that visit, a Midland Counties Chess Association has been called into existence, which numbers already some 2000 members ; and now a Birmingham and District Chess League has been formed, to which all important clubs in the neighbourhood have attached themselves. The senior clubs in Birmingham are busy with their preparations for the ensuing season, and the Birmingham Central Chess Club, to whom the initiative of Herr. Lasker's visit was entirely due, are holding their annual meeting on Monday next October 4 ". W.H.Dry in his Fifty Years of The League, pin-points a meeting on August 31st 1897, at the Central Chess Club, at the London Restaurant in Corporation Street, where five pioneers set the League in motion. These five were,
Mr. A.J.Mackenzie (St. George's Club), Mr J.P.Derrington (Y.M.C.A. Club), Mr. A.H.Davies and Mr. W.G.Renwick (Central Club) and Mr Ridgers (Bohemians Club).

LEAGUE COMPETITIONS

The first League Championship was won by Dudley in 1898 currently out of our competitions. Their participation has however not been continuous. They have played 1897-1900, 1910-1914, 1947-1951 and 1966-1996.
By 1902 the League had grown to one operating three divisions and having survived a stoppage of four years during the 1914-18 war prospered to such an extent that a fourth division was added in 1925. Following a run of four victories by St George's 1899-1902 the dominant club over the next 26 years, was Bohemians, who won the title 12 times. They folded up in 1931 and Birmingham and Erdington became the major forces either side of World War 2, Erdington in 1936-37 achieved 100% in Div 1, Kynoch (1954-2005) have the most consecutive appearances in the first division 51 Years. Kynoch (1981-85) & South Birmingham (2006-10) have established the most consecutive victories 5. Birmingham University (1953-56) & Wolverhampton Kipping (1969-72) have 4 consecutive victories. Walsall Kipping (2003-05) has 3 consecutive victories. Since the Millennium South Birmingham has been the dominant force with 8 titles in 16 years also achieving 100% (2014-15). South Birmingham is the only clubs to have fielded four teams in the first division (2016-17). No one has yet matched Bohemians 12 League Championships; the chasing clubs are Birmingham 10, Kynoch 9, South Birmingham & Sutton Coldfield 8, Mutual Circle, Bushbury & Walsall Kipping 5 League Championships.
The League grew in strength through the 1950s and in 1959 Divisions 5, 6 and 7 were added to rationalise the Division 4 North and Division 4 South and to cope with additional teams. A further surge in the number of registered players occurred in the mid 1970s in the wake of the 1972 Fischer Spassky World Title Match. Division 8 (1973), Division 9 (1974) and Division 10 (1976) were added coupled with the introduction of 8 board rather than 6 board teams for Division 1 to 5. Since 1990, however, the number of registered players has fallen and the League has reverted to 6 board matches for all divisions except the bottom Division which has 4 board matches. In the lower divisions it is now impossible for teams to achieve back to back wins in a particular division since promotion has been automatic since 1962. Over the years some clubs have been more successful than others, these tend to be the larger clubs which attract a large number of members in good catchment areas, Currently topping the All Time Champions Table with 34 titles are South Birmingham with Sutton Coldfield in a close second with 33, University Birmingham with a long history in the league are in third spot with 28 titles. Their students are usually only at the University for three years and the strength of the players fluctuates wildly. During a few weak years their teams crash down the divisions only to lay waste the opposition when some strong players arrive. Solihull, who have also played as West Warwickshire Solihull and had a splinter Solihull youth team, are forth in the list with 26 Championship titles. St James now known as Greenlands and Mutual Circle have 23 titles, Birmingham 22 titles and Walsall Kipping 2014 League Champions 21 titles, have been the most successful to date. (2014)
Click Winners Tables Tab for BDCL Teams, All Time Champions, Trophy and Individual Tables

KNOCKOUT TROPHIES

The Frank H. Terrill Memorial Trophy, a magnificent ornate rose bowl of sterling silver was introduced in 1938 and its knockout handicap format has always ensured a keenly contested competition. Mutual Circle were the first winners and have won (6) times since, Their victories have been achieved by teams drawn from Divisions 1 to 4 whereas Sutton Coldfield's 8 successes have been achieved with 6 from their Division 1 team and 1 win each by their Division's 4 and 2 teams.
The success of the Terrill led naturally on to the introduction in 1963 of the Dudley M. Townshend Trophy for teams in division 4 and below. 
St James, & South Birmingham with 5 victories, have been the most successful to date, with each club also winning three years in succession. Two plate competitions, for first round losers, have also proved popular. The Gerald Homer Memorial Trophy (1989 onwards) has South Birmingham at the top with 5 victories followed by Warley Quinborne with 4 victories out of 9 finals in 23 years. The Jim Barrington Memorial Trophy (1986 onwards) has been won 3 times by South Birmingham, Kingstanding & Sutton Coldfield.

THE LEAGUE INDIVIDUAL TOURNAMENT

To anyone who has been around in the Birmingham League for any length of time, it is impossible to think of the Individual Competition, without thinking of Jack Nurcombe.  It was his domain for 35 years! In the Annual Report for the 1987-88 seasons, the General Secretary, David Thomas, said amongst other things, "One of the first warnings of the impending arrival of Christmas would be the telephone call reminding a scatter-brained secretary that his club's entries for the individual were due." By this means Jack maximised the entries. When all was complete, there would be his masterly report on its outcome. Crisp, clear, full of facts and to the point. Even when he was fighting his terminal illness, he ran the competition as efficiently as ever. At the end of the 1982-83 seasons he would have reported that John Hawthorne and Baruch H Wood had shared the Division 1 Individual Title, and that this was John's first success, and that Baruch ( Sutton Coldfield ) had won a record number of 9 times. John Edge (Halesowen) 7 times then Andy Southall (Warley Quinborne)5½ wins five in a row, W.R.Morry has won 4 times having appeared in his first final in 1929-30 and his last in 1969-70, also 4 times P.J.Oakley and K.R.Ingram who also has 3 Division 2 Titles. In the lower divisions, one name stands out above all, L.E.Collier with no fewer than 14 titles to his name, two gained in Division 3 and a full dozen in Division 4. K.A.J.Francis has 7 successes, six in division 5 and one in Division 4. H.W.Brockbank has 6, across a number of divisions, including Division 1.

ORGANISATION

When one looks back over the years it strikes you how extremely efficient the League has been run. The long stints in office by numerous officials have ensured stability and continuity. Of course a glance at the record of Officers of the League draws ones attention, to the massive double act of H.W.Clark and W.H.Dry, each of whom served as Joint Secretaries for 30 years, embracing the period just before World War 1 and just after World War 2.  It is clear also however, that there had been a number of significant contributions before this, notable amongst which was, J.W.Wilder's contribution of 12 years.
Following the 1950-51 seasons the practice of appointing Joint Secretaries was changed to cope with the ever increasing administrative burden to a General Secretary, Treasurer and a Records Secretary. In the years since this time we have only had four Treasurers and such is the commitment that no less than eight officers, I.Boodson, A.E.Utton, K.J.Langston, H.W.Stanley, B.H.Wood, D.Rowe D.R.Thomas and D.Brelsforth have served for ten years or more.
Clearly the officers need support and this is provided by a number of sub-committees namely Finance & General Purpose, Match, Rules, Tournament, Grading, Lightning Again chairmen have served for long stints and apart from Jack Nurcombe's previously mentioned 37 years, very significant contributions have been made by H.K.Bailey, J.B.Jones, W.G.Powell, J.H.Baines, W.R.Morry, J.A.Crump, M.B.A.Walker, R.Tuckey, M.Biddle, T.W.Walker and K.G.Humphreys.

COMMUNICATION

The League Bulletin was started in 1956 with B.H.Wood as editor. Recollections of it 1959-1963 suggest a well printed bulletin, similar in format to the old format of his magazine "Chess" and that it was always late. Ritson-Morry took over for three years and a cluttered foolscap format appeared. Initially a vast improvement on speed of service, 14 issues instead of 6 and coverage of other events such as County Matches and Congresses were featured.
The bulletin evolved and improved slowly through the Hurst, Brown, Brookes, I.MacGillivray and Latham era but there were periods when there was a serious lag in the information and ones team position had to be guessed at through the bush telegraph. When Maureen Clark took over as Bulletin Editor, a quantum leap in quality of presentation, speed and reliability occurred and was maintained over seven years. Maureen was followed by Tony Szatanik, Philip Nightingale and Roy Tuckey and finally Chris Evans, all maintained a very high standard news sheet however it was very time consuming to source, edit and publish. With the internet now the popular choice with the members for information and communication, the bulletin ceased to exist in 2010. In the 2002-03 BDCL Handbook the name of M.J.Rees appears as Webmaster, a club league player for 50+ years. For some time Mike had been running a Midland Chess Web site where information could be found regarding News Results and events concerning Wolverhampton, Dudley, & Birmingham Chess Leagues, there were also links to all the clubs which had Internet sites. In 2009-10 the League took the advice from the Webmaster to purchase its own site as he could not guarantee to be around for ever, Mike retired at the end of 2010-11. The current Webmaster is Richard Reynolds who maintains front page and other domains where you will find news reports, forums, obituaries, archives maps to club venues and more. The Records Secretary A.T.Woollaston has a domain on the BDCL site and after tuition from Mike, uploads an online version of the Bulletin by using specially designated attachment Result Ecards sent by Email, from the match Captains, you will also find fixtures, tables, and history which you are reading. The speed of results service is now down to the speed the results are sent by the Match Captains, It has been known for results to appear on the web before the away team has arrived home. Cheers Mike.
                                                                                       
NAMES
                                                                                                                                                                     
  Over the years many a chess club name has disappeared, this is usually due to the venue becoming unavailable or the rent to expensive. This often results in clubs having to either change names to suit a new venue, or they merge with another club and adopt their name or create a new name. Quite a lot of clubs were formed as work teams and played from the company canteens but with the industrial decline they have now all gone. To the unknowing record studier, it may seem that many players changed clubs, but most often it was the club that changed not the player. Examples of this are. New Road club formed in 1952 then became Handsworth in 1957 then East Birmingham in 1967. Solihull Joined West Warwickshire in 1990 to be West Warwickshire Solihull they were later joined in 1992 by East Birmingham before splintering back into Solihull & Solihull Youth 1994. Solihull Youth got old and rejoined Solihull, University Birmingham was only known as University until 1966 when The College of Advanced Technology gained University Status and became Aston University. West Birmingham who existed as a draughts club in 1894 joined the league in 1932 became Lozells 1947; playing in Newtown they merged with Tucker Fasteners 1977, the two club secretaries after a night on the town chose North Birmingham to be their name 40 years after a club with the same name had existed. 21 years later North Birmingham amalgamated with Kingstanding in 1998, four seasons later they moved and became Boldmere. Solihull Lodge moved to the Colebrook Public House  and became Colebrook Shirley then after another move just Shirley, later when the Lucas Automotive (Lucas South) factory closed they joined to become Shirley & Lucas some more years passed and they moved to Wythall and are now Shirley & Wythall. When the Lucas, (Lucas North) factory closed they played at the Settlement Buildings and became Lucas Birmingham Settlement while here they were joined by West Midlands Municipal and are now Saint Georges, playing from the Local Church, no connection to the 1897 St George’s club. St James moved from The King George V Pub when it closed to the Austin Social Club then after it also closed ended up back at a former venue and became Greenlands. Birlec factory closed so they became Aldridge, South Staffordshire & Tamworth Joined to be Tamworth & District. Smethwick became Bearwood Baptists then back to Smethwick then Warley then amalgamated with Quinborne, Magnet Works became G.E.C. City of Birmingham joined Erdington, Chapel Street playing from the Methodist Church won Div 7 in their first season and moved to Cherry Orchard Hall Hampstead Hill and became Handsworth Wood then after more venue changes became The Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes, (R.A.O.B), Holly Lane and then back to Handsworth Wood. Wolseley Joined Westminster who started as Lady Westminster and no connection to the 1897 Westminster club.

 

PERSONALITIES OF THE LEAGUE

A.J.Mackenzie 1871-1949

Arthur John Mackenzie's connection with local chess began as match secretary to the Birmingham St.George's chess club in the early 1890s. By the end of the decade, he had helped to form the Warwickshire Chess Association, the Birmingham and District Chess League, the Midland Counties Chess Association (1897) and the British Chess Federation in 1904. There is a slight mystery in this last item as, The Birmingham Daily Post of 1858 refers to a meeting of the British Chess Association in the Queen's Building in Paradise Street. One wonders what the difference is between a Federation and an Association.
He was the first columnist of Birmingham's Daily Post from 6th October 1896 and it is interesting to note that during the first 100 years of the League there had been only 3 columnists.  B.H.Wood took over some time after 1936 and Peter Gibbs has run the column since February 1967.
Three times the Scottish Champion, A.J.Mackenzie was the first Warwickshire Champion in 1931 finishing ahead of W.R.Morry. Mackenzie played on board one for Warwickshire and continued to do so after 1931 when he left Birmingham to live in St Leonards on Sea, near Hastings. He played chess in Birmingham for the Birmingham Chess Club, St George's, Municipal Officers and Handsworth.

C.S.Kipping 1891-64

Cyril Stanley Kipping was the Head Master at Wednesbury High School and was a leading problem composer. Over 6000 of these were published, Most of them being three movers. He was the problemist for "Chess Sutton Coldfield Ltd", "Chess Amateur" and L, Echiquier".  His name has been honoured by being attached to two clubs Wolverhampton Kipping and Walsall Kipping.

C.H.O'D Alexander 1909-74

Conel Hugh O'Donel Alexander was a pupil at King Edwards Grammar School in the days when it was in New Street. Whilst there, he won the British Boys Championship in 1926 and later in 1938 and 1956 The British Championship. He became an International Master in 1950 and played a number of times in the International Team Tournaments between 1933 and 1954 and subsequently took on the role of non-playing Captain. It is interesting to note that he was followed by David Anderton who also became The Chief Executive of the BCF. Alexander played some chess for the Erdington Club during his time in Birmingham. Following a successful career over the board he took to correspondence chess and gained an IM title for this as well. During the war, he was one of three men who cracked the German Enigma code.   

W.A.Fairhurst 1903-82

William Albert Fairhurst played for Wolverhampton chess club for a number of seasons prior to 1930 following which he went to live in Scotland where he won the Scottish Championship eleven times. His ability can best be gauged by his drawn 6 game match with Eliskases, his triumph in winning a strong British Championship in 1937 and taking the Commonwealth Championship in 1951. He became an International Master  in 1952 and played in 6 Olympiads for Scotland and one for New Zealand

B.H.Wood 1912-90 and W.Ritson-Morry 1912-93

Baruch H. Wood and William Ritson-Morry were at school together in North Wales following which they were both at University Birmingham contemporaries of the late Dr. L.K.Ingram the father of K.R.Ingram. Apart from their considerable contribution to the League from the 1930s onwards, they were an influence in Warwickshire, the Midlands, Nationally and Internationally. "B.H." is best remembered for his magazine ' Chess ' founded in 1935 and the seaside congresses that he organised. Ritson founded the Birmingham Junior League and organised the first World Junior Championship in 1951. He organised the Birmingham Easter Congress for decades, but his real love was the Hastings International Congress of which he was for years Congress Director. Both were F.I.D.E.Arbiters, Ritson being the longest serving Arbiter at the time of his death. As players both represented England (B.H. in the 1939 Olympiad), both were runners-up in the British Championship and were British Postal Champions.  Their styles were different. B.H. played trappy openings and relied on sharp tactics, whilst Ritson played quieter openings, relied on the principles of Nimzovich in the middle game and was especially good at end games.
B.H. was the force behind the Sutton Coldfield Division 1 side and Ritson the Erdington Division 1 side before moving on to Mutual when Erdington folded.

They would not have liked being remembered together following a rift between the players, but to us all they were both a credit to our League.

A.J.Miles 1955-2001

One of Birmingham's strongest players Anthony J Miles, like C.H.O'D Alexander, attended King Edward's School. Tony played for Birmingham Chess Club he won the Division 1 Individual Title in 1970 and was in Birmingham's 1973 Division 1 Championship team and represented England on top board at the Olympiads. In 1974, the 18-year-old Miles became the first and only Briton to win the world junior chess championship, a notoriously demanding tournament. Two years later, after further international successes, he won the £5,000 prize offered by Jim Slater, the financier, for the first Briton to become a chess grandmaster. By 1980, he was one of the world's top 10 players. Miles's play became even more formidable, if occasionally eccentric, among the players he defeated were former world champions Mikhail Tal, Boris Spassky, and Anatoly Karpov, becoming only the second Briton in the century to defeat a reigning world champion. It was a memorable confrontation. Miles opted for a bizarre self-invented opening that Karpov later described as an insult and that Miles later called the "Birmingham defence" after his home city. "It was typical Tony. He had no respect for Karpov. He didn't want to get involved with Karpov's immense technical knowledge of the game. Instead he got him involved in a street brawl and eventually outfought and outplayed him," said Ray Edwards, the chairman of the British Chess Magazine. He believed that the bigger they were, the harder they fell. Miles's ultimate ambition was, of course, the world championship, but he was never able to scale these heights. In 1982 Miles won the British Chess championship - a title that had hitherto eluded him - but the emergence of Garry Kasparov in the 1980s saw the eclipse of Miles's hopes: he never managed to defeat the genius from Baku. At the same time, another brilliant - and younger - British player, Nigel Short, displaced Miles as the number one player in this country. he continued to compete in tournaments. While he never recaptured the brilliance of his early years, Miles had some successes. Tony was found dead at his Harborne home aged 46. A post-mortem examination has revealed that he died from natural causes: a heart attack brought on by his diabetes, from which he had suffered.
                                                                                                                       
J.A.Crump 1931-2005

If Tony was not part of your committee then you really didn't have one. Tony seemed to be on every committee, and once on it he stayed on it. Tony served his National Service "out east" and afterwards he went to Lucas's as a draughtsman and joined their Chess Club somewhere around 1953, his leadership qualities were soon realised and in 1955 he became the Club Secretary which he held continuously 50 years. In 1969/70 Tony was President of the BDCL and was already involved on several different committees. He became Chairman of the Lightning Tournament Committee in 1981/82 and ran it each subsequent year until spring 2005. Mike Biddle writes "I first met Tony in 1961 when he came to my school and recruited me, along with a few other pupils, to the Lucas Chess Club. Tony was my first captain in the BDCL where we played together in Division 6. Although I only stayed at Lucas for 3 seasons the experience that I gained was invaluable. I was able to benefit from his knowledge and experience as well as his good sense of fair play. I often gave him a lift to Rules committee meetings which we were both on, and when reminiscing about the past I found his memory to be wonderfully sharp, indeed far better than mine. Tony was a great servant to the League, I hope space can be found in the Roll of Honour for him; there is no more deserving candidate." Here are some of the roles and committees that Tony served on; Tournament Committee 1961-05; Match Committee 1963-05; Finance & General Purpose Committee 1969-05; Centenary Committee 1991-95; Morry-Wood Committee 1999-05;  Publicity Committee 2000-05; Rapid Play Committee 2002-05; Individual Committee 2004-05; W.C.A. Representative 1970-93; Birmingham Easter Congress Representative 1982-93; Junior League Representative 1985-05; Staffordshire Whitsun Congress Representative 1985-05.  Thank you Tony.

Arthur Utton 1908-2007

Arthur Utton has died, at the age of 99. Although a competent player - he once drew a game with a visiting Master, possibly Eliskases - Arthur is best known, not for his chess, but for the great service he rendered the League over four decades. Arthur had not played competitively for many years, but was BDCL Treasurer from 1968 to 1983, and a League auditor from 1984 until the year of his death. Brian Whitehouse, Arthur's co-auditor, describes Arthur as "one of the old school" and reports that he took his BDCL responsibilities very seriously, determined never to "let anything get past him" that might cause harm or risk to the League's finances. Assiduous and risk-averse, Arthur was also good company, with many a story to tell. He continued to work professionally until the age of 94, only finally giving up work because, after a bout of pneumonia, he feared to "let down" his clients! Referring to this, Brian Whitehouse writes: "Typical Arthur and typical Arthur to have given so well and selflessly of his time and expertise to the League for so many years. On behalf of the League and myself; thank you Arthur; it was a privilege to have known you.

D. Rowe, 1948-2012

Dave Rowe. first appeared in the League Handbook in 1967 as winner of the League Individual for Division Five while playing for Warley Chess Club; he first became an official of any sort in 1974 when, unsurprisingly in view of his profession of accountancy, he became one of the League's auditors. A couple of years later he took over the critical role of Record Secretary, He held the post on that occasion for four seasons, which given the size of the league at the height of the Fischer-inspired boom in chess was an impressive achievement: In 1982 he became General Secretary a post he held for six years, In 1985 Dave still found time to win another Individual title this time in Division 3 then in 1988 it was back to the Record Secretary's job for seven more years. Twice more he was General Secretary when other candidates could not be found; if a job needed doing he would always give it a go. Dave had successfully qualified as a BCF arbiter and was heavily involved in the organisation and running of most of the local congresses, notably the Midland Open which he persuaded his club to take over as a franchise in the 1990s, and the Warwickshire Championships. At Club level Dave moved from Warley Quinborne to become the Secretary of the long running Birmingham Chess Club, a post he held until ill health took is life aged 64.

M.B.A.Walker 1938-2015

Mike Walker was another who would not let anyone down; many a mile was driven in order to chauffeur players to and from games in order to get a full team out. Many a club night he would brave the snow and frost to open the club room in case someone would turn up and many a wise word was given when the phone rang to ask for advice. My first encounter with Mike was playing at a congress where he had gone to see how a young club player was getting on, I casually mentioned in-between games I may be looking for a new club and before you could blink an eye he had my Name Address and Phone Number and then wished me luck in the next game. On arrival home a letter was through the door with all the facts and figures and club History should I wish to join? He had driven 15 miles out of his way at the drop of an hat to help the club. It was this overriding willingness to turn out even when unwell that perhaps contributed to his death of pneumonia aged 76. Mike had settled in Birmingham in 1968 taking the post of Mathematics lecturer at University Birmingham, after befriending  W Ritson Morry he Joined Mutual Circle and went on to become Chairman of the Rules Committee 1988-98; President 1995-96; Honorary General Secretary 2008-13; Mutual Circle Stalwart 33 years. I'm only Records Secretary because of Mike's enthusiasm rubbing off on me. Set them up Mike we'll all be along shortly... A.T.Woollaston.