Tuesday 8 September 2015

Chess Snippet No.2 Grace Moore Curling (née Ellis) (1875-1958), 1908 British Ladies' Chess Champion

Grace Curling won the fifth British Ladies' Championship at Tunbridge Wells in 1908. Strictly speaking, she didn't actually win it until a three-way play-off was completed, in London in February 1909, but she goes down in the record books as the British Ladies' Champion for 1908.

Grace Moore Curling, 1908 British Ladies' Chess Champion
(Photo: Chess Pie, publ. BCF, 1922)

My reason for blogging about her is because there doesn't seem to be much biographical information about her in the standard works. Jeremy Gaige, in his Chess Personalia (McFarland, 1987) records her name, Mrs Grace Curling, and the fact that her maiden name was Ellis - but no dates were given. (I am aware that there is a later, unpublished edition of Gaige's excellent work, but I don't have access to it so can't know if there is more information to be found there.)

I therefore took to the computer to see what I could find. What follows comes mainly from a scan of Ancestry records, and also the online British Newspaper archive. If anyone has something to add, feel free to comment on this post.

Here are the basic details I have found: she was born Grace Moore Ellis in the first quarter of 1875 in Bangor, Anglesey to the Welsh-born cleric Rev. David Henry Ellis and Grace (née) Moore, who had married in London in 1872. Sadly, her mother's death is also recorded for the same time and place, so we have to conclude that she died in childbirth leaving Grace without a mother.

Subsequent censuses show that Grace lived with her maternal grandmother, Mary Yorke Moore (who was born in Philadelphia, USA, in about 1831, but who was a British subject). In 1881 Grace and her grandmother were living in Bibury, near Northleach, in Gloucestershire, in 1891 in Weston super Mare, Somerset, and in 1901 in Kensington, London. In the latter census Grace's profession was given as "professional musician, pianist" but I have not followed up this interesting lead.

In November 1906 Grace married Allan Lee Curling, who was about the same age as her and from Hernhill in Kent. Allan's father was a hop farmer and he himself a merchant, according to one census, although thereafter he was referred to as a local manager of the National Telephone Company. Grace's father had remarried after his first wife's death but died in 1902. Grace's half-sister stepmother Ada Throsby Ellis attended her wedding. (corrected 6 January 2022 - my thanks to Kate Dupree for the information)

Grace and Allan Curling lived in Tunbridge Wells in Kent and were both members of the Tunbridge Wells Chess Club and (I think) Sevenoaks Chess Club. Grace tended to play a board or two above husband Allan in matches. In 1912 Grace won the Tunbridge Wells Club Championship in what was quite a useful field.

Their names can be found in many newspaper reports in the period 1909-1913, particularly the Kent & Sussex Courier and the Sevenoaks Chronicle and Kentish Advertiser.

Grace Curling won the 1908 British Ladies' Championship, held in her home town of Tunbridge Wells (an aside - has anyone else won a British Chess Championship in their home town? Quite possibly but I've not bothered to check yet.) Despite being the home town favourite, the local paper didn't have much faith in her:

There does not appear to be very much prospect of Mrs Curling winning the British Ladles' Championship this time, although she is bracketed third with Mrs Anderson In the tournament. It would certainly have been a great honour for Tunbridge Wells if the British Ladies' Trophy could have remained in the town, as, owing to the absence from home of several members of the local Club, Mrs Curling is the only Tunbridge Wells competitor who has the opportunity of securing the honour for the town and the Club. A reference to her scores will at once Indicate that she has so far succeeded admirably. having up to Wednesday night, played 9 games, won 6, drawn 1, and lost 2.

So wrote the Kent and Sussex Courier on Friday 21 August 1908, the day on which the final round was to be played at Tunbridge Wells. A week later they had to eat their words:
In the Ladies' Championship Tournament an exciting incident marked the last day's play. Miss Lawson had then lost 1½ points [the newspaper's weird way of referring to her score of 8½/10 - JS], while Mrs Anderson and Mrs Curling were 2½ down [scores of 7½/10]. The first named had only to draw to secure the first prize and the championship. She was playing a very careful game against Mrs Curling, her last opponent, when suddenly she overlooked a trap which had been set for her Queen, and Mrs Curling won. This result has produced a triple tie between Miss Lawson. Mrs Curling and Mrs Anderson, who are 8½ each. In our notes last week we stated that although Mrs Curling had made a very good score, it appeared most improbable that she would be in running for the Championship. However, the unexpected happened, and Tunbridge Wells will, we feel sure, feel proud of so able an exponent of the great and intellectual game of chess and fervently hope that when the Championship is played off in London in January next, Mrs Curling may be successful in bringing the trophy back to Tunbridge Wells.
For the record here are the scores of the 1908 British Ladies' Championship (with full names): 1-3 Gertrude Alison Anderson, Grace Moore Curling and Agnes Bradley Lawson (later Stevenson) 8½/11, 4 Frances Dunn Herring 8, 5-6 Agnes Margaret Crum and Annie Sophia Roe 5½, Helen Eliza Sidney 5, Miss (Georgiana?) Watson 4½, Mary Mills Houlding and Emily Margaret Stevens 4, Hannah Maria Joughin and Anne Dick Smith-Cunninghame 2. (Crosstable here) Incidentally, some interesting articles about these women's tournaments may be found here, written by 'Batgirl'.

The play-off took place in February in London and the scores were Grace Curling 2½, Agnes Lawson 2, Gertrude Anderson 1½.

Thereafter Grace Moore Curling seems to have concentrated on mixed chess. In 1912 she played in the First-Class A section of the British Championship, scoring 5½/11 in a strong section.

Returning for a moment to statutory data, at the time of the 1911 census Grace and Allan were living at 147 Upper Grosvenor Road, Tunbridge Wells, Allan was listed as the manager of a telephone company, while Grace's profession was blank, They must have been reasonably off as they had a live-in domestic servant, 25-year-old Fanny Bridger, from Tunbridge Wells.

The Kent & Sussex Courier, on 13 September 1912, recorded the fact that Mr and Mrs Curling were moving to Sunderland. This was quite a blow for the Tunbridge Wells club. The Curlings had Tunbridge Wells CC’s best averages and didn't miss a match in the preceding season. They still played club matches until about November 1912, and correspondence chess for Kent until well into 1914. Allan Curling, although the lesser player, was also valuable as an organiser, having run the Easter 1912 Kent Congress at Tunbridge Wells.

The move to Sunderland didn't last long because, at the end of July 1914, just as the world war was about to begin, Grace and Allan Curling sailed for Africa, landing at Beira in Mozambique. Thereafter I have not been able to find out anything about them until the time of their deaths. Grace died on 13 Apr 1958, at the Arthur's Seat Hotel, Sea Point, Cape Town. Her home address at the time was 'Dunholm' Farm, Inyazura (now Nyazura), Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe). She died leaving about £7700 in England. Allan Lee Curling died on 19 May 1964 at the above-mentioned address in Rhodesia.

That's about it - hopefully the entry for the 1908 British Ladies' Chess Champion in up-to-date chess records will henceforth read as follows:

Grace Moore Curling (née Ellis) (born 1875, Bangor, Wales, died 1958, Cape Town)

Finally, since I have it to hand, here are more items from Grace Curling's chess CV. As Grace Ellis she won the 1906 Ostend Ladies’ tournament with 11½/12, ahead of Gertrude Anderson 11, Frances Herring 10, etc. (Year-Book of Chess 1907, p96); and then joint winner (with Kate Finn) of the June 1907 Ostend Ladies’ Tournament (The Field 1907, p327 and p331, with 9/10. She beat Kate Finn in their individual game but lost to Mrs Roe. My understanding (I've not seen a direct source) is that there was a later play-off which was won by Kate Finn, scoring one win and two draws.

I only have the one game played by Grace on my database. Here it is:

Chess Snippet No.1: Kate Belinda Finn (1864-1932)

As I mentioned in my last blog post, I'm spending more of my time as a chess detective these days, with a view to updating the game files on BritBase. That link should take you to the Britbase 'What's New' page where you should find a sudden spurt of activity around August/September 2015 after a relatively long fallow period.

A by-product of my digging for old game scores is the odd historical snippet. I sometimes post these to the Chess History section of the English Chess Forum but some of the things I find are perhaps a bit too long or involved for a forum post.

So I propose to share them here on my hitherto largely neglected blog. Here are the first three such snippets. They won't necessarily be written in flowing prose: I don't intend to spend too much time turning them into the sort of finished articles that I write for CHESS Magazine; they may be little more than notes of facts and information, with a view to sharing information with other chess history researchers.

Chess Snippet No. 1 

Kate Belinda Finn (born 16 December 1864, died 8 March 1932)

Kate Belinda Finn (right, wearing pince nez) at the 1905 British Championship in Southport (Photo: Cleveland Collection)
Kate Belinda Finn's claim to chess fame is that she was the first British Chess Federation Ladies' Chess Champion in 1904 and she retained her title in 1905. The important piece of new information here I'm imparting is her date of birth, which has hitherto been quoted as 1870.

Kate Finn as she was in 1897 (photo colorised by John Saunders)

Her entry in Jeremy Gaige's Chess Personalia (McFarland, 1987) reads as follows:
Gaige wrote:Finn, Miss Kate Belinda
b 16-12-1870
d 08-03-1932, London ENG
BCM, 1932, p. 167-168
London Times, March 9, 1932, p.1, c.1
Here's her quoted British Chess Magazine obituary in full:
BCM, April 1932, pps 166-167 wrote:Miss K. B. Finn, first British Lady Champion and one of the strongest women players of her day, died of bronchial pneumonia on March 8 [1932] at 12 Rugby Mansions, Kensington. She was the only daughter of the late Eugene Finn, M.D., of Patricks Hill, Cork. Her mother, who died in 1906, was fond of chess, encouraged her daughter to play and accompanied her to the various meetings. When the British Chess Federation was formed in 1904 she entered the Ladies’ Championship at Hastings and won with a score of 10½ out of 11, a wonderful performance. In the following year, at Southport, she again won the trophy, but the opposition was keener, her score being 9½. In neither event did she lose a game, the points she dropped being the result of drawn contests. Her mother’s serious illness prevented her from appearing at Shrewsbury in 1906, and as events turned out, she never again competed, but her strength a first-class player was maintained till quite recently, when ill-health and failing eyesight made her appearances more rare. For years she played top board for the original Ladies Chess Club, which then played in the “A” Division of the London League. Here she held her own with the leading London players. Latterly she joined the Imperial Chess Club, and was a regular and valued attendant.
And the Times reference is as follows:
The Times, 9 March 1932 wrote:FINN - On March 8, 1932, at 12, Rugby Mansions, Kensington, W.14, of bronchial pneumonia, KATE BELINDA FINN, only daughter of the late Eugene Finn, M.D., of Patrick's Hill, Cork. Funeral strictly private. No mourning, no flowers.
Neither mentions her age or date of birth. But Ancestry reveals a birth registration as Catherine Belinda Finn on 16 December 1864, Cork, county of Cork, Ireland, parents Eugene Finn and Belinda (née) McCarthy, who were married on 30 Jan 1864 in Cork. Eugene was the eldest son of James Finn, esq, Kanturk [town in the NW of county Cork], and Belinda was the youngest daughter of Dr McCarthy, Newcastle, County Limerick.

In 1901 Kate Belinda Finn was living (on her own means) at a salubrious address in Kensington with her widowed mother Belinda. Her age was given as 34, which is out by two years (should be 36). Her mother died in 1906 and I can't find Kate in the 1911 census, nor as yet in the censuses prior to 1901. Tim Harding has pointed out that she may still have been abroad at the time of the 1911 census as she played in (and won) the 1911 San Remo Ladies' International.

In the 1920s she lived at 12 Rugby Mansions, where her flat-mate was Eileen Florence Hodson Moriarty (1921 census plus 1921 and 1931 electoral records). Eileen (b 1880, Bray, Co.Wicklow, Ireland, d 1945, Wales) carried on living there for some time after Kate's death and eventually left £35,000 in her own will. In the 1921 census Kate's age was given more accurately as 56 years and 6 months. Her flat-mate was registered as a 'visitor'.

Here is Kate Finn's probate record:
Index of Wills and Administrations, 1932 wrote:FINN Kate Belinda of 12 Rugby Mansions Addison Bridge Kensington Middlesex spinster died 8 March 1932 Probate London 10 May to John Charles Fitzmaurice Finn esquire. Effects £6000 12s. 3d.
£6,000 looks quite a tidy sum for those days. I think that John Finn was her (younger) brother. He spent a lot of time abroad and I suppose it is possible Kate did also, either with him or somewhere warm, for the sake of her health, which might explain where she was in 1911.

The BCM obituary comment that "she never again competed" is a bit misleading as it is quite clear she carried on playing club chess for the rest of her life. References to her appearances for the Imperial Chess Club can be found in the Times. One of her last recorded appearances was in a rather grand match played on board the Union Castle passenger liner Llangibby Castle moored in Royal Albert Dock in London in 1930. (Ref. The Times (London, England), Wednesday, May 21, 1930; pg. 14; Issue 45518.) Mir Sultan Khan played on top board and only drew against W.Veitch - who may have been related to the Walter Veitch (1923-2004) who played in the 1950 British Championship, etc. The older Veitch was referred to as "of Union Castle".

I've since found a couple of Times in memoriam notices for Kate Finn, on the anniversary of her death in 1934 and 1935, in both cases signed "J.F. and E.M." - presumably her brother John Finn and her friend and flat-mate Eileen Moriarty.

Here is a game which Kate Finn won at the 1905 British Championship in Southport. The Manchester Guardian was coy about giving Black's name, for some reason.

By the way, you may note that Kate Finn's last home, Rugby Mansions, is in Bishop Kings Road in W14 - rather a wonderful road name for a chess player. And, equally wonderfully, this is but a stone's throw from where the London Chess Classic is played.
Some of the content of this post first appeared on the EC Forum on 29 August 2015.