Tuesday 10 October 2017

The Great Spalding Chess Controversy of 1864

Here's something I came across whilst browsing old newspapers for something entirely different...

From the Lincolnshire Chronicle - Friday 15 January 1864

(Though, frustratingly, the town where the Mechanics’ Institute referred to in the following account is never explicitly mentioned, the article is part of a larger section of news related to the town of Spalding, Lincolnshire. So I am assuming that this is where it took place. JS)

This is an amusing tale, but perhaps also a salutary one, of what can happen when chess players more or less take over a community facility intended for more general or educational use. Elsewhere in the UK and the world at large, Mechanics Institutes have proved a congenial venue for chess playing, notably in San Francisco, California, which boasts one of the oldest chess clubs in the world, pre-dating the Spalding news story by some ten years. I believe that the Mechanics' Institute in Birmingham, UK, also used to have a thriving chess club and may still have.

Chess players depicted as 'spongers': over the years I have heard many a chess organiser complaining about how chess players want their fun on the cheap, and it would seem that this viewpoint has some age to it. Me? I'm saying nothing. But enjoy this free read...

Hereafter the full text of the news clipping for those who find the small print a bit hard to make out...

The Great Chess Controversy.—The large room of the [Spalding] Mechanics’ Institute was crowded on Thursday evening [either 7 or 14 January 1864] with members, it being the general annual meeting, and the exciting subject of the introduction of chess was to be settled by vote. Mr. Cartwright was in the chair, and several leading inhabitants of the town were present. After the usual routine business had been gone through, Mr. Thos. Sharman said he was an old member of that institution, and worked for it in the early years, and loved it as an assignation calculated and intended for the use of the humbler members of society, and he strongly objected to their subscriptions being applied to an amusement which was not adapted for their institute. He proposed that the game of chess and draughts be discontinued, unless paid for by those indulging in the same. Mr. Barrell seconded, and said nine tenths of those who had indulged in this game of chess were well able to pay for their amusement, and he should as soon have thought of their applying for a dorcas ticket [an unfamiliar term to me but I think it must have meant something like a charitable ticket or free pass - JS] as using the funds of this society for their own gratification. –Mr. Watson; Chess is for those who like it, but not for those who do not.—The Rev. Mr. Jones, baptist minister, said he thought chess had its place, but not there. Some might think a separate room for religious periodicals desirable. This was not the place for them; they must have a wide platform, and afford the greatest means of improvement to the largest number. This was a class movement; if carried, it would go on throughout the county that the party in its favour were “sponging” upon the poorer members' rights, and would gentlemen (using the term ironically) condescend to meet the plebeians. (Confusion.)—Mr. Elstop spoke in favour of the game of chess as an intellectual training for the mind, and condemned the tone of the last speaker's remarks. –The Rev. Mr. Jones explained that he was only speaking sarcastically, and with jocular humour. Mr. Elstop had construed him too literally. –Mr. Calthrop spoke in a conciliatory manner, and implored the members not to divide, but endeavour to meet each others’ views.— Mr. Kingston somewhat soothed the troubled waters, and reminded the meeting how much they had magnified this question, and how much it was to be regretted that they could not decide it in better feeling; he feared the outside world would laugh at their proceedings. – Mr. Crust and Mr. Donington spoke in favour of the proposition. –Mr. Fountain proposed an amendment that chess be continued. —Dr. Ball seconded the amendment.—The votes were taken, when there appeared—59 for the amendment, for chess, and 72 for Mr. Sharman’s proposition, against it. The anti-chessmen received this decision with tremendous cheering.

Mechanics’ Institute.—Adjourned Meeting —Since the meeting on Thursday evening, a strong canvas has been made by the chess and anti-chess members (as they now style themselves, which names had better for the good of the institution be discontinued) on behalf of candidates for the post of committeeman. Voting papers were issued on both sides. On Tuesday evening last, the members met (by adjournment) for the election of officers. The following officers were unanimously and with acclamation elected:—Mr. F. A. Cartwright (president), Mr. Stubbs (hon. sec.), Mr. Cunningham (librarian), Mr. Tidswell (auditor), Mr. Wm. Cammack (treasurer), Mr. Spencer and Mr. Atton (assistant librarians). For the vice-presidentship four names were proposed, viz.,—Mr. W. Willmott, Mr. Geo. Barrell, Mr. Saml. Kingston, and Mr. Watkinson. The result of the voting showed that Mr. Kingston and Mr. Willmott were elected. There were then 18 parties proposed, out of which eight committee-men were to be elected. The following seven were elected by the first voting paper:– Messrs. Fountain, Ball, Crust, Sharman, Long, Cave, and Squires. The votes being equal, viz., 51 each, for Messrs. Watson, Woodrow, and Dawson, a second voting took place, which resulted in the election of Mr. Watson.—A vote of thanks was given to the president and officers of the past year, and the meeting terminated.