A History Of The Petts Wood And Orpington Chess Club
These notes seek to give an insight into the history of the Orpington, Petts Wood and Petts Wood & Orpington chess clubs. Included are details of club venues, trophies won and most importantly, the contributions made by individual club members to provide chess playing opportunities in Petts Wood and Orpington.
From this history it is clear that a club can grow and then shrink alarmingly quickly. The best safeguard against decline seems to be to have a broad membership base, with as many club members as possible actively involved in the running of the club.
The first record of organised chess in Orpington is the founding of Orpington Chess and Draughts Club on 1 October 1894. The club met in the very swish looking purpose-built village hall, built in 1890, located on the High Street. We don’t know exactly where the Village Hall stood, only that the site was sold in the 1960s and redeveloped, the latest version of the Village Hall, which is close to the War Memorial roundabout, is not in the same place.
The chess and draughts club annual subscription was just one shilling (5p), worth about £4 today. However, the club members were also required to join the Village Hall Trust, costing another 20p, so pushing up the overall charge to £20 by today’s values.
The chess club secretary, Mr C Johnson, of Moorfield Road, Orpington, stated in the local newspaper, The Bromley and District Times, “instruction would be given to those wishing to learn”. There is no record of Orpington playing against other clubs in that first season, presumably the members played each other.
The following year, on 13 September 1895, a short local newspaper item states simply “the affiliation of the St Mary Cray and Orpington chess clubs is suggested”. Nothing else is mentioned. The merger went ahead, with Charles Chapman becoming secretary and Orpington and Draughts Club founder Mr C Johnson joining the committee.
The Crays and Orpington Chess Club met in the Library, St Mary Cray, located in St Mary High Street, adjacent and to the right of where the Temple Church still stands today. In the 1890s Orpington and St Mary Cray were both villages and their centres then were closer to each other than today. The original Village Hall was demolished in the 1930s and the library appears to have been destroyed by bombing in the Second World War (1939-1945).
The newly formed Crays and Orpington Chess Club travelled to the Lime Tree Hotel, Sevenoaks on 28 November 1895 for what is likely to have been one of their first matches, beating Sevenoaks 7-3. A local newspaper report of this match provides the first known Crays and Orpington Chess Club team line-up
Board 1: E Eckenstein (WIN), 2: R Chapman (loss), 3: A Ried (WIN), 4: J Sales (WIN), 5: W Hawes (loss), 6: C Best (draw), 7: H Thames (loss), 8: C Chapman (WIN), 9: C Clark (draw), 10: W Sales (WIN)11: S Johnson (WIN).
The last known written reference of the Crays and Orpington Chess Club is in May 1906 when a local newspaper reported Crays and Orpington losing at Sevenoaks. The club appears to have become dormant at some point before the First World War (1914–1918).
After the war there seems to have been a concerted effort to revive chess clubs in Kent. In December 1919 former secretary Charles Chapman (now secretary of Sevenoaks Chess Club) gives a simultaneous display in Orpington and saying that the sixteen local player turnout gives hope of reviving the club.
His optimism is confirmed with the 25 March 1921 edition of the Courier newspaper reporting “Orpington Chess Club” (no mention of Crays) finishing second in their Lewis Cup section. It goes on to say that Orpington Chess Club secretary, Mr Dannatt, is promoting a summer programme that includes senior players giving younger members “instruction on a systematic plan”. There will also be simultaneous display by Mrs Holloway (Bromley), who won the British Women’s championship in 1919 and 1936. Another simultaneous to be given by Mr Charles Chapman (Sevenoaks). It is likely the club met in the Village Hall in Orpington.
It is apparent that Charles Chapman was a major figure in the development of club chess in Orpington. He was a member of St Mary Cray Chess Club in 1895, then secretary at Crays and Orpington 1896-1897. He then moves to Sevenoaks, where he joins the local club, eventually becoming secretary. In Sevenoaks he goes into estate agency business, apparently, working for another former Crays and Orpington player.
Charles Chapman starts playing club chess in his early twenties, winning on low boards. Remarkably within a few years he is routinely winning the Kent individual championship and giving simultaneous displays. Charles Chapman seems to have fostered a close bond between the Sevenoaks and Orpington Chess Clubs. He was both a strong chess player as well as a dedicated chess administrator. It is apparent that he regularly supplied chess news to local papers, no doubt generating interest in the clubs he belonged to and very helpfully creating a paper trail in newspaper archives. He was a never-say-die advocate for chess in Orpington!
J.W Thomas is recorded as playing for Crays and Orpington Chess Club on Wednesday 10 March 1897 in a defeat against Sidcup at their splendidly named Mundays Coffee Tavern venue. Twenty-seven years later (in 1924) he is playing for Orpington at Tunbridge Wells. The team loses but he wins.
So it can be stated with confidence that the Orpington Chess and Draughts Club, the Crays and Orpington Chess Club and the Orpington Chess Club are directly linked by the memberships of C Johnson and JW Thomas, as well as the enduring support of Charles Chapman.
Occasional local newspaper reports between 1920 and 1937 show Orpington Chess Club competing in Kent county competitions. Up to the 1920s local newspapers were the noticeboards, web pages, emails and text messages of their day, providing information about local organisations, including chess clubs. After that time local chess club information is less often featured in local newspapers. In the absence of club records to examine, and limited Kent County Chess Association records being available it is more challenging to find out about Orpington Chess Club from the 1930s onwards.
George Turner is a former longstanding member of Orpington Chess Club. He started playing chess in Chesterfield. Eventually his work as civil servant took him to London. He joined Orpington Chess Club around 1969 or 1970. George recalls the club meeting near Orpington station (as does Trevor Baldwin when a visiting Lewisham player). George has the Orpington Chess Club trophy that members competed for annually. The engravings on the trophy show it was competed for from the early/mid 1940s onwards.
Kent County Chess Association records, while limited, indicate that Orpington Chess Club was almost certainly in existence and competing in county competitions, during peace time, from 1920 until the merger with Petts Wood in 2000.
By the late 1990s the number of Orpington Club members had dwindled and it was decided to seek a merger with Petts Wood. At the time of merger the late Ivor Smith was the long serving secretary. John Cook was part of the Orpington Chess Club delegation that arranged the merger. John recalls “When I joined the club in 1990 it was meeting at St Nicholas Church hall at the top of Ashbourne Rise. The building still strikes me as resembling an overgrown Nissen hut. The club membership eventually became so low that we couldn’t raise a team for matches, so it was decided to seek a merger with Petts Wood. The Petts Wood club had a much larger membership at that time and in recognition of this the combined club was named Petts Wood and Orpington even though Orpington is the bigger town. I was the highest rated player at the time of the merger. It is a measure of how the club has grown that nowadays I just about make the top 20”.