Yorkshire Chess History
James Milnes Gaskell
James Milnes Gaskell was the only child of Benjamin Gaskell (b. 1781, d. 1856) and Mary Gaskell née Brandreth, of Thornes House, near Wakefield. Benjamin had inherited Thornes House in 1805 from James Milnes, MP for Maldon, for whom it had been built around 1780 by architect John Carr of nearby Horbury. The grounds of Thornes House are now Thornes Park, a mile or so SW of the centre of Wakefield.
James Milnes Gaskell was born 19th October 1810, and baptised on 30th November 1810 at West Gate Presbyterian Church, Wakefield. He was clearly named after James Milnes, the original owner of Thornes House.
After preparatory education he went to Eton College, where was elected to the Eton [debating] Society, with one blackball, on 01/07/1826. At Eton he met William Ewart Gladstone, and the two became friends.
From Eton he went to Christ Church, Oxford, matriculating in 1829. He became secretary of the Oxford Union. He left, apparently, without actually getting a degree.
On 16th May 1832, at St. George’s, Hanover Square, London, he married Mary Williams Wynn, second daughter of Charles Watkin Williams Wynn MP. Both were resident in that parish at the time, according to the marriage register. The couple had two sons (who curiously shared the same initials) and two daughters, who were all given the middle name Milnes:
A curious feature of the baptism-register entry for Isobel Milnes Gaskell’s baptism is that her mother is recorded as “Mary Milnes Gaskell”, almost as though the family was trying to treat “Milnes Gaskell” as a double-barrelled surname. The reality is presumably confusion on the part of the clerk. James Milnes Gaskell is normally placed under “G” in lists sequenced by alphabetical order of surname.
He is sometimes referred to a “J. Milnes Gaskell” or just “Milnes Gaskell”. This could be the writer concerned thinking he had a double-barrelled surname, or it could be that the writer concerned has knowledge that he used Milnes rather than James as his preferred forename.
He proposed to stand as a candidate in the 1832 parliamentary election. Wakefield and Maldon were two possible seats, though he apparently withdrew from standing for Wakefield in favour of his uncle, Daniel Gaskell. In the event, through the intervention of his father-in-law, he stood as candidate for Wenlock, and was elected.
He remained an MP for Wenlock for all nine parliaments from 1832 to 1868, but, due to ill-health, he didn’t seek re-election in 1868. He was a Junior Lord of the Treasury from 1841 to 1846, when Robert Peel was Prime Minster.
His main home in 1834 seems to have been in Tilney Street, London. It is said that in 1857, however, he bought the site of ruined Wenlock Priory from Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn, a cousin of his wife, and that he did some restoration work on the ruins, adapting the Prior's Lodge to be his family home.
From 1832 to 1868, while he was both married and an MP, it seems to have retained a foot in Thornes House, while presumably spending time in London (seemingly in lodgings, on the basis of the 1851 census, or in his own London house, as in the 1871 census).
White’s Leeds & Clothing District Directory, 1830, listed father Benjamin Gaskell at Thornes House, Thornes, but our man didn’t get a mention himself. Uncle, Daniel Gaskell was listed at Lupset Hall, Lupset (in the same township of Alverthorpe-with-Thornes). White’s Directory of Leeds & the Clothing District, 1842, listed both Benjamin Gaskell and James Milnes Gaskell at Thornes House, with uncle Daniel at Lupset Hall. White’s Directory of Leeds & the Clothing Districts, 1847, listed Benjamin and our man at Thornes House. Daniel was no longer listed at Lupset, but that may have been a glitch, as White’s Directory of Leeds, Bradford etc, 1854, listed all three Gaskells, as before.
The 1851 census listed him as an MP lodging at 5 Great Byder Street, Westminster.
White’s Directory of Leeds, Halifax, Huddersfield, Wakefield etc, 1858, listed only our man with his seat at Thornes House, and uncle Daniel at Lupset Hall, suggesting Benjamin had died from 1847 to 1854. White’s Directory of Leeds, Bradford, Huddersfield etc, 1866, and Directory of Leeds & the West Riding, 1870, gave the same picture.
In 1855, daughter Isabel Milnes Gaskell married Fitzgerald Thomas Wintour.
In 1862, daughter Cecil Grenville Milnes Gaskell married Francis Turner Palgrave.
In 1868, son Gerald Milnes Gaskell married Anne Louisa Baldwin.
The 1871 census records a widowed James Milner Gaskell living with his only remaining unmarried offspring, son Charles George Milnes Gaskell, plus five servants, and the child of two of the servants, at 12 Stratford Place, London.
In 1876, son Charles George Milnes Gaskell married Catherine Henrietta Wallop.
Kelly's Directory of West Riding of Yorkshire, 1881, suggests that not only had our man died, but uncle Daniel had died from 1870 to 1881. Charles George Milnes-Gaskell [note the hyphen], DL, JP, was listed as having his seat at Thornes House, while Lupsett Hall was now the seat of Gerald Milnes-Gaskell [also with a hyphen], JP. These hyphens show that the family now regarded Milnes-Gaskell as their surname, rather than simply Gaskell. The estimable White was now listing them under “M”, no longer under “G”, so it was official!
The 1881 census listed Gerald Milnes Gaskell [without a hyphen], living with his wife and eight servants at Lupset Hall, giving his occupation as captain in the North Durham Militia, and said he was a J.P.
He died, according to the Oxford dictionary of National Biography of a diseased bladder, on 5th February 1873 at his home, 28 Norfolk Street, Park Lane, London. He was buried at Much Wenlock parish church.
His will was proved by his son Charles George Milnes Gaskell of Thornes House. His effects were originally declared to be in the under £40,000 bracket, but that was later re-sworn as £45,000.
He was a chess-player while at Oxford. A collection of letters of A H Hallam mentions how on one occasion at Eton, “Gladstone . . . and AHH . . . played chess (presumably in the Society's rooms) on 9 June 1826.” [https://ohiostatepress.org/Books/Complete%20PDFs/Kolb%20Letters/03.pdf page 12]
He presided over the first meeting of the original Yorkshire Chess Association, but didn’t appear at such meetings again. He was a subscriber to the Souvenir of the Bristol Chess Club published in 1845. He was a member of the standing committee of the BCA’s chess congress of 1862. He is also recorded as playing chess in the context of the Houses of Parliament, and attending St George’s Chess Club in London.
Copyright © 2012 Stephen John Mann
Census information is copyright of The National Archive, see UK Census Information