Yorkshire Chess History
Walter was born on 13/06/1854, to a Leeds-born couple, William and Sarah Gledhill, born 1815/16 and 1824/25 respectively. Father William worked was a woollen warehouse worker. The 1861 census recorded the family as living at 8 Butt’s Court in Mill Hill ward, West Leeds, were the children of the family, all born in Leeds, were:
On 12th July 1879 Walter Gledhill married Rebecca Hirst at Leeds Parish Church.
Most if not all of his working life was spent as a schoolteacher as follows:
The 1881 census records him living at 260 Main Street, Burley-in-Wharfedale, with his wife Rebecca, who was about a year older than him and also born in Leeds. This may have been the year of his arrival in Burley-in-Wharfedale, since Kelly's Directory of West Riding of Yorkshire for 1881 listed, for the “mixed” Burley-in-Wharfedale National School, “Robert Waterson Leathley; master, Miss Leighton, mistress”, suggesting there were only two members of staff and that therefore Walter was succeeding the Skipton-born Mr. Leathley, who appears to have moved to Wales thereafter.
The house numbers on Main Street ran up to 266, after which was Black Bull Farm, which still exists. These days, house numbers stop at about 208 then the road runs on to the roundabout from which the by-pass road runs. It may be that the higher numbers were demolished to make way for the by-pass and the roundabout.
Walter and Rebecca appear to have had eight children born at Burley-in-Wharfedale:
Brumfitt is a strange-looking name. There were various people with the surname Brumfitt in Ilkley, Burley-in-Wharfedale and elsewhere in the area. The name was also visibly commemorated by the name on a pair of semi-detached houses, built in Burley-in-Wharfedale in 1874, called “Brumfitt Villas”. More immediately significant was the fact that the honorary secretary of Ilkley Chess Club was one George Brumfitt, who played alongside Walter in Ilkley’s team in the Yorkshire Chess Association’s Minor Trophy tournament, and was a dear friend of Walter. George Brumfitt was perhaps a godparent of George Brumfitt Gledhill.
The British Chess Magazine’s obituary for Walter Gledhill included a blindfold game (or one played sans voir as the BCM put it) played between Walter Gledhill and George Brumfitt:
Walter’s eldest son, Horace Gledhill, was also something of a chess-player, it seems, as the same source gives a blindfold game played in 1897 between Walter and his nine-year-old eldest son Horace. Walter was White, which seems a little unsporting! Perhaps the father was playing sans voir while the son had sight of the board.
In 1888 he became a founder member of Otley Chess Club, being appointed its team captain, even though he was already team captain for Burley. To complicate matters further, he played for Ilkley in the YCA’s Minor Trophy tournament.
Like so many people in those days, Walter would turn his mind to chess problems, and in 1888 he won the YCA’s problem-setting tournament with the following:
White to move and mate in 2 moves.
For some reason or other, this diagram came to be entered in an autograph book** of Walter’s daughter Carrie. The WG monogram in the bottom right-hand corner rather implies it to have been penned by Walter himself, the custodian of Carrie’s autograph book believes the diagram to have been entered therein around 1911:
Walter was said in the BCM to have been one of the founders of Burley-in-Wharfedale Chess Club, and to have been the first secretary of the Wharfedale Chess Association (which one imagines would have encompassed Ilkley, Burley and Otley), winning its Silver Queen Challenge Trophy in 1889-90.
While living in Burley-in-Wharfedale Walter attended the meeting of the West Yorkshire Chess Association held on 27th April 1889 in Leeds.
In 1891 Walter played in the Counties Chess Association meeting at Oxford. The top tournament was divided into two preliminary sections, with the respective winners playing off for overall first and second places. Walter won preliminary section I with 7½ points out of 8, but in the final play-off lost to the winner of section II, F. McCarthy of Birmingham.
The North versus South match at Birmingham in 1893 saw Walter playing for the North, but he couldn’t make the 1894 return match in London.
In 1895, the world champion, Emanuel Lasker, gave a simultaneous display in Ilkley. Walter Gledhill, still listed as from Burley, was one of Lasker’s sixteen opponents, and Walter drew. Three players had to leave before finishing their games, to catch the train, but the others all lost.
Walter left Burley-in-Wharfedale and had a job for about one year at “West End”. The obituary in a Harrogate newspaper specifies no town, so, by default, one might guess it was the west end of Harrogate.
Then, around 1896, Walter took a job at Braithwaite School, now Dacre Braithwaite C. of E. Primary School, on Foldshaw Lane. The school was apparently founded in 1778 by a local landowner to provide for the religious education of local farm children. It is five or so miles NNW of Burley-in-Wharfedale, as the crow flies, and a similar distance WNW of Harrogate. Braithwaite was a small hamlet near the village of Dacre. Dacre is on the A6451 from Otley to Pateley Bridge, just south of Dacre Banks, and less than a mile SSW of the hamlet of Summerbridge which gives the school its modern postal address of Dacre Braithwaite School, Braithwaite, Summerbridge, Harrogate, North Yorkshire, HG3 4AN. Nowadays, Dacre Banks is an approximate 35-minute circuitous bus ride from Harrogate bus station. The area was then well within the West Riding of Yorkshire, but is now in the modern North Yorkshire.
The move to Dacre Braithwaite School may have been related to the turmoil to which education in Burley-in-Wharfedale was being subjected around that time, in part concerning the relative merits of sectarian and non-sectarian schools. Education in Burley was mentioned in the Commons a number of times in 1898. The National school moved to newly-built premises in 1899, and it may be that Walter’s move was in part a response to this general upheaval. The old premises of the National School seem now to have been demolished.
Walter was described at death as being headmaster at Braithwaite, though he may equally have been the only master. Kelly's Directory of West Riding of Yorkshire for 1881 lists for Braithwaite School “William Fewster, master”, so maybe Walter took over from W Fewster. The 1901 census lists Walter and Rebecca living at Dacre with seven of their children. The other, Carrie, appears as a servant in West Leeds.
Opportunities for over-the-board chess were less in Braithwaite than in Burley, and this may have made correspondence chess assume greater importance for Walter. The 12th May 1898 issue of a New Zealand newspaper, the Otago Witness, gave on page 48 two games from a correspondence match between Yorkshire and Kent, one involving Walter:
The following is the front of a postcard** sent to Walter by Antonin Petrnoušek, during a correspondence game. It was posted in Nymburk, then in Bohemia and subject to Austrian rule, but now in the Czech Republic, on 24/12/1907, reaching Leeds on 27/12/1907. Dacre Banks post now goes via Harrogate.
He won the YCA’s Kitchen Memorial prize, for individual correspondence play, in 1901-2, and came second to Alfred Denham (Huddersfield) in the 1904-5 competition.
Walter Gledhill’s best-known claim to chess fame is the Gledhill Attack, a variation of the French Defence named after him, characterised by the move 5. Qg4 after the opening moves 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. e5 Nfd7. The July 1901 issue of the British Chess Magazine carried on page 277 comments and brief analysis by Walter on this system which came to bear his name, with the introduction “We have much pleasure in placing before our readers what we believe to be a new and interesting line of attack against the French Defence.” The analysis was presented as a collaboration between Walter Gledhill and R. S. Sumner, earlier of Ilkley Chess Club, but by then resident in Wiltshire.
Walter explained the origin of his ideas as follows:
After losing a game to Mr. D. B. Kitchin (then of Harrogate), who had defended with a “French”, I examined the opening carefully, and came to the conclusions eventually: -
1. That [after the above four moves] 5. P-B4 is not good, the White QB being at home.
2. That the weak state of Black’s K wing invites the entry of White’s Q, which cannot be dislodged without causing a serious breach in Black’s defences.
3. That 5. Q-Kt4 permits such a rapid development of White’s remaining forces that the loss of a Pawn may well be risked.
Lasker reportedly described this as “an ingenious attack, full of possibilities.”
Later, on page 498, the BCM published a game between “Mr. Wright” and White, and “Mr. Michael” as Black, taken from The Literary Digest, and describing the opening as “French Defence - The Gledhill Attack”. This was presumably one of the earliest publications of a game using this new name for the opening. Notes by Walter were appended.
The 1911 census reveals the older children leaving home. Isabel is at Kirkstall, Carrie is in Leeds, Horace is at Kirby Overblow, and Walter Gordon is in London. George Brumfitt is still at home with his parents. Hilda, Lucy and Alice May are elusive, perhaps having married.
Walter Gledhill died on 19th January 1917, aged 62. The cause was reported in one obituary as heart disease. He had been unwell for some weeks, but he reportedly had not been expected to die. The place of death is generally quoted as Harrogate, but it seems he died at his rural home at Dacre Banks, in the broader rural environs of Harrogate but not in the town itself.
Reports of his death in the local papers called him “Wm.”, i. e. “William”. This may have been confusion with the William Gledhill recorded by Robinson’s Harrogate directories of around the time as resident at 11 Norfolk Road, Harrogate. The description of the deceased “Wm.” Gledhill matches Walter Gledhill’s curriculum vitae.
The Harrogate Herald of Wednesday 31st January 1917 carried a photograph of him (or of William Gledhill!) with the legend:
The Harrogate Advertiser of Saturday 27th January 1917 carried the following notice:
The BCM of 1917 carried on page 7 an obituary which showed some detailed knowledge of Walter’s personal history, which was perhaps due to I. M. Brown being then the editor of the BCM.
A clearer understanding of Walter’s death may be provided by the story of his eldest son Horace.
After leaving home and living for a while at Kirby Overblow, about four miles SSE of Harrogate, 23-year-old Horace had emigrated around 1910/11, becoming a farmer at or near Perth, in Western Australia. After the outbreak of war, on 30 November 1915, he enlisted as a private in the Australian Commonwealth Military Forces. On 12th February 1916 he embarked on the Miltiades at Fremantle and sailed to Europe. He was killed during action from 14th to 16th August 1916 at Pozieres, in the vicinity of the Somme. He was buried in France at Serre Road Cemetery No. 2, near Serre-les-Puisieux.
Horace’s photograph was one of those in a collection of photographs published in one of two booklets commemorating those from the Harrogate area who served in the Great War. His parents are there quoted as living at “Braithwaite, Dacre Banks”.
Walter’s inability, five months later, to recover from his illness may well have been connected with this bereavement.
Walter was interred in the grounds at Holy Trinity Church, Dacre Banks. His wife, Rebecca, died on 29th October 1933, aged 79, and was interred in the same grave. The tombstone now lies flat on the ground, before a large copper beech tree. The surface is largely covered with what seems to be a white lichen, which makes it difficult to read, although the inscription is not eroded by weathering.
The inscription on the gravestone reads
Inside the church, high on the north wall, directly opposite the main entrance, is a wooden board commemorating sixteen local men who were killed in the 1st World War, under the heading
Only nine of the sixteen named were from the West Yorkshire regiment, suggesting another six, as well as Horace Gledhill, were men who had left home before the war. Eighth in the list of names is
Walter’s other two sons, Walter Gordon Gledhill and George Brumfitt Gledhill both also got embroiled in the war, one in France and one in Mesopotamia, but they appear to have survived.
** The photograph, image of Carrie’s autograph book, and image of the postcard from Antonin Petrnoušek, were kindly supplied by David Jackson, grandson of Walter’s daughter Carrie, and great-grandson of Walter.
Copyright © 2012 Stephen John Mann
Census information is copyright of The National Archive, see UK Census Information