Yorkshire Chess History
Howard Lawton’s family were rooted in Sheffield. His paternal grandparents were George Lawton (born 1794/95, Sheffield) and his wife Frances (born 1796/97, Wadsley, then adjacent to Sheffield, now part of it). George and Frances had at least the following five children, all Sheffield-born:
Of these, Henry Lawton was destined to be the father of Howard Lawton, the chess problemist. The 1841 census found parents and five children living at Allen Street (probably number 183, though no numbers were given), in the Netherthorpe area of Sheffield. Father George’s occupation was given as “Ind.”, seemingly meaning of independent means, which seems a little improbable he had apparently been a bricklayer. Charles was a razor manufacturer’s apprentice. Not far away lived 20-year-old Samuel Lawton, a journeyman razor maker, who may have been another member of the same family.
The 1851 census found the Lawtons still at Allen Street, but more specifically at 183 Allen Street. Father George was now blind, and described as formerly a bricklayer. Charles was a razor-maker, Sarah was a dressmaker, Henry was a grocer’s assistant, and Harriet was a scholar.
Around 1858, Henry Lawton (Howard Lawton’s father) married Sarah, and the couple had at least the following seven children, all Sheffield-born:
The 1861 census found the parents and the first child, Reginald, with one domestic servant, living over/behind a grocer’s shop at 44 Edward Street, still in the Netherthorpe area of Sheffield, father Henry being described as a grocer. J. S. C. Morris’s Business Directory of Sheffield and Rotherham listed, under “Grocers”, Henry Lawton, 44 “New Edward Street”, Sheffield.
The family had moved to 44 Brocco Street, Sheffield, still in Netherthorpe, by the time of the 1871 census, when the family had expanded to five children, as well as including a domestic servant and a shop boy.
By the time of the 1881 census the family had left Netherthorpe and moved to the Heeley area of Sheffield, to 122 Albert Road. The family now included Percival. No servant was now listed. Father Henry had retired the grocery business, but eldest son Reginald was a grocer’s assistant and in later years was to have his own grocery business. John was a wood-carver. Sarah was a mother’s domestic maid. Ernest and Percival were scholars.
The birth of Howard Lawton was registered at Sheffield in the third quarter of 1881.
Howard Lawton may not have had clear memories of his father, Henry Lawton, as the latter died within the first ten years of Howard’s life. Kelly’s Directory of Sheffield, Rotherham and Neighbourhood, 1883, listed Henry Lawton still at 122 Albert Road, but by the 1890 directory that address had a new occupant, and in the 1891 census his wife Sarah Lawton was listed as a widow.
In 1888, Howard’s older sister Sara Elizabeth Lawton had married William Albert Hobson (born 1868/69, Sheffield), a paviour by occupation, the marriage being registered in the third quarter of 1888. By 1891 the couple were living at 59 Hustler Street, Bradford, with one-year-old son Reginald F. Hobson. The 1891 census found Sarah’s youngest brother, Howard, and their 51-year-old widowed mother, Sarah, who was living on her own means, residing in the Hobson household in Bradford. Howard was 9 years old and was a scholar.
At some time from 1891 to 1898, Howard Lawton’s mother, Mrs. Sarah Lawton had returned to Sheffield, as White’s General & Commercial Directory of Sheffield, Rotherham &c, 1898, listed Mrs. Sarah Lawton (by inference now a widow), living at 91 South View Road, in the Heeley/Sharrow area of Sheffield. Howard Lawton was in all probability living at the same address.
The 1901 census found them both living at 91 South View Road,. Mother Sarah was still described as living on her own means. Howard was now described as a hairdresser.
In 1906, Howard Lawton married Hannah Margaret Smith (born 06/07/1885, Sheffield). Their marriage was registered in the fourth quarter of 1906. By 1911, after four years of marriage, the couple had had two children, though only one survived, namely Edna Margaret Lawton (born 06/03/1909, Sheffield). The child dying at birth or in early childhood may have been Arthur Lawton whose birth was registered at Sheffield in the third quarter of 1907, and whose death aged zero was registered in the first quarter of 1908. There were more children after the 1911 census (wherein counts of births and deaths of children in a marriage were collected). He was survived by four children .
Around 1910, Howard Lawton seems to have moved to Wath-upon-Dearne, to the north of Rotherham. There the 1911 census found him living with 71-year-old mother Sarah at 106 Avenue Road, Wath-upon-Dearne. His was still described as a hairdresser by occupation. His wife, Hannah Margaret Lawton, and daughter, Edna Margaret Lawton, were listed in the census at Hannah’s parent’s home at 53 Bromwich Road, Woodseats, Sheffield. Four of Hannah’s younger siblings were still living with their parents. Hannah and Edna were not listed as visitors, but as daughter and granddaughter, but they were probably merely “visiting”. (The census form failed to provide well for clarity when relatives were visiting as opposed to resident.)
Publicly available census information runs out after 1911. We know Howard Lawton was generally regarded as from Sheffield, and we know he returned there at some stage. How long he continued in the occupation of hairdresser is unclear.
Howard Lawton’s mother, Sarah Lawton, lived to the age of 76, her death being registered in the first quarter of 1917, at Ecclesall Bierlow, Sheffield. That suggests Howard Lawton had returned to Sheffield by 1917, or else mother Sarah had been living latterly with another of her children, such as eldest son George Frederick Lawton.
Non-digital searches of directories of Sheffield offer little easily extracted information on Howard Lawton for the period 1912 to 1936. He seems not to be listed in alphabetical sections, which would be explained if he lived with a sibling or rented rooms etc. He seems not to be listed under “Hairdressers” in the commercial sections, which would be explained by him being employed as a hairdresser rather than running his own hairdresser’s business, or of course because he had given up hairdressing. He could have been working for his brother in his grocery business.
Kelly’s Sheffield & Rotherham directory of 1937 listed Howard Lawton, bath attendant, living at 126 Blair Athol Road, in the Greystones area of Sheffield. Whether this was the chess problemist is unclear.
Kelly’s of 1941 and 1948 enigmatically listed “H. Lawson” at 7 Cruise Road, in the Ranmoor area of Sheffield. Did “H.” stand for “Howard”? Was this our Howard Lawton?
Kelly’s of 1954 to 1963 listed Howard Lawton, 10 Hutcliffe Wood Road, Sheffield 8. This looks like the chess problemist, but it’s difficult to be absolutely certain. Kelly’s of 1965 listed a new occupant of 10 Hutcliffe Wood Road, and where Howard Lawton had gone to is not evident, suggesting declining health had perhaps caused him to move.
The death of Howard Lawton, aged 84, was registered in the first quarter of 1966, at Sheffield. He left a wife and four children. There appears to have been no death notice in the Sheffield Daily Telegraph, though one appeared in The Problemist of March 1966.
The death of wife Hannah Margaret Lawton was registered in the third quarter of 1972, at Sheffield.
Daughter Edna Margaret Lawton lived to the age of 70, dying in 1979, the death being registered in the fourth quarter of that year at Ecclesall Bierlow, Sheffield.
Howard Lawton was taught chess by his mother, and she it was who suggested his best chess talents lay in the area of problems. His first published problem first appeared in the Family Herald of 17/02/1904. 
Howard Lawton was a chess-problem composer, many of whose problems were published in the chess column conducted by Bill Batley in the Yorkshire Telegraph and Star prior to the Second World War. The 100th contributed of Howard Lawton to this column appeared on 25th July 1936.
His problems were published in various publications around the world. The publication dates of his problems contained in Brian Stephenson’s on-line chess problem database range from 1907 to 1960, which equates to Howard Lawton being aged 26 to 79.
He appears not to have played chess competitively over the board.
1 Obituary in The Problemist, March 1966.
Copyright © 2013 Stephen John Mann
Census information is copyright of The National Archive, see UK Census Information