Yorkshire Chess History

 

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George Lumley

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Born:

c. 1836, Manchester

Baptised:

Died:

 

Buried:

 

 

The Spelling of the Surname

 

Chess literature variously spells the surname of this blind chess-player as “Lumley” or “Lumbley”, both of which occurred often enough, in the population at large, to be plausible.  “Lumley” appears to be the commoner choice in chess literature, and is how the surname was spelt, apparently by George’s father, in a note in Bell’s Life in London (see below).

 

There are a number of instances of “George Lumley” being born or baptised in or around 1837, but ones for “Lumbley” seem absent.  The 1861 census, though not wholly reliable, spells it “Lumbly”.  The main possibilities for records of his death similar seem limited to “Lumley”.  So, statistically, the spelling must be assumed to be without an epenthetic “b”.

 

Non-Chess Life

 

George Lumley is one of those few people in connection with whom “chess” is explicitly mentioned in a census return.  Thus the 1861 census provides crucial evidence of the date and place of origin of this player whose name in itself is so indistinctive and subject to varied representation.  What the 1861 census tells us is that “George Lumley” (without a “b”, for what that’s worth) was a 24-year-old, Manchester-born “chess tutor”, residing as one of four boarders in the Procter household at Wellington Street, Hull.  Wellington Street is between Humber Dock and the river Hull, and about 250 yards from the Humber estuary.  Head of household, Joseph Procter, was a licensed porter, presumably in the docks.

 

Census returns had space in the rightmost column for recording disabilities, including blindness.  In the case of the 1861 census, George is recorded as blind, with explanatory small print, below, which seems to say “not from Birth”.

 

There were a number of people called “George Lumley” born in or around 1837, in or near Manchester.  The most likely one to be our man looks like one born to John and Jane Lumley, and baptised at Manchester Cathedral, on 22/05/1836.  The baptism register gave dates of birth for some baptises, but not this one, suggesting baptism was soon after birth.  (The 1861 census return implies our man was born at some time from 08/04/1836 to 07/04/1837.)  A census return listing both a blind George Lumley and his parents, or other documentation supplying such a link, is hard to uncover, so George’s parents’ true identities and his date of birth remain unclear.

 

An 1841 census entry listing a blind George Lumley seems is difficult to locate.  He was probably still sighted at this stage.  The above possible parents, cotton-spinner John Lumley and cotton-ruler Jane Lumley, are listed with their three children, of whom the eldest is 5-year-old (sighted) George, and an 80-year-old Ann Lumley, who presumably was John Lumley’s mother, all living together at 2(?) Baxter’s Buildings, Hulme, Manchester.

 

According to newspaper reports covering his trips to chess clubs around the country, George lost his sight due to being struck on the head by a cricket ball.  This was reported as being when he was 10 or 13 years of age, according to the source.  The change may, of course, have been progressive over a number of years.  (The Liverpool Mercury of Friday 06/01/1860 said on page 8 that George had been blind from birth, as did The Preston Chronicle, the Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser and other papers of the following day, all quoting the same report in origin, it seems.)

 

If the Lumley family in Baxter’s Building in 1841 was in fact that of our George Lumley, then the young boy must have lost his sight at some time from 1841 to 1851, as the 1851 census lists a 15-year-old, blind, Manchester-born George Lumley living in the Blind Asylum, Charles Road, in the Old Trafford area of Manchester, where he was a basket-weaver.  This George Lumley has to be our man, but his stated age (implying birth at some time from 31/03/1835 to 30/03/1836) is not quite consistent with that in the 1861 census.  The asylum may have had a record only of his age at the time of his entry, and not his date of birth, in which case the age of 15 might be approximate, and he may have been only nearly 15.

 

Details of boarders, as recorded in census returns, are often inaccurate, especially for boys in boarding schools.  Not only can the name be misspelt, and the age wrong (quite possibly in some cases because the boarder had lied at the outset), but the place of birth was sometimes recorded as the place whence the person had arrived, or as the place of residence of a boy’s parents, on the assumption that that was also the place of birth.

 

The implications of the information provided by the census on 07/04/1861 is quite astounding.  Though blind, George had given up the relatively safe occupation of basket-making, in sheltered accommodation, for chess-tutoring and giving simultaneously blindfold displays, presumably as a way of earning a living.  Further, he seems to have moved from Manchester to Hull, as the term “boarder” suggests residence, rather than being merely a visitor (“boarder” and “visitor” being distinct concepts in censuses), though it may be that he was briefly staying in Hull while on his peregrinations around the country’s chess clubs, which activity may well have meant he had no permanent residence for months or years at a time.

 

Bell's Life in London of 21/06/1863 reportedly carried a note (unseen by the present writer) asking for information regarding George’s whereabouts, giving “J. Lumbley, care of Mr Woodcock, Norfolk Arms Hotel, Glossop, near Manchester” as the contact address.  The note said George’s parents hadn’t heard from him for two years.  [www.chessgames.com/perl/chessplayer?pid=130958]

 

Apart from apparently helping to identify George’s father, from the initial “J”, the note shows that rather than returning to his parents’ home between bouts of travel to chess clubs around the country, he must have led a primarily itinerant life, moving from place to place, but perhaps adopting some location as a base for a while.  Thus when he was boarding in Hull, that might have been a temporary launch pad for trips to chess clubs in Yorkshire, before he moved to a different part of the country.

 

Further census records are elusive.  “George Lum(b)ley” is not a very distinctive name, but his subsequent census records, if any, should be identifiable by a reference in the disabilities column to him being blind.  He may have returned to basket-weaving, which in those days was the equivalent of modern-day piano-tuning as an occupation for the blind.

 

All contemporary references to his activities seem to dry up after March 1863, when he appears to have been in Scotland.  The fears expressed in Bell’s Life in London, that some ill had befallen him, may well have been justified.

 

Death

 

As with records of his birth, records of his death are not easy to identify as relating to him.

 

If one assumed, somewhat unjustifiably, that he died in or near his native Manchester, then the most likely such death might be that of a George Lumley whose death at age 35 was recorded in the second quarter of 1872, at Manchester, but this seems to relate to a George Lumley born in 1836/37 to Leonard Lumley and Hannah Lumley (nee Berry).  There was also a George Lumbley (with a “b”) whose death at age 39 was recorded in the first quarter of 1876, at Haslingden, Lancashire; this also could be our man, but seems less likely.

 

In view of his itinerant lifestyle, it is probable that he died away from his native Manchester, in which case, even if his death was recorded, the record would be very difficult to identify as relating to the blind chess-player.

 

Sadly, an unnoticed, untimely death in 1862, at the age of 26, far from home, seems quite likely.

 

Chess

 

Quite when it was that George learnt chess is as unclear as when it was that he became blind.  In any event, however, it seems he learnt chess after he became blind, as a way of occupying the mind.  In March 1859 he was said to have learnt chess two-and-a-half years earlier, i.e. in late 1856.  In August 1859 he was said to have known chess for only two-and-a-half years, i.e. since early 1857; yet in August 1860 he was said to have turned to chess “some five years ago”, i.e. in about 1855, and in May 1861 was said to have “known nothing of chess five years ago”, i.e. in 1856.  The year he really learned chess appears to have been 1855 at the latest, on the basis of what follows.

 

It is likely that the blind asylum taught and fostered chess.  (A blind school in Sheffield, in later years, taught and fostered chess among its boys.)  It is said he received chess teaching at Manchester Chess Club.  Former Lancashire player Owen Hindle reportedly unearthed references to George composing and solving chess problems in 1855 [www.chesshistory.com/winter/winter16.html note 4006].  Combining all this, it looks as though he probably was taught chess at blind school in 1855 or before, showed greater skill than most, and so went on to receive more-advanced tuition at Manchester Chess Club, progressing fast enough to embark on a tour of British chess clubs, giving simultaneous quasi-blindfold displays (usually against four opponents at a time) over the period 1859 to 1863 and perhaps later.

 

His tours around the country’s chess clubs included visits to Yorkshire clubs in February and March 1860, and in April and May of 1861.

 

His visits to chess clubs were widely covered by local newspapers of the day, and the table below gives an impression of the extent of his activity.  A superficial search of the British Newspaper Archive website [www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk © 2014 brightsolid Newspaper Archive Ltd] forms the basis of the following table.

 

(In the absence of a subscription to that site, none of the quoted sources have been accessed fully on that site by the present writer, though some had already been retrieved in local studies libraries; the minimal, garbled data initially returned by entering search criteria don’t always give enough clear information to be sure what the article contains; but, whilst the table consequently contains uncertainties and possible misinterpretations, it gives a good overall impression of George Lumley’s peregrinations and the attendant newspaper coverage.)

 

Location &c

Event Date

Newspaper Title

Newspaper Date

Norwich

Norfolk News

Sat 26/03/1859

Norwich ?

Sat 02/04/1859

Norfolk Chronicle

Sat 02/04/1859

 

 

Norfolk News

Sat 02/04/1859

(game)

 

Norfolk News

Sat 02/04/1859

Stamford

Lincolnshire Chronicle

Fri 22/04/1859

Worcester

 

Worcestershire Chronicle

Wed 01/06/1859

 

Mon 0606/1859

Worcestershire Chronicle

Wed 08/06/1859

 

 

Worcester Journal

Sat 11/06/1859

Bristol

 

Western Daily Press

Fri 24/06/1859

 

 

Western Daily Press

Sun 26/06/1859

?

 

Hampshire Advertiser

Sat 06/08/1859

(game)

 

Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette

Thu 08/09/1859

?

 

Hampshire Advertiser

Sat 06/08/1859

Reading?

Wed 23/11/1859

Reading Mercury

Sat 19/011/1859

 

 

Berkshire Chronicle

Sat 26/11/1859

 

 

Reading Mercury

Sat 26/11/1859

 

 

The Era

Sun 04/12/1859

Cambridge

Cambridge Chronicle and Journal

Sat 24/12/1859

Cambridge Independent Press

Sat 24/12/1859

 

 

The Era

Sun 08/01/1859

Lynn

c. 04/01/1859

Bury and Norwich Post

Tue 03/01/1860

 

 

London Standard

Fri 06/01/1860

 

Western Daily Press

Fri 06/01/1860

 

Liverpool Mercury

Fri 06/01/1860

 

Caledonian Mercury

Fri 06/01/1860

 

Preston Chronicle

Sat 07/01/1860

 

Berkshire Chronicle

Sat 07/01/1860

 

The Examiner

Sat 07/01/1860

 

 

a number of others

similar dates

Norwich?

Lincolnshire Chronicle

Fri 13/01/1860

 

Stamford Mercury

Fri 13/01/1860

Norwich

Norfolk News

Sat 14/01/1860

Norwich?

Lincolnshire Chronicle

Fri 20/01/1860

Stamford Mercury

Fri 20/01/1860

Reading?

Berkshire Chronicle

Sat 04/02/1860

Northampton Mercury

Sat 04/02/1860

Hull

Hull Packet

Fri 17/02/1860

Leeds

Mon 27/02/1860

Leeds Mercury

Thu 01/03/1860

York

York Herald [ advance notice]

Sat 03/03/1860

 

 

Yorkshire Gazette [ advance notice]

Sat 03/03/1860

Mon 05/03/1860

Yorkshire Gazette

Sat 10/03/1860

 

York Herald

Sat 10/03/1860

Bradford

Tue 13/03/1860

Bradford Observer

Thu 15/03/1860

Settle

Sat 24/03/1860

Bradford Observer

Thu 29/03/1860

 

 

Leeds Mercury

Thu 29/03/1860

 

 

Kendal Mercury

Sat 31/03/1860

Westmorland Gazette

Sat 07/04/1860

Settle?

Lancaster Gazette

Sat 31/03/1860

 

Norfolk News

Sat 21/04/1860

Kendal

Tue 05/06/1860

Lancaster Gazette

Sat 09/06/1860

 

Kendal Mercury

Sat 09/06/1860

 

Westmorland Gazette

Sat 09/06/1860

Scotland?

Glasgow Herald [2 articles]

Fri 13/07/1860

 

Fri 13/07/1860

Caledonian Mercury

Mon 16/07/1860

 

Dundee, Perth & Cupar Advertiser

Tue 31/07/1860

 

Dundee, Perth & Forfar People's Journal

Sat 04/08/1860

 

Devizes and Wiltshire Gazette

Thu 09/08/1860

 

Aberdeen Journal

Wed 15/08/1860

 

The Era

Su 26/08/1860

 

Fife Herald

Thu 06/09/1860

York

 

York Herald

Sat 22/09/1860

Chester

Wed 14/11/1860

Chester Chronicle

Sat 17/11/1860

Bradford Observer

Thu 22/11/1860

Liverpool Daily Post

Thu 22/11/1860

?

Salisbury and Winchester Journal

Sat 01/12/1860

Worcester

Worcestershire Chronicle

Wed 12/12/1860

Stourbridge

Fri 21/12/1860

Birmingham Daily Post

Wed 26/12/1860

Worcestershire Chronicle [2 articles]

Wed 26/12/1860

?

Stamford Mercury

Fri 04/01/1861

Wellingborough

11&12/03/1861

Northampton Mercury

Sat 16/03/1861

 

 

Wellingborough News

?

 

 

Chess Player’s Chronicle, 3rd Series, Vol.3

Mar 1861, p. 110

Cambridge

Cambridge Independent Press

Sat 30/03/1861

Cambridge Chronicle and Journal

Sat 30/03/1861

Cambridge?

Bury and Norwich Post (Suffolk)

Tue 02/04/1861

 

 

Norfolk News

Sat 06/04/1861

York

Tue 16/04/1861

York Herald

Sat 20/04/1861

Thu 18/04/1861

Leeds Mercury

Sat 20/04/1861

 

Yorkshire Gazette

Sat 20/04/1861

 

London Daily News

Mon 22/04/1861

 

Western Daily Press

Tue 23/04/1861

Hull or

Tue 23/04/1861

Hull Packet

Fri 26/04/1861

Beverley

 

Yorkshire Gazette

Sat 27/04/1861

Settle ?

Mon 13/05/1861

York Herald

Sat 18/05/1861

Lancaster Gazette

Sat 18/05/1861

Sheffield

Thu 23/05/1861

Sheffield Independent

Sat 25/05/1861

Leicester

Leicester Journal

Fri 07/06/1861

 

Morning Chronicle

Sat 08/06/1861

 

Leicestershire Mercury

Sat 08/06/1861

 

Leicester Chronicle

Sat 08/06/1861

 

Dunfermline Press

Tue 11/06/1861

(5 games)

Leicester Chronicle

Sat 15/06/1861

Hull

The Field

Sat 20/07/1861

Abingdon

Reading Mercury

Sat 18/01/1862

 

Oxford Journal

Sat 25/01/1862

 

Berkshire Chronicle

Sat 25/01/1862

Leicester

Leicester Journal

Fri 31/01/1862

 

Leicestershire Mercury

Sat 01/02/1862

 

Leicester Chronicle

Sat 01/02/1862

 

Leicester Journal

Fri 07/02/1862

 

Leicestershire Mercury

Sat 08/02/1862

 

Leicester Chronicle

Sat 08/02/1862

 

The Dundee, Perth & Forfar People's Journal of Saturday, 11/08/1860, referred to a match, for the best of 13 games, between George Lumley and “an Amateur of Dundee”.  George Lumley is known to have played a series of 7 games with Dr. George Brunton Fraser (b. 1831, d. 01/02/1905), of Dundee, who became Scottish Chess Champion of 1898.  The Dundee Courier of Monday, 02/03/1863, seems to have given one of these games.  The result of the series was referred to in the Dundee Courier of Monday, 31/08/1863, but referred to it as something that had occurred some time ago, so this looks rather as if Fraser was the “Amateur of Dundee” mentioned in the article of 11/08/1860.  A further game was given by the Dundee Courier of Saturday 09/01/1864.

 

 

Created

11/06/2014

Copyright © 2014 Stephen John Mann

Census information is copyright of The National Archive, see UK Census Information

Last Updated

11/06/2014