Yorkshire Chess History
Thomas and Walter Parratt
Thomas Parratt was the father of Walter Parratt. The two were Huddersfield chess-players. Despite the Parratts’ activities in Huddersfield and Yorkshire chess, their importance to the wider world lay in their musical activities. The Parratt family was a particularly musical one, and supplied three successive organists to Huddersfield parish church, spanning ninety-five years:
Thomas Parratt was the church’s first organist, in post from about 1810 to 1854;
Walter, second son of Thomas, held the post from 1854 to 1861;
Henry Lister Parratt, first son of Thomas, held the post from 1861 to 1904.
On acquiring an organ at the parish church, the people of Huddersfield made arrangements to help the cause of music in the church by having six cottages built on South Parade to house an organist and members of the choir. Incorporated into these buildings was a stone tablet which read as follows:
Godfrey Berry was a churchwarden at the time; he was also involved in other aspects of the organisation and development of Huddersfield.
Presumably Thomas took up residence here as soon as the cottages were built. His family was certainly in residence in 1841, as in more-recent times a metal plaque was added to the relevant building to commemorate it as the birthplace of Walter. This plaque reads as follows:
These dwellings, now demolished, were roughly where Lidl is now situated, on the outer side of the ring-road. The above metal plaque and stone tablet have been set into a stone-built structure on the outer side of the ring-road, between the pavement and the north wall of Lidl’s premises, roughly opposite the south end of Albion Street.
Thomas Parratt - Family
Thomas Parratt was born in 1792/93. At the age of nineteen he became Huddersfield parish church’s first ever organist, in the building which preceded the present structure, the latter having been consecrated on 27th October 1836.
He married Sarah Elizabeth Perkins (born 1806/07, at York) at St. Peter’s, Leeds, on 13th August 1833. The couple had at least the following five children, all born in Huddersfield:
A mention of the Parratts in the 1841 census is difficult to track down, but the above plaque tells us the family was living at South Parade, in one of the purpose-built dwellings built for the organist and choristers. Walter’s baptism record also stated the family home be in South Parade. Thomas, as organist at the parish church, had presumably lived there from 1812. Sooner or later, as the family expanded, and in any event by 1851, the Parratt family had moved out.
The 1851 census found the Parratts, including all the above children, living at 17 Buxton Road, Huddersfield, one of the dwellings in Johnson’s Buildings,. Mother Sarah Elizabeth was described as a music-seller’s wife and a governess. Eldest son Henry was described as an organist (though not as yet at the parish church). Ellen, Walter and Annie were scholars. At the time of the census, Thomas himself happened to be visiting relations of his wife, at 29 St. Paul’s, Islington Terrace, where resided the household of 37-year-old Richard T. Perkins, who had been one of the witnesses at Thomas and Elizabeth’s wedding, and was perhaps Elizabeth’s younger brother.
At some stage from 1851 to 1857, the family seems to have moved from one number 17 to another, as Kelly’s directory of Yorkshire for 1857 lists Thomas running a “music warehouse” at 17 Ramsden Street, Huddersfield.
The 1861 census found all the family, except for eldest son Henry, still at Ramsden Street. Thomas was described as an organist, his wife Sarah and eldest daughter Ellen were described as teachers of music. Walter was described as “Teacher Organist”, Annie had no occupation attributed to her, and the youngest, Emily, was a scholar.
Thomas Parratt - Chess
Thomas Parratt was one of four Huddersfield players listed as attending the first meeting of the original Yorkshire Chess Association on Monday 18th January 1841 in Leeds, and one of three Huddersfield players listed as present at the second meeting on Monday 8th November 1841 in Wakefield. He seems to have missed the 1842 meeting but attended the next meeting, which was held in his home town of Huddersfield on Wednesday 8th November 1843.
In 1858 he attended the fourth meeting of the West Yorkshire Chess Association, along with son Walter, when the meeting was again held in their native Huddersfield, but that seems to have been his last such outing.
Thomas Parratt - Death
Thomas died on 27th March 1862, aged 69, and was buried by the parish church of St. Peters on 31st March 1862. The burial register had a note in the left margin to the effect that he’d been organist at Parish Church for 50 years, though 45 years seems more accurate.
Probate records show he was still resident at Ramsden Street at the time of death. His will was proved by eldest son Henry Lister Parratt, described as a musician, and Edgar Fenton, gentleman, of Huddersfield. He died with effects in the “under £2,000” bracket.
He and his first son, Henry Lister Paratt are commemorated inside the parish church by the plaque described below.
His wife, Sara Elizabeth Parratt, died 15th May 1891 aged 84, and was buried in the same grave as Thomas on 21st May 1891.
Henry Lister Parratt
First son Henry followed in his father’s musical footsteps. Henry in time succeeded his father and younger brother Walter as organist at the parish church. He was described in the 1881 census as a “professor of music”, unmarried, and living in Blacker Lane, Huddersfield, with his widowed mother, two unmarried sisters, a lodger and two domestic servants. He doesn’t seem to appear in chess records. Henry died on 8th February 1904 after forty-two years as organist at the parish church. Following his death a commemorative plaque was placed on the south wall of the gallery of the parish church, which reads as follows:
This plaque omits reference to Walter’s relatively brief spell as organist.
Walter Parratt – Family and Career
Walter was the second son of Thomas and younger brother of Henry. He was a child prodigy. There’s a story that at the age of ten he was asked without prior notice to play Bach’s “The Well-Tempered Clavier”, which he thereupon played from start to finish.
At the age of twelve Walter became organist at Armitage Bridge Church. He then held various successive organist posts as follows:
At the time of the 1861 census, Walter was unmarried and still living with his parents in Ramsden Street, the same street in which lived fellow chess-player Jonathan Squire Chrispin. At some time from 1861 to 1871, Walter married his wife Emma. The couple had at least the following five children:
In 1861, Walter became private organist to the Earl of Dudley, at Witley Court, in Great Witley, Worcestershire, 5 miles SW of Stourport. Witley Court was an 18th-century mansion inherited by William Humble Ward, who in 1860 became the first Earl of Dudley. The mansion was reduced to ruins by fire in 1937, but English Heritage was since done restoration work on part of the gardens.
In 1868, Walter moved to Wigan to become organist at the parish church. The 1871 census found Walter, an organist and teacher of music, and his wife Emma, at 19 Clifton Street, Wigan.
Then followed a move, in 1872, to Oxford, to take up the post of organist at Magdalen College, replacing Sir John Stainer famed for his “Crucifixion”. While organist at Magdalen, Walter took the degree of Batchelor of Music, graduating on 15th May 1873.
In 1881 Walter and his family, with three domestic servants, lived at 17 St Giles, Oxford. This was his third address with the number 17. The family consisted of Walter, wife Emma and the five children.
1882 saw Walter and his family moved to Windsor, when Walter became organist at St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle. At roughly the same time, future Hull chess-player Philip Henry Chignell started a spell as a boy chorister at St. George’s Chapel.
From 1883 to 1923 he taught organ-playing at the Royal College of Music in London, where he was the first Organ Professor.
The 1891 census found Walter, his wife and the five children living at 12 Horseshoe Cloisters, New Windsor. Walter was listed as an organist and teacher of music. The children were all scholars. They had two live-in servants.
In 1892 he was knighted, so becoming Sir Walter Parratt.
In 1893 he succeeded Sir William Cusins as “Master of the Queen’s Musick”, and in due course held the corresponding post for the whole of Edward VII’s reign, and then in George V’s reign until he, Walter, died, when he was succeeded by Sir Edward Elgar. He participated in a number of royal events in his capacity as royal organist.
The 1901 census described Walters residence as The Cloisters, Windsor Castle. Whether this was the same as 12 Horseshoe Cloisters is none too clear. Walter was still listed as an organist. Geoffrey T. Parratt was now a shipping clerk. Of the girls, Katherine and Dorothy were still at home, but Amy and Margaret had flown the nest (or died).
In 1901 he was made a Member of the Victorian Order (MVO).
In 1908 he succeeded Hubert Parry as Heather Professor of Music at Oxford, holding the post to 1918.
In 1917 his Victorian Order ranking was upgraded to Commander of the Victorian Order (CVO).
In 1921 he was made Knight Commander of the Victorian Order (KCVO).
Besides being renowned as a player of the organ, Walter attained an enormous reputation as a teacher of the organ. Whilst his musical ability presumably came primarily from his father, census descriptions of his mother suggest it may have been she who gave him his ability as a teacher.
He also composed a certain amount of music.
Walter Parratt - Chess
Walter was a keen chess-player. While living in Huddersfield he attended the West Yorkshire Chess Association meetings of 1858, 1859, 1860 and 1861. After taking up the post at Witley he managed to get to the 1864 West Yorkshire meeting, being listed in reports as coming from Witley rather than Huddersfield. While living in Wigan he got to the West Yorkshire meetings of 1869 and 1871, reports of which show him as hailing from Wigan.
A problem by “W. Parratt, Esq., Huddersfield” was published in the Chess Player’s Chronicle, in 1861, page 32:
White to play and mate in 4
After moving to Oxford in 1872, he was too far away, and busy, to keep up attendance at West Yorkshire meetings, but he was still active in chess. The annual “inter-varsity” chess matches between Oxford and Cambridge were initiated while Walter was there, and Walter captained the Oxford team in the first such match, on Friday 28th March 1873. (Oxford won.) He was president of Oxford University chess club from 3rd December 1873 (taking over from S. R. Meredith of Leeds) to 18th March 1874, and its secretary from 16th December 1874 to some time in December 1875. He played in the second match against Cambridge. He was made a life member of the Oxford University Chess Club.
At Windsor, escape to chess meetings in Yorkshire was even less feasible, one suspects, than at Oxford. In Windsor Walter’s family was domiciled in the castle’s Horseshoe Cloisters. His obituary in the British Chess Magazine related how he had been invited, and agreed, to represent Oxford University in a match between Oxford Past and Cambridge Past, but in the event had had to back down due to ill health, asking that the result nevertheless be communicated to him; though that was done he was by then on his death bed, with only days to live.
Walter Parratt - Death
The Huddersfield Daily Examiner of Wednesday 26th December 1923 reported thus:
Walter Parratt died on 27th March 1924, 62 years after his father, to the day. Walter’s ashes and those of his wife Emma are buried beneath the north choir aisle of St George’s Chapel, Windsor, and a commemorative stone is positioned by the entrance to King George VI Memorial Chapel.
The British Chess Magazine carried an obituary.
Walter’s sister Ellen married the Rev. H. Barker. Did she play the organ at her husband’s church!? She died at Rosendale, New York, on 21st May 1904.
Grave at Huddersfield Parish Church of St. Peter
Between the path along the north side of Huddersfield parish church and the north wall of the church, to left of centre, is a gravestone, with a curved surface making it like a section of a cylinder, inscribed in remembrance of Thomas Parratt and some relatives, though the people listed are not all interred there. The text on the stone is as follows:
Copyright © 2012, 2014 Stephen John Mann
Census information is copyright of The National Archive, see UK Census Information