Club History 1: Foundation and the Nineteenth Century
According to the the club's minute book, Worcester City Chess Club was re-founded in 1837 and the first mention in published sources was in 1845 when the Illustrated London News stated that the club met in the Museum, Foregate Street. However, it is possible to trace Worcester's association with the "royal game" back to the twelfth century because Alexander of Neckham, who is buried in Worcester Cathedral, wrote about the game in 1180. Worcester has also the doubtful distinction of having hosted the Synod in 1240 at which the Church banned priests and monks from playing chess. This edict was almost certainly a heavy-handed reaction to the popularity of the game. Taking the verifiable date of 1837, it is believed that only two other British clubs have such a long history. It is interesting to see over and over again in the early records an important item of expenditure: candles!
The year 1852 appears to have been busy for chess players in Worcester. The Chess Player's Chronicle reports that "handsome set of "Staunton Chess-men" was... gained by the Rev JH Sheppard who won 9 of his games in a tournament in Worcester. The other participants were Mr Carden, Rev CH Craddock, Rev Lister Isaac, Lord Lyttleton,Sir J Pakington, JS Packington, and Mr Walsh. In the same year, Löwenthal, was reported to "have a professional engagement at Worcester". Johann Löwenthal, was one of the first international professional chess players. He was born in Budapest, played in the USA where he was friendly with Paul Murphy, and then settled in London where he was a professional player for the St George's Club. In 1853, The Chess Player's Chronicle also reported that Worcester City Chess Club had been re-organised with Lord Lyttleton as President. Lord Lyttleton was a prominent Conservative politician and Lord Lieutenant - the Queen's representative - in Worcestershire for 37 years. Lyttleton was prominent among leading Victorians in promoting Working Men's Clubs and Mechanics Instuitutes and in 1875 he was first president of the Worcestershire Union of Clubs and Institutes. It's likely that he promoted an inter-club chess tournament that involved nine clubs, mostly from the north of the county. Lyttleton was also President of the British Chess Association, and a moving force behind the 1862 London International Chess Congress, which pioneered the 'American system' (all-play-all) in international tournament play.
From the mid-eighteenth century, teams representing the city played Birmingham and Cheltenham. In 1855 Worcester beat Birmingham in a chess match, but Worcester lost the return match in the following year 2-12. Two postal games were played against Bristol (Chess Players Chronicle ns ii, 1860, pp.235-7) and each club scored a win. The Era reported that an 8-player knock-out tournament was held in 1860 won by Mr Fanning. In 1861, the club played two games against Bristol and was reported to be meeting at Worcester natural History Society. The first of several blindfold simultaneous exhibitions at Worcester was given by Joseph Henry Blackburn on 27 April 1863 where the master played ten opponents at the rooms of the Natural History Society. The session lasted 7 hours finishing at about 3am. Balckburne won five games, lost two and two games were unfinished because of the lateness of the hour'. In 1864 the city club met players from the rest of Worcesterhire and won 11½-7½. In 1873 Worcester played a 12-board match against Birmingham losing by 1 point. In 1874 Worcester Chess Club played Cheltenham Chess Club winning 9-8. In the 1873 and 1874 seasons the Worcester was led by Lord Lyttleton and Rev Charles Ranken. In 1875, a club handicap tournament was won by G Newman. The Chess Player's Chronicle of 1878 reports that the honorary secretary, J Wood had donated a claret cup as a prize for as knock-out format competition, which attracted eight players. Later in the same year, Ranken donated a £5 cup as a prize for another competition. Another player representing Worcester in those matches was Hereford-based Edwyn Anthony, editor of the Hereford Times. On both 14 and 15 November 1881 Joseph Blackburne played ten players simultaneously in blindfold displays at Worcester Royal Grammar School. In the first display, four of the games, one against Ranken, were unfinished because of the evening start. Of the 20 games at Worcester, Blackburne won 17 losing to Rev Ranken and Mr Parkinson and drawing with Mr Michael a member of Birmingham Chess Club. Blackburn paid a further visit to Worcester on 8 December 1885 when the blindfold display was held in the Vestry Hall. On the following day, he played gave two simultaneous displays winning 12 and drawing one game in the first session. In the second session, he played a furher 12 players that included Ranken and lost only against FG Jones winning the rest. Ranken invited Blackburne to give a simultaneous exhibition at Worcester on 8 December 1897. There were several unfinished games three of which were declared draws and among the completed games two were draws and the rest won by Blackburne. For one of Blackburne's blindfold victories at Worcester click here.
The earliest recorded meeting place of the club is the Museum room at the then Worcester Grammar School. After 1882, the club met at the Guildhall and then moved to the Victoria Hotel in 1899. The club transferred to the Central Hotel on the Cross in 1903 where facilities for members were provided from 3pm on club days.
Notable Early President Rev Charles Ranken
One of our early Presidents was Rev Charles. E. Ranken, editor of the Chess Players' Chronicle and for some years of the British Chess Magazine's games department. He was a player of international strength, having beaten MacDonnell and drawing with players such as von Bardeleben and Gunsberg. Ranken is also remembered for his re-establishment of the Oxford University Chess Club and his joint authorship of Chess Openings Ancient and Modern in 1893. One of the Club's trophies is The Ranken Tournament Cup first presented in 1895 to F G Jones.