Friday 27 January 2017

Herbert Jacobs: 1. Beginning in Croydon

Not many chessers these days have heard of Herbert Levi Jacobs (16 June 1863 - 11 February 1950), unless, that is, you've read the small print on our blogs, where he has had an occasional mention. There are, admittedly, passing references to him in the biographies of others, but nobody, as far as I'm aware, has given him much of an airing on his own account. Which is a shame: first, because "for many years [he]...ranked as one of England's strongest chess-players"; and second, because for sometime in his long chess career (which included on the national stage) Herbert Jacobs played for Brixton CC, and as a youngster he lived in Streatham. So, after threatening,  back in 2014, to write about him, and again last year, your blogger - a current member of Streatham and Brixton Chess Club - his managed to pull his finger out: Jacobs' day has come - on this blog anyway. Herbert Levi Jacobs - This Is Your Life.

His was a long innings in which he played a good deal of competitive chess and made many friends on the circuit, all woven into a successful professional career at the Bar and in the Law. There was also a rather shorter, and less successful, venture into the bear-pit of politics. He had an intriguing marriage, too. So, given such a extensive and interesting life, and to make things manageable, this will be a series: the first posts will give, together with biographical details, some edited highlights of Jacobs at the board in Croydon, in Brixton and in the wider chess-world. Then we will concentrate on Jacobs away from the board; and a finally we will turn our attention to Mrs Herbert Jacobs (though she was better known otherwise).

Again there are the usual caveats: this will be a résumé, and though detailed, has no claims to the impeccable thoroughness in the manner of Harding, Rennette et al.  All errors, omissions, exaggerations, flights of fancy - signalled by "perhaps" or "maybe" - and other sundry indiscretions are the responsibility of your blogger. Just one other point: 24 of Jacobs' games are on-line here. I have also linked them where appropriate in the text, but have not reproduced these scores otherwise, unless particularly note-worthy. One the other hand I have given, here and there, the scores of a number of other games of his, which, as far as I am aware, have not been published on-line.

This is our subject, in his late thirties:

c1900 "on the sunny side of forty".
From the E. de Haas Collection in the  Jewish Museum, with thanks.
For further details see Appendix 1 
And so to begin, for once, at the end: with Herbert Jacobs' obituary in the British Chess Magazine announcing his death at the ripe-old age of 87. He was - with my emphasis - "the oldest practicing member of the King's Bench Bar" (which if true, makes him, verily, someone who died with their wig on). The obit was signed-off by "E.G.S.", presumably Edward Guthlac Sergeant (1881-1961) another almost-forgotten 20th Century chesser (though not on the English Chess Forum) also with his origins in the 19th, and otherwise known as a cousin, though distant, of Philip "Century" Sergeant.

From Sergeant's own obit in BCM March 1962 - with thanks
Sergeant, E.G. would have known Herbert from their membership of the City of London Chess Club. His summary of Jacobs' chess career (the source of the "one of England's strongest players" assessment) takes the 1890s as the starting point. However, we are able to go further back: to Herbert's earlier associations with Croydon, Brixton and Surrey, the subject of this episode. We will also fill in, later in this series, aspects of Jacobs' life away from chess, not mentioned by E.G.S.

Here lived Herbert Levi Jacobs

Edward and Alice Jacobs were in Canonbury when their first-born, Herbert Levi, arrived in 1863. By 1881 they had migrated south, via Marylebone, to Streatham: to Bushey Lodge at the bottom end of the "Paragon", a row of twenty fashionable, stuccoed Georgian-style properties - now long gone - on the west side of Streatham Hill up near the Crown and Sceptre pub (still standing on the Streatham/Brixton border).

Left: Streatham Hill in 1912. Bushey Lodge is somewhere nearby.
Right: OS Map 1860, showing the imposing footprint of Bushey Lodge, with extensive grounds.
Bushey Lodge was one of the largest in the neighbourhood - the Jacobs family would have needed the space, what with Herbert, his three brothers and his four sisters, the staff of four, not forgetting two parents: Edward, a "merchant", still only 43, and Alice just 38 (who had borne eight children by the age of 32). Incidentally, John Brown, the encyclopedic historian of Streatham, explains that a previous owner, earlier in the century, was William Evill aka Mr. Schweppes (after he bought them out in 1834). Evill moved to Streatham to facilitate his promotion of you know what at the Great Exhibition of 1851, where they sold over a million bottles. He bubbled away in Bushey Lodge until 1877.    

Herbert, and (I'm assuming) his chess-playing junior brother Harold, went to the prestigious Whitgift School in Croydon - there was an omnibus door to door seven miles south. After Whitgift, he studied for, and acquired in July 1883, a BA in German at London University (per documentation in the Inner Temple Archive, with thanks), so presumably he had finished his schooling a few years earlier. In 1883 when he was admitted to the Inner Temple, when the family address was given as 17 Morland Road, Croydon. He was called to the Bar in January 1887 when his father's address was given as West Lodge on Denmark Hill.

Herbert arrives

1884 - he was now 21 - was to be his annus mirabilis when he burst on the public chess scene, though modestly to begin with, by winning the Sheffield Independent problem solving tournament, albeit in a three-way tie.

Sheffield Independent 15 March 1884
Yet, he wasn't the one singled out for special praise further down the column: "It is our pleasant duty to record that our clever solver Miss Agnes Larkcom, London, has achieved a feat seldom before accomplished by a lady, viz., score every possible point in a Solution Tourney of over six months' duration, competing with some of the most prominent solvers of the day." Watch out for her.

So in 1884, Herbert was in Croydon: the Morland Road address was also given by Croydon Guardian and Surrey County Gazette 17 May 1884 (hereon CG). That same column reported him as the Secretary of the Croydon Chess Club, where "he would be very glad to receive the names of other gentlemen wishing to join". When playing for Croydon in local inter-club matches Jacobs was "indefatigable" (said the Guardian), and was to be "cordially congratulate[d]....on his brilliant success in securing" the Surrey Cup for 1884 - the first year it had been awarded by the new Surrey Chess Association. He beat Mr Wyke Bayliss (later Sir - he of the original Endeavour CC in Brixton) in a play-off match: "Mr Jacobs, taking advantage of a too daring move on the part of his opponent, was enabled eventually to win the game by the sacrifice of the Q..." (CG 26 Apr 84).


The same column salutes Jacobs' "brilliant victory" in the match, offers him more "hearty congratulations" and observes that he "is fortunate in having time to devote to the game, and having a great genius for it, ...[and] should have a brilliant career ahead of him." By the way Herbert had also been set to win a "Novices Correspondence Tournament" run by the Croydon Guardian (reported 14 June 84) - putting all that time - and genius - to further good use, evidently. With one to go, he had won all six of his games played.

As the new Surrey Chess Association champion - or the champion of the new Surrey Chess Association - he played a two game correspondence match with W. T. Pierce, the Sussex champion (he was also a member of the BCM editorial team) - one game of which was published in the Croydon Guardian 6 September 1884, with notes presumably by Joseph Steele, the editor of the paper's chess column, and the first president of the SCA. The game was, the paper said, "full of instructive points". Rather piquantly, in view of a recent publication, Mr Pierce played the Bird Defence - popularised at the time by its inventor - to the Ruy Lopez...and lost.


1883-4 had been the first year of action in the SCA, and Herbert played in the first Surrey County match - against Sussex - on 19 January 1884 [corrected per comment box- MS] (see County Counting post here). He also won the SCA two-move problem-setting prize for the "most symmetrical arrangement" (BCM 84 p407). Herbert published some of his problems too, for example in the chess column of the Croydon Guardian (23 Feb 84). Another (CG 6 Feb 84) had been dedicated to the doyen of the problem-world, T.B.Rowland of Dublin, who was to be married later that year. It was an intimidating (for me, anyway) self-mate in 8 moves:

Actually, this teaser had already appeared in the Sheffield Independent, when "the clever" Miss Larkcom (her again) was given as a successful solver. The solution, also from the Sheffield Independent, is in  Appendix 2 below, should you need it. The MESON database has four of Jacobs' problems, including two from 1884 published in the States.

Still in the world of problems, Herbert contributed to a "large and handsome set of Staunton pattern ivory chessmen" (CG 12 July 84) presented to the Rowlands on their marriage. The list of subscribers showed some of the great and the good of British chess, including, with her name printed next to the Jacobs brothers, Miss Agnes Larkcom, London. She was also reported at the Small Public Hall in Croydon (CG 9 August 1884) "beside the players" at the Surrey v North London CC match on the 26th July '84 ("one of the pleasantest meetings held in connection with chess for some time"). Miss Larkcom keeps popping up, and will stay rather longer later in this series.

Herbert was listed in the Rowlands tribute as "chess editor, Whitgift Magazine", which he did with youthful enthusiasm, helped by the "energetic" L.P. Rees, another Old Boy who was to become mover and shaker supreme in Victorian and Edwardian chess, organising anything or body that moved (he'd already notched up the foundation of the Surrey Chess Association). The Whitgift school chess club was formed in December 1884. On the 17th March 1885, Herbert "played eight of the members simultaneously, awarding a book to each member [who won], but, through underrating, lost two games and two books." (CG 4 April 85). Whoops - though it was reported as only two draws in the BCM May 1885. Rees played them again a week later. Forewarned (said the CG), he won all his games. But, oh dear, we then read in the Whitgift Magazine (available in the L.B.Croydon Archives), that, in the same April, "it is to be regretted that more players have not joined the club". Nonetheless, a few years down the line, the SCA AGM in October 1893 was attended by a Whitgift (Croydon) Club (BCM Nov 1893) - so perhaps it did survive in some shape or form.

Problem Champion?

According to the records, after his initial success in 1884, Herbert Jacobs won the Surrey individual tournament the following year, 1885, as well. Here is the record on SCCA's own website as of the date of this post.

SCCA website.
You will find it says the same in Sergeant's Century of 1934 (p373), and you can even find it as far back as 1895 in The Chess Monthly, which did an early, and approving, note on the rising star. But before we get carried away celebrating Herbert's repeat success of 1885, let's pause a moment with Daniel Yarnton Mills (1849-1904) who was to be Scottish Champion eight times (see the excellent Scottish Chess website here), including in 1885 by dint of winning the week-long Major Tournament in Edinburgh in August. Mills was in the insurance business, and moved around the country according to his posting. Thus (CG 8 Nov 84) "Surrey chess players will be pleased to welcome [him], one of the leading amateurs of the day, as a Surrey resident...he has, we understand, already joined South Norwood Chess Club." "It was a large accession of strength" for the club, noted the BCM in February 1885 (in a report on chess in Surrey). Mills duly entered the Surrey championship for 1884-5 (CG 8 Nov 84).

Then in May 1885 the Croydon Guardian announced that...

Croydon Guardian 2 May 1885
Repeat: "D.Y. Mills takes the cup and medal for 1884-5". See also the BCM of May 1885, word for word; and the same in the Surrey Mirror 14 August 1886 reporting that year's AGM and the earlier season in retrospect.

So, notwithstanding the SCCA website, and Sergeant, etc., it was Daniel Yarnton Mills - and not Herbert Jacobs - who won the 1885 Surrey Challenge Cup. Curious. Maybe, back then in Surrey, they may have decided, on mature reflection, that one Championship title (the Scottish) was quite enough for Mr Mills and that the SCA title should go to a proper local chap (moreover, Jacobs beat him in their individual game). But surely that's no way to treat a fellow who, on the face of it, was so warmly welcomed (even if just passing through), and you begin to wonder what other skeletons there may be in the SCA cupboard. Of course, your blogger has reported all this to the proper authorities, who may - with justification, perhaps - consider that the trail has gone cold after 132 years, and that sleeping dogs should be left to lie, etc. Nevertheless, if there are any fresh developments, you will be the first to know.

Into the future

So, a promising beginning down there in Croydon for Herbert, even though the official record flatters him in one respect, as noted above. Now, in 1883, after University, his professional career took him into the City - and his chess career went with it. That is where we will follow him in the next episodes: 2. Brixton, Benedict and Bar  3.City Champ 4. Congress Man 5. A Load of Old Cablers 6. Engaging Agnes 7. Congress Man Replayed 8. Madame Larkcom 9. Jacobs Crackers 10. Votes for Women! 11. Votes for Jacobs!  12. Intermission Riff  13.Barrister   14. Still at the Bar  15. Down the Line. 16 Finale  

With thanks to Miriam Phelan, Assistant Curator, Jewish Museum, James Lloyd at the Inner Temple Archive, and John Brown of the Streatham Society.

References to Jacobs may be found in: 
Tim Harding. Correspondence chess in Britain and Ireland 1824-1987. McFarland & Co (2011).
Tim Harding. Eminent Victorian Chess Players: Ten Biographies.  McFarland & Co (2012).
Tim Harding. Joseph Henry Blackburne: A Chess Biography. McFarland & Co (2015).
Hans Renette. H.E.Bird: A Chess Biography. McFarland & Co (2016).
Philip Walsingham Sergeant. A Century of British Chess. Hutchinson (1934). 

Appendix 1
The photograph, c.1900, in the Jewish Museum, de Haas collection of notable Jewish persons, has the following text box attached. It and the photo appear to have been a cutting from another publication - not identified.

Appendix 2
Solution to self-mate.

Lost in History, and on to subsequent episodes: 2. Brixton, Benedict and Bar  3.City Champ
4. Congress Man 5. A Load of Old Cablers 6. Engaging Agnes 7. Congress Man Replayed 8. Madame Larkcom 9. Jacobs Crackers 10. Votes for Women! 11. Votes for Jacobs!  12. Intermission Riff  13.Barrister   14. Still at the Bar   16. Finale

More Chess History here


Richard James said...

Brian Denman has commented via Facebook:

"An interesting article. The first Sussex v Surrey match was played on 19.1.1884 rather than the 31.1.1884 stated. The scores of both the Jacobs v Pierce correspondence games of 1884 have been published."

Martin Smith said...

Thanks, Brian, for the correction. He tells me that the score of the other Jacobs/Pierce game was also published in the Croydon Guardian. We may be able to show it in a later post.