Club History

This History of Downend and Fishponds Chess Club is written in 2014, the 65th Anniversary of the club's founding

It draws on a number of sources including a history written by Ken Cleak for the League's 75th Anniversary in 1982. In 2007 Richard Palmer provided an update for the League's Centenary. The club's minute books, which are intact from the earliest days, also provide a wealth of information.

Passages taken directly from Ken Cleak's 1982 history and Richard Palmer's update are shown in italics.

The origins of the club go back to the early days of 1949 when a few individuals met at each other's homes to play chess as they had nowhere else to go. Through the generosity of the late Mr. W. Rolls, a keen chess player and a well-respected resident and builder in Downend, a hut was provided. The club officially came into existence on November 17th of that year. Nine attended that very first meeting and, as far as is known, all are gone except John Uren, the first Hon. Secretary, a well-known chemist and local celebrity in Downend, and Len Turner who is no longer a member. The name adopted was the Downend Chess Club. The Club Room was officially opened by Mr. R.A. Slade, the then W.E.C.U. champion, on June 15th 1950. (KC 1982)

Michael Wood was aged 12 when he joined during that first season and has therefore seen the club progress from the hut to the Horsehoe, the Portcullis and the Downend Cricket Club, as also has Mike Passmore.

According to the minutes it was agreed at a committee meeting in the hut in January 1950 that a motto, "our battlecry", should be chosen and that it "could not possibly be carried out by any other than that eminent Dean of Heraldry, A.M.Maiden Esq". Evidently Dr. Maiden was one of those first members and shortly after that the motto "Fortiter et Recte" came into being. "Vigorously and Correctly" or "Boldly and Rightly" depending on which translator you prefer - but you get the idea!

The club gradually increased in numbers and a few friendly matches were arranged with Kingswood, Charfield and Bedminster. In July 1950, it was decided to enter two teams in the League in Divisions 4 and 5 respectively. By August, the club membership had risen to 40.

1950 was one of the most important years in the club's history, for the late Mr. W.J. Matthews became a member. He was from Bristol & Clifton and was the only chess player of standing Downend had at that time. The club owes him a great debt of gratitude. He was our king pin who taught us all the rudiments of strategy, the strength of the pieces, what the 'opposition' was all about and much else. Inevitably under such a wise and sagacious player, our chess improved. In November 1950, at the earnest request of the League Management Committee, Downend entered a 'C' team also in Division 5. The results were quite creditable. The 'A' team finished runners up in Division 4 and the 'B' and 'C' teams 5th and 7th respectively in Division 5. In those days promotion and relegation were one up, one down.

The next red letter day in the club's history was the visit of the late C.H.O'D. Alexander in March 1952. He gave a simultaneous display over 26 boards, winning 25 and drawing 1. Those who took part will always remember his unfailing courtesy and patience with us struggling and inadequate chess players - with the exception of Mr. Matthews our maximum grading was probably about 120-130. Downend also had its first promotion, the 'A' team going from Division 4 to Division 3. The annual subscription in those days was 15/- (75p). Happy times!

Then Michael Wood won the Gloucestershire Under 15 County Championship. We felt we were going places. 1956 was another 'annus mirabilis'. C.H.O'D. Alexander, our Vice-President, won the BCF championship at Blackpool. G. Scudamore won the WECU junior championship at Bath, and the club won 3 of the 5 Divisional Championships - the 'A' team winning Division 2, the 'B' team winning Division 4 and the 'C' team winning Division 5.

However, there was one fly in the ointment. Although the club paid no rent to Mr. Rolls, it was responsible for paying the rates and for the heating and lighting of the premises. It was Mr. Rolls' ambition to build a Community Centre in Downend, the club room being the beginning of the project. Therefore he laid down that other organisations should have the use of the room as well and pay the chess club a nominal rent. So we became the parent organisation of the Townswomen's Guild, the Church Lads' Brigade, the Wendons (drama), the Camera Club, the Social Club, the Art Club, the Ladies' Bowling Club, the Horticultural Society and the Tennis Club. The O.A.P.s used it every afternoon free of charge, and they used up all our coal free and gratis, and then the rates were increased. In addition, for some obscure reason, Miss Natalie Gonella, the daughter of Nat Gonella of jazz fame, became the club's Hon. Treasurer in 1955. She had been 'Miss Bristol' the year before and had presented the trophies at the A.G.M. She didn't play chess and rarely came to the club - hence few subscriptions. Some members paid nothing for years. The situation became impossible and, with the sad death of Mr. Rolls, the club felt it must move.

In 1958, the club changed its headquarters to the Horseshoe Inn, Downend. Our rental at that time was 5/- per week (25p!) and our genial host was the late Don Burland of Bristol, Gloucestershire and England rugby fame. In the same year, the Fishponds Chess Club folded and some of their members joined Downend. Their trophies and other assets came with them but the condition for amalgamation was a change in name. So the Downend Chess Club became the Downend and Fishponds Chess Club. The sole surviving member of the old Fishponds club is Dave March, a former Vice-chairman of the League Management Committee. (KC 1982)

In the early 1960s, by a hugely significant and happy coincidence, there was an influx of some of the best local teenage players. By far the strongest (and also the youngest) was Derek Wise, who at the age of 15 was beating Bristol's finest. Another of his scalps was George Botterill, one of Britain's leading young players of that era (see Games Section). Along with Roger Evans, Peter Jones, Ken Fowler and John Leeson, and captained by Dennis March, they won Division 2 in 1963-64. The following season they mostly stayed as the B team and were leading Division 1 until the final match, which resulted in a tie and a play-off against Kingswood. Sadly, this was lost but now, with two teams in the top division and the arrival of more strong juniors: Geoff Young, Ian Pickup, Richard Kendall and Roy Rowe, to name but four, the scene was set for a decade of total domination of the Bristol chess scene.

That 1964-65 season ended with accusations of foul play in that we colluded with Totterdown YMCA to make a late appeal against an adjudication. (In those days unfinished games were sent to be adjudicated after 30 moves.) It was somewhat risible to suggest that we would get up to skullduggery with Totterdown but, nevertheless, it made the chess columns in the local papers and the matter boiled over to the League AGM. It was probably the most argumentative AGM of all time and afterwards Michael Wood apologised to the President's wife (who was there to present the trophies) that she must have been bored stiff with all the vituperation. Her response was that it had been the best night out for quite some time!

1966-67 saw a memorable performance in the National Club Championship with a 4-2 loss to Cambridge University in the last 16. But not before Derek Wise drew with the well-known International, Bill Hartston and Geoff Young crushed the then Scottish Champion, A.M.Davie (see Games Section). Mike Passmore also held the strong Nigel Kalton to a draw.

1966-67 also saw the first League Championship success. However, as some of those younger players moved on to further their education and careers, we obviously needed to acquire the best replacements possible. First Charlie Furber helped to shore up the side and the following season we were able to attract Michael Brigden and Roger Martin from Bath University SCR and Bristol University respectively. The next two seasons saw Mike Binks and then Keith Fawcett come to the area and for a number of years no other club could come near us. Strength in depth saw the C team also achieve Division One status. We were League Champions for eight years in succession, a feat never matched, and also won numerous KO titles.

The club had a happy time at the Horseshoe and remained there until 1971, when extensive alterations by the brewers meant the club lost its room. Fortunately we found a new home at the Portcullis Hotel, Staple Hill and we all hope it will be the club's permanent home. (KC 1982)

One great character from the 1960s onward was Fred Guyatt, the Club Secretary for several years. Not a strong player but with a heart of gold, Fred came to the rescue at the Portcullis where there was no cupboard in which to store the clocks, sets, etc.. He came up with a lockable wheeled contraption which had a place for everything. It was both utterly weird and perfectly fit for purpose! Fred was still enjoying the Pentyrch match at the end of 2010. John Griffee captained the C team to success in those days and he is still to be seen when he turns out for Hanham against us.

Cricket matches with the Blind School when they were at Westbury, and with Hanham and Kingswood; visits to Leyhill Prison - not only for their chess, but to enjoy the admirable dramatic productions the prisoners presented. Such rich and varied memories the club has had! (KC 1982)

Cricket matches indeed carried on for many years first at the home ground of Vassall Cricket Club in Hanham and later at a beautiful venue in Bradford-on-Avon. Skittles matches also were played against such as Patchway and Winterbourne Chess Clubs. Mention should be made of the special link between D&F and Vassall CC. Any D&F member who had any cricketing talent (and some who did not!) were swiftly encouraged by Michael Wood to join Vassall. Mike Passmore and Roger Evans in particular were also stalwarts of both clubs. Sadly, no cricketers ever showed enough interest or skill to reciprocate at the chess club!

Downend has won the County Team Championship on several occasions; the County Individual Championship, the League Team K.O., and numerous divisional championships. Between 1967 and 1976 the 'A' team won the Division 1 championship 9 times, only losing 19 out of 160 games. The Dragons (mainly present or ex Downend players) have won the Postal Chess Championship of Great Britain on two occasions. (KC 1982)

Club members have made quite a mark on correspondence chess. Several played for Gloucestershire when they won the County Championship (the Ward-Higgs) four times in the 1970s. Dennis March, who captained the Dragons for many years, went on to captain the Great Britain Correspondence Chess Team. Michael Brigden played for Great Britain and gained the title of International Correspondence Master.

Derek Wise represented England in the Glorney Cup and later won the W.E.C.U. Easter Championship as well as the BCF under 21 title. Chris New was responsible for the very successful Manor Tyres weekend congress of 1980 which attracted some of the finest players in the country. (KC 1982)

By the 1980s the club's interest in BCF team competitions had partly evolved to the second-level competition, played over five boards (the "Major") and also the "Minor". (The Minor team obtained the best ever result for the club in 84-85 by reaching the Final of the Plate.) We tended to seek away fixtures so that after the chess a convivial evening could be had by all and only one car was needed. There were enjoyable trips to such places as Weston-Super-Mare and Cheltenham but our nemesis was Teignmouth, home of the Grytpype-Thynnes of Goon Show fame. In November 1984 we were drawn away to Pentyrch, just outside Cardiff. We all got on so well that we agreed to return there the following Spring for a friendly match and we now play twice a year, home and away. Last April's was the 45th match in the series and full details of all of them can be found on the Pentyrch website. Certain hostelries in Gwent came to expect to see us each year for a spot of refreshment on the return journey. To maintain this tradition over such a long time says a lot for the kind of club spirit that both we and Pentyrch are lucky enough to engender. Long may that continue to be so!

In the 1980s D&F was one of the strongest teams in the League. We won the League in 1982 and 1987 and the Knockout in 1987. Throughout the 1980s the A team featured Mike Brigden and Tyson Mordue, who are still going strong in the Bristol league, and Mike Binks. In the mid-1980s Graham Burgess played for the club before going on to Cambridge and a career as a chess player and writer. (RP 2007)

Those mentioned by Richard were indeed the core of the A team for a number of years together with Jerry Humphreys. In 1986 they reached the quarter-finals of the National Club Championship, only losing on board count.

1986 saw many changes at the club. Long-serving Secretary Ken Cleak announced his intention to step down. Trevor Langdon served as Assistant Secretary for the following year before taking over as Secretary. The landlord of the Portcullis, where the club met, retired. The new landlord carried out extensive renovations, put the rent up and made the club change its night from Thursday to Tuesday. During the renovation work, which was outside the League season, the club met at the G B Britton Club in Cossham. Two Extraordinary General Meetings were called to consider a move to the Portcullis at Fishponds when, after a tied vote, it was decided to stay put for the next season. A group of members, including Chairman Terry Marke, who found playing on Tuesdays inconvenient, formed a new club at Cossham. Colin Powney took over as Chairman. (RP 2007)

It is appropriate to add some words about Ken Cleak's significant contribution to chess. A schoolmaster by profession, he had served in the Royal Navy during World War 2 and was on board HMS Duke of York at the Battle of the North Cape. He joined the club in the very early days, around 1950, and while his chess never really rose above the lower divisions, his name still appears three times in the list of club tournament winners. Among his many achievements away from the board, he was a long serving Treasurer and Secretary of the Bristol League, ultimately becoming President. He was also Secretary (for 15 years), Treasurer and President of our club, Controller of BCF national club competitions and chess columnist for the press. This last one came about in the 1960s when the Evening Post group started a weekly local paper: The New Observer. Chess clubs in East Bristol got much useful publicity thanks to Ken. At the start of each season he predicted all the promotions and relegations and it became a bit of a standing joke that he would predict, incorrectly, that the A team would fail to retain the league title! Ken had the best interests of the club very much at heart and, when he thought something should be said, he was forthright about everyone needing to contribute to some of the arguably less glamorous aspects of club life, such as putting equipment away, greeting newcomers and looking after juniors. We like to think we follow his example all these years later.

Thanks to the initiative of various individuals a club newsletter called "Versus" was produced, starting in December 1982. It ran for 13 editions up to September 1986 with production/editing by Tony Best and Chris Simmons and analysis from Graham Copeland, Tyson Mordue and Graham Burgess. Four editions were produced in 1992/3 by Terry Hewitt and Nigel Wilcox and finally two more in 1994. Those back numbers contain a wealth of information and, perhaps more importantly, a real sense of the fun of belonging to Bristol's most enterprising chess club. In 2002 Pete Johnson oversaw a few more editions of a club newsletter. Now of course we have a new means of communication in the shape of the club website which was pioneered by Jerry Humphreys. Members are notoriously shy of putting themselves forward in the silicon age but Michael Meadows would be delighted to receive material for publication! It remains to be seen whether it would be practicable or even desirable for the website and a newsletter to complement each other going forward.

In 1988 another Extraordinary General Meeting discussed a proposal to move premises to Downend Cricket Club, which was carried overwhelmingly, and the club have remained there ever since. (RP 2007)

Look around the Clubroom and you will see that the Treasurer of Downend Cricket Club was one M.J.Wood from 1991 to 1996. It was thanks to Michael's good offices that we were able to move to our present venue some 26 years ago.

Club Tournaments have evolved over the years, starting with all-play-all events spread over the season, then divided into sections. In more recent times these have tended to be superseded by one-off competitions with great success. Thanks to the efforts of Geoff Gammon and Shaun Walsh the Christmas and Summer tournaments have attracted regular support not only from club members but also from many strong players in the area.

Until last season's victory in the team knock-out, there had been no great successes for the club in the new millenium. However this cannot disguise many strong performances from past and present club members. Mike White, Gareth Morris, Paul Spiller and Geoff Taylor have moved on but Nigel Hosken, Martin White, Andrew Munn and Dave Tipper have continued to carry the flag. Special mention should be made of the late Ian Ponter, a mercurial player who succeeding in confounding many an opponent!

The Club has a proud history of supporting the Bristol and District Chess League, not only by frequently having the largest number of teams, but also by providing numerous incumbents for key roles in the League. These include President: W.J. Matthews, Ken Cleak, Chris New, Michael Brigden; Chairman/Vice-Chairman: Dave March, Michael Wood, Michael Brigden; Secretary Ken Cleak, John Paines; Treasurer Ken Cleak, Martin Sellars, Jerry Humphreys; Adjudications Secretary Dennis March; Tournaments Organiser: Mike Passmore; Chesstimes Editor: Richard Palmer; Junior Officer: Jerry Humphreys; Grand Prix Secretary: Geoff Gammon; Bristol 4NCL Team Manager: Jerry Humphreys; Match Secretary: Jerry Humphreys, Dave Tipper; Webmaster: Dave Tipper; W.E.C.U. Representative: Richard Palmer; Auditor: Michael Wood, Ian Pickup. In addition the following achieved the status of BCF/ECF Arbiter: Tyson Mordue, Geoff Gammon. By any standards this is a phenomenal record.

Team achievements are to be found in the Awards section of the website but individual successes in League Tournaments and elsewhere over the years are far too numerous to list. It is also not really practicable to list all the office holders over the years, starting from Canteen Officer and Assistant Canteen Officer in the days of the hut but in the Officers section there can be found the names of the Presidents, Chairmen, Secretaries, Treasurers and A Team Captains since the start of the club.

As we look to the future, a remarkable similarity has arisen. An influx of relatively young, very strong players (many with connections to Bristol University) has the potential to shake up Division One of the League. Let us hope that, whether or not they bring home the League Championship straightaway, the Club will also foster the team spirit to encourage the middle-ranking players and the juniors who will eventually carry the flag forward. At the present time we have more juniors than for many years, although they are a bit too young to be challenging for top places yet. But, under the guidance of Jerry Humphreys, Geoff Gammon, Pat Birch and whoever else is able to offer them encouragement, if they carry on improving and showing the same keenness to learn, they can repeat what happened half a century earlier.

Update June 2015: League Champions for the first time since 1993/94!

The hoped for success at the start of the season did materalise, although only after a nerve-wracking climax. The A team finished level on match points with Horfield A but ahead by just one game point. Clifton and South Bristol were also in the hunt until the final few matches. The regulars were Henry Duncanson, Chris Russell, Nigel Hosken, Richard Savory, Michael Brigden, Mike Meadows. Richard also won the Bristol individual Championship. The B team narrowly missed out on promotion back to division one but none of the other teams challenged for honours. After several years ferrying family from Portishead and various teams all round the league, Dave Wilson finally called it a day and we wish him well playing for Clevedon in future.

Update June 2016: Progress on many fronts.

With the welcome help of several new members, there were many memorable and exciting moments during the season, one highlight being the C team winning Division Three. The A team were just two points away from retaining their title and we only lost the KO final on board count, while the B team hung on to a top division place. The lower teams all performed creditably and our junior players improved phenomenally - see Junior News for details of their many successes. There were two significant anniversaries: we celebrated the 50th Pentyrch match (with a narrow defeat!) and Richard Palmer clocked up an amazing 25 years as Secretary. Please also see the webmaster's report of the AGM for more information.

Update December 2016: Michael John Wood

Our President, Michael Wood, passed away on 14th October aged 79, after stoically tolerating various ailments for over twenty years. “Mike” to his great circle of friends from work, sport and elsewhere, he was essentially a traditionalist who believed in doing things “right” and he lived his entire life in Downend. An address relating to his sporting activities, made at his funeral, can be found here. Some of his best games were reported in "Versus" over the years and examples can be found here.

by Ian Pickup