A History of Chess in Worthing

Brian Denman

We are indebted to Sussex chess historian Brian Denman for providing this fascinating and comprehensive history of chess clubs in Worthing.


Following the formation of the Sussex Chess Association in 1882 many new chess clubs sprang up throughout the county. One such club was the Worthing Chess Club which first started in 1887. An early endeavour of the club was to arrange a telephone match against the Brighton CC. This took place on 27th October 1888 and resulted in a win for Brighton by three games to one. For a few months from the end of 1889 to early 1890 there was a weekly chess column in the Worthing Gazette and this revealed that a member of the club, F B Gunnery, had represented Oxford University in the annual match against Cambridge University in 1890. The chess column probably helped the club and the Sussex Chess Journal of 16.6.1890 recorded that the membership of the club had risen to 28 following the previous year’s total of 24. However, the club probably declined in the next few years and somewhere in the middle of the decade it folded.

There was not to be a long gap before a new Worthing Chess Club was formed in 1897, but this club was probably short-lived. According to the minutes of the Sussex Chess Association dated 27th October 1899 Worthing had ceased to be an affiliated club.

Towards the end of 1903 the Worthing YMCA got together a chess team and was defeated by Brighton YMCA. In the 1904-05 season the Worthing club decided to enter the Sussex teams’ knock-out competition called the McArthur Cup and rather controversially won the event without playing a game! At that time there were few entries and Brighton and Hastings clubs were not allowed to field their top players. On a number of occasions country clubs won the early competitions. In the 1904-05 season Worthing YMCA was the only team to enter the competition in West Sussex and they were given a bye to the final while the four East Sussex clubs fought it out amongst themselves to reach the final. In the end St Leonards Institute were scheduled to play Worthing YMCA in the final. The controller fixed 6th May 1905 as the date for the final to be played at Brighton. Unfortunately the St Leonards team could not raise a team on that day and Worthing YMCA were declared the winners.

The Worthing YMCA club had two particularly strong players by the standards of the day. Thomas Durant, who had played chess at Horsham for a number of years, had reached the final of the 1901 Sussex Championship, which he had lost by default. The other player of note was Albert Field who was to win the 1916 Sussex Championship.

Worthing YMCA also entered the McArthur Cup in the 1905-06 season when they lost in the final to the Bexhill Chess Club. In 1906 there was a significant revival of the Worthing Chess Club and for a year or two the town had two clubs. It appears, however, that the clubs amalgamated in 1907 or 1908 and the strengthened Worthing CC won the McArthur Cup in 1912, In the 1912-13 season another Worthing club called the Dreadnoughts played a few games against other clubs. This club may have had a social rather than competitive aim and may have had female members.

The advent of World War 1 may have fairly soon brought the main Worthing CC to an end, though the Dreadnoughts are mentioned in local directories up to 1917.

The revival of the Worthing CC seems to have taken place in 1922, but there were difficult times for a while and it was only about six years later that the club could look forward to a stable existence. In 1936 the well-known English player Sir George Thomas gave a simul at the club. In the following year the club moved to the Rivoli Cinema in Chapel Road, which became its premises for many years. In 1938 a chess column was started in the Worthing Herald, which only lasted for about a year because World War II forced a reduction in space in the local newspaper.

The club seems to have kept going during World War II and one or two friendly matches with the Brighton CC were arranged. The post-war period seems to have been quite successful at Worthing and membership figures for 1947, 1951 and 1952 were 63, 74 and 66 respectively. In the 1950s the members were encouraged by simultaneous displays given by the strong English playersl, H Golombek, C H O’D Alexander and P S Milner-Barry. Generally, however, the Worthing CC was not as strong as Bognor in the 1950s and this meant that there was little success in the McArthur Cup.

In 1947 the Worthing High School entered the McArthur Cup and it competed in the event for four seasons. The team had a particularly promising youngster in David Armstrong, who later became one of the top county players.

1962 was a significant year for chess in Worthing. Local member Leslie Head, who was a strong player, decided to start a chess column in the Worthing Gazette, which he called ‘Chess Chat’. This effectively became the main Sussex chess column and soon led to an increase in the membership of the local club. The club’s success became based on an influx of strong junior players. Already in the 1958-59 season local schoolboys had been invited to compete for a Silver Knight trophy and in 1962 the club presented another trophy, the Hawkins Cup, for junior players. In 1964 a local schools’ team league was started and the Worthing Technical High School produced two particularly promising juniors in Robert Kay and Stephen Reed. In addition to strong junior players the club could also call on David Armstrong and Arthur Hall. Arthur had formerly been a very successful player at the Hastings CC and had won the 1961 Sussex Championship. By November 1964 the club’s membership had reached the century mark, but surprisingly this figure had dropped to 44 two seasons later. Nevertheless the 1960s brought the Worthing CC two wins in the final of the McArthur Cup, both against Eastbourne in 1960 and 1967. The last of these wins was achieved after the competition had become open to every player in every club in the county.

Leslie Head’s chess column suffered problems in the late 1960s, when fewer results of matches were sent to him. He kept reporting county chess matters until 1970, when he decided to write about helping beginners to play chess. He finally stopped writing in the newspaper in 1972.

In 1960 a disastrous fire at the Rivoli Cinema meant that the club had to seek new premises and for a while the Connaught Cinema became the club’s venue. A rather more successful move was made to the Dome Cinema in 1962, where the club played for many years. The 1970s were probably not as successful generally as the 1960s. The strongest player for most of this decade was Keith Homeyard and he was ably supported by John Knott. By the end of the decade the club had been strengthened by the arrival of a very promising junior in David Graham as well as experienced campaigners like Reginald Noel-Johnson, Alan Dommett and Graham Rivers.

© Brian Denman 2009