Soham Grammarians - Chess

Barry Lowe 55 writes (29 Sep 2005): Here are my records of the beginning of SGS Chess Club. Before Lionel Hart arrived in 1959, the school had no team and did not play against other schools, so these are the first beginnings.

On a personal note, when I returned to live in Soham in the mid-70s, Lionel approached me in the street one day and asked if I was interested in playing for Soham Chess Club in the Bury and District league. It remains one of my abiding memories, turning up to my first match away to Ely to find the four man team comprised Lionel, Albert Lawrance, myself and one other. We won, but sadly, the three of us never again turned out together, mainly due to Albert's commitments at Soham Village College.

SGS Chess Club

In 1959, Lionel Hart arrived at SGS to teach French. Being a keen chess player (he was rumoured to have represented Essex), he formed the SGS Chess Club convening on Friday afternoons, I believe. Up to this point, several junior pupils were to be seen playing on miniature sets in breaks (and occasionally during lessons!).

On 8th February 1960, the school played its first match away to Newmarket GS. For all of us it was the first time playing for three hours non-stop on a full-size board. Furthermore we had no sixth form players and the backbone of the team were fourth formers. Newmarket could also boast a Suffolk junior champion on top board (Johnson), so it was no major shock when we lost by three games to one.

In a move reminiscent of the more desperate reaches of football management, the entire team was changed for the return fixture the following month. Alas, we lost again by a larger margin.

Undeterred, Mr Hart arranged a match a week later with Newmarket Chess Club of which he was a luminary. This was truly daunting. 14 year-olds playing grown men who played chess as a hobby in a large hall dedicated to chess was a new experience for all of us. Needless to say we went down heavily again with just David Moore avoiding defeat among the eight of us.

However, after that, little could daunt us and we were gaining experience. Our next match in November against Newmarket GS proved the turning point. Victories for the ABC club (Andrew, Barry, Chris) saw us winning by the narrowest of margins. This was followed in January with another close victory against Coleridge Secondary Modern. Notably in this match, 7 of our team of 10 were making their debuts.

In March we again narrowly defeated Newmarket GS, a match in which we finally managed to beat the redoubtable Johnson, who had won in each of the three previous meetings with us. He never troubled us again. We played Newmarket GS on another two occasions in 1961 winning both 4-2. The first of these was our first home match, being played outdoors near the memorial gates on School Open Day on 22nd July 1961.

There was one further match played in 1961 in the National Sunday Times School handicap knockout cup. We played the Perse School and required a 3-3 draw to progress to the next round (we were the younger team, so the handicap gave us the draw). Unfortunately, we lost 5-1. I believe this was the first time that any of us had played with clocks, so again a useful part of our chess education.

Early SGS Chess Record

8th Feb 1960 v Newmarket GS (away)
Lost 1-3
SGS v Newmarket GS
Andrew Nunn v Johnson 0-1
Chris Southgate v Thorn 0-1
Barry Lowe v Winn 1-0
? Sear v Williams 0-1
28th March 1960 v Newmarket GS (away)
Lost -4
SGS v Newmarket GS
? Wells v Johnson 0-1
Alan Frost v Thorn -
? Washtell v Winn 0-1
Ian White v Cook 0-1
Trevor Parfitt v Dexter 0-1
5th April 1960 v Newmarket Chess Club (away)
Lost -7
SGS v Newmarket
Barry Lowe v Mr Waters 0-1
Andrew Nunn v Mr Snow 0-1
Chris Southgate v Mr Warren 0-1
Trevor Parfitt v Mr Webb 0-1
? Washtell v Mt Cole 0-1
Malcolm Coe v Mr Driver 0-1
P Vaissiere v Mr Harmon 0-1
David Moore v Miss Ashby -
16th November 1960 v Newmarket GS (away)
Won 3-2
SGS v Newmarket GS
Alan Frost v Johnson 0-1
Barry Lowe v Thorn 1-0
Andrew Nunn v Dexter 1-0
Chris Southgate v Bye 1-0
Ian White v Bailey 0-1
Chris Bashford v Bull -
26th January 1961 v Coleridge Secondary Modern (away)
Won 5-4
SGS v Coleridge
Barry Lowe v Mansfield -
Anthony Butler v Smart 1-0
Chris Bashford v Thurston 0-1
John Dickens v Zizimos 0-1
Gordon? Harrison v Woods -
David Moore v Copeman 1-0
Graham Potter v Smart 1-0
G Dockerill v Cutting -
? Jefferson v Stone 1-0
? Hancock v Palmer 0-1
23rd March 1961 v Newmarket GS (away)
Won 3-2
SGS v Newmarket GS
Barry Lowe v Johnson 1-0
Ian White v Thorn -
Anthony Butler v Bye 1-0
Richard Register v Dexter 0-1
David Moore v Ball 1-0
Default v Cole 0-1
22nd July 1961 v Newmarket GS (home)
Won 4-2
SGS v Newmarket GS
Barry Lowe v Johnson 1-0
Ian White v Thorn 0-1
Anthony Butler v Winn 0-1
Richard Register v Bye 1-0
John Ginn v Miss Denman 1-0
David Moore v ? 1-0
? 1961 v Newmarket GS (home)
Won 4-2
SGS v Newmarket GS
Barry Lowe v Johnson 1-0
Anthony Butler v Thorn 1-0
Richard Register v Winn 1-0
Michael Baldwin v Cole (P) 0-1
Martin Cooper v Cole (E) 0-1
Ray Bolton v Barker 1-0

from the Summer 1967 Soham Grammarian, unsigned but probably by Mr Hart


The season 1966-67 must go on record as our most successful season to date. Far more matches were played than ever before and for the first time no less than six teams were fielded. The Senior side suffered defeat only once in six matches and the Under 13 'A' team lost one of their five games. The Under 15 team won twelve and lost six out of eighteen, the remaining three teams were all unbeaten.

A special word of tribute must be paid to the Under 15 team. Last season they finished bottom of the Starr Cup League with just one win from sixteen games. This season, after losing five of their first six games they proceeded to win eleven of their remaining twelve fixtures including a win by 20-19 in the famous mammoth match against the Manor School, Cambridge.

A 40 board match v Manor School Cambridge in 1967:
Mr Hart can just be seen near the piano.
Note the layout on stage for assemblies in the 1960s.
source: School History

My especial thanks are due to Trevor Salmon who has assisted me on many occasions and has captained the Senior team. J Saul and J Harding have both played well for the Senior team.

P Easy has been this year's captain of the Under 15 team and is to be congratulated on the team spirit that he has built up.

A number of very good younger players have emerged this season. Easily the most outstanding of these are Stephen Murfitt and Stephen Yeomans who, though of Under 13 'vintage' have worked their way to the top two positions in the Under 15 team and have both played for the Senior team. Amongst the other promising players who have appeared in the First Year are A Spalding, K Stone and K Neal.

1967: facing: left Stephen Murfitt, right Steve Yeomans, playing in 40 board game for
Starr Cup Chess team v Manor School Cambridge: source - Stephen Murfitt

The Senior House Chess Championship was won by Ridley and the Junior House Championship by Cromwell. This is the first year that House Chess Championships have been held.

Next year will see us fielding a team in the Starr Cup League which will be eligible for at least two seasons and of which I have great hopes. Two teams have also been entered in the 'Sunday Times' Schools' Championship.

Team Summary

Senior 6 3 2 1 23 17
Senior 'A' 2 2 0 0 15 5
Under 15 18 12 0 6 99 81
Under 15 'A' 1 1 0 0 7 1
Under 13 2 2 0 0 19 9
Under 13 'A' 5 3 1 1 24 15
  34 23 3 8 187 128

316 games played. Won 175. Drawn 25. Lost 116.

U15 Starr Cup League Table

Manor 16 14 1 1 29
Chesterton 16 11 2 3 24
Perse 16 10 1 5 21
City Grammar 16 10 0 6 20
SOHAM GRAMMAR 16 9 0 7 18
High School 16 5 0 11 10
Netherhall 16 4 1 11 9
Coleridge 16 4 0 12 8
The Leys 16 2 1 13 5

from the Summer 1969 Soham Grammarian, unsigned but probably by Mr Hart


The Season 1968-69 must rank as both the busiest and the most successful in the School's history. This season thirty-nine matches were played and these produced twenty-eight wins and three draws with only eight losses.

The Senior side performed well in a limited number of matches, winning four and losing two. These four victories included very good wins over both Ely and Newmarket and one of the best matches of the season resulted in a narrow defeat at the hands of the Old Boys.

The first major activity of the season was our first visit to the Bedford Schools' Jamboree. We entered teams in all three sections and with the Under-17 team being placed fourth, the Under-15 side sixth and the Under-13 side third we were overall fourth. It is to me little short of tragic that a mere two games prevented us being placed first overall - two games which would certainly have been gained if we had not been forced to field a greatly weakened side in the Under-15 section.

For our Under-15 and Under-14 sides no praise is too high. Between them they played twenty-two matches and recorded eighteen victories. This includes a triumphant season in the Starr Cup League when, true to our promise of some seasons ago, we progressed from bottom to top place in four seasons. It should give all concerned great satisfaction that it was Soham Grammar School who finally broke Manor School's grip on the League - a feat which seemed impossible when we made our disastrous League debut.

Much has already been said of the Under-14 side's wonderful run in the 'Sunday Times' Competition. The side reached the area final from an original entry of thirty-two teams and it must be put on record that in every one of their five matches they met the Senior side of another school.

In addition to the teams already mentioned, Under-16, Under-14A and Under-13A sides have also been fielded. This is the first time we have ever fielded eight distinct sides in one season.

Internally the Inter-House competition resulted in a win for Chicheley in the Under-13 section and for Ridley in the Under-15 and Senior sections. We held our first Easter Chess Congress, the winner of the Major tournament being D McFarlane and of the Speed tournament P Gregson. The Individual Championships resulted in a win for G Double in the Under-13 Championship and A Spalding in both the Under-15 and Senior Championships.

Spalding, indeed, deserves the highest praise. Through his wins in the Under-15 and Senior Championships he becomes the youngest player ever to have won all three titles during his time at the School - a noteworthy achievement. He has now represented the School on no fewer than sixty-one occasions - an achievement unequalled in the history of the School's chess. His play has now developed a maturity far beyond that of his age.

D McFarlane (Lower Sixth) is another player whose ability has improved beyond all measure during the past year and it must be put on record that he has during this season in addition to his performances for the School also played at top board for the Ely Chess Club. It is an interesting fact that this season Soham have supplied two different top boards for the Ely Club.

K Neal and K Stone both had promising first years at chess and then fell away rather in their second year. Their third year has proved to be one of great success. Between them they have won over fifty games for the School out of seventy-three games played.

S Murfitt and S Yeomans both played important parts in the winning of the Starr Cup League - Yeomans becoming only the second player to have represented the School over fifty times.

Of the younger generation R Reeve plays with the maturity of a player much older than his age and P Gregson has had a very fine season indeed which included becoming the youngest person ever to represent Cambridgeshire in a Junior match - he also became the first player from Soham to have won a match for the County Junior side. B Robinson has also performed well, lacking only in the experience and practice of his contemporaries.

The current first year has also thrown up a quite outstanding player in the person of G Double. Mention must also be made of R Simpson (4A) who is another much improved player.

It is of great credit to the School that over fifty people have represented the School this season and not once have we had to concede a game by default owing to a player not turning up - the reverse has frequently been the case, and it has been necessary to ask someone to stand down as we had more players available than the opposition.

Plans for next season are not finally settled but we look to defend the Starr Cup, make our debut in the Cambridge Senior League and attempt to win the Cambridge Individual trophy. In addition there is a strong possibility that the School will stage the Cambridgeshire Junior Championships next year.

9 Apr 14: Kevin Stone SG66 writes: One of the memories that came back to me was the 40-board match against Manor School which took place in 1967. I note that, along with Alan Spalding and Kevin Neal, I was named as a promising First Year player, having won on my Starr Cup debut that year.

I played in the side which won the Starr Cup in 1968/69. We defended it in 1969/70 and again I was in the side. I was too old to play in that competition the following year.

However, I was also in the side which reached the area final of the Sunday Times competition in 1968/69. Two matches spring to mind. In one of them we had to travel to a girls' school, which was daunting for 6 boys aged 13 and 14. We won the match and Mr Hart gave a report of it during assembly a day or two later. He recounted the experience of one girl who came into the library, where we were playing, and, on seeing boys, seemed to have a fright and remained motionless for several seconds. Unfortunately, the way Mr Hart phrased it was that she "turned into stone", which resulted in much hilarity at which point Mr Hart said: "I didn't mean that!". It took me quite a while to live that down.

The other match was one we played by phone. It was in the evening and we were allowed into the staff room, that being the only room where there was a phone that could be used. It was a strange experience not having opponents sitting opposite us and passing our moves to Donald McFarlane who relayed them to the other school. They would then advise him of their moves. We also won that match. Alan Spalding and Kevin Neal were also in that side. I think one of the others was Paul Gregson but, unfortunately, I can't recall the other two members of that side.

In one of the photographs of the 40-board match against Manor School I recognised Richard Simpson, one of my friends at SGS. I was saddened to read that he died a few years ago.

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last update 9 Apr 14