Early Days by John Carleton
Sensational archive material has recently been released by the British
Library, and, as with all documents relating to the noble game, a
priority copy was promptly forwarded to the Club in recognition of the
high esteem in which we are held throughout the academic world. Here is
an extended extract from the most exciting document, one which casts new
light on the origins of Atticus.
KIRKDALE [ATTICUS] CHESS CLUB NEWSLETTER. No.1
Dear Club Members etc.,
There are a load of things that you need to know before we
begin the new season, most of which have been decided or negotiated without
including you! If any part of the following information appears to be out of
keeping with the ideas of the club, then please complain to someone!
Some of the senior members of the club had a meeting the
other day [05.09.1975] and we took a few decisions about the coming season. If
you want to complain, therefore, direct your attentions to Messrs. Carleton,
Cassin, Hall, McKrell, Osterberg, Ripley and Robertson who were responsible.
[ps. we didn't invite anyone else, because we didn't want any trouble].
We all agreed therefore that the following were the
priorities of the club:
playing chess in the best social
and physical conditions possible
attracting new players to the club
winning all those tournaments that
we should have won last year
providing a club tournament
supping a few ales now and again
By 10:30p.m., having met objective No. 6 in all its
conditions, we resolved upon the following:
It appears we have survived the
summer [most of us that is]. We lose Martin Burbidge totally. Geoff
Hall is moving to Manchester [sort of], but that could be a blessing
in disguise [no offence- see later]
We gain Jim Cassin definitely, and
Howard Sleeman should be back in November after a course. We appear
to gain a Yorkshire player called Derek Hipple who met John Ripley
in Lewis's, but that needs to be confirmed. [With the hand-written
note, "Yes! and A.K.Taylor"]
We will probably gain on a more
regular basis Andy Mort who might be able to travel from Manchester
with Geoff Hall; also Paul Taylor [strong ex-University player] may
be able to get from Warrington, and Graham Willetts said he would
play for us, but I must confirm as well.
Several others have said they will
play when available, including Paul Jordan [Edin. Univ].
Such is our RELATIVE health, we
have committed ourselves to a 3rd team [see later] whose players I
am not sure of yet.
If everyone who was committed to
the club in one way or another were regularly available, we would
have a club of about 20-25 players. N. B. This is an optimistic
figure and must be improved.
B/ Playing Venue
Atticus Bookshop interior
The summer has been a pretty hectic
time for some club members, since it was felt that the "Gazebo"
wasn't exactly right for chess [poor lighting. "rip-off" coffee
etc.], and some of us have been searching the city for a suitable
place where we could play chess in decent, trouble-free conditions
and where we could be sure of entering the right kind of social
environment, if possible. Jim Cassin, in particular, tried very hard
to find places and came up with two venues which would have been
suitable, but they were out of the city centre a bit. Finally, we
got the break that we had been waiting for, when, at the prompting
of Dave Herring principally, we were able to negotiate, what I
regard as an ideal venue.
In future we will be playing our
chess at the "ATTICUS BOOKSHOP" in Clarence Street, just off Mount
[I am omitting sections c, d, e which deal with the
advantages, possible problems with and opening night of the new venue.]
C/ Squads for the two 1st teams
This is probably the most difficult problem.
Consideration was given to the following points when drawing up these
The A team and the B team should be
as equally balanced as possible.
Where social groups existed, they
should be preserved
The B team is committed to a lot of
travelling so they should have priority with cars
The B team also faced the toughest
possible start to the season, and had the bulk of its matches before
Xmas when the club was likely to be at its most disorganised, so it
needed a very reliable and settled squad. 5/ every attempt should be
made to stabilise the A team which was noticeably fragile in some
We agreed, therefore, that the squads would look something
Carleton and David Robertson, freshman
and friends at Liverpool
University 1966. John reading Physics
was West Midlands U-18
Champion and David reading Politics
and Economics was runner-up in
the same event.
to read about their ideas for Birmingham chess]
Robert Taylor * [Applied to join, as I write!]
Paul Jordan ?/ [Holidays only]
Key to symbols:
*= certain to play in all/most games
+= has car for team travel if necessary
?= dubious, or unconfirmed, or unavailable unless favourable
?/= possible under certain conditions
Various important points of league and club expectations were then
summarised [missed out here].
D/ The 3rd Team
In keeping with the philosophy and practice of the club of
stretching our resources to breaking point, we have decided to run a 3rd team in
the new 7th division.
The idea behind this is to provide an opportunity for players
who enjoy the game to play in a league/competitive context without making any
major demands on their playing strength, and without becoming a major commitment
if they don't want it.
Also, since many of the club members are school teachers, it
might be possible to introduce some school kids into this low-ish level of
chess, if not in the 1st teams.
More administrative details followed for this
E/ The Club Tournament and F/ Finance [not included here]
G/ Club Name
For the past 3 years we have been Kirkdale, since that was
were some of us lived and met. This is no longer true. It was proposed,
therefore, that depending upon the success of our tenure at the "Atticus"
Bookshop, we should phase in the name ATTICUS over the coming year, with a view
to adopting it in the future.
NB Atticus was the friend and confidante of Cicero, the Roman
lawyer. He was a man of great wisdom and learning, immense grace and charm, of
inestimable wit and refined manners, and who liked the odd bevvy with the lads.
As far as I know, he couldn't play chess - because Mr. C. Hess hadn't invented
The Newsletter finishes with the fixture list for the season [not
The reasons for including these lengthy extracts are many: First and
foremost we can acknowledge the many people happy to buy into the
Atticus dream and to see where it led. Not only the visionaries and the
organisers can be recognised for their contributions but also the unsung
heroes who turned out week-in week-out, often travelling long distances
play their games to ensure that the Club moved forward.
The keen reader will notice a club in its infancy yes, one with limited
structures in place yes, but above all one with unquenchable ambition at all
levels of chess activity. The season that followed the newsletter above was the
most successful in the history of the club up till that time. Although no
trophies were landed priorities 1,3and 6 from the newsletter were carried out
almost to perfection and if 2,4 and 5 still had a way to go then so be it! I
should mention that great progress had already been made in the club tournament.
The tournament was played in the summer months and involved play at normal rate
until about 10p.m.. Thereafter there was an adjournment to the pub over the road
and matches were played to a finish on our return[ younger readers will be
unaware of the somewhat bizarre licensing laws in operation in those days; there
was only a relatively small window of drinking opportunity at most pubs after or
in this case during a chess match] I have clear recollections of many bizarre
finishes during the post-adjournment play. I have only hazy recollections of one
particular evening when after adjourning a solid pawn up in the endgame against
Tom Bimpson was soon after resumption forced to resign. I am assured that
this was a great evening. In our fourth year of existence we established two
teams in the first division and got our third team up and running.
The fifth year of our existence proved one of the most memorable in our history,
moving Atticus into the consciousness of British chess, but that will be a tale
for a future episode.
Postscript: Where are they now?
to right foreground): Dave Robertson, Dave James, John Ripley, Sheila
(middle): Pete MacKrell (half-hidden), Jim Cassin, Mike Price, John
(back): Martin Burbidge, Tom Bimpson, Howard Sleeman and Bernie
larger photo incl. article about the 1977 achievements]
Many of those mentioned in this chapter still have close links with the Club and
we will doubtless pick up their stories later.
However, this would appear a good moment to catch up on some of those who have
faded from the scene [and in some cases not catch up on them since we haven't
heard from them].
Geoff Hall: there at the beginning of the Club; Geoff continued to offer
loyal support even when his career took him to the Dark Side[or Manchester as it
is also known]. Geoff did in due course settle in the birthplace of Chess[
Sutton Coldfield,not an Indian village; we're talking about the magazine not the
game] but is not believed to play these days; has been seen in professional
contexts over the years.
Andy Mort: Geoff's passenger on many occasions, now resident in
Chesterfield; contacted us in October 2008. Andy remains proud of his
contribution to the early years of our history and is still an active player.
There is a gentle challenge from Chesterfield Chess Club on the table if we care
to pick it up.
Pete Mckrell: In addition to his optimistic and lively contribution to
chess matches, Pete was the first to insist we got our finances on a sound and
communal basis. This enabled our chess plans to unfold smoothly. It is a number
of years since the shock of Pete's death but he remains strong in our collective
Hans Schadee: I have heard absolutely nothing from Hans. He was
however the first of our United Nation's Invasion Force and a strong player to
Martin Burbidge: U.S. resident for the last 19-20 years. Now plays in San
Francisco for the Mechanics Chess Club[ believed to be the oldest in the U.S.]
Was a strong player in our early days and dropped in on the Club in May 2009.
One of many old players who has made contact thanks to our website and our
unusual name, which brings us to
Dave Herring: a Club stalwart in the early years and, as the
newsletter indicates, played a large part in obtaining the Atticus bookshop and
thus in giving the Club its name. Dave is not active on the competitive scene
but was seen admiring the chess talent that descended on Liverpool during the
celebrations of 2006-2008.
Andy Wilks: has vivid memories [in fact remembers far
more detail than this annotator] of the early years. Andy was, as he recalls,
part of our "Youth Programme" playing for the Club in his schooldays at
Rock Ferry H.S. Since 1983 Andy has lived in Australia; he made contact in a
couple of great emails in 2005 and dropped in on the Club in August 2007. The
highlight of his chess career was 6th= in the Australian Championship when it
was held in his home city of Melbourne[Andy did have to wait a little for his
prize money as the possibility of this unknown player with a slight Scouse
accent being a ringer was investigated].
What’s in a name? The origins
Renaming the club after our
first successful year was inevitable. We were already drawing members
from across Liverpool. And anyway, playing conditions at the Kirkdale
Community Centre, never ideal, deteriorated further when they kicked us
out in favour of activities involving organised physical violence. So
ended chess in Kirkdale. Given the goings-on there these days, that’s
not about to change anytime soon.
bookshop, Hardman St., 1980's
So the search for new premises
began. I’d just started as a lecturer at the FE college in Clarence
Street, and during my lunch hour, used to browse through the stock of a
small second-hand bookshop next door. It’s a sandwich bar now. But in
1973, it was Atticus Books, a struggling attempt by Tom, its owner, to
raise the quality of second-hand books above that of a car-boot sale. We
got talking, and eventually reached a deal that allowed us to use his
upstairs room for matches. We played there throughout 1973-74, taking
the name ‘Atticus’ as part of the deal.
The upstairs room was
extremely small and very old. Before each match, we would carefully
clear piles of books from the tables. Then, when sixteen people sat down
to play, the only comfort to be drawn from the squash was that
collective body heat compensated for the minimal heating on offer. Why
minimal heating? Because Tom, the owner, didn’t want us burning down his
livelihood. Witty folk from visiting teams, noting the chill amid the
books, offered to incinerate a few. Oh, how we chuckled! If, during the match, you felt
your game going downhill, it probably was. The building was so old that
the floor sloped alarmingly. We couldn’t have had any structural
engineers in the team because no one gave a thought to loading sixteen
chess-players onto these dodgy timbers.
As the season headed into
winter, some matches had to be played by candle-light. This was the era
of the 3-day week, the miners’ strike, and Government restrictions on
the use of electricity. Suddenly, there would be a power cut, complete
blackout until someone scrambled for a candle. Huddled over the board in
overcoats, surrounded by musty tomes, and crammed together by
candle-light, we looked like nothing so much as a bunch of Dickensian
clerks bent to their grim labours. Despite everything, or maybe because
of it, we won the 1st
Division that season, our first as Atticus - and without burning down
the shop. Happy days!
So why was ‘Atticus Books’ so
named? There is a well-known second-hand bookshop of that name in New
York with branches in other American cities. Presumably Tom thought he’d
continue the tradition in Liverpool. These bookshops take their name
from Titus Pomponius Atticus (110-32 BC), a scholar and close friend of
Cicero, the Roman statesman and orator. Titus Pomponius took the name
‘Atticus’ from his love of Athens, and after publishing Cicero’s work,
came to be regarded as the world’s first publisher-cum-librarian. A
century or so later, Herodes Atticus (101-177) continued the cultural
tradition with his work on Plato. Thereafter, St Atticus makes his mark
as “a tireless enemy of heretics”, finding time to write ‘On
Virginity’ before dying as Pope in 425.
Skipping quickly over the next
one and a half millennia (and a clutter of entries in Google), the next
famous Atticus was a prize stallion, presumably not too impressed by the
writings of St Atticus. This American champion racehorse sired 27
winners, not bad for a horse, although not as many as Atticus Chess Club
BH (Baruch, "Barry") Wood
founder of CHESS magazine
Then we have Atticus Finch,
the kindly lawyer in Harper Lee’s famous novel, ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’,
played by Gregory Peck in the film of the book. Atticus Finch has been
voted the greatest heroic character of the past century with Hannibal
Lector, the worst, which leads neatly into Atticus, the modern clothing
outlet. This sells Death’s Head t-shirts and other morbid apparel for
fun-loving Goths, ideal garb when playing the Sveshnikov.
We haven’t always been plain
‘Atticus’ though. We spent 1974-75 as ‘Atticus Red Star’, or at least we
had score-sheets overprinted as such. The ‘Red Star’ element was added
by the more left-wing members of the club seeking to be on the side of
the angels in the forthcoming Workers’ Revolution. The name was adopted
in a truly democratic manner - by not inviting dissent - and was
tolerated by other club members with the benign indulgence usually
reserved for toddlers. In the end ‘The Workers’, having re-elected
Harold Wilson in 1974, decided that was sufficiently revolting, so the
‘Red Star’ title lapsed with the revolution when the score-sheets ran
Actually, the title lapsed
when the printer refused to print any more. Our score-sheets were
overprinted by ‘Chess’ magazine in Sutton Coldfield, owned and edited by
the dedicated but formidable Baruch H Wood. ‘BH’, as he was universally
known, was the longstanding chess correspondent of the ‘Daily
Telegraph’. Never were the politics of correspondent and newspaper more
Ever the entrepreneur, ‘BH’
would hire out his print-room as a weekend rendezvous for teams in the
National Club Championship meeting halfway. On one occasion, we arrived
to play a strong Streatham team in the semi-finals. ‘BH’ asked me what
the ‘Red Star’ signified. I was delighted by his interest, polishing for
his benefit the bit about underpaid print workers throwing off the yoke
of rapacious capitalists. His face darkened; his lips pursed with scorn;
and I thought for a minute he was about to throw us off the premises, or
throw a fit. Then he remembered we hadn’t yet paid for the room. We
never dared ask him to print any more though.
But the club was moving on,
literally. By the start of the 1974-75 season, Atticus had outgrown the
bookshop. So, homeless again, taking nothing but the name, and dragging
our equipment behind us, we set off to scour the watering holes of
Liverpool, looking for somewhere to play. It’s hard to believe, looking
back, but within three years Atticus would be National Club Champions.
climb to the summit is the next part of our story.
The beginning by John Carleton
As all chess historians agree 1972 was a sensational year
in the development of the great game. Atticus Chess Club (née
Kirkdale Chess Club) played its first match in the autumn of that year,
a 4-3 defeat at the hands of Liverpool 3 in Division 2 of the Liverpool
and District Chess League.
On the face of it this was not a great start, we did have
some excuses to offer: we were not at full strength. Our bottom two
boards on the night were two rugby players each promised a couple of
pints of best bitter for turning out plus a very attractive bonus again
alcoholic in content and also measured in imperial units of capacity.
Sadly the bonus scheme was not needed and the rest of the team played
Atticus Chess Club founders
The idea of a new club had been born in the autumn of the
previous year. I had returned to Liverpool after a year’s absence and
started playing at Prescot and Knotty Ash Chess Club. I was still in
contact with a number of former co-students at Liverpool University,
none of whom were playing competitive chess, and I felt that together we
could make a team to win the Liverpool League. John Ripley, then also
playing at Prescot, was most supportive of the idea, helping me talk
through the logistical problems but did not himself join the cause until
our second year.
The League accepted our application to join and because of
our likely strength placed us as high as they felt they could, i.e. in
Division 2. Our team for that season in no particular order was Dave
Robertson, Geoff Hall, Bernard Osterberg, Pete Mackrall, Howard Sleeman,
a bloke called Eddie and me, John Carleton. Keen students of local
history will appreciate that four of this team were in the Atticus 2
team that won the Merseyside Division One Championship in 2004-2005. I
am not quite sure what conclusion can be drawn from this but it is
probably not particularly flattering.
Division 1 Trophy
Before our first match two of our major problems were (a)
the name of the club and (b) the venue for the home matches. These
problems were solved in one move. Dave and Geoff fixed it with Kirkdale
Community Centre to use a room there. The only fee we had to ‘pay’ was
to run a chess activity class for the youth of Kirkdale one evening per
week. Woodwork, a popular choice amongst the boys of Kirkdale clashed
with our class which as a result largely consisted of girls plus the
occasional boy who had been thrown out of woodwork. Despite deploying
many innovative and brilliant ideas the tutors Dave, Geoff and myself
failed to establish a production line of young talent like our
contemporaries Dvoretsky and Yermolinsky.
The Kirkdale team quickly played itself into form after the
shaky start to the season and the crunch match of the League campaign
came with a visit to Hoylake. Chauffeur to the Liverpool contingent of
the team, Geoff was unavoidably detained in a pub for the afternoon
before the match where he unavoidably consumed vast quantities of
alcohol. Geoff declared himself fit to play but thought it perhaps
better if he did not drive. This led to our travelling on public
transport and arriving close to the start of play without time for a
pre-match drink to settle our nerves.
Perhaps for this reason, the match became a very nervy
matter but with a late swing of fortune a crucial victory
resulted. The second division title was thus achieved with just one
The cup final was another tense affair with Kirkdale
requiring a 5-1 winning margin against another team newly formed that
season (Dista, later to be Hunts Cross and now Aigburth). This did not
prove an easy task since Dista had a good team (more than one of whom
are still active in their first division team). Again a late flourish
saw victory by 5½ - ½.
Thus we started
season 1973-4 in Division One as Division Two champions and Knock-Out
trophy holders. Our second season saw a new venue, Atticus bookshop, and
hence the name Atticus. We also got some new blood; Tom Bimpson returned
from working in France to join up with former University colleagues and
John Ripley moved across to us as promised. And so the second chapter in
the history of Atticus Chess Club began.