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A brief history of Lewisham Chess Club

Lewisham Chess Club was founded in 1886, presided over by club secretary Mr Grantham Williams.

Members met at The Plough Tavern, which dated back into the 1700’s and was most likely a nod to the area’s rural history, located on what is now the approach to the DLR Station.


Individual success followed at the turn of the century, with Lewisham’s then top board, Oscar Conrad (O.C) Muller being crowned Kent Champion, the first of eleven players (achieving a total of 29 victories) who have taken that title whilst playing for the club.



Due to dwindling numbers, Lewisham merged with St Mary's Institute Chess Club, who were based in Ladywell, Lewisham, in 1915.

It is noted that the borough was teeming with keen players in that era, with another club, St Marks Lewisham also in the area, though it seems that this club folded prior to the 2nd World War.

The newly merged club grew in strength to the point that they, and Lee Chess Club, chose to enter their own London League teams in 1921, with Kent players having previously played for London Kentish, and it was in the following year that they tasted success by winning their first Kent County Championship in 1922. 

Rufus Stevenson (himself a Kent Individual Champion in 1919 whilst a Lewisham member) played in the first County Cup triumph. His first wife Agnes Stevenson (nee Lawson) was also part of Lewisham’s first success, going on to win 4 British Ladies Championships until her untimely death in 1935.


The 1930's saw the most fruitful patch of the club’s history, as we took the Kent Championship six times in the decade, along with winning the prestigious London League title for the first and second time in consecutive years.  This was the first time a team from the Kent region had done so.

That achievement was commemorated by a visit to the club of former World Chess Champion, Jose Raul Capablanca - alongside reigning Women's World Chess Champion Vera Menchik  and reigning British Girls Champion, Ms Elaine Pritchard (nee Saunders) in October 1936.

Indeed, Miss Menchik, who had played for us in the early 1930’s was tempted back to representing the club in their London League season of 1937-1938, where she played top board (and won) in a playoff for the 1938 league title which Lewisham narrowly lost to Hampstead.  Not many clubs can boast having a reigning world champion turning out!


Her sister Olga Menchik, herself a formidable player who took 4th place in the 1935 Women’s World Chess Championships, represented the club in our Lewis Cup win of 1939.

The Club regrouped in 1945 following the end of the War, with Committee notes showing the introduction of our Club Championship, with prominent player William Skillicorn winning the first edition. To date Norman Oliver holds the record for the most successes with 10 victories.


Between 1959-1969 the club took 9 County Cup titles, bolstered by Kent Individual Champions Edward (Ted) Mason, Norman Hammond, Jim B Howson, Michael MacDonald-Ross, Tony Swift and David Hamilton, and 1954 British Champion, Alan Phillips.


The club continued to meet at the St Mary’s Institute (demolished in 1974), until 1967, when we moved to our present home of the Catford Cricket & Sports Club, and it was a few years later that we dropped ‘St Mary’s Institute’ to simply be known as Lewisham Chess Club

The club continued to attract strong players in the early 1970’s, such as Irish Olympiad players Tim Harding and Australian Board 1 FM Max Fuller. The latter narrowly missing out on a place in the 1973 Interzonal (a qualifier to the World Championship Candidates Tournament) by losing by drawing of lots after tying for 2nd place in the Asian Zonal Qualifying Event in Hong Kong.


In 1982 John Richardson, at that time U18 British boys champion, beat reigning World Champion Anatoly Karpov is a Simultaneous Exhibition at Westergate School


Our centenary season in 1986 was marked by a Simultaneous Exhibition performed by British Champion GM Jon Speelman.  In addition, Lewisham hosted the 4th Commonwealth Open International Tournament and the British Lightning Championships, thanks to the dedicated work of Richard W.O’Brien and other club members of the time.

In 2010 we set a Kent record by qualifying for five of the seven team finals, winning three.


As of present day, we have won the Kent County Cup 29 times (10 more than our nearest challengers).  Our most recent success coming in 2022, one hundred years after our maiden win.

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