Perhaps many of our members are already aware of this fact, but for those who aren’t or perhaps haven’t heard the story for a while, I wanted to share what I have discovered about our 1890 President. I happened to come across the extract below from the December 1890 Hereford Times, which talks about the best Politician Chess players of the era. I was intrigued by the line towards the end of this article, which says, “The Speaker, we presume, is a chessplayer, since he is the President of the Leamington Chess Club.” Strictly speaking, the rest of the extract isn’t relevant to this story, but I include it anyway, as it still makes for interesting reading.
The next item, from ‘E.A.’ (i.e. Edwyn Anthony) in the Hereford Times, was quoted on pages 491-492 of the December 1890 BCM:
‘The popularity of the game of chess, since its introduction not so long ago into the smoke-room of the House of Commons, has been a constantly increasing quantity – not, indeed, a very surprising fact. Mr Gladstone has stated more than once that the British House of Commons does more work than any other legislative assembly in the world, and, apart from the intrinsic claims of the pastime most akin to science of any in existence, an absorbing recreation like chess must needs be a great help to relieve the tedium of the weary hours of waiting which every member who does his duty by his constituents must necessarily undergo. Lord Randolph Churchill is, we believe, the best player on the Conservative side but, casting our eyes for the moment on the Liberal benches alone, we find that Caissa ranks among her votaries some of the ablest members of the party. Strongest as a chessplayer stands Mr Newnes, the president of the British Chess Club. Next come the following group among whom there is no considerable difference in the strength: Mr Bradlaugh, Colonel Nolan, Sir Julian Goldsmith, Dr Hunter, and Mr Atherley-Jones. And, in close company therewith, we have the well-known and well-honoured names of Sir Charles Russell and Mr Winterbotham. The Speaker, we presume, is a chessplayer, since he is the president of the Leamington Chess Club. Mr Gladstone is acquainted with the moves, but, so far, history fails to record any game played on the checkered field by the greatest player on the political board of ancient or modern times.’
I was intrigued by this and set out to see if I could find out who had held the dual offices of Speaker of the House of Commons and the Presidency of Leamington Chess Club. The wonders of google being what they are, it didn’t take me long to find out …
Arthur Wellesley Peel (son of Sir Robert Peel) was a British Liberal Politician who represented Warwick and following subsequent boundary changes Leamington and Warwick and was Speaker of the House of Commons from 1884 to 1895, when he was raised to the peerage. I haven’t been able to glean anything as to Arthur Peel’s playing strength or how active he was in the game. However, the Encyclopaedia Britannica says that throughout his career as Speaker, “he exhibited conspicuous impartiality, combined with a perfect knowledge of the traditions, usages and forms of the House, soundness of judgement, and readiness of decision upon all occasions.”
We would expect no less!