The Queens Park area of Glasgow has a centuries-long tradition of organised chess.
This page features information on both a historical Queens Park Chess Club, active from 1873 through to the inter-war years, and the current one, which was established in 2019.
Original Club, 1873-1936
Edinburgh Chess Club is one of the oldest in the world, having been established in 1822, and Glasgow Chess Club is thought to have been formed soon afterward; evidence exists of an 1827 club gathering.
As the game became increasingly popular across Europe in the late 19th century, some Glasgow neighbourhoods decided to set up their own chess clubs. In 1873, a call was put out to “attend a meeting of those favourable to the formation of a Chess Club” at an address on Struan Terrace, a section of Victoria Road in Govanhill, close to the main Queens Park entrance.
This meeting led to the formation of Queens Park Chess Club with 26 members. It had been called by Alfred Thomas Jago, an Englishman who lived in Crosshill, and who worked for many years as chief accountant with the Caledonia Railway Company. The first President was Ebenezer Duncan, a prominent medical expert who spent 49 years connected to the Club.
In its first match, in 1874, the new Club beat Helensburgh. The Club used a number of venues during its 60+ year lifetime, including the Young Men’s Christian Institute in Crosshill, Queens Park Bowling Club, Queens Park Boathouse, Queens Park Academy, Crosshill Conservative Rooms at 370 Langside Road, Turner’s Tea Rooms on 441 Victoria Road, and the YMCA Centre in Eglinton.
In the mid-1870s, a dispute broke out between Queens Park Bowling Club and the Chess Club, with complaints raised about too much chess played on the premises. Alfred Jago, who was also a Bowling Club Member, appears to have been able to use his good relations with both to resolve the dispute.
In 1883, Joseph “the black death” Henry Blackburne visited Queens Park Chess Club for a simultaneous match. Blackburne, known for his thick black beard, aggressive style of play, and brilliant sacrifices, is thought to have been the second best player in the world during the 1880s, after Wilhelm Steinitz.
In 1910, noting the Club’s 37th season, the Falkirk Herald described it as, “the oldest among local suburban clubs”. In 1919, Queens Park Chess Club was represented when world champion Jose Raul Capablanca visited the Glasgow Chess Club (pictured, top). James Birch Junior, one of two players to achieve a draw against the Cuban legend (the other 35 players lost), is the son of former Queens Park Vice President, James Birch Senior.
Queens Park Chess Club demonstrated success in a number of competitions, including the Glasgow Chess League, the West of Scotland Challenge Cup, the Spens Memorial Cup, and the Richardson Cup. The Club won the Spens Cup in 1903 and a further two times in 1908 and 1915. It obtained the 1st Division title of the Glasgow Chess League in its inaugural 1908/9 season – winning every match – and again in 1929/30.
In 1923, the Glasgow Herald published an article celebrating the Club’s 50th anniversary. The article drew attention to the Club’s triumphs, notable players and key administrators. The article stated that for much of its history to date, the Club “continued to move along in a quiet way”, and in some seasons only played occasional matches.
The final evidence of Club activity is in the 1930s, when the Club: won the 2nd Division of the Glasgow Chess League in 1931/2; held a diamond jubilee annual meeting in 1933, following the recent death of its President and oldest member William R. Pitt, a bank agent; and was a losing finalist vs Glasgow Polytechnic in the 1935 Spens Cup, also falling at the final hurdle in 1936 vs Dundee. The Club was sometimes referred to as Crosshill Chess Club.
Our sincere thanks to Chess Scotland historian Alan McGowan for his generous provision of source material on the original Queens Park Chess Club. Alan has also produced an overview for the Chess Scotland website.
New Incarnation, 2019-
The modern Queens Park Chess Club was formed in 2019 by Julien Papillon of Glasgow Polytechnic Chess Club, Harvey Dellanzo of Cathcart Chess Club, and Colin Paterson of Phones Chess Club.
The purpose was to establish a new club in the Govanhill area, associated with growing demand for community activities at Govanhill Neighbourhood Centre on Daisy Street and the Govanhill Baths community hub on Calder Street.
In the initial months of 2019, the Club – originally called Govanhill Chess Club – held weekly meetings at Govanhill Neighbourhood Centre, and organised occasional events in public spaces. At the start of the 2019/20 season, with access and storage challenges at Daisy Street, the Club moved to McNeills Bar on Torrisdale Street, and entered teams in Division 3b of the Glasgow Chess League and Division 2 of the Dumbarton and District Chess League. The Covid pandemic disrupted the league season, and the Club moved online for several months.
For the 2020/21 and 2021/22 seasons, Julien was elected President, Harvey as Treasurer, and Derek Rankine as Club Secretary. The Club moved to a third home – Wellcroft Bowling Club in Queens Park – after McNeills refurbished the function room the Club had been using into a restaurant.
With league business suspended, the Club entered the Scottish National Online Chess League, held its first Club Championship, and played a series of graded friendlies with other local clubs, including Bearsden, Cathcart, Paisley, Phones and Strathclyde University.
The Club draws most of its players from the neighbourhoods around Queens Park, including Govanhill, Crosshill, Shawlands, Strathbungo, Langside, Crossmyloof, Mount Florida and Eglinton.
To acknowledge its wider geography, and its current base in Queens Park, the Committee formally agreed to a change of name at the 2022 Club AGM on 15 August 2022. Govanhill Chess Club became Queens Park Chess Club, and rejoined the Glasgow and Dumbarton Chess Leagues in the 2022/23 season.
The modern Queens Park Chess Club is proud to play in the same Glasgow Chess League as the historical Club, and to call Queens Park our home.
You will find us in Wellcroft Bowling Club in the north corner of the Park on Tuesday evenings during the September to May season, and at the boating pond’s picnic benches for casual chess on Sunday mornings in June, July and August.
We look forward to continuing the tradition, which Alfred Jago started 150 years ago, of bringing local people together to learn, play and appreciate the game, for many years to come.