Friday 29 January 2016

Oxford and Cambridge Universities

Oxford and Cambridge Universities both have a long chess heritage. Oxford University Chess Club was founded in 1869 and their website: claims that it is the oldest university chess club in the United Kingdom. However the website for the Cambridge University Chess Club: claims that it can trace its roots back to 1856. 

The first president of Oxford University Chess Club was the Reverend Charles Ranken, editor of The Chess Player's Chronicle from 1877 to 1880 and co-author, with Edward Freeborough, of Chess Openings Ancient and Modern, London 1889.

Rev. C.E.Ranken

The Varsity Chess matches between these two Universities were established with the help of Wilhelm Steinitz in 1873 and have been an annual event almost continuously since then. 

Oxford and Cambridge Chess Match, Illustrated London News, 1873
The match in 1874 was, undoubtedly, a very important chess event that year. Held at the City of London Chess Club, nearly all of the chess celebrities of the Metropolis were present including Staunton, Steinitz, Lowenthal, Horwitz, Zukertort, Bird, Blackburne, De Vere, A.A. MacDonnell, Boden, Duffy, Zytogorski and Wisker. This is reported in The City of London Chess Magazine for April 1874 p72. This must have been one of Staunton's final appearances as he died three months later.

Oxford University Press has a long tradition of publishing important chess works going back as far as 1694 when Thomas Hyde's Mandragorias, seu Historia Shahiludii was published at the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford which was designed with a printing house underneath as a home for the developing Oxford University Press. The press was relocated to the Clarendon Building in 1713 where, 200 years later H.J.R.Murray's A History of Chess was published. Other notable chess works published by the Oxford University Press include :

A Short History of Chess by H.J.R. Murray, 1963

The Golden Dozen: The twelve greatest chess players of all time by Irving Chernev, 1976 


The best games of C.H.O'D.Alexander by H.Golombek and W.Hartston, 1976

Fischer's Chess Games With an Introduction by Raymond Keene, 1980
Oxford Encyclopedia of Chess Games Volume 1 1485-1866 by David Levy & Kevin O'Connell, 1981
The Oxford Companion to Chess, David Hooper and Kenneth Whyld, 1984, 1992


Both University Chess Clubs have published periodicals which are named after mythical creatures. Dragon is the Bulletin of the Cambridge University Chess Club  and Unicorn was the magazine of Oxford University Chess Club. Dragon commenced in October 1959 although this is not recorded in Chess, An Annotated Bibliography of Works Published in the English Language 1850-1968, by D.A. Betts, Boston 1974. However, Chess, An Annotated Bibliography 1969-1988 by Andy Lusis, London 1991 and Chess Periodicals by Gino De Felice, following Lusis, both give brief details. Neither has details of the extent of publication or availability but according to the CUCC website Dragon was still being published up to 2008. Cambridge University Libraries appear to have just a single issue, No. 14 dated 1964.

Dragon Summer 1986
Dragon Christmas 1994

Dragon January 1989
Dragon February 1994

Unicorn was first issued in late 1981. Lusis examined this issue and also No. 7 dated February 1988. The Bodleian Library has No. 2 (1982) and No. 4 (1984) and possibly No. 3, this is not clear from their catalogue. I have nos. 2, 4, 5 (1987), 6 (1987) and 7 (1988). Therefore seven magazines were issued over a period of eight years and I do not know if any further issues were produced. There is no mention of this magazine on the Club's website.

Unicorn No. 6 October 1987
Unicorn No.7 February 1988

Both Universities have magnificent libraries with substantial chess holdings. Bodleian Library at Oxford University and Cambridge University Libraries are both Legal Deposit Libraries and have therefore been entitled to receive one copy, free of charge, of every book etc. published in the United Kingdom and Ireland over the last two hundred years; and they both house important chess books published from 1475 onwards. Their chess collections are probably second only to The British Library's holdings in importance in Great Britain.  Online catalogues are available as follows:

Cambridge University Libraries:

The Bodleain Library in particular is renowned for its collection of manuscripts and H.J.R. Murray researched these extensively in the preparation of his magnum opus; A History of Chess, Oxford 1913. Murray bequeathed his own collection of books and papers to this library and Dr. Timothy Harding has written a long and interesting article about Murray and the Bodleian Library which was included in his Kibitzer column in April 2006 at the old Chess Cafe website.
A History of Chess, 1969 edition

                                       © Michael Clapham 2016

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