Monday 20 April 2020

William Greenwood Walker - going round the houses.

This is a typical example of the meandering journeys that chess books can take you on....

Reading Brian Gosling's book; John Brown: The Forgotten Chess Composer?, (see my article J. B. of Bridport), I noticed that the correspondent who proposed publishing a collection of Brown's problems was WGW, and I wondered if this could be William Greenwood Walker, author of the book of games between de la Bourdonnais and McDonnell, published in 1836. 

The first port of call was Jeremy Gaige's Chess Personalia, to check if William Greenwood Walker was still around in the 1860s. However, this disclosed no date of birth and only 1834+ as a vague date of death. Interest is already aroused. The only source listed by Gaige is Chess & Chess-Players, by George Walker, London 1850.

Chess & Chess-Players includes a long article by George Walker; The Battles of M'Donnell and de la Bourdonnais, and on page 381 he commented that William Greenwood Walker had "shuffled off this mortal coil since the year 1834".  Now, this is before the publication of WGW's book in 1836; is this another candidate for the series on books published posthumously?  

Noting that George Walker's article had originally appeared in The Chess Player's Chronicle for 1843, perhaps there had been an error in transmission. However, CPC volume IV page 379 confirms the date of 1834. Earlier in this article (page 369 of Chess & Chess-Players, page 372 of CPC)  George Walker also comments that his namesake had "died full of years". It is now looking very unlikely that he could have survived into the 1860s.

Time to have a look at William Greenwood Walker's book; A Selection of Games at Chess, Actually Played in London, by the Late Alexander M'Donnell, Esq...., London 1836, to see if there is any indication that it had been published after the author's death. 

This clearly shows that he was alive in July 1836, the date that he signed The Preface.

A quick check in The Oxford Companion to Chess, 1984 first edition and 1992 second edition, revealed no separate entry for WGW, just a note at the end of George Walker's entry that WGW had died soon after the Bourdonnais - McDonnell matches in 1834 "full of years". Chess Texts in the English Language, printed before 1850, by K. Whyld and C. Ravilious, which includes birth and death dates of authors where known, also has no dates for W. Greenwood Walker.

A Century of British Chess, by P. W. Sergeant, London and Philadelphia 1934, has several mentions of W. Greenwood Walker but no birth or death dates; Gaige would surely have spotted these anyway. 

Next stop; Chess Notes by Edward Winter who loves to grapple with questionable birth and death dates; had he researched this mystery? Alas no; there are no entries for William Greenwood Walker in the very extensive Factfinder index, and a custom search brings up four hits in Chess Notes but no new information on Walker's birth or death dates.

Right, there is a McFarland book on the de la Bourdonnais - McDonnell matches which must have been extensively researched, does this have any information on William Greenwood Walker? De la Bourdonnais versus McDonell, 1834 by Cary Utterberg, Jefferson 2005, has 13 references to WGW in the index but these reveal nothing more then the "died full of years" quote on page 33. 

Timothy Harding specialises in exploring 19th-century British chess so let's check his deeply researched and detailed works; Eminent Victorian Chess Players, Jefferson 2012, and British Chess Literature to 1914, Jefferson 2018.

The first of this pair, on chess players who flourished from the 1840s onwards, has no mention of WGW, and although A Selection of Games at Chess Actually Played... is briefly mentioned on page 246 of British Chess Literature to 1914, there is no new information about the author. The latter book has an Appendix listing over 100 amendments to Gaige's Chess Personalia, but nothing for W. Greenwood Walker.

Finally, I turned to John Townsend's two absorbing works: Notes on the life of Howard Staunton, Wokingham 2011, and Historical notes on some chess players, Wokingham 2014. A constraint for researchers is that only 100 copies of each book have been printed.

John Townsend is an authority on genealogical and biographical research with a particular interest in 19th-century chess personalities, and, lo and behold, on pages 1 to 4 of Notes on the life of Howard Staunton he provides substantial biographical information on William Greenwood Walker, including details of his death on 24th June 1839 aged 53. Townsend also notes that WGW was a native of Leeds but does not provide a birth date.

Notes on the Life of Howard Staunton, page 3

Notes on the Life of Howard Staunton, page 4

So, several hours and 14 books later, I have finally discovered William Greenwood Walker's date of death, but I still don't know the identity of the WGW who wrote to Staunton in 1863.


Postscript: I should have turned to the internet at the outset as a quick search finds the following information on the website:

John Townsend has cast doubt on the accuracy of some of the above information, believing that the marriage to Mary Ann Dodd and stated occupation of silk manufacturer are both incorrect. 

Further update: Richard James has provided a copy of the Baptism register for St. Peter's Leeds for December 1785, stating that William Greenwood Walker was born on 5th November 1785 and baptised on 9th December. His father was William Walker of Park Row.

Finally, William Greenwood Walker's book not only provides us with the most complete 19th-century record of the matches between de la Bourdonnais and McDonnell, but it also has one other claim to fame in that it includes the very first reference to Howard Staunton, who is listed as a subscriber to the book. 

Notes on the life of Howard Staunton, page 3 
© Michael Clapham 2020

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