Monday, September 01, 2008

The Friends Institute, Birmingham, and some chess and political memories

The Birmingham Post reports that a campaign has been launched to save The Friends Institute on Moseley Road in Balsall Heath.

This brings back memories, as I once played chess there for Sutton Coldfield against the Mutual Circle club - which appears still to be thriving, with its own website.

I can't remember the game (though I do have folders of old scoresheets I have never quite got around to throwing out), but I do remember the figure of W. Ritson Morry, who ran the Mutual Circle. In those days he was one of the leading chess organisers, not only in Birmingham but nationally. He held court at the Institute and looked exactly like the elderly Winston Churchill.

I was living in Sutton Coldfield because, in my first job after leaving university, I was working for Chess magazine in the town. The magazine was owned by B. H. Wood, another doyen of Birmingham and British chess.

I remember that there was an antipathy between Wood and Ritson Morry, but until I searched the web this evening I did not know why. The Edward Winter's Chess in the Courts site records the following:

1954: Baruch Harold Wood v William Ritson Morry (C.N. 2569)

From page 161 of CHESS, August 1954:

‘Chess Criminal Charge

B.H. Wood was acquitted at Birmingham Assizes on 14 July, without calling upon any evidence, of a charge of criminal libel instituted by W. Ritson Morry. In a letter to a Mr Golding, Mr Wood had indicated that if Mr Morry was in the new Welsh Chess Union, Mr Wood was out; he referred to Mr Morry as “this ex-gaolbird”.

It was held that Mr Wood was entitled to give his reasons for withdrawing; that the description was true, as Morry, after misappropriating clients’ money as a Solicitor some years before, had been sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment.

The Commissioner stated that in his opinion the case should never have been brought, and awarded B.H. Wood costs not exceeding £100.’

No wonder they did not get on after that.

There are a number of other cases on the site, including another involving Wood. The William Winter involved in the 1921 trial was a nephew of the writer J. M. Barrie.

I lived in Sutton Coldfield during the early years of the Alliance and for a time lodged with a Liberal activist called Jim Whorwood. I remember saying to one of the SDP members: "I love the Liberal Party: Jim does all this work and he has no hope of any reward."

A few years ago he served a term as Lord Mayor of Birmingham. Never forget how far we Liberals have already come.


John Hemming said...

After being Lord Mayor Jim was for a year Cabinet Member for Local Services. He is a councillor for South Yardley Ward a ward I was a councillor for until May 2008.

Frank Little said...

I remember the reporting of the "gaolbird" case in "Chess" (Sutton Coldfield, sufficient address).

Wood also serialised old Stalinist William Winter's memoirs in his magazine, though, if I recall correctly, his own politics were Thatcherite before Thatcher.