Born: ca. 1845, Ramsey, Isle of Man - Died: 15 June 1930, Cardiff, Wales
In 1871 John Chambers was living with his mother and sister in Parton, near Whitehaven, Cumberland, England, as per that year's census (his father had died in 1870). Thereafter, all three members of the family form a connection to Scotland, but the reasons for this are not clear. It is possible that it was because Mr Chambers took up a position in Glasgow - it has been reported that he joined Glasgow Chess Club in 1872.
John Dibbin Chambers was associated with Glasgow Chess Club.
He was one of the group that founded the Scottish Chess Association in 1884.
Winner of the West of Scotland Challenge Cup in May 1885 by defeating Peter Fyfe +4, -1, =1. He defended it by winning 4-3 against Sheriff Spens later in the year.
Winner of the 1st Correspondence Tournament in Scotland 1885-1887. He defeated John Court in the final of the knockout competition.
Represented Scotland in a correspondence match against Ireland 1886-87.
Played in the second congress of the Irish Chess Association at Belfast 1886
Scottish Champion 1891
Known in Scotland as "The Apostle of Chess" for popularising the game throughout the country.
Competed in the first class section at several British Chess Federation Congresses, including 1906, 1910, 1911, 1913, 1914 and 1920.
British Correspondence Chess Association champion 1918-19.
In 1925 he was selected to represent Ireland in a correspondence match against New York.
At the British Chess Federation Congress in Edinburgh in 1920, Chambers played in a section of the First Class tournament. He is is seated far left.
His occupation as a Commercial Traveller took him around the country, during which time he helped organise many chess clubs, as can be seen in the article Scottish Chess Clubs 1889
While on his travels, Chambers continued playing his correspondence games. In submitting one of them for publication he stated that:
"a curious feature in this game is that Black, being a 'Knight of the Road,' sent his move from 44 different places."
Apart from communicating from around the country on chess matters, Mr Chambers also delighted in passing on his experiences to newspapers:-
Glasgow Herald, 26 February 1889, page 8.
And, unable to participate in the 1893 Scottish Championship, he submitted the following telegram, which included his offer of a prize for the best game.
Dundee Courier, 11 April 1893, page 6.
J.D. Chambers - J. Gilchrist
Scottish Championship 1891
1.Nf3 d5 2.d4 e6 3.e3 Nf6 4.Be2 Be7 5.b3 O-O 6.O-O b6 7 Bb2 Bb7 8 Nbd2
c5 9.c4 Nbd7 10.Rc1 cxd4 11.Nxd4 dxc4 12.Nxc4 Nc5 13.b4 Na6 14.a3 Nc7 15.Ne5 Bd6 16.Ndc6 Bxc6 17.Nxc6 Qd7 18.Bf3 Rfe8 19.Qe2 Nfd5 20.e4 Nf4 21.Qd1
Nd3 22.e5 Nxb2 23.Qxd6 Qxd6 24.exd6 Nd5 25.d7 Red8 26.Nxd8 1-0
(Winner of Best Game prize, donated by D.Y. Mills.)
Two interesting games against people who were better known as politicians.
J.D. Chambers - Ramsay MacDonald
casual game, Lossiemouth 1891
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Nxd4 Qh4 5.Nf3 Qxe4+ 6.Be2 d5 7.0-0 Be6 8.Nc3 Qf5 9.Bb5 Qh5 10.Re1 Nge7 11.Re5 Qg4 12.h3 Qb4 13.Bg5 f6 14.Rxe6 fxg5 15.Qxd5 Qxb2 16.Rd1 Qxc3 17.Nxg5 Qxc2 18.Qd7# 1-0 [Falkirk Herald chess column, 24 January, 1923, submitted by Chambers himself.]
J.D. Chambers - Andrew Bonar Law
Glasgow, 1897 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.d3 d6 5.c3 h6 6.h3 Nf6 7.Bb3 0-0 8.0-0 Kh8 9.Qe2 Nh7 10.Be3 Bb6 11.Nfd2 f5 12.Bxb6 axb6 13.f4 exf4 14.Rxf4 fxe4 15.Rxf8+ Qxf8 16.Nxe4 Bd7 17.Nbd2 Ra5 18.Nf3 Qe8 19.d4 Bf5 20.Re1 Ra8 21.Nh4 Qd7 22.Ng3 g6 23.Ngxf5 gxf5 24.Qh5 Ne7 25.Rxe7 1-0 [Falkirk Herald chess column, 31 January 1923. Bonar Law was president of the Scottish Chess Association at the time.]
After leaving Scotland, he spent some time in Cheshire before moving to Wales, where he continued to be involved in playing and promoting the game. He won the South Wales championship in 1924 and 1927 and represented Wales in a correspondence match against Ireland in 1927-28, losing on top board against O'Hanlon.
In 1909 he contributed the Chambers Challenge Cup, which was inaugurated in 1910 with a competition featuring Bangor, Wrexham, Ruabon, Llandudno, Rhyl and Colwyn Bay.
In the autumn of 1924 he gave a series of radio broadcasts from Cardiff. He naturally discussed chess, including his claim to have taught Andrew Bonar Law the game, but he also talked about other people and incidents. He referred to witnessing the Tay Bridge disaster (1879) from the south bank. During the British Chess Federation Congress at Southport 1924, he provided several articles on chess to a local paper, the Southport Visitor.
When Mr Chambers had financial difficulties, a testimonial was arranged to help him. From the British Chess Magazine 1926, p 319:
'The many friends of J.D. Chambers will be pleased to hear that a testimonial to him is being arranged by the members of various clubs with which for nearly fifty years he has been connected. Fortune has not been kind to Mr Chambers in the twilight of his career, the failure of a well-known bank some years ago causing him heavy financial loss. The British Chess Federation at once took the matter up, on the motion of W.D. Wight (who represents South Wales) and a very encouraging send-off was given to the testimonial. Mr Hartley, the Northern Counties' delegate, stated that most Manchester players knew Mr Chambers intimately and would desire to associate themselves with the proceedings, while at Glasgow, where Mr Chambers is the father of the club, a firm response would be made...'
By 1927, Mr Chambers was advertising a chess set for sale, suggesting that his financial circumstances were still difficult. From the British Chess Magazine 1927, p 498:
'Mr J.D. Chambers has decided to sell the chessboard and men which were used in his game with Paul Morphy in 1858. Will any player who would like to acquire this unique set write direct to Mr Chambers at 16 Beda Road, Cardiff.'
Chambers died in Cardiff on 15 June 1930. His last known address was 23 Grosvenor Street in that city. The obituary in the Falkirk Herald of 9 July offered some interesting comments about him (the October 1930 British Chess Magazine drew on that information for its own obituary).
'Altogether, he was a man of rather extraordinary personality, with an enormous knowledge of life, and an unfailing supply of stories and anecdotes...His nationality was a hard problem to himself. He claimed to be Scotch, but partly American, partly Welsh, partly English also, and partly Irish. He knew a little Erse, and a little Welsh, and a little Gaelic-and he had a good deal of the "Lavengro" about him. Some of his habits of life were distinctly Borrovian.'
[Lavengro : The Scholar, the Gypsy, the Priest (1851) is a work by George Borrow.]
As shown above, there has always been some mystery about John D. Chambers, particularly in regards to his date and place of birth. Further, his middle name has been wrongly recorded as Dillon. The chess editor of the Falkirk Herald, A.J. Neilson, had Chambers' autobiography in his possession when writing in 1930, but his only reference to the family was a mention of a sister who had lived in Banffshire [sic-Morayshire] and who had predeceased him. Despite the error, this was a useful clue in tracing the family. The following information is therefore provided for the sake of completeness.
Parents of John D. Chambers
Father John Carr Chambers
Born 1799, Lucea, Jamaica
Died 26 May 1870 at Birkbeck Cottage, Parton, Cumberland, England
Initiated as a Freemason of the Atholl Lodge, Lucea, Jamaica, 5 September 1824.
Captain in H.M. Royal Hanoverian Regiment (also, reference to British Colonial Service)
Louisa Frances Dibbin
Born 10 October 1805, London
Died 29 January 1884, Old Cathcart [later, part of Glasgow]
The parents married in Holborn, London in 1837.
Mary Ann W. B. Chambers
Born ca. 1846, Ramsey, Isle of Man
Died 7 January 1921 in the Parish of Spynie, Moray, Scotland
1851 Census (England)
The family resided in St Briavels, Gloucestershire. John Carr Chambers was shown as a Landed Proprietor. The birthplace for both John D. and Mary A.W. was shown as Isle of Man.
1861 Census (England)
The family were resident at Birkbeck Cottage, Parton, Cumberland. Parton is located just over a mile north of Whitehaven.
The children were registered as John Dibbin Washington Chambers and Mary Ann W.B. Chambers.
The following reference to the Theatre Royal, Whitehaven, might refer to the chess player.
Cumberland Pacquet, and Ware's Whitehaven Advertiser, Tuesday 02 May 1865, page 5.
Death of John Carr Chambers, 26 May 1870, at Birkbeck Cottage, Parton, Cumberland.
1871 Census (England)
The family were still resident in Parton, Cumberland.
The Falkirk Herald obituary in 1930 records that John D. Chambers joined Glasgow Chess Club in 1872 "...keeping up his membership till his death...". However, interestingly, in Rules and Alphabetical List of the Members of the Glasgow Chess Club (1879), there is no mention of Chambers.
1877-78 Post Office Directory for Glasgow
Home address for John D. Chambers and his mother is 25 Kilmailing Terrace, Old Cathcart [Glasgow].
1881 Census (Scotland)
Louisa F.D. Chambers is still at 25 Kilmailing Terrace, but she has now been joined by her daughter, Mary Ann Chambers, who is described as Household Manager (unmarried). John D. Chambers, presumably on his travels, is not listed in this census entry.
The Chess Player's Chronicle of 22 March (p. 144), taking its information from the Northern Chronicle, Inverness, reports on the formation of the Brora Chess Club (Sutherland), and the election of office-bearers, including John D. Chambers, Old Cathcart, Glasgow, as Hon. President.
'The club voted thanks to their Hon. President for the interest he has taken in its formation, and for his present of Chessmen and boards.'
Death of Louisa Frances Dibbin Chambers on 29 January at 25 Kilmailing Terrace, Old Cathcart. The death certificate is signed by John D. Chambers who, presumably, arranged for the headstone in the Old Cathcart Cemetery, which adjoins Kilmailing Terrace. It shows details of both of his parents.
Photo posted by Nigel Cole to the Glasgow Ancestry web site at http://glasgowancestry.blogspot.ca/2010/04/
1885-86 Valuation Roll
John D. Chambers is shown as the tenant of 25 Kilmailing Terrace.
1886-87 Post Office Directory for Glasgow
The Glasgow Post Office Directory 1887-88 (p. 181) shows John D. Chambers, merchant, living at 25 Kilmailing Terrace.
An image from the early 20th century, by which time Kilmailing Terrace - which was sometimes referred to as Kilmailing Terrace and Villas - has become Kilmailing Road. The upper portion of Old Cathcart Parish Church can be seen in the middle background.
1889-90 - circumstances have changed
The Glasgow Post Office Directory 1889-90, page 184.
1891 Chess Player’s Annual and Club Directory, 1891
The entry for the Brora CC on page 65 shows J.D. Chambers, 8, Cadogan Street, Glasgow. This address refers to Wright and Grieg Ltd, wholesale wine and spirit merchants. The publication indicated that
Chambers was President of the following clubs:
Brora, Berwick, Dalmellington, Elgin, Fort William, Golspie, Island of Islay and the Steamer ‘Clansman’.
1901 Census (Scotland)
John's sister, Mary Ann Chambers, is a voluntary patient at the Crichton Royal Institution, Dumfries. She is 55 years of age and her place of birth is shown as Ramsey, Isle of Man.
John's whereabouts at the time of the census are unknown.
1911 Census (Scotland)
Mary Ann Chambers is living in Elgin, Morayshire.
Death of Mary Ann Chambers on 7 January at Craigmoray, Parish of Spynie, Moray.
Mary, with 1846 suggested as her birth year, is wrongly shown as 66 on the death certificate. Her parents are recorded as John Carr Chambers, Captain, British Colonial Service, and Louisa Frances Chambers, m.s. Dibbin.
Falkirk Herald of 11 September 1907, p. 8; 9 June 1909, p. 7; 15 March 1922, p. 4; 24 January 1923, p. 3; 3 September 1924, 17 June 1925, p. 4; p. 5; 2 July 1930, p. 11; 9 July 1930, p. 11;
Dundee Courier of 11 April 1893, p. 6;
British Chess Magazine: 1885, p. 264; p. 440; 1924, p 240; 1926, p 319; 1927, p253; 1930, p 366.
Rules and Alphabetical List of the Members of the Glasgow Chess Club. M'Farlane & Erskine, Edinburgh, 1879.
The Intellectual Repository and New Jerusalum Magazine (July/Sept. 1871), pp 54-55.
Martyn Griffiths, Historian of chess in Wales
Correspondence Chess in Britain and Ireland, 1824-1987, by Tim Harding.
ScotlandsPeople web site at https://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk/
Ancestry website at
Last updated: 15/10/2018
Compiled by Alan McGowan