Charles Lambert was born in Exeter in 1850 to William and Emmaline Lambert, who lived in the leafy and prosperous area of Mount Radford Square, in a house called Glenoak. His father was a solicitor with offices in New Buildings, Gandy Street, in the city centre.
Charles's first competition was in a correspondence tournament conducted by the Gentleman's Magazine when he was aged 19. The following year, in 1870, the Exeter Literacy Society, based at Barnfield House, Southernhay, made available a room dedicated to chess. Their adverts in the Post Office Directory of the time give a flavour of the nature of the society.
"Lectures, entertainments etc. given weekly in the Barnfield Hall, which is also open for letting to the public. Shorthand classes held weekly. Library open daily. The reading, smoking and chess rooms 9 a.m. - 10 p.m. daily. Separate reading room for ladies. Annual subscriptions 10/6 men - 7/6 ladies."
Charles joined straight away and found he could beat all the regulars, Messrs. Fox, Newman, Sheppard, Surridge et al. For a few years up to 1881, the Swansea-born Henry Lewis Bowles became a member and played five games with Lambert, sharing the points 2½ each.
At this stage, he decided to follow his father's profession and entered the law, going to London for training. In April 1872, he walked into the world famous chess centre, Simpson's Divan in The Strand, and found no less a person than Steinitz taking on all-comers. They played six friendly games of which Steinitz won 3, and Lambert 2 with one drawn. Whether these games were at odds is not recorded, but to take 2½ / 6 points off the world's top player in whatever circumstances, gives some indication as to the young student's raw talent.
His first serious match was in early August 1873 at the 4th Counties Chess Association Congress, held at the Academy of Arts, Clifton, Bristol, where he entered the 1st Class Tournament and Challenge Cup together with 19 others. The twenty players were divided into two groups of 10, with the Revd. Arthur Skipworth winning one, and Amos Burn the other, these two eventually playing off for the overall prize. Lambert was in the same half as Burn, who won that section by a country mile, but the Devonian came a very creditable 3rd=.
There was also a knockout competition, in which Lambert beat the Revd. William Wayte but lost out to the Revd. John de Soyres in Round 2.
One of the more sensational congresses of the late 19th century was London 1883, and Lambert was there. It was held in two sections, the "Grand" and the "Minor". The Grand contained many of the world's top players of the day, Zukertort, Steinitz, Winawer, Blackburne, Chigorin and Bird, to name but a few. The amazing feature of this section was the way Zukertort, at the height of his powers, carved up the field and was assured of clear 1st with three rounds still to go, whereupon, exhausted by his efforts, he collapsed mentally and lost his last three games, two of them to tail-enders.
The minor section, or Vizayanagram, so called after its major Indian sponsor, contained 20 leading provincial players including such luminaries as the Revd. George McDonnell, yet Lambert finished a very creditable 7th and featured in the prize money. Six of his games from this event may be found in the Pioneers database.
In August of that year, Lambert again played in the Counties Chess Association Congress, this time getting a 50% score, beating C. E. Ranken and A. Marriott in the process.
Here is a summary of his tournament career, during which his average rating has been estimated at about 2275 (see Rod Edwards' excellent Edo Historical Chess Ratings website).
By 1890, his father had died and Charles lived on at Glenoak with his mother. When she too died, around 1896 he moved to 59, St. David's Hill, next to its intersection with Richmond Road, closer to the city centre.
By 1895, something had happened to upset the equilibrium of the chess set-up at the Exeter Literary Society. For some reason difficult to ascertain, having had their doors open to the city's players for a quarter of a century, the traditional arrangement ceased. It may have been that the membership had dwindled, making it uneconomical for the parent body, or that a new committee felt they could make better use of their facilities and sought to move them out. Whatever the truth, the players found themselves without their traditional home. Their choice was either to join one of the three other chess clubs in the city, the YMCA, the St. Sidwell's Working Men's Institute or the Sergeants' Mess at the Wyvern Barracks HQ of the Devonshire Regiment, or to try and negotiate a return to the Literary Society.
Whatever had happened at the Literary Society, it is clear that the players there did not constitute a club as such - under the umbrella of the Literary Society they felt no need to burden themselves unnecessarily with committees, AGMs, minutes and the like, and who can blame them for that. Now, however, this was a period of exciting developments in Devon chess as a whole. The Plymouth Club had been formed in 1888 and was proving a success and it must have been at the back of the minds of Exeter's top players that they should put their own affairs in better order. A number of chess columns had started appearing in local papers, both reflecting and generating a new interest in the game. So they determined to put themselves on a proper, more formal footing.
The first page of the current Exeter Chess Club's minute book records that "a meeting was held at Gisson's Hotel on Saturday October 25th 1895. At this meeting it was decided to ask the Literary Society, whether and on what terms the Society would set apart a room for the Club". A week later, "at Mr. Widgery's studio" 1, it was decided to accept a tentative offer by the Society and to go ahead.
On 16th November, 1895, at Barnfield House, in what they called "the Club Room", probably the same room they'd already been using for 25 years, a meeting of seven formed the new Club. It was to be called the Exeter Chess Club; officers were to be elected each October; members were to meet "for practice and matches" on three evenings a week, although the Club Room was open for play from 9.30 a.m. to 10 p.m., as it always had been. The annual subscription was to be 5/- (25p). The first President was Charles Lambert, a measure of the esteem in which he was held by his peers.
By October 1896, membership had increased to 21 and matches had been played with other city clubs.
Below: Exeter High St. & Guildhall on left c. 1901.
The upsurge of interest and organisation in Devon chess continued apace, and by 1901 a move was made to link up the county's various clubs through a county-wide association. On 24th September 1901, a meeting was held at Exeter's Guildhall in the High Street in order to ascertain the degree of interest and commitment. This was forthcoming and the Devon County Chess Association was born.
The Revd. Henry Bremridge was the driving force behind the meeting and the wish to set up an association, but Lambert was in attendance and fully involved from the start. The Literary Society offered to host Association meetings, and Lambert was elected one of three delegates to the Southern Counties Union. Lambert, too, was on the committee of six to select a Devon team of 16.
There then followed a veritable frenzy of organised activity over the next few months.
Devon's first match under the DCCA banner was against Somerset on Thursday 5th December 1901, when Lambert took top board. All Devon's players on this occasion were pioneers and thus worthy of record
The D.C.C.A.'s first big event was the Devon & Cornwall Tournament, held at Goodbody's Restaurant, Bedford Street, Plymouth on 6th -11th January 1902. The driving force on this occasion was C. T. Blanshard of Totnes, whose idea it was and who made all the arrangements. Although in retrospect it was deemed a great success, it was a new concept and quickly organised which may account for the fact that only 14 entered. These were divided into 2 sections. Class 1 consisted of Revd. Henry Bremridge, (Winkleigh), Tom Taylor (Plymouth), Revd. Arthur Baker (Teignmouth), E. D. Fawcett, Clifford Kitchen, P. Motley and Lambert. It was reported "From the first, it was predicted that, barring accidents, that Mr. Lambert, who is the champion of the county, would pull off the first prize without any amount of difficulty." It is not clear by what authority anyone could claim that Lambert to be county champion so soon after the creation of the DCCA, though any doubt was soon dispelled, when he won easily with 6 points, Tom Taylor 2nd on 3½ and Arthur Baker 3rd on 3 points.
No sooner was this event completed than the Devon team travelled to Yeovil on 25th January to play Wiltshire, winning 9½ -6½. On February 19th they travelled to Bristol to play Gloucestershire, losing 10½ - 5½, but Lambert did not play in either match. Throughout this time, a 50 board correspondence match against Kent was taking place, which the Kent captain, Dr. Elwyn Lewis had arranged in order to encourage the new county association, but he underestimated their strength leading to an easy win for Devon.
Devon's first solo Congress was held at the Barnfield Hall from 21st - 26th April, at which the star attraction was a 2 day visit by Harry Pillsbury, the American hero of Hastings 1895.
Lambert lived up to all expectations by winning the first official county championship. The final positions were:
1st Charles Lambert (Exeter) 8 pts. 2nd C. Tracey (Exmouth) 7½: 3rd Thomas Taylor (Plymouth) 6; 4th Rev. Henry Bremridge (Winkleigh) 5th= Mrs. L. Knapp (Exeter) & E. D. Fawcett (Totnes) 4; 7th Eddie Palmer (Exeter) 3½; 8th= C. F. Corke (Sevenoaks) & E. V. Hawkins (Exeter) 3. The brilliancy prize was awarded to C. Tracey for his win against Fawcett, which may be found in the Pioneers games database.
The rest of the week consisted of a series of other competitions, lightning and knockout tournaments and simultaneous blindfold displays by Pillsbury. All participants were listed, and everyone took part, except Lambert who took no part in any of them.
This same pattern was repeated almost exactly at the 2nd Devon Congress the following year. This took place in the Assembly Room of the Rougemont Hotel, Queen Street, Exeter, from 13th to 18th April 1903, with Pillsbury again in attendance.
The County Championship section finished thus:-
Everyone present was keen to be involved in at least one of Pillsbury's three blindfold simultaneous displays, with one exception, that being Lambert, who for some reason had no wish to tangle with the world famous American.
In 1903, the Southern Counties Union held their annual congress in Plymouth from Monday August 31st to Wednesday September 9th. Class 1 was divided into sections A and B, and Lambert was put into Class 1A with the brilliant George Bellingham, R. P. Mitchell, both international players, and five others, the top two in each section to play off to determine the overall winner of the Sir George Newnes Cup and prizemoney of £17. This eventually fell to Bellingham. Lambert was always off the pace in this company, finishing with 2½ / 8 points. In the group photograph (below) he looked almost 20 years older than his 53 years, and his best playing days were clearly behind him.
He had played for Devon against Gloucestershire on 13th December 1902 and the following April 23rd he played on Board 1 against Gloucestershire at Taunton. At Devon's 3rd A.G.M. in September 1903, he was re-elected county match captain, and it was recorded with some satisfaction that he had led Devon to the championship of the S.C.C.U.
But this was the last record of his chess activity. Although he had been elected as Match Captain at the Devon A.G.M. in September 1903, he played no part in their matches that season, and Henry Bremridge was recorded as acting captain. So what happened to Lambert? No obituary can be found - he just disappeared off the chess radar. He may have been the secretive chess columnist of the local Exeter paper "King's Rook", who also stopped writing in 1903, another clue to the theory that they were the same person. He continued living at his St. David's Hill address until 1921, always listed as a solicitor. He was still listed as a paid up member of the DCCA 20 years later, but did not appear in the list of Exeter Club members. In 1922 his house was occupied, and presumably then owned by a John Speare Lambert - Deputy Inspector General R.N.
Why did he give up the game so suddenly in 1903? Did he fall out with the Association, or get married late?
answer to this question has subsequently been ascertained by looking
carefully at the records of the Exeter Club. As we know, Lambert had
been Club President for 8 years since its formation, and perhaps he felt
this was no more than his rightful position as senior player. However,
the minutes for the AGM on Thursday 24th September 1903 carry
the following passage from which we may draw our own conclusions.
"Rule 3 was altered so that no-one should be eligible for
re-election as President for more than two years. The Rev. H. Bremridge
(in the Chair) proposed that the club express its regret at the
resignation of Mr. C. J. Lambert.
Mr. R. Smith proposed that the Rev. H. Bremridge be elected
President of the Club for the ensuing year. Mr. Cutler seconded -
Lambert had taken even the agenda item very personally, and resigned not
only from the club but also his post as Devon match captain, a role that
Bremridge took over. Lambert took no further part in Devon or Exeter
chess from day onwards.
though that was, it is clear that Charles Lambert was Devon's top player
for the last 30 years of the 19th century and was involved in
the creation of the D.C.C.A. although the parent body was destined to be
shaped by a new generation of players and administrators.
1. This refers to the art studio of the well-known Exeter artist, Frederick John Widgery. (1861 - 1942). Whether this implies Widgery was a chess enthusiast is less likely than the fact that he was very active in local politics, eventually becoming Mayor of Exeter in 1903, and he would be keen to be seen as helping good causes in the city.
Regis, D (ed.): 100-Odd Years of Exeter Chess Club. 1999 3rd ed. revised.
Sergeant, P. A: Century of British Chess. Hutchinson 1934
Forster, R: Amos Burn McFarland 2004
Contemporary newspapers held at the Devon & Exeter Institution.
Post Office Directories of Exeter in the19th century.
Edwards, R: Edo Historical Chess Rating website.