Chess Archaeology HomeChess is a scientific game and its literature ought to be placed on the basis of the strictest truthfulness, which is the foundation of all scientific research.W. Steinitz

The Chess Detectives
by Chris Ravilious & Brian Denman

The Sculptor’s Daughter

    A popular UK television series, The House Detectives, features a team of researchers who in a matter of hours seem able to lay bare the history of any human habitation.  Armed with degrees in industrial archaeology and a tape-measure, and as intimate with the ways of libraries and record offices as with the prehistory of the damp course, they seize on the smallest clues to reconstruct the way of life of successive owners and the changes they made to their dwellings.  Magic.  But is it only the history of houses which offers opportunities for such detective work?  How about chess history...?
    In her day, Edith M. Holloway was one of the brightest names in British women’s chess.  Winner of the first post-WWI Women’s Championship in 1919, she was in the prize list in several subsequent contests, taking the title for a second time in 1936.  She also shared fourth place in the inaugural World Women’s Championship tournament in 1927.  Her husband, S. J. Holloway, M.B.E., was a tireless propagandist for the British Chess Federation during the interwar period.  Husband and wife appear together in at least one portrait group.
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    Despite this prominence, much about Edith Holloway remains obscure.  What family nurtured her chess talent?  How old was she at the time of her two British Championship victories (from photos one would guess her to have been around 60 in the 1930s)?  What became of her thereafter?  Even Jeremy Gaige’s Chess Personalia has no answer to these questions.
    Sounds like a case for the Chess Detectives... 
    Everyone has heard of Whos Who, but the existence of a variety of more specialised biographical sources is less well known.  In one of these, The Womens Whos Who, 1934-5, we found a brief entry for Edith Holloway:
HOLLOWAY, Mrs E. M. 
D[aughter] o[f]: John Denton Crittenden, Sculptor.
M[arried]: S.J. Holloway, M.B.E. 
Ex-Woman Chess Champion G.B. (1919). 
A[ddress]: 25 Howitt Rd, Hampstead, N.W.3.
    Armed with this information we set to work, one of us pursuing the Crittenden connection, the other exploring official records of births and deaths.  Here is what we found.
    John Denton Crittenden (1834-77) is now forgotten by all but a few historians of the fine arts, but in the sixties of the last century he was a regular exhibitor at the Royal Academy whose works commanded prices as high as £250, a large sum in those days.  The family, it is clear, was comfortably off.  It was also close-knit.  Obituaries commented on the extent to which the artist found inspiration in the domestic circle, noting that “during the long and trying illness which preceded his death it was touching to see the dying artist drawing, with his failing hands, animals for the amusement of his little children.”  And one of his most popular sculptured groups, Play (1865), is of a mother with a small child, said to represent the sculptor’s wife and one of their children.  It would seem that the future Mrs Holloway, at whatever age she learned her chess, came from a home in which children were loved and encouraged to develop their talents.
    While one of the Chess Detectives was immersing himself in art history, the other was scanning microfiche records of births and deaths for an Edith M. Crittenden, whom we now believed to have been born around 1870.  Sure enough, General Register Office records confirmed that the future chess champion first saw the light in the St Pancras area of London in the first quarter of 1868.  Her second Christian name proved hard to read, but was probably Martha.
    We now knew a good deal more about Mrs Holloway; notably - and remarkably - that she was within two years of her 70th birthday at the time of her second British Championship triumph.  All that remained was to establish her date of death.
    That Mrs Holloway had been alive during the first years of WWII we knew already, having found various references to her in the unpublished diaries of the occultist Aleister Crowley.  The final piece in the jigsaw came once again from GRO records, which mentioned the death of an Edith M. Holloway in 1956 at the age of 88.  While we cannot know for certain that this was the chess-player, name and age fit.  The Chess Detectives have little doubt that the sculptor’s daughter and British Women’s Champion has finally been laid to rest.

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