The Chess Detectives
by Chris Ravilious & Brian Denman
The Sculptors Daughter
| A popular UK television series, The House
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
archaeology and a tape-measure, and as intimate with the ways of
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
and the changes they made to their dwellings. Magic. But is
it only the history of houses which offers opportunities for such
work? How about chess history...?
In her day, Edith M. Holloway was one of the brightest names in British
womens chess. Winner of the first post-WWI Womens
in 1919, she was in the prize list in several subsequent contests,
the title for a second time in 1936. She also shared fourth place
in the inaugural World Womens Championship tournament in
husband, S. J. Holloway, M.B.E., was a tireless propagandist for the
Chess Federation during the interwar period. Husband and wife
together in at least one portrait group.
Despite this prominence, much about Edith Holloway
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
of her thereafter? Even Jeremy Gaiges Chess
no answer to these questions.
| Sounds like a case for the Chess
| Everyone has heard of Whos
the existence of a variety of more specialised biographical sources is
less well known. In one of these, The Womens
Who, 1934-5, we found a brief entry for Edith Holloway:
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.
|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.
| 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
Obituaries commented on the extent to which the artist found inspiration
in the domestic circle, noting that during the long and trying
which preceded his death it was touching to see the dying artist
with his failing hands, animals for the amusement of his little
And one of his most popular sculptured groups, Play (1865), is of
a mother with a small child, said to represent the sculptors wife
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
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
and deaths for an Edith M. Crittenden, whom we now believed to have been
born around 1870. Sure enough, General Register Office records
that the future chess champion first saw the light in the St Pancras
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
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
piece in the jigsaw came once again from GRO records, which mentioned
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
The Chess Detectives have little doubt that the sculptors daughter
British Womens Champion has finally been laid to rest.